OFFBEAT FRIENDS by Elfie Donnelly


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The first thing Mad notices about the old woman on the park bench is her unmatched socks. Aware of Mari's attention, the woman explains that she wears the red one because that foot gets cold. And so begins the friendship between 11-year-old Marl and dotty Mrs. Panacek, who freely admits that she is ""crazy"" and a resident of the local ""loony bin."" Soon Mrs. Panacek is telling Maxi about her mean son-in-law, who beats his wife and has used lawyers to gain ownership of Mrs. Panacek's fish store. Mrs. P. also believes that the son-in-law is trying to poison her, and when he visits her in the home the old woman is so frightened that she runs away. Marl finds her two days later and sneaks her into her own room for the night. Before the woman is returned to the home two days after that, Mari's parents have decided to become her visiting ""family"" and to take her on monthly outings. There are some mildly funny scenes, all based on initial shock reaction to Mrs. Panacek--as when Marl first tells her parents of her new friend; when the parents discover their unconventional houseguest at 6:30 a.m.; and when a disapproving Granny clucks at Mrs. P.'s table manners only to have Mari, Mother, and Father follow their guest's example. Though the fugitive Mrs, Panacek is described as grimy and smelly, and though we see her squat to ""wee-wee"" in public at the zoo, this softer story lacks the sense of unstinting observation that distinguished Donnelly's So Long, Grandpa. It's all a bit sentimental; but then so are most such stories, and Donnelly's light touch makes it palatable.

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 1982
Publisher: Crown