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Frankie & Bug

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In the debut middle grade novel from #1 New York Times bestselling author Gayle Forman comes a poignant and powerful coming-of-age story that follows a young girl and her new friend as they learn about family, friendship, allyship, and finding your way in a complicated world.

It’s the summer of 1987, and all ten-year-old Bug wants to do is go to the beach with her older brother and hang out with the locals on the boardwalk. But Danny wants to be with his own friends, and Bug’s mom is too busy, so Bug is stuck with their neighbor Philip’s nephew, Frankie.

Bug’s not too excited about hanging out with a kid she’s never met, but they soon find some common ground. And as the summer unfolds, they find themselves learning some important lessons about each other, and the world.

Like what it means to be your true self and how to be a good ally for others. That family can be the people you’re related to, but also the people you choose to have around you. And that even though life isn’t always fair, we can all do our part to make it more just.

288 pages, Hardcover

First published October 12, 2021

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About the author

Gayle Forman

35 books24.6k followers
Award-winning author and journalist Gayle Forman has written several bestselling novels for young adults, including the Just One Series, I Was Here, Where She Went and the #1 New York Times bestseller If I Stay, which has been translated into more than 40 languages and in 2014 was adapted into a major motion picture.

Gayle published Leave Me, her first novel starring adults in 2016 and her latest novel, I Have Lost My Way, comes out in March of 2018.

Gayle lives with her husband and daughters in Brooklyn.

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5 stars
558 (34%)
4 stars
737 (46%)
3 stars
256 (16%)
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37 (2%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 343 reviews
Profile Image for James.
Author 19 books3,575 followers
July 27, 2021
Get ready to transport yourself back to the 1980s when a very different world was dealing with tolerance and acceptance. Pre-teens knew very little about being gay... AIDS was discovered... and the concept of a transsexual was mostly a new thing. Of course, there has always been homosexuality and the idea of feeling different than those around you, but a 10-year-old had zero if any chance of truly being themselves back then. Frankie and Bug show us what it's like to live that unfamiliar life in a time where you might get murdered for being different just as easily as people died of drug overdoses in the latter part of the decade.

Pegged as a very young adult / middle-grade novel, there is a lot to learn even for adults (like me). Even for a very tolerant person (like me). Even for someone who is 'different' too (like me). I've read a few of Gayle Forman's books in the past and enjoyed them. Recently, a colleague mentioned that (s)he was a cousin of Forman's, and it reminded me I should read more of her books. I saw this one and figured it would be the perfect way to get back on the saddle. What a great way to remember her adorable attention to detail and ability to draw out a reader's emotions.

Unlike her past books (If I Stay), I did not cry at this one... but again, it's emotional at the middle-grade level. It was a different kind of heart-wrenching-tugger. Frankie lives in Ohio, but her father dislikes that she acts and dresses like a boy. Frankie's mother sends her to live with an uncle in California, where even though they are more liberal, it's not a completely safe place. There's even a serial killer called the Midnight Marauder lurking about. Frankie arrives and to everyone else, Frankie is Philip's nephew. Because inside, Frankie has always felt like a boy even though he was born with a female's body. At 10... in the 1980s... this is not an understood thing. Nor is it really spoken about. But Frankie meets Philip's neighbor, Bug, and things suddenly change.

On the flip side in Bug's world, she's going through some stuff too. Her mother works for the mayor and is raising her two kids by herself. Bug has an older brother, Danny, who needs to watch his sister this summer while Mom's working. Normally they go to camp but that's not an option this year. She's half Salvadoran, but some in the town think they're Mexican, and therefore they are often teased. Bug's smart, and she pushes through it, and when Frankie arrives, a whole new view of the world develops. She accept Frankie as a boy, later learns he's technically a girl in their world at that time, and tells everyone else to grow up. Who cares!? Exactly... the best attitude to have. If it doesn't impact you, then let it go. :)

I'm not preaching tho, this is a book review. Truthfully, its a wonderful story with a little bit of sadness, happiness, fear, and confusion. I liked the book a lot. I wished it pushed the envelope a bit further. But it's really important and has an excellent approach to telling the story without speaking from a pulpit. I could see it opening a few readers' eyes to a different perspective. There is substance but not so deep that it stops you from also just enjoying that this is a story about friendship and what it means to support one another. I can't wait to read another Forman book this summer now!
Profile Image for Vee_Bookish.
1,339 reviews298 followers
October 17, 2021
Perhaps it was knowing everything these young characters were about to live through, perhaps it was the beautiful, hopeful message at the end of the story or perhaps watching Squid Game last week broke me as a human being but I fully sobbed when I finished this book.

