Most of us have had one. You know, that girl you call your friend but who actually makes you feel bad about yourself on a regular basis. If she were anyone else, you'd write her off as a regular biatch and get over it. But she's your friend, so you tell yourself she can't be doing it on purpose. Maybe you're just oversensitive. Or maybe you actually are as dorky / unattractive / stupid as she says. Maybe.
I encountered my first toxic friend at primary school, way before the phrase was even invented. I was probably around seven years old, and had recently become friends with a girl who was fun and smart and cool. But gradually, I noticed that she made me feel... bad. Luckily, my mum was on hand with a book recommendation for just this occasion: Sheila Lavelle's My Best Fiend series.
The strange thing was, I hadn't mentioned the toxic friend issue to my mum. She would've told me to get new friends, which sounds simple (and is actually the very best advice) but I didn't want new friends. I wanted my cool friend to be nice to me. And yet somehow, the My Best Fiend books found their way onto my bookshelf. Call it mum superpowers, call it coincidence, but this author seemed to know exactly what I was going through.
The heroine of the My Best Fiend series is Charlie Ellis, who has her very own toxic friend in the form of BFF Angela. They're in the same class at school, they live in the same street, and Charlie once wrote a paper in which she accidentally described Angela as her very best 'fiend'. Turns out, she was right. Because somehow, Angela has this knack for getting Charlie into trouble, getting everything that Charlie wants, and making her feel... bad. She's also a lot of fun, so Charlie would never stop being friends with her. Even though she probably should.
The Fiend Next Door was always my favourite in the series, so that's the one I chose to reread this week. I'm way too old for it, but I wanted to remind myself just why these books appealed so strongly to my seven year old self. And having reread it, I think the secret is in the way that the books are structured. Each short, easy-to-read chapter describes a different totally annoying thing that Angela has done and got away with, one after the other. Like the time she locks a classmate up in a shed, and convinces Charlie to go back to let him out... only it turns out that Angela actually locked up one of their teachers, who now thinks Charlie is the culprit. Or the time Angela makes such a big deal about how out of style Charlie's hand-me-down designer bag is, and graciously swaps it with one of hers... because she really wanted it all along. It's infuriating, and by the final chapter any reader who has had a friend like Angela will be desperately hoping that Charlie will somehow get her own back. And when, in the last few pages, she finally does, it's like BAM! Take that, Angela. Revenge is sweet.
Verdict: For readers in the 5-8 age group, these books are absolute must-reads. They're funny, poignant, and all round awesome. I'll love them forever.