Bad Best Friend

Book review by
Joly Herman, Common Sense Media
Bad Best Friend Book Poster Image
Eighth-grader withstands friend rejection in funny story.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Exploration of behavior and conditions related to the autism spectrum.

Positive Messages

Smiles, sunshine. and a quick cleanup make everything better, No mistake is permanent. You're not allowed to let anyone hurt you, including yourself. Be yourself and you'll be just right. Gently see the beauty in brokenness -- there's art in what's broken. You don't have to be perfect, and you don't have to seem perfect. You can be independent and still be right with the world.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Niki's mom tries to be understanding and open to what her kids are going through, but she's prone to peer pressure and representing the status quo. Niki's dad also tries to be there for his family, but he tends to try to force solutions. Niki stands up for herself after being bullied and lied to. Niki's friends, family, and teachers are presumably White (one friend, Nadine, is described as "dark-skinned"). Niki's brother has "brain differences," and is tested for autism.

Violence

Niki's brother, Danny, has tantrums and throws things, including a book at his teacher. Niki has thoughts about punching other people. A boy grabs a girl and kisses her without her permission, which she says feels "like a punch." She confronts him later and he seems to not understand why that would constitute assault. She explains why it's not OK to kiss her ("You held on to my arms while I was pushing you away."), and he apologizes and promises to not do it again.

Sex

Kids make out at a party in front of their friends. Girls flirt with boys by sitting on their desks and throwing their heads back in laughter. 

Language

"Suck," "pissed," "pissant," "buttfaces," "damn," "slutty."

Consumerism

Olympics, Sharpie, Pop Tarts, Instagram, Fisherman's Friend, Google, Looney Tunes, Cream of Wheat, YouTube. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Adults drink wine, kids can smell adults' cigarettes, adults act drunk while carrying around red plastic cups. One mom tells Niki that her mom should come over and "get a bazz on."

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Bad Best Friend, by veteran children's author Rachel Vail (Well, That Was Awkward, Justin Case), explores themes of peer pressure, navigating toxic friendships, and standing up to bullies. Niki, a 13-year-old eighth-grader living in Snug Island, Maine, realizes in gym class that her best friend Ava has dumped her. Niki immediately considers her social ranking and whether Holly, the best friend she had before she became friends with Ava, is too much of a "random" to resume a friendship with. Melodramatic micro-introspection and self-criticism rear their heads, and Niki's self-talk can be very damaging (she wants to "erase" herself when she sends an awkward text message). Parents drink wine and smoke. A boy grabs a girl and forces her to kiss him "like a bruise." She vomits afterward because she's so upset. She does stand up to the boy and tell him in public why it's not OK to do that to people.

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What's the story?

In BAD BEST FRIEND, Niki Ames has suffered the worst kind of BFF insult. When the gym teacher tells the class to pair with their best friends, her best friend, Ava slides over to someone the side of the popular clique (known as the "Squad"), leaving Niki utterly alone and exposed in front of the whole class. At first, Niki begs Ava to take her back, saying she'll do anything. When Ava doesn't agree, Niki has to look for other friend options, while reassessing who she really wants to be. Her mom is facing similar pressure from other moms in the community because Niki's brother Danny, isn't behaving in age-appropriate ways. In fact, his tantrums are becoming the town topic, and her mom is compensating by trying to smile through it. When Niki realizes that Ava's motives might be more undermining than she thought, she has to take a stand. In the process, she learns a lot about what means the most to her friends, her family, and herself. 

Is it any good?

Funny, moving, and at times, a little too micro-dramatic, this story rewards with revelations about strength and identity. Bad Best Friend explores the kind of insecure am-I-part-of-the-popular-group concerns that are common among tweens and teens. Niki's best friend Ava unceremoniously dumps her in front of the whole class -- indeed, in front of the whole tight-knit town -- leaving Niki to fend for herself. Kids will relate to the topic of wanting to fit in, while figuring out who's being real and who's being hurtful. Niki's brother, Danny, is also relatable, as is her mom. Her dad, though well-intentioned, feels a little less real. But he's the exception to the cast of well-crafted characters.

Sometimes the voice, though funny, seems too sophisticated for the age-group, like when Milo says he will "mansplain" to Niki how pedals on bikes work. It's funny, but not true to the age or small town they live in. The ending is satisfying, though, like the part in a romcom that you want to rewatch a couple of times, just to capture the magic. Author Rachel Vail succeeds in catching the moment when a person feels totally liberated after having a realization about her place in the scheme of things -- a refreshing revelation.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about texting in Bad Best Friend. Niki wishes she could erase text messages she's sent, and even wishes she could "erase" herself. Is it human to send texts that aren't perfect? What strategies do you have to help do damage control -- or to prevent text drama?

  • Niki has a safe word she can text to her mom so that her mom knows she needs to be picked up from a party, no questions asked. What rules do you and your family and friends have to make sure everyone is safe? 

  • Niki's brother, Danny, understand that his brain might "work differently" than his friends. What other characters in books or shows can you think of who have these kinds of differences? How can you practice kindness and inclusion to people who might have challenges?

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