Set in late 1980s Venice Beach, this picture of a young girl's summer as she struggles with her older brother growing away from her, and the arrival of Frankie starts off a summer of discovery for the two friends, with a realistic glimpse of Queer culture that was clearly meticulously researched.

The trans rep in this is so good, Gayle stated that she is a cisgender white woman but talked to, and clearly listened to, people with the lived experience. Bug's family is Salvadoran and this seemed to be well written too, but I can't say for certain as I'm not own voices.

This story is wrapped up perfectly, however I would absolutely read a whole series of Frankie & Bug's summer adventures, they were such vivid, memorable characters that leapt off the page. I absolutely, positively recommend this book.
October 19, 2021
Bug is a tween growing up in the late 1980s. It's the summer and for Bug, the summer has always been about the beach that is until plans change this year. Normally her brother, Danny, watches her and they go to Venice Beach together, but this summer is different. Danny is now a teenager and doesn't want to hangout with his little sister day in and day out. Naturally, he would rather hangout with his friends. This obviously crushes Bug, because not only does she look forward to summer days at the beach, she is also disappointed that her brother has pushed her aside. Bug's mother has good news though. Her best friend who lives upstairs has his nephew, Frankie, visiting for the summer and he is the same age as Bug. At first, things are awkward between Bug and Frankie, but eventually they hit it off. Together they hope to solve the crime of the Midnight Marauder, a serial killer who has been targeting their area. However, things quickly go from a more relaxed "investigation" to a more serious once when Phillip, Frankie's uncle, is attacked. Frankie & Bug by Gayle Forman is a brilliant coming-of-age story about two friends with the whole summer ahead of them, but it is actually a lot more than your usual summer reader. Readers will appreciate the subtle messages throughout and Forman's expert way of dealing with difficult, yet timely issues. Frankie & Bug is such a memorable read.
Read the rest of my review here:
Profile Image for lily ✿.
181 reviews44 followers
November 24, 2021
[4.5 stars]

there are some middle grade books that ring true, and are enjoyable to read at any age, and this is one of them.

i immediately felt at home following bug, a ten year old girl who just wants to enjoy her summer and spend time at the beach. she has a delightful innocence that makes me long for childhood again. her older brother, danny, is fourteen and has become a moody teenager who needs his space away from her (although their sibling relationship still ends up being adorable as anything.) insert a found family aspect with the other adults who live in their apartment, and viola! we’ve found a feel-good book.

their neighbor philip’s nephew frankie is visiting for the summer. bug hopes it’s to save hers, as danny is no longer willing to babysit her and take her to the beach every day, but their friendship has a rather rocky start, as frankie is much more interested in solving a series of murders around their area than he is in splashing in the waves. but as children have a way of doing, they manage to work through their differences and become best friends (💖)

additional pluses of this book: without spoiling anything, there’s transgender, gay, and even genderfluid rep (!!!) the book artfully tackles difficult concepts like homophobia and racism in gentle ways that will make children feel empowered.
Profile Image for Shannon.
4,022 reviews187 followers
February 25, 2022
A powerful middle grade novel set during one summer in 1980s LA at the height of the AIDS crisis and the reign of the Midnight Marauder. Frankie and Bug are two characters that will live in my heart forever! Their friendship over the summer is so tender as they bond over trying to track and catch this serial killer, while also trying to learn how to make sense of a world filled with hate - hate for queer people, immigrants and so many others.

This story has such a great message of acceptance and love and learning that our differences don't need to divide us. Highly recommended, especially in light of the rising transphobia around the world (not to mention anti-immigrant sentiments). Great on audio narrated by no less than the imitable Stockard Channing!!

CW: transphobia, hate crimes, homophobia
Profile Image for Eileen.
1,936 reviews74 followers
October 14, 2021
I loved this one! Although the author is a cisgender white woman, it felt like she did a ton of research and really talked and listened to others as she put together this story about a transgender boy and a biracial girl in Venice Beach, CA during the late 1980s. Interestingly, this book takes place in the same time period as another book I just finished reading, the second Aristotle and Dante book. This book definitely tackled many instances of injustice and how marginalized people find their space in this world. While the story begins with Bug as a naive and somewhat bratty kid, I love how she grew in her maturity and understanding of how things were for others, which included her family, even her awful aunt. While this book definitely tackled some serious topics, I felt that it held back a little, probably because of the age of the target audience. In spite of this, I totally appreciated this story as an adult and believe that this book should be in school libraries. This is my third book by this author and I look forward to discovering more books by her.

