The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson

The Friendship Doll by Kirby Larson

(Delacorte, 2011)

Summary from publisher:

I am Miss Kanagawa, Master Tatsuhiko’s finest – and final – creating.  In 1927, my fifty-seven doll-sisters and I were sent to this country as Ambassadors of Friendship.  Oh!  The parties and receptions and admirers.  But let me assure you, it wasn’t all peach blossoms and tea cakes.  Some rice brains thought me only a plaything, unaware that I was a samurai in silk.

In your hands you hold my story (well worth reading, if I do say so myself).  Together we will travel from New York to Oregon during that time of troubles called the Great Depression.  Though few in this tale are as fascinating as I am, their stories will not be an unpleasant diversion.  You will make the acquaintance of Bunny, bent on mischief; Lois, with her head held high in the clouds; and Willie Mae, the girl who not only awakened my heart but also broke it.  And, of course, Lucy, true samurai, and friend so dear that not even a war could part us.

My thoughts:

When I first started hearing about this book right after its publication last year, I looked it up on Goodreads to find out what it was all about.  I had read Kirby Larson’s Hattie Big Sky years ago, and I loved it.  The description of The Friendship Doll, though, just didn’t sound all that interesting, and honestly, I had a HUGE to-be-read pile already.

Fast forward to summer break 2012, and summer #bookaday.  I was at the library with my eight and ten year old daughters, choosing books for our summer reading.  As Molly was looking at Lois Lowry’s Number the Stars, I saw The Friendship Doll on the shelf above.  I figured I’d check it out and see what all of my NerdyBookClub friends were raving about.

I could not have been more wrong about basing a book on a blurb.  The story of Miss Kanagawa and the girls whose lives she touches is completely captivating.  Larson creates a perfect personality for the doll – slightly vain, fairly full of self-importance, yet open to new experiences.  The girls themselves are all, without always knowing it, seeking something that’s missing in their lives, whether it’s friends, a mother, or a home, and Miss Kanagawa speaks to the girls and helps them find a way to fill the holes in their hearts.

Not all of the stories have happy endings, mind you.  Of course, real life does not always have a happy ending.  Much of the book is set during the Great Depression, and each of the stories opens a window into a different experience:  a wealthy New York City businessman’s daughter, a suburban Chicago girl hoping to fly, a Kentucky mountain girl who wishes for more, and an Okie setting out to find a new life.  Each girl has her own hopes and dreams, and Larson writes their stories in such a way that makes them seem real, even the parts that will make you reach for tissue after tissue.

I read this book in one sitting, and was sad that my daughter was already asleep.  I wanted so much to hand the book to her and say, “Molly, you must read this NOW so we can talk about it when you finish.”  I want her to read this book and see the power of kindness; much like she saw in Wonder, but in a quieter way.  At almost eleven and starting sixth grade in the fall, I think she’s the perfect age for this book, entering a time in her life when girls are not always kind and friendships can be difficult to navigate.  She’s about the same age as the girls in the book, and while times are different, girls – for the most part – aren’t.

If you haven’t yet had a chance to read The Friendship Doll, add it to your list.  I promise you, you won’t regret it.

Mindi spreads the #nerdybookclub love as a junior high literacy coach and mom of two amazing daughters in the Chicago suburbs. You can find her on twitter as @mindi_r and read her blog at