Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead

May 7, 2018

Genre: Children’s fiction

Release date: May 1, 2018

Rated: Borrow it / 3 stars

A young girl visits her grandmother and discovers that she left behind a secret friend on her previous visit. The problem? The girl doesn’t remember anything about the friend or the promise she made to him. Authors Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead offer young readers a book with real-world problems and a fanciful ending in the somewhat delightful but ultimately confusing book Bob.

After five years, Livy has come back to visit her Gran Nicholas. She, her mother, and her baby sister, Beth Ann, have traveled a long way from their home in Massachusetts to Australia for the trip. Livy is excited and nervous all at the same time. She loves her grandmother, but it’s been a long time since she’s visited. Also, she can’t escape the nagging feeling that she forgot something important at Gran’s house the last time she was there.

It turns out that Livy’s right. The important thing she forgot was Bob, a fanciful creature who hid in the closet after a five-year-old Livy told him she would come right back. Bob, understandably, is a little miffed that he had to stay in the closet for so long. After enough apologizing from Livy, though, he agrees to talk to her.

Livy doesn’t remember Bob at all, and Bob doesn’t remember where he came from; all he knows is that when Livy came to Australia the last time, she promised to help him find his way home. As the two talk through Livy’s previous trip, they learn to enjoy one another’s company again. Their sweet friendship will help them through this new challenge as well as others that threaten the entire town, and Livy learns that helping Bob means helping Gran Nicholas and everyone else as well.

Authors Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead give their target readers a pair of kind protagonists. Even though she doesn’t remember spending time with him, Livy doesn’t begrudge Bob’s existence in her life. While she does chide him with gentleness once or twice, the two get along well. Bob, too, comes across as relatable. Children will have no trouble liking him or wishing him well in his intense desire to go home to his mother.

More problematic is the story as a whole. While it makes sense that 10-year-old Livy would have forgotten a special friend from when she was five years old, the fact that she keeps forgetting Bob in the current story doesn’t ring as true. Readers will find out that a particular object helps Livy remember him, but it’s not clear why this plot device is necessary. Livy forgetting Bob over and over again doesn’t contribute anything to the larger story at hand other than to raise the question with older readers that maybe he isn’t real at all. Maybe, in fact, Livy dreamed him up.

Mass and Stead don’t take the easy way out with making Bob an imaginary friend. He’s real and needs help. The reason, though, feels rushed and not well developed. The book tries to tackle too many things all at the same time: the way the environment affects people; the anxiety young children feel when staying overnight in a new place; reconnecting with old acquaintances. The authors could have made the story even more engaging by sticking to just one or two issues rather than try to cover the gamut of them.

As a result, younger readers might appreciate Bob’s dilemma, but smarter readers will get impatient and wonder just what the whole point was after all. I recommend readers Borrow Bob.