“Real Friends,” by Shannon Hale (Author) and LeUyen Pham (Illustrator). 224 Pages, First Second, May 2017. Paperback, $12.99. Ages 8-12.
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Anti-bullying campaigns are so prevalent these days that, if you don’t have school-age kids yourself, you might think bullying in schools must have been successfully overcome. But we’re human animals after all, and as evidenced by some of our current political figures, there are some really mean people in the world. Thank goodness for books like “Real Friends,” which don’t shy away from the realities of mean people, but help young readers—not to mention adults—put them into perspective.
Shannon Hale has written and co-written more than twenty books and graphic novels—mostly for kids, although the adult series “Austenland” has been successful as well. “Real Friends” is Hale’s first graphic memoir, as having a protagonist named Shannon might suggest. “I changed all the names except my own, Hale told Entertainment Weekly, “because 30-year-old memories and my own flawed perception of events could never do justice to anybody else’s reality.”
We first meet this younger version of Shannon in the late 1970s, when she is on the verge of starting kindergarten, and terrified that she won’t make any friends. That first day of school turns out much better than expected: she almost instantly finds Adrienne, her new best friend. When Adrienne abruptly leaves town, however, Shannon begins her very bumpy road to finding and keeping the “one good friend” that she overhears her mother saying she needs.
Most reviews of this book gush about the way it unflinchingly represents the trials of elementary school’s unique version of mean. To the book’s credit, the character Shannon is shown committing her own fair share of mistakes and small meannesses, too. For the most part, however, we see Shannon suffering the all-too-relatable (for most of us) likes of this,
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