Books about friendship fill the shelves of any library, but not all of them are as nuanced and meaningful, while also being an absolute pleasure to read, as The Year of the Book, by Andrea Cheng. This is the story of fourth-grader Anna Wang who learns, over the course of a year, what it means to be a friend.
When Anna starts fourth grade, she finds herself spending most of her days alone, as her one-time best friend Laura has started spending most recesses and lunch hours with her two new friends, and none of them have any time for Anna’s eccentricities. Anna loves to read, and schoolyard politics don’t interest her, so she pulls herself into a world of books and tries to ignore the fact that the person she once spent all of her time with doesn’t seem to like her anymore. What’s more, her mother is sending to learn to speak Chinese, which Anna hates because she can’t understand a thing and the teacher won’t let her read her English books during class. Andrea Cheng’s novel follows Anna throughout the year as she makes discoveries about herself, her family and her friends.
This is a book that you can’t put down once you pick up, in part because it has really nice pacing. Anna’s first-person narration pulls you along through the days and months, blending her thoughts about the books she is reading with her observations about the people around her. As Anna moves through her days at school, it becomes clear that the problems between her and Laura aren’t just one-sided; Anna also has to learn to be a better friend.
Illustrated beautifully by Abigail Halpin, The Year of the Book introduces the reader to a wide range of characters, and by getting to know them, you get to know Anna. Each of the people Anna encounters are richly drawn, from Mr. Shepherd, the man Anna’s mother cleans for, to Ray, the friendly crossing guard. I found the development of the rift between Laura and Anna particularly interesting, as most people will, at some point or another, have a conflict with a friend. Through the year, Anna grows up a little. She doesn’t change overnight, but she learns some things about herself and figures out how to be a nicer person and friend. This is a really fun book to read and one that definitely deserves to be given a chance!