Profile Image for Mary.
1,269 reviews10 followers
January 17, 2022
PRO: Likeable characters are featured in this coming-of-age story. The main character's mother and neighbors are mouthpieces for words of wisdom and good advice.
CON: Too many potentially unknown (to the target audience) and controversial issues are included--homosexuality/homophobia, AIDS, transgender, racism, gender bias, family dysfunction, violence. The author explains them in an introductory and child-friendly way; there are too many for one story.
The book came off as quite didactic.
A mystery about a serial killer is woven in, but seemed unsatisfactory despite many pages used to describe the children's attempt to solve this crime.
Better suited for middle school and older, although the main characters are 10 and 11.
Profile Image for The Nerd Daily.
720 reviews345 followers
August 25, 2021
Originally published on The Nerd Daily | Review by Mimi Koehler

Forman’s middle-grade debut Frankie and Bug is melancholic and bittersweet with an uplifting conclusion that shows readers, young and old, that while ignorance may breed ignorance, the same can also be said for acceptance and love. Illustrating how far we have come in terms of equality, this look back will certainly take readers by surprise.

Read the FULL REVIEW on The Nerd Daily
Profile Image for Eva B..
1,225 reviews312 followers
February 22, 2022
A cute, short read that tackled a lot of issues (racism, colorism, transphobia, homophobia) in a digestible way for its young audience to understand. Nothing spectacular, but not every book needs to be. Bug was an endearing lead and the supporting cast was vibrant and fun--you can definitely feel the beach setting.
Profile Image for Andrew.
142 reviews6 followers
November 9, 2022
I read this book because somebody is challenging it in our library system, presumably because of its trans/LGBT content. While the circumstances are regrettable, I loved this story of growing up, and found families, and acceptance. I will personally be promoting this book to anybody I can think of. I think our system needs another copy, actually.
Profile Image for Nev.
1,053 reviews136 followers
November 29, 2021
Frankie & Bug is a sweet Middle Grade story about the reluctant friendship between two kids forced to spend the summer together. The book follows Frankie and Bug as they try to solve the mystery of a serial killer in their town. But the more important aspects of the story are the things they learn about family, friendship, and identity.

The book takes place in 1987 and features LGBTQ+ characters. So there is talk of homophobia, transphobia, and the attitudes that people in the 80s had about AIDS. I think it’s brought up in a way that is appropriate for Middle Grade readers. However, there were times when I felt like more explanation was needed for the characters to fully understand, but it passed by so quickly in the story.

The story of the serial killer felt like it was taking away from the rest of the story. The page time dedicated to it felt over the top. If that part of the book was decreased then maybe the other sections of the story wouldn’t have felt so rushed. The synopsis is all about coming of age, learning to be your true self, and being an ally. So it was confusing that so much of the book is dedicated to a mystery plot that's never fully realized.
Profile Image for Aly.
2,614 reviews
June 28, 2022
Frankie and Bug are such cute friends and this was a pretty great story about them forming that relationship. Bug was going through a lot of changes that summer, getting older and realizing that the world can be difficult. She and Frankie didn't have much in common at first and clashed a lot, but Bug is actually pretty good about keeping her cool and understanding others and things ended up working out.

This is a middle grade read, but deals with some difficult issues, like transphobia, homophobia, and murder. It's not overly graphic, but these are ten year-olds and I felt bad that they would have to encounter such hate at a young age. It was nice that Bug's mom and Frankie's uncle were supportive, having adults in your corner makes a huge difference.

The book goes quickly and has plenty of cute moments to balance out the heavy. A great read for Pride month!
Profile Image for Lindsay Nixon.
Author 22 books709 followers
October 21, 2021
Stockard Channing is the narrator!!

The main story of a 10yo girl struggling with changes in her life as her older brother begins his teen years is a good, relatable story.

That said, the authors drops in too many issues that feel forced, pushed in, competing and occasionally not on par with the time and place. For example, in addition to the “coming of age” type story there is racism issues, misogyny “you can’t bc you’re a girl” and a gay friend that’s beaten as HIV/AIDS rages (these side stories do work with the story and period), however there’s also a serial killer, family dysfunction, parent death, a transgender child, skinheads, etc.

