Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Book of the Week: BFF BREAK UP by Taylor Morris

Greetings, Esteemed Reader! Sorry to have missed you these last couple weeks, but an editing job is never done. I’m back again to discuss BFF Break up with you today, we’ll have author Taylor Morris here on Thursday to face the 7 Questions, and on Saturday we’ll have one of our famed literary agent interviews with Lucienne Diver of the Knight Agency. It’s going to be a good week and I’m thrilled to share it with you.

Meet Brooke. Then meet Madeline. Then meet Brooke again. Each alternating chapter of BFF Breakup is written from the first-person perspective of one of the two BFF’s, so that each gets to share her side of the story of their BFF Breakup.

Every chapter is helpfully titled after the girl whose perspective we’re currently reading, but after the first couple chapters, this isn't really necessary. Both Brooke and Madeline are fully realized characters with their own particular style of communicating, and it is a testament to Morris’s strength as a writer that we do not need to be told who is narrating. By the end of the book, we would recognize either Brooke or Madeline anywhere.

So here’s a question for you, Esteemed Reader: why does Morris begin her story with the BFF’s breaking up (and never mind that the book’s title is a major spoiler). Like the best suspense fiction and the entire series of Lost, Morris shows us the terrible thing that has happened and then flashes back to show us all the events that led to the terrible thing, the exposition made all the more thrilling because the reader knows somehow, someway, it’s all leading up to the terrible thing. And what is this terrible thing? I think it best I let Brooke tell you:

And just like once I could never imagine a world in which we wouldn't be friends, now I couldn't imagine a world in which we could ever be friends again. We’d never swim in her pool when it was raining with dark clouds overhead and hoping it didn't lightning because then her mom would call us in for sure. We’d never race four-wheelers in the back field between our houses. My mom would never make us cinnamon rolls from scratch on Saturday morning after a sleepover, and our moms would never again joke with each other that we were like sisters they shared custody of.

At the beginning of this story is violence—not of the piranha variety, alas, but violence for certain. It’s emotional violence, and emotional violence can be every bit as much a threat as actual violence in a story. The problem, as Morris knows, is violence, even the emotional sort, isn't really interesting until it’s happening to a character the reader is invested in.

To prove it, I talked last week with a woman in my professional line of work who only recently divorced her husband. This is sad, maybe, or maybe it’s a good thing. There’s no way for you to know for sure based on the information I've given you and unless you yourself only just recently dealt with a divorce, I doubt it had any sort of emotional impact. If you have, invoking an emotional response from you is simply shooting fish in a barrel (ahh, cliché’s, how I love you). Unfortunately, a writer cannot count on push-over readers.

In order for you to feel anything, I would have to tell you details like the fact that this woman can’t stop crying and has locked herself in a room for a week, and her sister had to move in to take care of her children because Mommy seems to have forgotten them. Or perhaps her husband was abusive and after one too many episodes, this woman shot him in the gut and was calling me from a shelter, finally free and triumphant. As I’m not a monster, I’m not going to share the actual details with you, but if I wanted you to care about this woman, I would have to.

And that’s what Morris is up to. Because she has chosen to write from the perspective of two characters, we have to care about each of them as well as their friendship. We need to know how they rush to meet in the backyard to share their junior high schedules, even though Madeline is grounded at the time, and how they love to make cookies together and how they can really only discuss their feelings about their parents with each other. Their friendship is what’s at stake from the start of the tale to the end and unless the reader believes in it and cares about it, there is no story.

So do Brooke and Madeline patch things up? I’m not going to tell you, but I will say that their reasons for breaking up are universal and I can’t imagine the reader who won’t sympathize with both girls. Best friendship is the romance of the middle grade world, and as there’s no swearing or outstanding adult content, I would place BFF Breakup firmly in the upper end of middle grade.

It is interesting, though, this idea of best friends being like a marriage during the preteen years. Morris believes this. Why else would she contrast the breakup of our BFFs with the divorce of Madeline’s parents? I myself have had the same best friend since the third grade and during our teenage years, we spent most of our free time doing everything together. Now he’s married and so am I, but we still get together for late night Street Fighter II sessions—we even let his son play.

