Francis Meredith is clever, funny, interesting, and creative, but he is too worried about the judgment of others to recognize his gifts. Because he is chided at school for his interest in fashion, design, and sewing, he thinks it is impossible to be happy being himself. So, when he encounters Jessica Fry, he believes he has enough problems without adding an ability to see and hear dead people.
Jessica, a ghost who can think herself into a wardrobe, becomes Francis’ friend in what he sees as an otherwise friendless world. They have an interest in clothes in common and both can talk about synthetic fabrics as easily as most people talk about the weather. The only thing Jessica can’t talk about is how she died—she simply can’t remember the details, which, it turns out, she has actually blocked.
As time goes on, his artist mother assigns Francis a project, an odd sock who needs help fitting in and navigating the challenges of middle school. First, it’s Andi Campion. Athletic and more masculine than feminine, Andi sees herself as short and ugly. Then, it’s Roland Boyle, who is morbidly obese. In the pit of despair, the tweens have given up on life. Alone, different, and separated somehow from the world around them, Jessica becomes the glue that holds the odd socks together; being different bonds them. But, Jessica’s a ghost who should have crossed over. Discovering why she still remains on earth becomes part of the story’s mystery.
Anything but ordinary, Friends for Life by Andrew Norriss teaches all readers—young and old alike—that searching for happiness through the approval of others is a fundamental mistake. Happiness comes from inner strength and self-confidence. A craving for acceptance from outside ourselves causes us to hide from opportunities, and a need for approval from others creates anxiety and depression. When Roland, Andi, and Francis learn to accept who they are and work to address their flaws, they grow as individuals. Recognizing what they love about themselves first makes them happier to be in their own skin. All of the characters learn that even at its darkest moments, life is full of possibility.
Although the novel works as therapeutic for those who see life as impossible, it also serves to share the point to which bullying behavior can push a person. As he pens a sensitive story about friendship and its ability to bring joy to life–making life worth living, Norriss deals with a challenging subject and doesn’t trivialize the reality of adolescent depression.