To be clear, I’m all for positive-stories about trans kids but it feels very out of place here and all the other issues were tumbling on each other

I’m also unsure why the author felt I’m the story needed to be pinned down in Venice CA. It didn’t really work for the story. Beach town USA would have been fine. If you’re going to use a specific city during a specific time it should have relevance to the story and act as a background character imho. Here it just seemed tossed in for no reason except to anger me 😆
Profile Image for Patti Sabik.
1,222 reviews4 followers
August 18, 2021
4.5 Fabulous historical fiction read about found family, friendship, being comfortable with yourself, the AIDS crisis, and the 1980s. I loved so many things about this book to include the dialogue, refugee parallel, and subtle voice to address tough topics. I would definitely recommend this book to my 6th graders since Forman discusses AIDS, prejudice, hate violence, and LGBTQIA+ issues in such a well presented 10/11 year old tone, yet I don’t think the ages of the protagonists would turn off my older readers.
Profile Image for Abby Johnson.
3,373 reviews313 followers
November 16, 2021
This moving middle grade book has a lot to say about allyship and being true to yourself. The audiobook is fantastic, read by Stockard Channing. It gives me Ramona vibes because Channing also narrated that series, but also because it's about a young girl who doesn't know what she doesn't know, who's figuring things out and presented through a very child-focused lens. I found Bug's character development as she grows from a self-centered kid only caring about getting to do her favorite things over the summer to a more thoughtful, empathetic person to be really engaging and realistic.
Profile Image for Amanda.
28 reviews1 follower
August 11, 2021
I absolutely loved this book! It was a heartwarming story with complicated characters whose layers are revealed slowly throughout the book. Gayle Forman deals with some heavy topics in a way that is so accessible to children and normalizes all these different life experiences. Love love love! I’d give it six stars if I could!!! 🤩
Profile Image for Jesse.
2,491 reviews2 followers
March 3, 2023
I really enjoyed this one! Frankie really is the bravest kid ever, and I enjoyed Bug’s transformation from self-absorbed to empathetic pre-teen. Plus, the audiobook is narrated by Stockard Channing! ❤️
Profile Image for Katie Proctor.
Author 8 books82 followers
March 23, 2022
This was so sweet and well done. And the audio read by Stockard Channing was great! I loved Bug and her spunky attitude and her coming of age in this story.
Profile Image for Mary  BookHounds .
1,301 reviews1,782 followers
October 10, 2021
Bug (Beatrice) is really disappointed that her brother won't spend time with her anymore since he is growing up and developing friends of his own.  Danny is now "Daniel" and wants his space.  She is convinced her life is ruined and can't spend time at the beach like normal.  In 1987, Venice Beach, Bug is now stuck with her landlady and her upstairs neighbor, Phillip.  Things change when Phillip's nephew, Frankie comes to stay for the summer.  Frankie is addicted to following the news about the Midnight Mauder, a serial killer roaming their area.  If you know anything about this time in Los Angeles, it was truly the era of fear, with several serial killers on the loose.

When Phillip ends up in the hospital, Frankie and Bug switch their investigation from trying to solve the serial killer to try to find out what happened to Phillip.  Things don't add up and family secrets start to spill out all around them.  I still have trouble saying 1987 is now history since I remember that year very clearly when there were serial killers all over LA and racism and homophobia were on full display.  The story is so reflective of that time period and these characters all bring it to life.
Profile Image for Shannon Hugo.
308 reviews1 follower
January 8, 2022
My favorite thing about this book was the setting. My childhood was spent in Southern California in the 1980s and I loved walking down memory lane. While the book also had some memorable characters and important themes, I feel the examples to support those themes are a little to "left" for me to add this to my classroom library.
230 reviews
January 13, 2023
Bug was darling, and I loved her and Frankie's friendship. Kids are happy to play with other kids, and usually don't care about details! The overall message was love and acceptance, but I wish it didn't teach it by having a brutal beating of a gay man. That makes me much more hesitant to recommend it, especially to anyone who is questioning if they are queer.
Profile Image for Leslie.
396 reviews
September 14, 2021
4.5 stars. Very thoughtfully handled story about queerness for the middle grade set. The concept is subtly woven into the story in an age appropriate manner. The book has a great message about the importance of being who we are meant to be even if it isn't always easy.
Profile Image for Evren.
183 reviews1 follower
October 14, 2021

I was granted an eARC of this book on behalf of the publisher in exchange for a fair, honest review. I really like middle-grade books that feature LGBTQ+ characters, so I really wanted to read this book and see where it went.

