The Friendship Doll

Written by Kirby Larson
Review by Marion O’Sullivan (age 13) Patricia O’Sullivan

In 1927, Japan sent 58 dolls to the United States to be displayed around the country as Ambassadors of Friendship. One of them, Miss Kanagawa, has the power to communicate with humans. Over the course of 14 years, four girls are moved by Miss Kanagawa to make choices that help them to become better people. The Friendship Doll contains short stories about four different girls, connected by the first person observations of Miss Kanagawa.

Although Kirby Larson won a Newbery Honor award for Hattie Big Sky, this novel disappointed me. The main premise of the story, a doll who shares wisdom with girls about friendship, is never fully developed. We don’t find out how or why this doll possesses the power to communicate. Also, the doll’s wisdom has no grounding, as she has no friends among the other dolls, and often speaks of them with disdain. She is not even friends with most of the girls, seeing them only for a few moments as they stare at her in her display case.

The stories of the girls are sweet, but the historical details seem forced, the characters are formulaic, and the narratives are ones we’ve read before – the cranky rich old lady charmed by the refreshing honesty of a poor young girl; the recently widowed man who tries to make a new life for himself and his young daughter in a different place; and the children who sneak around an elderly relative’s attic only to discover there is much more to that relative than they had ever known.

— Patricia O’Sullivan

The Friendship Doll is a novel divided into four short stories, all strung together by Miss Kanagawa, a doll that acts as a Japanese ambassador to the United States to promote good feelings between the two countries in the 1920s. Miss Kanagawa enters the lives of Bunny, Lois, Willie Mae, and Lucy, changing the way they see the world.

The Friendship Doll was not one of my favorites. Overall, the short stories were good, but cliché. I didn’t like the character of Miss Kanagawa. She was full of herself and conceited, and the way she communicated with Bunny, Lois, Willie Mae, and Lucy was strange and confusing at first. The book wasn’t bad; it’s just something I wouldn’t read again.

— Marion O’Sullivan, Age 13