A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
Exploration of behavior and conditions related to the autism spectrum.
Smiles, sunshine, 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 -- the art in what's broken. You don't have to be perfect, you don't have to seem perfect. You can be independent and still be right with the world.
Positive Role Models
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 tries to be there for his family but tends to try to force solutions. Niki stands up for herself after being bullied, lied to. Niki's friends, family, teachers are presumably White (one friend, Nadine, is described as "dark-skinned"). Niki's brother has "brain differences," is tested for autism.
Violence & Scariness
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, kisses her without her permission, which she says feels "like a punch." She confronts him later; 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, promises not to do it again.
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Sex, Romance & Nudity
Kids make out at a party in front of their friends. Girls flirt with boys when sitting on their desks.
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"Suck," "pissed," "pissant," "buttfaces," "damn," "slutty."
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Products & Purchases
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."
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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.
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.
Did we miss something on diversity?
Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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