This book takes place in 1987 and stars Bug. Bug is a 10-year-old girl who lives on Venice Beach with her mother and her older brother. She loves to spend her summer on the beach with her brother, but this year plans change. When her brother wants some space, she assumes that her summer is going to be spent alone at home. Frankie comes to stay the summer with his uncle, Bug’s upstairs neighbor, and the two spend time together. It’s a rough road, but can they make it work?

Gayle Forman did a good job at writing Bug. Bug is in a place in her life where she’s a bit rough around the edges and full of herself. She’s 10, that’s just how many kids are. During this book you get to watch as Bug develops her mentality and learns about the community around her. She learns that not everything revolves around her and that there are some things people don’t want to tell her.

The emotion that went into this book was unexpected and just wrecked me at times. I didn’t know this book took place in 1987 with all the things that come with living in 1987 so I was unable to prepare myself. This book got to me at points, especially when it came to Bug learning about the hate around her. It was well-written and managed to make me invested in how the relationships and characters would play out.

This story was beautiful even when it managed to break my heart. I just felt invested in these characters lives and their happiness, that it hurt when they got hurt.

~ Check out my other reviews on my Blog, Instagram, or Twitter. ~
Profile Image for T.J. Burns.
Author 83 books44 followers
October 17, 2021
I thoroughly enjoyed this sensitively written, respectfully portrayed description of two tweens as they begin to make discoveries about who they are and where they fit into this universe.

Told from the the point of view of a twelve-year-old girl, Bug is resistant to changes in her environment, especially changes in her 15-year-old brother, Danny, who has suddenly (in Bug's opinion) discovered that he "needs his space." Growing up in the 1980s in Venice Beach, California, Bug would be completely happy just going to the beach every day. Her little micro-world is small, but multicultural, tolerant, and open for all kinds of people. But her brother's adolescence and his exploration into his Salvadoran cultural heritage, her exposure to her new friend Frankie's "unusual" behavior, and confrontations with a closed-minded band of skinheads forces Bug to open her eyes and make discoveries -- some uncomfortable, some unexpected, some enlightening -- about her family, her community, her city, and herself.

I received an advance copy of this book from Simon & Schuster Children's Books in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Amy.
1,063 reviews32 followers
August 28, 2021
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me a DRC of this title to review. All opinions are my own.

Gayle Forman's debut middle grade novel is a lovely, magical, beautiful thing. Set in the 1980s in Venice, California, this book is a deft nod to growing up, finding yourself, and accepting others.

Bug is convinced her summer is ruined when Mama says that Daniel (who doesn't want to be Danny anymore) wants some space of his own. Which means he doesn't want to have to watch Bug anymore. So now, instead of the beach, she has to stay home with Phillip or Hedvig, their neighbors. But then Bug gets word that Phillip's nephew Frankie is coming to visit.

At first, she thinks is how her summer will redeem itself. But Frankie doesn't want to go to the beach. He is obsessed with the serial killer terrorizing California and decides he is going to hunt for the Midnight Marauder himself. As Bug gets to know Frankie, she realizes that there is more to him than meets the eye. Just like with Phillip. And Daniel. And her mom.

I really liked this book. I would consider this a first purchase type of title for all collections serving middle grade readers.
Profile Image for Cassie Thomas.
454 reviews16 followers
June 25, 2021
Gayle Forman’s debut middle grade story is one to keep on your radar for an October release. It’s 1987 in Venice, California and all Bug wants to do is spend her summer on the beach every day as normal. But then her brother, Danny, wants to be called Daniel, wants space from Bug, and no longer agrees to “watch” Bug all summer - plans are changed. Their neighbor Phillip picks up his nephew Frankie from the airport to somehow fill the void of Danny in Bug’s summer life. Frankie not only fills the void, but becomes Bug’s best friend. Skinheads run the streets, AIDS crisis is in full swing, a murderer is on the loose, and there’s so much hate in the world Bug doesn’t know about. As Bug learns more about accepting the things you can’t change, she also learns to accept others for who they are - love them deeply, and be true to yourself first. Bug finds friendship and family.
“So you get it?” “Get what?” “What it’s like for people to be mad at you, just for being you.” 🏳️‍🌈
Themes: prejudice, LGBTQ, acceptance, family, friendship.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 343 reviews

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