"Can a friend be somebody that nobody else likes but you?" This is the question 11-year-old Pearl Jordan asks herself in Some Friend, a poignant new novel by Marie Bradby. For Pearl, choosing between two friends is a complicated moral struggle. Lenore offers the fast track to popularity, parties and fashionable outfits, as well as practice in the dark arts of secrets, manipulation and random acts of meanness. Artemesia, on the other hand, is uncool and dresses in clothes from Goodwill. But she is nice, friendly and an incredible artist. Pearl discovers that Artemesia's parents are migrant workers, and Lenore calls her "that raggedy-headed ashy-legged B.O.-smelling thang." Lenore is cruel, but who can deny that a friendship with her has its perks? "To have someone to do things with," Pearl says. "Someone who knows what to do, how to dress, how to style hair, who knows what's cool." This quiet, introspective story, set in 1963 outside of Washington, D.C., gathers pace as Pearl's time of reckoning approaches. After an ugly scene of taunting and violence, Pearl must take a stand. Does she have the courage to defend Artemesia against Lenore and her friends? When Pearl goes to Artemesia's house, a shack that has been turned into an apartment, Artemesia's family is gone. They have returned to the picking circuit. "Then it hits me," Pearl thinks. "It is one thing to make a mistake. It's another to never get a chance to say you are sorry." Pearl's neighbor, Mrs. Mumby, becomes her mentor, a spiritual guide of sorts. Mrs. Mumby's kindness, Pearl's strict but loving parents, and the larger events of the tumultuous decade, including the march on Washington, help Pearl see her place in the world. She learns to stand up, fight back and recognize what a true friend is. Artemesia may be gone, but her influence has helped a new Pearl to form. Dean Schneider teaches middle school English in Nashville.

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