I am so delighted to be taking part in Kate Mallinder’s blog tour for her second teen/YA book Asking for a Friend.
Kaye’s debut Summer of No Regrets was a highlight of my reading last year with its exploration of four girls finding themselves and growing over the summer between their GCSEs and starting 6th Form.
Asking For A Friend carries on the multiple narrative style but concentrates the action to roughly a half term rather than several weeks as our characters take a ‘study break’ in Weston-Super-Mare that becomes a life changing journey of the heart, mind and courage.
Trigger Warnings; Social Media bullying, Cancer.
Themes explored include loneliness of different causes, the growing independence and blossoming of an autistic girl within the context and respect of her neurodiversity; the impact of toxic friendship and social media shunning and bullying; and the spiralling panic of a suspicious lump one is too afraid to confront.
Overall, Kate takes a scalpel to the concept of friendship and what true friendship can and should mean.
Agnes is autistic, about to sit her GCSEs and misses Rose, her big sister desperately. She doesn’t have any proper friends only Hattie her ‘bus friend’ who chats away to her each day but Agnes doesn’t always have the gift of listening, but there’s something of a comfort between them. Agnes has decided to go to Weston- Super- Mare to see her sister under the guise of a ‘study break’ and needs Hattie’s help as her aunt runs a B&B there.
But can Agnes come clean to Hattie about why she wants to go to Weston and find new people to trust?
Hattie is in a toxic friendship group and after an incident at a party she is being ghosted and gossiped about which is making her life miserable. She thinks the only way to get back ‘in’ is to make it old news and show how cool she is on Instagram so she invites herself along on the ‘study break’ to Agnes’ horror.
But will the spectre of her friends and social expectations spoil the trip?
Jake sits behind the girls on the bus, he was the school’s basketball star and have lots of friends but all that has fallen away since he quit the team. He has a secret, he found a lump on his testicle a while ago and is too scared to do anything. Hattie invites him along as company for when Agnes is doing her real revising after seeing his pining look at the thought of their escape from Manchester.
Can Jake have the courage to confide in the girls and get help?
Kate’s first book Summer of No Regrets reminded me of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants, a quartet of friends spending the summer in different places and circumstances including children in care, amputee teens and dealing with a parent’s rather too young new love whilst discovering themselves; their intelligence can be attractive; their past and possible future; changing their relationship with parents; and forging a way through the parental fear and over protection after a life changing disability.
However, whilst my thought still stands with the summery feel of the story, Kate’s sophomore offering has shown a skill across these two novels that reminds me more of the work of the film director Mike Leigh.
Asking for a Friend particularly resonates for me with some of the work of Mike Leigh in the way that Kate has chosen to depict ordinary people living ordinary lives, “real life” one may suppose but unfolding deeper meaning (the characters’ extraordinary factors) and stories under a particular stressor or circumstances with emotion, vulnerability and authenticity, laughter and tears.
In Asking for a Friend we see a neurodiverse girl who is socially isolated have to ‘let go’ of one of her ‘anchoring’ people and now she has to make space both physically, emotionally and in her ‘routine’ for new people. This voice is something that has been clamoured for in children’s literature and Kate brings a tenderness and respect to her depiction of Agnes’ autism.
We also see Hattie, who at first seems a typical teen contemporary book girl, desperate for acceptance and understanding from a ‘Heathers’/ Mean Girls type toxic friendship but instead is shunned and the subject of a gossip firestorm; Mallinder teases out the vulnerability and magic from this trope on her trip as Hattie struggles hard to let go of this need stressing the fear of the unknown and showing he struggle to realise let alone accept that there are other people and that making herself happy is more important.
And we see the painful spiralling of a young boy whose world has crumbled in the space of a month and has to confront the fact that a lump needs to be checked out, Schroedinger’s box needs to be opened. This is a brave choice, Jake’s chapters are unflinching in the brutal exploration of fear and how this secret is eating Jake away. I think its a really clever choice as many of the readership will be young females who may think boys are simple Lynx waft bombs of stupidity or ‘perfect’ objects of crushes- Kate shows a delicacy of touch in showing the readership that boys emotions are just as complex and fears just as encompassing and the choice to keep the relationships completely platonic I could kiss her!
These are both ordinary and extraordinary problems, relatable ones that young readers may have experienced both directly or indirectly, or have fears of having to deal with, and that exploration of the ‘extraordinary within the ordinary’ is both loving and succinct. Mallinder both draws out the best and worst of social issues as a teen across the book and I hope that the experiences of this trio give hope and self-belief to young readers that it can get better.
I can’t wait to see what Mallinder turns her mind to next.
I am so pleased to have taken part in the blog tour for Kate Mallinder’s Asking for a Friend, this touching and heartfelt book is a true delight.
Please make sure you check out all the other stops on the tour for this amazing book.
Asking For A Friend by Kate Mallinder is published by Firefly Press.