Angeline is not Jamie Kelly's first choice for a friend. But after Jamie's aunt marries Angeline's uncle, they are not only family but "automatic friends." In THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS AREN'T FOR, the ninth installment in the Dear Dumb Diary series, the ever clever Jamie tries to find a way to deal with Angeline, maintain her best friendship with Isabella, and still find time to make some seriously fantastic --- not to mention glittery --- art.
Angeline is not the worst kid at Mackerel Middle School, but with her kindness and prettiness, she is just too annoying for Jamie, who prefers to hang out with the grumpy Isabella. But soon, even Isabella is charmed by Angeline, and as the three girls prepare a rockin' lip-syncing act for the school talent show, Jamie hatches a plan to pawn off Angeline on an unsuspecting fourth friend. She holds auditions for a talent show band member but is --- unbeknownst to Angeline or Isabella --- trying to find a new friend for Angeline.
The candidates are less than spectacular, however: Fléurrål Mjångîi-Shmørp smells like turnips, Nadia likes to gross people out, Margaret is a pencil chewer, and Elizabeth is "spittish." Jamie eventually chooses the clueless Emmily (yes, two m's!) to be in the band, and the choice is accepted by Angeline and Isabella. But all the hard work Jamie has been doing for the talent show and the upcoming art show yield results very different from what she expected, and her understanding of friendship is challenged in a most wonderful way.
While it is a pleasure to read Jamie's diary (thanks to author Jim Benton!) as she wrestles with friendship, the real joy in THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS AREN'T FOR is Benton's wit and ease in capturing the little details in daily life that mean so much to preteens. Benton is a genius at expressing a believable preteen girl worldview without silly vernacular or dumbing down to his audience. The youngsters here are generally good kids, and the adults may be hapless (this is Jamie's point of view, remember), but they are always well-meaning.
The innocence in the Dear Dumb Diary books relative to many other titles marketed to the same age group is balanced out by Benton's sharp wit and laugh-out-loud humor. Jamie is a keen observer of the world around her and collects her thoughts in her diary along with quirky pictures to further illustrate her ideas. In addition to fretting over automatic friendship, the book finds her pondering the love her dog Stinker feels for his favorite toy (which she calls "grossnasty"), the mystery of meatloaf, why your jewelry gets bigger as you grow older, and why television may not be the best source for expert advice after all.
Readers of the entire series will enjoy the latest twist in Angeline and Jamie's relationship, but the book can stand alone as well, apart from the previous eight. Sweet and silly, THAT'S WHAT FRIENDS AREN'T FOR is a fun read with a nice touch of wisdom at its core.
--- Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman