AS LONG AS she can remember, Anna has lived in the same Upper West Side apartment with her parents and brother, Tom; she’s attended the same private school and had the same best friend, Katie. Katie has always loved hanging out with Anna’s family and escaping the tension in her own small apartment, where her single mom struggles to raise her severely mentally challenged brother.
But then something changes. Katie’s brother gets violent with her mother and now he’s going to live in a home. Suddenly Katie is angry with Anna, and just as quickly they’re not friends anymore. Anna’s mom tells her that Katie just needs someone to be mad at right now, and that everything will be okay, but Anna knows that she has entered the Goodbye Time—and things are changing faster than she can understand.
Conway (The Melting Season) shoehorns a whole lot of story into this middle-grade drama, and barely pulls it off. About to graduate from fifth grade, best friends Katy and Anna, the narrator, still play imaginary games. But the real world is intruding. As Anna dreads losing her 15-year-old genius brother to Harvard in the fall, Katy's profoundly developmentally disabled brother suddenly needs to be institutionalized. (On top of this inequity, Anna's parents are happily married; Katy's, bitterly divorced.) An additional story line involves a classmate whose father has recently died; he and Anna like each other. Given so many developments, it's not surprising that Anna's emotional responses seem a little blunted, even when Katy inexplicably turns on her. But the writing is simple and clear, and gently delivers the message that growing up is inextricably linked with change. As Anna concludes, "I just miss us, Katy and Anna, those girls who played and are gone now." Ages 8 12.