The Take-Over Friend

Carol Dines
Fitzroy Books (2022)
ISBN: 978-1646032891
Reviewed by Kathy Stickles and Hillary Breckel for Reader Views (12/2022)

Kathy Stickles’ Review: The Take-Over Friend is an excellent story about the very confusing time in life when you are a teenager and trying to discover exactly who you are and what you really want. I was very impressed with the story Ms. Dines put together. It shows all the normal, sometimes difficult, parts of life at this age, such as doing well in school, wanting to have a boyfriend, the confusion and joy that come from family, and the happiness and heartache that comes with friendship.

This is the story of Frances, or Franny as she likes to be called, and her friend Sonja, who is new to the school this year. The girls become fast friends on the second day of school and the adventure begins. While Franny is kind of quiet and holds back from others, Sonja is a very direct, worldly, and immediately takes over the friendship, so to speak. Unfortunately, it is also seen very quickly that Sonja also takes over Franny’s family, as she does not have much family of her own and what she has can only be described as dysfunctional. As the book progresses, the girls have many good times as well as their fair share of not so good times, when Sonja has to move in with Franny’s family. As Franny learns more and more about herself through the story, she also learns that she needs to find her own voice and establish some control and boundaries for herself, as well as with Sonja. The trials for these girls, both separately and together, lead to a climax that can only be described as unexpected and tragic but also as one that had to happen in order for Franny to move forward.

The Take-Over Friend covers so many topics that many would consider it almost impossible to deal with as adults, yet here we see a teenage girl try to handle them and it is, very often, heartbreaking to watch. Franny’s father suffers from a mental illness, which I believe is handled very well in the story. As the reader, you watch as this illness impacts not only this strong man but his entire family and beyond as well, and it is dealt with so very well by the author. It also deals with the manipulation that is used by Franny’s new friend Sonja in order to get what she thinks is best for her, meaning Franny’s family rather than her own, and the tragic results that can come from wanting what others have.

The book is a story of love, friendship, betrayal and pain and it is so honest, emotional, and poignant that the reader cannot help but become totally involved in the story and characters until the very end. It is also sprinkled with just enough suspense and small amounts of humor. I would highly recommend this book to adults and teens alike, as well as anyone who is dealing with mental illness in their family and wants to understand more about the impact it can have.  The characters are extremely well-written and you cannot help but become involved in their lives. I feel that Ms. Dines has succeeded in this young adult novel where others have failed and I give her much credit for that. 5 Stars!!

Hillary Breckel’s Review: It’s freshman year for Frances at a new school. She’s rather unsure of herself, until she meets a new girl, Sonja. Sonja is larger than life, with global life experiences to match. When Sonja declares Frances as her new best friend, Frances is floored and appreciative. She remains fully invested until Sonja starts to encroach on those that Frances loves, including Frances’ family. The whole family gets involved, from Mom and Dad, to brother Will and sister Ali, and going so far as to include brother’s friend Gravy, and France’s friend Josh. When everything starts to implode, who will end up stronger and braver?

Teenage friendships. The joys and heartache. This book captures it all. The story itself did have a few parts that were kind of slow, but overall, it read quite fast. I felt great empathy for the main character, Frances, as she grows and learns to handle her thoughts and feelings. She reminded me of my own teenage years, full of angst and drama. I did actually enjoy the antagonist as well, as her personality reminded me of past friends and foes. The settings were kind of vague, and I really didn’t feel a connection to much in the settings.

I enjoyed the way the author writes. Throughout the book, there are small nuggets of wisdom written in a character’s inspiration. One such example is found in Chapter 2, “I grew up in the space left over from other people’s lives.” I found that to be quite profound and felt it reflected my own life in many aspects. I’ve felt this way throughout my life so far.

This book is suitable for teens and young adult readers. I feel they can appreciate the intricacies of the tale more than an adult reader can. Overall, I found this book to be rather enchanting and heart wrenching too. I felt for Frances and her family. I felt for Sonja and her family. The Take-Over Friend by Carol Dines most assuredly snuck into my heart.

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