When her best friend Anjali suddenly dies, 12-year-old Meredith Beals thinks her whole world is falling apart. She describes her feelings as “all weird and numb, like your cheek after you’ve been mauled at the dentist.” After a week of being “most exquisitely and totally alone,” Meredith vows to write letters to her absent friend, detailing life without her in an attempt to keep Anjali present.
In her touching new novel, author Melissa Glenn Haber is spot-on in capturing preteen fears and foibles. An entirely credible Meredith “communicates” with Anjali for approximately six weeks, confiding her personal thoughts about school pals, sibling rivalry and her complicated relationship with Noah, a boy Anjali had always fancied. Her humorous phrases, occasional misspellings and raw honesty about her grief combine to make these letters very real. (“Where are you? I need you to be here so I can tell you much I hate Wendy Mathinson!!!”)
Meredith’s descriptions of school antics and angst eventually give way to mentions of her hopes for the future, and the tone of the letters very gradually begins to change. While once Meredith’s missives were written in desperate attempts to keep Anjali close, the letters shift in their contents and significance, indicating that Meredith’s need to communicate is becoming less of a coping mechanism and more of an appeal to her friend for help with life’s mysteries.
As her fondness for Noah develops, Meredith becomes concerned not only that she is betraying her best friend, but that she might have once been betrayed by Anjali. A bright but shy girl, Meredith feels she is on the outside of many school relationships, so the letters serve as a sort of therapy. She eventually comes to terms with her need to write to Anjali and, while keeping her close, also accepts the fact that her best friend will always be a part of her life and that she can go forward with her memories as comfort.
The clever epistolary feature works well, especially in poignant passages that focus on Meredith’s uncertainties. Through this one-way correspondence, Haber has crafted a tender and original coming-of-age story that has much to offer young readers.