When a strange girl comes to sit beside Francis at lunch one day, he’s more surprised that anyone at his school wants to talk to him than he is that the girl, Jessica, turns out to be a ghost. With a shared interest in fashion design and the common problem of loneliness—Francis is the only one who’s been able to see Jessica in the year since she’s died—the two soon become inseparable. It’s not nearly as depressing hanging out with a ghost as you might think, especially when she can help you on pop quizzes and instantly imagine herself into clothing designs you’re contemplating sewing.
Soon Francis and Jessica are joined by Andi, a tough girl with bright red curls who’s capable of beating up anyone who makes fun of her—or her friends—and Roland, a computer geek who’s teased for his weight, all thrown together because their parents are worried about how much time they’re spending alone. Amazingly, Andi and Roland are able to see Jessica, too, and these loners soon find that life’s more fun when you’ve got someone to share it with. Only one questions haunts their time together: Why can’t Jessica remember how she died?
What starts as a light-hearted story of paranormal friendship soon takes on darker tones once they all realize that they can see Jessica because they’ve felt close to death themselves—all have considered suicide, despite their young ages (which aren’t specified in the book but could range from 11-14). Friends for Life approaches feelings of suicide in a gentle way; it’s not a book about suicide, but feelings of depression, what the children all refer to as “the Pit,” do play a role in these children’s lives. Ultimately, it’s a book about different kinds of friendship and how those friendships make life easier to deal with. As an added bonus, it’s also charmingly British.
Some of the advice and symptoms revealed through their conversations with each other, such as talking to an adult if you’re feeling this way or losing interest in normal hobbies, may sound like they’re pulled straight from a textbook for those who’ve already learned about suicide prevention, but Norriss integrates the information so seamlessly into the story that kids who are reading about these heavy issues for the first time won’t balk at learning something while they read.
I really enjoyed this book. Then again, there was really no chance I wasn’t going to with a dedication like this: “For all the Jessicas and the people who loved them.”
A copy of this book was provided by the publisher for review.