Book: Real Friends (2017) & Best Friends (2019)
Author: Shannon Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Genre: MG, Graphic Novel/Memoir
Basic plot: This is author Shannon Hale’s memoir about her awkward middle grade years. Set in the 1980s, Little Shannon struggles with growing up, and especially with the complicated nature of friendships. These two follow her life journey as she finds her place in the world… and the discovery that she’s a writer at heart.
*Note: I’m reviewing two books for the price of one in this blogpost!
1) Normally, I save this for last, but I wanted to bring up the Author Notes at the end of the book. I really enjoy reading what’s true and what’s been changed for the story. (Note: Most character names have been changed!) As a memoir, the plot revolves around her memories of that time, which she stresses are from her POV. I love how she mentions a few things she wishes were different (like how she could have become friends with the younger girl in the hedge). Also, in the second book, it was fun to see that the fantasy-writing by Little Shannon are based on her real writing at that time!
2) The complicated nature of friendship in middle school is portrayed in all its awkward glory. Poor Little Shannon! Such a yo-yo ride where she’s friends sometimes and other times, not.
3) I loved how the sixth graders (Zara and Veronica) make friends with Shannon (in the first book). I think it’s so important to show that friendships can span different years. It was also great to see the older girls embrace Shannon’s creativity as they join in her imaginary-play games… Yes, even though as sixth-graders, they’re too cool for school.
4) The relationship with Wendy (the sister) is pretty intense at times. I’m glad that it gets worked out in the course of the books. And to know that things became much better in their adult years (via the Author Note).
5) And that scene depicted on the cover of the second book! I felt for Shannon with regards to her fear of roller coasters. I too had a bad experience on a roller coaster. (Nobody told me I could close my eyes. At five years old, I did the whole ride with my eyes open! Note: Like Shannon, due to peer-pressure, I did go on roller coasters I was in high school (with eyes closed, because I learned that it’s okay to close your eyes!). However, in my 20s and 30s, I learned that I don’t need to put myself under such stress anymore for fear of trying to fit in with the crowd! Let others enjoy the roller coasters!)
6) I liked the little “notes” in front of each chapter. “Do you want to be best friends? (check one) Yes! No Maybe”. Cute! (And very middle-school.)
WHAT’S NOT COOL…
1) Since these books take place in the 1980s, there were a few historical references that popped in. And then they kind of popped out again because they didn’t really go anywhere. This felt a bit disjointed to me. For example: the reference to the Challenger tragedy. Perhaps this could have been better dealt with in a regular novel, but it seemed stilted in this one.
I really did enjoy these two graphic novels! And I do think the graphic novel was the right way to go for this memoir. I would recommend the books to fans of Shannon Hale, but they’re also good to get a glimpse at how hard middle school can be… to know that you can get through those years.
Note: In many ways, this book reminded me of the Sunny graphic novel series by Jennifer and Matthew Holm.
Have you read this book? What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Note: I’m posting this for Greg Pattridge’s Marvelous Middle-Grade Monday…