The Friendship Matchmaker. by Randa Abdel-Fattah. July 17, 2012. Walker Books. 192 pages. ISBN: : 9780802728326
Lara Zany is famous at her middle school for being a Friendship Matchmaker. A loner by choice, she devotes all of her spare time to helping her classmates change their behavior in order to become suitable best friends for other kids in their grade. Though she doesn’t like to talk about the details, Lara has had experiences that make her an expert on changing oneself to fit in. When Emily arrives at the school, however, she begins to challenge Lara’s ideas, suggesting that maybe girls really can be themselves and still be cool.
This book has a fabulous set-up, and the perfect title. The title is actually what made me pick it up, and the story itself is exactly the kind of thing I would have loved to read when I was in fifth or sixth grade. Lara is a sympathetic character whose point of view reflects the worries of lots of girls her age. Her advice is questionable, but her heart is in the right place, and kids who read to the end will be likely to forgive her for leading her classmates astray in the first place.
What they will be less likely to forgive, I think, is the rushed ending itself. Lara hints throughout the story to the sordid past events that turned her into a loner by choice. The reader gets really interested in that backstory, but it is never explained. There is a brief moment where it looks like we will get answers, and Lara literally flees the scene, leaving the entire thing unresolved. On the flip side, everything else in the story is tied up way too quickly and neatly, making the reader wonder why there was ever so much turmoil in the first place. The story deserved a much more thoughtful and truthful ending, and it disappointed me to see that the brilliant concept was not carried through to its completion very successfully.
Only one thing gives me hope - there is a sequel entitled The Friendship Matchmaker Undercover, where I hope maybe these important neglected issues from the first book will be revisited. I would still argue that the author should not have left those dangling threads for the second book, but if I got some closure in book two, I’d be happy enough to let that slide.
The Friendship Matchmaker is a good middle grade read to recommend to fans of Lauren Barnholdt, Jo Whittemore, and Tricia Rayburn. It’s realistic and engaging, with a positive message and lots of heart. Girls will see themselves in Lara, and in many of the other characters as well, and they’ll have lots to say about Lara’s rules for making friends. This would also be a great mother-daughter book club read!
I borrowed The Friendship Matchmaker from my local public library.
For more about this book, visit Goodreads and Worldcat.