I had intended to tell you about a different book entirely today, but when I happened across The Friend in a used bookstore this week, it shouldered its way to the top of my schedule and demanded to be written about right now. That’s rare—I can’t remember the last time a book was that bossy. But I suppose that when a book is this good, it gets to be bossy.
I pulled The Friend off the bookstore shelf because I recognized the names of Sarah Stewart and David Small as those of the author and illustrator of one of our family’s favorite books, The Gardener (also, The Librarian). I started reading from the beginning because the story whisked me into itself, rhymes and all. And I bought the book because in the end, it punched me right in the gut, in a gentle but still sort of violent way that made me cry right there in the bookstore.
As a reader, you have to respect that.
I don’t really want to tell you much about the story, because its power lies in its unassuming charm, but I will tell you this much: The Friend is a sweet, rhymed poem (in the style of The Librarian) about quirky, precocious Belle who is overlooked by her wealthy parents but beloved of Bea, the family’s servant. But there are deeper themes of love and redemption in this story, and there are glimpses of the Gospel—like those in The Orange Shoes, they are comfortably a part of the story, perhaps included accidentally. But you’ll know them when you see them.
One last note: Be sure to read all the way to the dedication at the end. That is all.
Sarah Stewart, David Small (2004)