The Take-Over Friend

Fitzroy. Oct. 2022. 216p. pap. $16.95. ISBN 9781646032891.
Gr 9 Up–Frances struggles to find her voice as she enters high school until she meets Sonja, an intelligent and witty girl who completes her sentences and seamlessly fits into her family life, and the pair become best friends. It quickly becomes apparent to Frances, and some members of her family, that this friendship is toxic and in need of boundaries before Frances’s voice is canceled. There is a suspenseful tone to the work, expressed in first-person past tense from Frances’s point of view, as Frances foreshadows a looming event to come from Sonja’s actions. The interplay between Sonja and Frances, and Frances’s struggle to say no to her friend, are authentic, but the explosive ending of violence stretches credulity for a contemporary work. Catherine Lo’s How It Ends and Mariah MacCarthy’s Squad offer more realistic reads on the subject. While toxic friendships and boundaries play a central role, so does mental health. Frances’s jumbled feelings regarding her father, who is bipolar and opts to not medicate for much of the novel, are genuine. Besides Frances’s father, depression, suicide, other forms of self-harm, and attempts to harm animals are connected to mental health. Unfortunately, these latter incidents are not dealt with as sensitively, which reinforces existing stigma. Rocky Callen’s A Breath Too Late is a more sensitive approach to self-harm and suicide.
VERDICT A pass; this work salaciously connects toxic behavior to mental health issues.

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