Looking for new books? Each month, we’re sharing the first chapter of an upcoming book that you’ll want to add to your TBR list!
This month, our featured title is Dear Friends by Lisa Greenwald which goes on sale May 10.
“SYLVIE REBECCA BANK!”
I’m outside on the porch picking at a piece of banana bread from my favorite Longport bakery, actually called Banana Bread, when I see Sylvie walking up the path to my house. Her dirty-blond curls bounce against her shoulders. My heart feels like Pop Rocks when I see her, like we’ve been apart for years and years, not just two months. Us being back together—that makes my world feel complete again.
I put down my plate and run down the steps to meet her. “Eep! I’m so happy to see you.” Pontoon follows behind me; this shih tzu always wants to be included. I wrap my arms around Sylvie’s neck and we stay in an awkward, about-to-get-sweaty hug.
“Hi, Len,” she says when we pull apart, not cheerful- sounding but not grumpy-sounding either. Somewhere in the middle. “Hi, Tuney Tune-Tunes.”
She reaches down to pet him and he stands up and licks her knee.
We walk back to the porch together and sit on the rocking chairs and Sylvie looks at me, sort of seeming suspicious. “Your hair is so curly, did you sleep in braids or something?”
“Nope.” I hold a few strands in my hand and inspect them. “I think it looks the same wavy brown it always does.” I shrug. “I missed you so much, Sylv!” I have this overwhelming need to tell her everything right away, every single detail about what happened at camp with Maddy and how I felt so alone, but I feel like I need to wait. I don’t want to start our first after-camp hang on such a sad note.
“I missed you, too,” she answers, sort of flat.
We’re silent then, like somehow we forgot how to talk to each other. I read somewhere that you actually have more to talk about with someone you talk to all the time. When you don’t talk for a while, there’s less to say, even though you’d think it would be the opposite.
“What’s with these binders?” she asks, looking at the porch floor. “Ooh, that looks like my handwriting!”
“It is your handwriting.” I laugh. “I’m doing the thing I always do when I get home from camp. Putting the letters I sent home in one binder and the letters I got in another binder, archived forever.” I roll my eyes. “You know how my mom is.”
“Right, yeah.” She leans back in the chair. “You didn’t really write me as much this summer, though.”
My face turns hot for a second. “Well, it was kind of a hard summer. Remember my friend Maddy?” I ask her.
“Um.” She thinks for a second. “Not really.”
I feel a little surprised that she doesn’t remember. “Well, she got super obsessed with soccer and pretty much stopped hanging out with me and I was stuck with these other girls who were fine but not my favorite.” I pause. “I’m so grateful to be home with you now, and so excited to hang with everyone and just get ready for middle school together.”
Sylvie nods and stretches her legs out in front of her. “Yeah, I mean, I hung out with Annie and Paloma all summer pretty much. You may not get all of our jokes and stuff, no offense.” I ignore the all-over body sting I feel when she says that. “I mean, we hung out, like, every single day. It was mostly Annie and Paloma, though, since Zora was at her grandma’s in Maryland for half the summer, but sometimes Zora was there, too.” She pauses. “We called ourselves APS. Like appetizers.”
“Or applications,” I suggest. “Like on a phone?”
“That too. Yeah.” Sylvie giggles. “But when Zora was there, we were ZAPS.”
I nod and force a smile. I wonder if there’s room for my E in their acronym. ZAPES has a catchy ring to it.
Sylvie goes on. “I hung out with Anjali sometimes, too, after art class, but not that much. She was on this road trip with her parents for a while. They rented an RV!”
“Wow.” My eyes bulge. “That sounds pretty awesome.” “Yeah. Paloma and I became super close, though,” she muses, and I try not to feel that twitchy-heart feeling— the one I got a lot over the summer when Maddy was with Wren and Hattie and the other soccer girls all the
“Oh, fun,” I say, trying to find some enthusiasm. “What’d you guys do together?”
“Went to the beach mostly. Oh! And we made all these new varieties of s’mores on her firepit—like check this out. One Oreo, one Chips Ahoy!, and then a marshmallow and a piece of chocolate.”
“Wow,” I say again.
“And we did soo many combinations like that. With all the different Oreo flavors.” She goes on and on and I start to zone out a little bit.
“Very cool.” I pick off another tiny crumb of banana bread. I want to finish it because it’s so good, but suddenly my stomach is tangled up like computer wires. “Such a fun summer. I feel bummed that mine wasn’t so great. And this Maddy thing was totally out of the blue. I still don’t really understand it.”
“Yeah. That’s weird.” She pauses. “Um, Anyway.” She folds her hands on her lap, almost like she’s waiting for me to say something, but I’m still tied up from all the Paloma talk and the s’mores varieties. I feel left out of something I was never going to be part of in the first place. “So can we please talk about my birthday party? I know it’s our tradition to start planning as soon as you’re home from camp, but it was really hard for me to wait that long this year.”
“Yes, but first!” I do a little drum roll on my lap, feeling relieved I can bring something fun into this bummer conversation. “I have the best best best idea for our costume for the sixth-grade overnight.”
“Oh yeah?” Sylvie asks. “Did you already add it to the list of our costume ideas? I can’t believe we’ve been talking about this since third grade!”
“I didn’t add it yet, but if you like it, I will.” I turn to face her a little bit. “A bar of soap and a loofah! Two counselors wore it for Masquerade Night at camp and it was so awesome.”
“Really?” Sylvie asks, her face scrunched. “I don’t know. That feels weird, Len. No offense.”
I scratch the back of my head. “Well, it was just an idea. Anyway, we still have time.”