The girls’ relationship is universal as are their motives for breaking up. Madeline wants to reach out and make new friends, but isn't that cheating on Brooke? Brooke is jealous and makes a bit of a fool of herself. I think every best friend knows what it’s like to want to make new friends as well as the pang of jealousy when their best friend is having fun with someone other than themselves. What I enjoyed is the number of plot points and instances that reminded me of a love story, such as our BFFs catching each other’s eye across a crowded room:

It would be impossible to perfectly describe the moves Chris laid out on that dance floor. There was spinning on his back, of course, and his signature worm with an added lift-up onto the points of his toes. He also managed to twist and jerk his body in a way that had the whole school cheering him on. I was right there in the midst, cheering too. Corrine and Lily appeared by my side and we encouraged Chris in his first real solo. As I laughed and clapped my hands to the beat, I looked across and saw Madeline. She was standing with her friends, smiling, but looking at me. I must have just caught her. We both paused, and she smiled brighter, just for me, and nodded her head ever so slightly. In that Instant I felt that maybe, somehow, things were going to get better.

And that’s going to do it, except I couldn't help but notice just how many descriptions of clothing and fashion sense in general permeate BFF Breakup. Ordinarily, lengthy descriptions of every character’s outfit are a waste of time as is much physical description as the reader will inevitably fill in those details with their own imagination anyway.

But in Taylor Morris’s case, I believe her descriptions of fashion are right up her reader’s alley. I especially enjoyed how often clothing, either a discussion of or the loaning of, was the trigger for a story event or was used to symbolize the state of the girl’s friendship. For example:

"Hey, let me ask you something. And you have to be totally honest." I nodded. "What do you think of these shorts?"

I didn't know her so I didn't really feel like I could tell her I didn't like them, but I also figured if she got mad, then oh well. It's not like we were friends. So I said, "I like them, but I think they'd be even cuter without the belt."

She considered me, nodding her head. "Now I know I can trust you," she said. "My friends kept telling me they looked cute, but I just knew there was something off about them. That's a really cool necklace you're wearing, by the way."

My hand went to my necklace, a small gold treasure box on a long chain. I was wearing it especially for today. Brooke got it for me on a trip she took to Colorado three years ago. She told me she'd been saving her allowance and birthday money to buy something for herself, but when she saw the necklace, she knew I'd love it. And I did. I wore it when I needed extra goodness in my day.

Come on back Thursday to see author Taylor Morris face the 7 Questions, and again on Saturday for literary agent Lucienne Diver. Next week we’ll have author Sheila Kelly Welch and in the coming weeks we’ll have some returning champions and a few surprises as well. And now, as always, I’ll leave you with some of my favorite passages from BFF Breakup:

Naturally, Madeline sat on the floor just staring at the lockers across the hall like they were hypnotizing her into buying more ugly accessories.

I felt it again. Oh, why hello there, tears. So nice to see you again after three whole hours of your absence. (very Stephen King -- MGN)

"Hardly," she said, and held out her hand for me to slap, tap, then bump. Just like always.

"What is this?" an oh-so-maternal voice bellowed. Yes, my mother actually bellows.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: Book of the Week is simply the best book I happened to read in a given week. There are likely other books as good or better that I just didn’t happen to read that week. Also, all reviews here will be written to highlight a book’s positive qualities. It is my policy that if I don’t have something nice to say online, I won’t say anything at all (usually). I’ll leave you to discover the negative qualities of each week’s book on your own.


  1. Thanks for sharing the revision tip. I've cut tons of words by seeing where I'm too wordy. Your example is a good one I'll need to watch for.

    And BFF Breakup sounds like a good book. Definitely something middle grade girls can relate to.

  2. This does sound good for middle school. The one thing that dates books is descriptions of very specific fashions. Talking about jeans or shorts is fine-- talking about pegging the legs of acid washed jeans with a paper bag waste makes the book hopelessly 80's!

  3. Hi!

    I keep telling other writers to check out this blog. Thanks for the good revision tips and informative review! Taylor's book sounds perfect for preteens, and I'll suggest it to my daughter, a school librarian.


Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.