Just One Friend by Lynn Hall is another miss for me. For the most part, I appreciated the ability of Hall to get inside the head of her main character. Too bad Hall ultimately made her main character morally bereft. The plot also had too many contrivances to make this novel a hit.
Initially, I felt hopeful of liking Just One Friend. There are so many phrases which are poignantly real to how special education students feel. For example, one neighbor girl who is friendly to her, Dory writes, “I tried to make myself be proud of how smart she was in school, but it was lonesome sometimes, always being proud of her and nobody ever being proud of me.” When talking about how some teachers treat her, Dory writes, “She was trying not to say that Bingo was dumb, so I could tell it was me that she was thinking about. She knew I was dumb and she didn’t want to hurt my feelings.” Students with learning disabilities may not often confess to feelings like these, because honestly few of us readily admit to our insecurities, but Hall shows a great understanding of their inner thoughts.
Actually, Hall also masterfully nails how difficult it is for anyone to confront a challenge. Dory hated how her mom would turn to alcohol as a way to deal with the family’s poverty. Until the day when school administrators decided Dory should be mainstreamed instead of attending a special school. Dory didn’t think she could handle being an outsider, adjusting to a new routine, or finding her way around a new school. She wanted the friendly neighbor girl Robin to ride the school bus with her and resented that another girl Meredith was going to pick Robin up in her car. As Dory struggled with her fears about facing her first day at a regular school, she started to feel how strong the pull must be for her mom to just give up on life: “I felt so damn tired of trying and failing and trying and failing, and reading everything three times before I understood it and always getting bad grades no matter how hard I tried.” Doesn’t this make your heart cry?
About this point is unfortunately when Just One Friend “jumps the shark” or declines in quality. Dory decides to spread nasty lies about Robin and Meredith, with the hope that the two would break up their friendship. When that doesn’t work, she decides to stop Meredith from picking up Robin by causing her to have a car accident. If that isn’t far-fetched enough, listen to how Dory’s logic is presented: “And then when Meredith woke up maybe she wouldn’t remember about me hitting her, or maybe she’d remember it fuzzy and not be sure. People would just think she drove into the ditch because she was a new driver and hit her head on the steering wheel.”
It’s also about this point that I lost all sympathy for Dory. Her not-so-innocent actions end up causing a terrible tragedy. Despite feeling some guilt and remorse, Dory shows the most concern about how she fits into The State Training School for Girls, who stays in touch with her, and what friends she makes. Never mind that she tried to hurt someone or that she negatively impacted Meredith’s life forever. All that matters in Dory’s narrow mind is that she has finally found a friend. While students with learning disabilities might resent how easy life comes to the smart, the majority of them still have moral integrity. And so I dislike this surprise twist of events.
My rating? Leave it: Don’t even take it off the shelves. Not recommended.
How would you rate this book?