Abby Cooper’s middle grade novel, Friend or Fiction, begins with the common problem for this age of finding true friendship. Keeping friends for Jade Levy is complicated by her location in a town where people never live for long. She observes that nobody lives long in the transition town of Tiveda, Colorado because everybody longs to be anyplace else. After she loses several friends who move away and promise to keep in touch but do not, she creates her own friend Zoe in her writing notebook.
Isolating herself to write at lunch time, Jade assumes the Sparkle girls who group together in the cafeteria have shunned her. She loses herself daily in her story, reporting her word count to Mrs. Yang, her English teacher, when lunch is over. Mrs. Yang reads her work and inserts good writing habits and instruction into the support she gives Jade to be a good writer, but also encourages her to live her life fully.
Jade reads her account of Zoe to her father and it seems to cheer him after his cancer diagnosis. When it gets into the hands of her classmate with a nickname of Clue because he gives hints to answers, he does some magical realism with pond water and brings Zoe to life. Jade controls this new best (imaginary?) friend through her writing until that becomes disappointing. She must make some decisions about what true friendship entails and open her mind to new perceptions of Clue and the Sparkle girls.
This is a good book for a middle grader with the empathy to care about real world problems and the imagination to enjoy magical realism.