Review of Real Friends

Real Friends
by Shannon Hale; illus. by LeUyen Pham; color by Jane Poole
Intermediate    First Second/Roaring Brook    220 pp.
5/17    978-1-62672-416-7    $21.99
Paper ed. 978-1-62672-785-4    $12.99

Author Hale recounts her elementary-school years in this graphic memoir that focuses on childhood friendship. Young Shannon feels a bit lost within her family, the middle child between two older and two younger close-in-age siblings, and at school it’s a similar situation with her never quite fitting in anywhere. The book is divided into sections titled with the name of a friend or frenemy: Adrienne (her first friend), Jen (popular leader of “the group”), Jenny (mean-girl member of “the group”), Zara and Veronica (older girls who show Shannon that being yourself is the key to popularity), and Wendy (her oldest sister, whom she imagines as an angry bear). Readers will empathize with Shannon’s painful experiences of being left out, teased, and bullied (mainly by troubled Wendy) and will feel relieved once Shannon eventually learns how to find real friends and avoid toxic ones. In her author’s note at the back, Hale describes the book as her own, possibly flawed, memories of what happened; she also notes that today there are better resources for children with the (undiagnosed) anxiety and mild OCD she exhibited as a kid. Illustrator Pham’s often humorous yet always sensitive depictions of the young characters’ wide-ranging emotions make this memoir even more affecting, as do her perfectly adept renderings of the imaginative play and stories future writer Hale enjoyed creating. Hand this book to fans of Raina Telgemeier’s and Cece Bell’s graphic memoirs.

From the May/June 2017 Horn Book Magazine.

Jennifer M. Brabander

Jennifer M. Brabander is former senior editor of The Horn Book Magazine. She holds an MA from the Center for the Study of Children’s Literature from Simmons University.

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