Review of Friends Forever

Friends Forever
by Shannon Hale; illus. by LeUyen Pham; color by Hilary Sycamore and LeUyen Pham
Intermediate, Middle School    First Second    299 pp.    g
8/21    978-1-250-31755-1    $21.99
Paper ed.  978-1-250-31756-8    $12.99

In Hale’s third graphic memoir (Real Friends, rev. 5/17; Best Friends, rev. 11/19), thirteen-year-old Shannon is now in eighth grade in 1987 Salt Lake City. She has made new best friends who share common interests (drama, glee, creative writing) and yet she doesn’t always “feel good” due to her undiagnosed anxiety and mild OCD. She makes a list in her journal — “I would feel fulfilled if I could be: 1. beautiful 2. famous 3. successful 4. liked by boys 5. a good person” — and those items then serve as chapter subjects, featured on the openers as magazine cover titles. But this self-imposed pressure to be “perfect” overwhelms her, leading to fallouts with friends, failed classes, and fights with her parents. Despite the title, this third book is less about Shannon’s friendships and more about how she perceives herself — a relatable exploration for many young teens. Hale frankly but sensitively depicts her disappointments, embarrassments, and achievements. Pham’s digitally colored ink illustrations skillfully reflect the character’s roller-coaster emotions, switching color palettes between reality (bright), fanciful daydreams (pastel), flashbacks (monochrome), and depressed introspection (subdued). Varied panel sizes further emphasize Shannon’s feelings, particularly in a heart-wrenching series of large grayscale panels when she is at her lowest (“I hate myself”). While the hopeful ending feels a bit rushed, Shannon’s choice to love herself and the realization that she’s enough just the way she is help her — and readers — move forward.

From the September/October 2021 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Cynthia K. Ritter
Cynthia K. Ritter

Cynthia K. Ritter is managing editor of The Horn Book, Inc. She earned a master's degree in children's literature from Simmons University. She served on the 2019 Boston Globe–Horn Book Award committee.

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