I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of Frankie & Bug by Gayle Forman. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In Frankie & Bug, Bug’s summer isn’t going so well. Her brother now feels too old to hang out with his ten-year-older sister, and her friends from school don’t want to visit her neighborhood. The only interesting thing happening is the mysterious criminal prowling Los Angeles, known as the Midnight Marauder, but no one else seems to care. So when the nephew of her upstairs neighbor arrives for the summer, Bug is sure this isn’t going to be a good development either. Luckily, Frankie is also interested in the crime spree, and together they grudgingly team up to try to uncover the Marauder’s identity. But one night, Frankie’s uncle is attacked and put in the hospital, making the kids question why. And so secrets are revealed, making them both confront how difficult the world is, but also how strong family can be—even if your family doesn’t look conventional.
This is a really sweet story! I loved Bug and Frankie’s friendship, how it evolved from mutual dislike and disinterest to begrudging companionship to genuine affection and love. Bug in particular has some fantastic character development: she starts out very selfish in the way that ten-year-olds are, but comes to gain a new perspective on the world. And Frankie is so wonderful too, bright and full of humor and heart. He’s got a really moving backstory, and it’s refreshing to see a trans character like him in middle grade portrayed with such care and respect and depth.
As for the other characters, I really liked them. Bug’s mom, brother Danny, and Frankie’s uncle Phillip are well-written and don’t feel like one-note side characters. Phillip is probably my favorite, simply because he’s got the best banter. As for Aunt Teri, I was so frustrated reading the scenes with her, simply because talking to people like her in real life is a special breed of ugh. However, props to Forman for nailing what it feels like to talk to people close to you whose opinions you don’t agree with.
That said, the idea of family is so wholesome and sweet here. We see through Bug’s eyes how family doesn’t have to, and shouldn’t, be limited to just those you’re related to. The idea of family is much more complex than that, and even a chosen family isn’t always perfect. Forman does a great job portraying the nuances of this, and of how unjust the world can be, to her audience without talking down to them.
As for the ending, I found it a little disappointing that one of the characters has to return, even temporarily, to a situation that might bring them serious distress, or even harm. However, I was consoled in the final scene, because the overall theme of this book is that there is hope, and that things will get better. It’s realistic without being too optimistic or too pessimistic.
In the end, Frankie & Bug is a bighearted middle grade debut by Gayle Forman. The representation of queer and mixed race characters is well researched and portrayed. Excellent characters and relationships, a great look at a period of history not too far behind us, an intelligent examination of fairness and justice wrapped up in summery family drama makes this a wonderful read.
Overall rating: 8.7/10
Frankie & Bug is now available!