Frindle, Andrew Clements’s 1996 debut children’s novel, tells the story of Nicholas Allen, an imaginative fifth-grader with a bit of a troublemaking streak. Devising angles to sidetrack his teachers before they can give the class homework is his forte, making him especially popular among his peers. But this doesn’t work at all on his language-arts teacher, Mrs. Granger, who shoots down his game plan by assigning him an oral report on the dictionary. Initially dreading the extra assignment, Nick ends up learning through his research about how people create words, which, combined with a serendipitous moment involving a dropped pen, inspires him to invent a new word by which the pen can be called: “frindle.”
When I was little, maybe ten or eleven, Frindle got me envying Nick and the idea of being able to create a word for people to use in everyday life. It sounded fascinating, simple, and a little far-fetched. Years later, Frindle still holds a special place in my heart as one of my top two favorites by Clements (the other being The School Story, for which I also gave my two cents earlier this year). The plot becomes increasingly enthralling as Nick engages in a war of wits with Mrs. Granger, who disapproves of the usage of his coined word. But the situation grows bigger than anyone could ever predict as frindle quickly becomes all the rage and gains prevalence throughout the school, the city, and eventually the country. You might think you would have to suspend disbelief in order to appreciate this somewhat outrageous premise, but it helps that the book mentions a trivia fact regarding a similar legend about someone in Dublin who made a bet that a new word (quiz) could be spread through the city within forty-eight hours.
A major part of what makes this book so compelling is the antagonist, Mrs. Granger. It would have been easy for Clements to paint her as the stereotypical cranky-old-teacher villain—someone who stands solely to restrain Nick’s untamed creativity with her draconian ways and who must be shunned by us, the readers. Instead, she’s presented as someone who is passionate and sympathetic, who makes us understand her love of the dictionary and her reasons for wanting to fight Nick and frindle, almost to the point where we root for her as much as Nick. It’s notable how Clements concentrates on using Mrs. Granger’s eyes to embody her character—”Gray, maybe flecked with a little gold, and very sharp, but not hard or mean. Just bright, and strong.”
Building up to a denouement that gives a satisfying conclusion to both Nick and Mrs. Granger’s arcs, Frindle proves itself to be a wholly enjoyable story that exemplifies the extraordinary power of words through the determination and perception possessed equally by both of the main characters.
Windup score: 92/100