FRANKIE AND BUG by Gayle Forman

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.

Bug’s older brother is growing up and he’s leaving her behind. For years, they’ve spent the summers together on Venice Beach while their mom works her busy job as the mayor’s press secretary. But this summer, Danny needs “space.” He doesn’t even want to be called Danny anymore. Daniel is too busy hanging out with his skateboarding, weight lifting, soon-to-be high schooler friends to hang out with a fourth-grade baby. And now Bug is stuck with her neighbor’s weird nephew, Frankie.

But it turns out that Frankie is more interesting than Bug first thought. For one thing, he’s determined to track down LA’s most notorious serial killer and he’s willing to let Bug help him. As their friendship deepens, Frankie shares his transgender identity with Bug, and Bug shares her fears about the skinheads that target her family–especially her brother who is just as Salvadoran as she is, but has darker skin. When their investigations into the murders get overshadowed by a hate crime much closer to home, Frankie and Bug abandon their search for the serial killer and try instead to bring a little bit of justice to the lives of those closest to them.

Set in the 1980s against the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic (and related spike in homophobia) and a serial killer reminiscent of LA’s Night Stalker murders, this middle grade novel had the potential to be heavy and disturbing. But it is the innocent voices of Bug and Frankie and the hopeful worldview of Bug’s mom that keep the story buoyant enough for a middle grade audience. Through their encounters with diverse people over the course of the summer, both Bug and Frankie learn things about themselves and about tolerance and compassion for others. I’d recommend this one to upper elementary readers who enjoy contemporary and historical fiction.

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