The Unexpected Gifts of Friendship
Irene Latham is a poet and novelist who lives and writes in Birmingham, Alabama. Her debut novel Leaving Gee’s Bend was named a Bank Street College Best Book, a SIBA finalist, a Crystal Kite Finalist and ALLA’s Children’s Book of the Year. As a child she dreamed of being a zoo veterinarian and even trained as a teenage zoo volunteer. All it took was observing one surgery to convince her that perhaps she’d better just write about the animals instead. In this article, Irene shares some beautiful insight into her latest book Don’t Feed the Boy.
The first friend I ever made was a Saudi girl who walked her goats down the dusty Riyadh street that ran alongside the wall to our American neighborhood. I would scale the wall, hop over and land on the top of one of the parked cars where the goats liked to sleep. She would smile as I scrambled down the hood and onto the ground.
That’s what I remember about her the most: her smile. We played in silence mostly, as neither of us was able to speak the other’s language. We tossed rocks for hopscotch and played jacks and performed some of those hand-clap games like you see on American playgrounds. We chased and ran and tried to ride the goats. We played Queen of the Mountain (at least that’s what I called it, in my mind) with the giant drifts of sand.
I can’t tell you her name, but we were best friends. She taught me that words aren’t always necessary.
When I was eleven, I had two best friends: Erin was the daughter of a single mom and lived in a house she’d helped her mom build. She hammered and sawed. She played soccer. She was confident about her body and her strength in ways I wasn’t. They lived just down the road from a convent, and sometimes Erin and I would go inside and help in the kitchen. I loved the adventure of being with Erin and her mom. I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.
Then there was Kim, who had a twin brother, an older brother, and parents so loving and nurturing, I enjoyed just watching them together. They were members at a pool and hung out at a horse barn and spent their summer vacations at dude ranches in Colorado. On the weekends, Kim and I would camp out in a tent in her back yard—pretending we were on some deserted cowboy range—Kim’s sweet dog Susie snuggled beside our sleeping bag. I loved the adventure of being with Kim and her family. I wanted to spend as much time with them as possible.
Those were wonder years. Erin and Kim taught me that the human heart has an unlimited capacity to love.
As a teenager in a new town, I was fortunate to be taken in by Missy*, a girl who lived just two streets over. She gave me, in an instant, a place to belong. But most of the time we stayed at my house, or did things with my family. One year she went with us to Disney World, and it really was the Happiest Place on Earth.
What wasn’t the happiest place on earth, was Missy’s house. Just like Stella in DON’T FEED THE BOY, her father was injured in a trucking accident. Just like Whit, I hated walking through the smoke-filled room where her father sat, remote control in hand. And Missy didn’t like being at her house any more than I did.
I wanted to fix things for Missy, but I couldn’t. The problems were bigger than I was. What I could do was love her—just love her—in whatever ways I was able.
And so it goes with Whit and Stella in DON’T FEED THE BOY. They learn things from their friendship that neither could have ever expected. Happy reading!
For more information, visit: www.irenelatham.com.
Add this book to your collection: Don’t Feed the Boy