Title: Frankie & Bug
Author: Gayle Forman
Genre: Middle Grade Historical Fiction
Number of Pages: 288
Winning and heartfelt, Frankie & Bug is one of the best middle grade books I’ve read this year. Set in 1987, it tells the story of a little girl named ‘Bug’ (real name Beatrice) who lives in Venice Beach, California with her mom and her older brother Danny.
Danny’s at that age where he doesn’t want to hang out with his little sister as much, and Bug can’t go to the beach without supervision. This is unthinkable to her because it’s summer- the perfect time for going to the beach!- and she gets fixated on the unfairness of the situation. Then she finds out her mom’s best friend and next-door neighbor Philip is taking in his nephew Frankie for the summer.
Frankie is quiet and Bug finds him sullen and uncooperative, not exactly the new friend she had in mind. But she finds herself getting pulled into Frankie’s interest in catching ‘the Midnight Marauder’- a serial killer they’ve heard about on the news. As she and Frankie grow closer, Bug realizes that he’s transgender and escaping a tough situation at home.
She also learns more about her own family and the intolerance on her mother’s side, and how that affected her mom when she had children who were part Puerto Rican. Frankie & Bug deals with a lot of heavy issues- racism, homophobia, hate crimes, not to mention the exploits of ‘the Midnight Marauder’ and his body count- but it applies a somewhat light touch and overall isn’t objectionable to children.
I liked how Frankie wasn’t defined by his gender identity and Philip wasn’t defined by being gay. Being transgender isn’t something that’s constantly brought up for Frankie’s character and he’s allowed to evolve authentically. The way Bug reacts to finding out Frankie is transgender is also really well-handled.
She’s surprised at first, but it doesn’t change who he is, and she takes in stride. The characters are believable and multi-faceted, including the adults. The ending was also hopeful while still being thoroughly realistic. Things didn’t ‘come together’ conveniently for the characters like they do in a lot of books but the takeaway was very positive, leaving the reader feeling satisfied.