Sunday, September 22, 2013

Book Review: The Noonday Friends by Mary Stolz (1965)

Franny Davis is eleven years old, and though she loves her father, she is often frustrated by his lack of ambition. An artist at heart, Mr. Davis finds it difficult to hold down any one job for very long, which leaves the family with little money to spare and lots of financial worries. These concerns are compounded by the fact that not long ago, Mr. Davis experienced an illness, the treatment for which left his family deep in debt. Mrs. Davis must now work full time, and since the youngest child, Marshall, is only five, Franny and her twin brother Jimmy have to look after him each afternoon instead of spending time with their friends. Thankfully, Franny’s friend, Simone, understands Franny’s situation because it is similar to her own, and the two form a lunchtime friendship that helps each of them cope with the difficulties of their daily lives.

This book was originally published in 1965, and it received a Newbery Honor in 1966. The story is told primarily from Franny’s point of view, but occasional chapters visit other perspectives to broaden the reader’s understanding of the lives of both girls and their families. I really enjoyed Stolz’s writing style, which focuses mainly on the emotions of her characters, and on the development of their individual personalities. Among my favorite characters is Marshall, the youngest brother, whose dialogue sometimes sounds too mature for his age, but whose desire for a birthday celebration is universally relatable and provides the bulk of the story’s suspense. I also like the way Stolz encourages the reader to empathize with Franny’s dad, despite his bad habits. Though I was never completely happy with his actions, I could understand how he was torn between his passion and his need to support his family.

The Noonday Friends is a great realistic fiction novel for readers who enjoy episodic tales of family life. Because of the New York City setting, some parts of the story put me in mind of Johanna Hurwitz, who also writes a lot of great slice-of-life stories about city living. The subject matter also makes it a great read-alike for Ramona and her Father, which also focuses on the difficulties faced by a family when a parent loses a job. In our current economic crisis, the themes in this book are perfectly relevant, and because the writing focuses mostly on the characters and not on the larger culture, there are few references that date the book to the 1960s.

I don’t know how I managed to miss this book, especially since it is a Newbery Honor! I look forward to reading more from Mary Stolz, and to possibly revisiting a title of hers I do remember from childhood, The Bully of Barkham Street.

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