This is a masterfully crafted MG tale in verse of two friends growing apart in 6th grade, but ultimately reaffirming their friendship anew over the crisis of languages going extinct world-wide.
Betsy is the "follower" in her friendship with fierce, opinionated Elizabeth, aka Lizard. Betsy's mother, a linguist dedicated to documenting dying languages around the world, doesn't particularly care for the friendship, as she (accurately) sees how it's stifling her daughter's growth and development. The mom makes her dislike known, and in the inverse of what she hopes to achieve with her daughter, Betsy digs her heels into her friendship with the Liz.
But in 6th grade, everything changes. Betsy's mom is having increasing trouble handling her anxiety and depression regarding her professional (university prof) relationships and the prestige (or lack of it) accorded to what she's attempting to accomplish.
Lizard gets the idea for the two girls to "rescue" a dying language halfway across the world, on the island of Guernsey, called Guernésiais, off the coast of France.They study it in their hideout, speak it at lunch, try to get others interested, and start a Guernésiais club at school, which is a big flop. The goal is laudable, and Lizard seems to think that revealing the girls' efforts will somehow help Betsy's mother deal with her growing depression.
As an adult reading, you know … that's not gonna happen. In fact, it backfires. Big time.
The mom loses a big grant and Liz chooses that moment to reveal the girls' efforts. Of course, it's not what the mom needs in that moment, and the mom strikes out at Liz, who then strikes back by hurting Betsy in a very 11-year-old-ish way (I won't say how). It's one nasty downward middle school friendship spiral from there.
Is there any way Liz and Betsy can salvage their friendship? On new terms? Or are some mistakes too big to say sorry and ever grant forgiveness?
The book deals with the very real consequences of depression and is an excellent look at dying languages worldwide.