When Friendship Followed Me Home by Paul Griffin
How does Paul Griffin do it?
He takes the most depressing things that could happen in a young life: violent home environment, school bully, death of a parent, cancer, chemotherapy, and homelessness. He bundles them all into an uplifing middle grade novel about a boy named Ben Coffin. (Yes his last name is Coffin, a double entendre for coping with death and battling to breathe.)
Somehow in a way that I cannot fully comprehend, as I read When Friendship Followed Me Home I am filled with a warmth that is better than the gooey center of a molten chocolate lava cake.
This story offers a huge helping of hope. Through tears, I am fully satisfied with the richness of the story, the tender way he explores the pain living inside young Ben and the constant fear haunting his one true friend Halley.
These characters: I love them, I cheer for them and my heart breaks for them.
In spite of disappointment and despair, hope remains.
Can we talk for a minute about dogs? The fascinating relationship which characters have with dogs is another of things that I love about Paul Griffin books. Dogs are dogs, not humanized characters. They are truly dogs.
Let's start with his incredible Stay with Me. I lost track of the number of times I reread the dog scenes in that book. Over and over and over again I marveled at the way that Mack could work with dogs.
Ben has a similar gift.
Ben's understanding of dogs brings out the best in his dog Flip, in himself, and in those who are a part of his world.
"Rarely have I seen such genuine trust between a man and a dog. I expect this exceptional dog and his equally exceptional handler will go on to mend many hearts. The world is about to become a lovelier place."
Griffin's use of language is precisely right.
The characters of Leo and Tess are revealed with the nickname each choses for Ben. There is a reason that Leo calls Ben "Champ". Each time Leo uses that name, its biting irony grates upon my senses.
Contrast that with the name given to him by his mother. "Traveler" is a description full of faith and hope. This loving appellation also becomes prophetic of Ben and his life journey.