The Friendship Lie – Rebecca Donnelly

Cora is 11 years old and has a twin, Kyle. She also used to have a best friend, Sybella, who she met on the first day of second grade. The twins’ parents both work in environmental science.

Their dad ran a garbology project that studied what happened to peoples’ trash and recycling after they put it all in their curbside bins. Their mother worked on the technology that tracked each lucky piece of garbage that was part of the project.

Now it’s the fifth grade and Cora and Kyle’s parents are divorcing. Their parents are so separated, in fact, that their mother is working in Belgium for a year while she thinks about the future. Meanwhile her kids are still in California and Cora thinks her life is garbage, what with her mother on the other side of the world and in the wrong time zone to be able to give Cora much needed advice about her friendship problems.

Their father wants to “show the world what happened to the things it tried to get rid of.” However he appears positively clueless about how sad both of his kids are; while Cora is obviously sad throughout the book, Kyle hides his sadness behind a wall of positivity. I wasn’t a fan of either parent and found some of the father’s garbage related behaviour downright creepy.

I know it was all about the ongoing environmental message but the twins’ father continually bringing all of their neighbours’ garbage into their apartment and sorting through it in their bathtub horrified me. If I discovered my neighbour had been regularly stealing my trash and rummaging through it I would send them my own message, likely in the form of some very expired dairy product poured all over whatever I was discarding that week.

While there was some diversity included in story, with a teenage girl who has girlfriends and another character whose mother is white and father is black, it felt like its inclusion was token rather than having any bearing on the plot. Both topics were barely mentioned before disappearing from the narrative. Homelessness is also included in this story, mostly as a way to track a specific item’s movements through the book, and the opportunities to either make a point about homelessness or provide resolution for this specific character were missed.

I loved everything about Aquafaba and how it fit into the story, and I liked Auntie Lake. I wanted to hang out with Auntie Lake more. I think I would have really liked Kyle if his personality extended beyond loving dogs, and being the nicest and most positive person on the planet. On the flip side, I detested new girl Marnie from the first time I met her, both because she was so irritating but also because she was practically two dimensional and didn’t appear to have a back story.

The first half of the book is told exclusively from Cora’s point of view, starting with ‘After’ and then catching up to now with ‘Before’ chapters. There are a couple of chapters in the second half of the book from Sybella’s perspective, a character I liked much more than Cora. There are also diary entries from 1974 written by a then-seventh grade Penny and odd little public service announcements Cora leaves on her mother’s voicemail.

Since everyone is so garbage conscious in this book I wasn’t sure why the research assistants were setting up the Trashlympics in a way that created more trash, like using duct tape to mark the lanes for the relay race Trash and Dash. Given the other clubs the school was offering focused on art, robotics and gaming, I was surprised there was enough interest from elementary school aged kids for there to be a Trash Team in the first place.

Although there’s also some friendship drama thrown in as well, big chunks of the early part of this book felt like extended public service announcements for all things environmental – sustainability, making sure you put your trash in the correct bins, the problem of plastic in the ocean. I found the second half of the book interesting and this mostly made up for the parts in the first half where I really struggled to want to continue reading. However, had I not committed to reviewing this book I wouldn’t have continued reading long enough to get to the parts I enjoyed.

I expect if I was reading this book as an environmentally conscious 9 to 12 year old this could be an entirely different review. Maybe I’ve forgotten what is considered fun at that age. Maybe Trashlympics are one of those things. I’m interested to see what the actual target audience think about The Friendship Lie.

Thank you to NetGalley and Capstone for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Cora Davis’s life is garbage. Literally. Her professor parents study what happens to trash after it gets thrown away, and Cora knows exactly how it feels to be thrown away. Between her mum and dad separating and a fallout with her best friend, fifth grade for Cora has been a year of feeling like being tossed into the dumpster.

But Cora has learned a couple of things from her parents’ trash-tracking studies: things don’t always go where they’re supposed to and sometimes the things you thought you got rid of come back. And occasionally, one person’s trash is another’s treasure, which Cora and Sybella learn when they come across a diary detailing best-friendship problems.

Told in two intertwining points of view, comes a warm, wry story of friendship, growing up, and being true to yourself. The Friendship Lie will speak to any reader who has struggled with what to hold on to and what to throw away.

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