“So now can we please please please brainstorm my party?” Sylvie claps and gets a notebook and a pen out of her Longport Cones (only the best ice cream shop in the history of ice cream) tote bag. She smiles a cheery smile and I push my left-out feelings away. Maybe all the Maddy stuff seeped into my brain and made me overly sensitive to the ZAPS talk.
Sylvie’s here, like always, and we’re planning her birthday party, like always. Everything’s fine. So what that she wasn’t into my idea? I mean, maybe soap and loofah feels too personal, even in costume form.
“Yes! Ready to rock!” I raise my hands in the air, mimicking my counselor Natalie from camp this summer. “First tell me all of your ideas, so I know what you’re already thinking.”
“A backyard thing for sure ’cause my s’mores summer was so magical. And since September is still so warm. I kind of just want to extend summer as much as I can.” She pauses. “So like backyard movie night?”
“Oooh! Yes! You can order those little containers of popcorn. Maybe even rent a real popcorn machine,” I suggest.
“Yes! Brilliant!” She claps, all excited.
“Guest list?” I ask, staring at a squirrel who keeps running up and down the same tree.
“Obviously Annie and Paloma. Zora. You. Anjali and maybe the other girls I’m friends with from art class.” She pauses. “Maybe Liam and Patrick from across the street? I don’t know. They’re going to Catholic Middle School, so we won’t see them so much anymore. And should I make this a boys-girls thing or no?”
“Hmmm.” I think for a moment. “All girls.”
We’re eleven now (almost twelve, in Sylvie’s case) and it doesn’t feel as easy to be friends with boys as it used to. “But what about Rumi and Elizabeth?” I ask. “You’re friends with them too even if they’re not your best best best friends, know what I mean? But since they’re best friends with Anjali it kind of overlaps.”
“I guess.” She pauses, seeming a little annoyed I’m bringing this up. “But I’m not close with them at all, we never hang out outside of school, and I need to invite Callie and the twins from my art class. I saw them once a week, all summer.”
“Okay.” I want to mention that it may be weird when we’re back at school and Rumi and Elizabeth find out they weren’t invited, but I stop myself.
Sylvie writes down all the names and it comes to nine, including her, which feels like the right amount for a backyard movie night. Her backyard is big but not that big and we wouldn’t want it to feel crowded or chaotic.
“Oh!” I yelp. “I just remembered something.” “What?”
“This girl in my bunk at camp—Shir—she was new this summer and kind of an annoying braggy type, but anyway, she did this thing for her birthday last year—and she told us about it and it seemed so awesome at the time that I meant to write to you about it but then I forgot.” I pause to catch my breath. “Anyway, she rented these teeny tiny tents for her birthday! In the backyard! This lady, the owner of the company, comes to set it up and everything and they come with string lights and pillows and little tables and it was seriously the coolest ever.”
Sylvie’s eyes widen like it’s the best thing she’s ever heard. “Really? Can you find out the name of it? Can you ask her? I really want to do this!”
“Yes, yes, and yes!” I pick up my phone and then realize I don’t have Shir’s number stored in my phone. I’ll need to look it up when I go inside. “I’ll do it right after you leave.”
I don’t know why it took me so long to remember this, but it’s truly the finishing touch for this party, the cherry on the sundae (even though I hate cherries). I mean— twelve is big. It feels old. Plus, it’s the last birthday before we’re teenagers. And Sylvie’s is always the first party of the school year so that’s also a big deal, too. A kickoff, basically.
“Len! I am so so so excited.” We stand up and she reaches over and hugs me and it feels like a real true BFF hug, not awkward at all, the way it was before. “I need to go home because my mom promised she’d take me back-to-school shopping today since we’re leaving for Block Island with my cousins tomorrow. Can you let me know ASAP when you hear back from Shir so I can ask my mom?” She gets up and picks a wedgie and straightens out the legs of her cuffed pink shorts.
“Are ZAP home this week to hang out with me?” I laugh.
“Um.” Sylvie raises her eyebrows. “Way to jump in our joke.”
That stings, but I think she’s kidding. This isn’t a big deal.
“JK. But no, they’re not really. Paloma is doing that camping trip she always does with the families from church and I think Zora’s going back to her grandma’s.”
I nod. “What about Annie?”
“Oh, she’s not gonna be able to hang. They’re renovating their whole house because the basement flooded last week and so she has to help her mom pack up and stuff.” “Oh, wow. That sounds hectic.” I pick up Pontoon and snuggle him close. I guess he’ll be my buddy for the week. “It is sooooo hectic but it’s gonna be amazing when it’s done. You know how Annie’s house has always been kinda tight for them; it’s really small.”
“I guess?” I’ve never thought that much about Annie’s house before.
“Well, there’s going to be this awesome finished basement now and they’re getting a Ping-Pong table and a pinball machine and this huge couch where we can hang out and have sleepovers and stuff.” She pauses. “Anyway, gotta go, so excited for middle school!”
Sylvie starts walking down the path and I yell, “Countdown to the sixth-grade overnight is OFFICIALLY ON!”
She turns around and looks at me weird, like maybe my excitement is over the top, but then she smiles and gives me a thumbs-up and keeps walking home.
I swallow hard. I really hope ZAPES can be a thing.
Copyright © 2022 by Lisa Greenwald
All rights reserved.
About Lisa Greenwald
Lisa Greenwald is the author of the Friendship List, TBH, and the Pink & Green series. She works in the library at the Birch Wathen Lenox School in Manhattan, is a graduate of The New School’s MFA program in writing for children, and lives on the Upper East Side with her husband and two kids.