LeUyen Pham, Illustrator
First Second, 2017 212 pages
Newbery Honor winner, Shannon Hale, writes a semi-autobiographical graphic novel much in the tradition of Smile. Hale traces her humble beginnings as a shy, clingy, middle child, who finally makes a friend in kindergarten. Adrienne stays her best friend, except for a dark period of a brief move during second grade. In third grade the most popular girl in the class, Jen, decides to befriend Adrienne, thus bringing Shannon into "the group". After much fancy footwork Shannon manages to work her way to the upper tier of the pecking order. Unfortunately, Jen's best friend does not like Shannon and tells lies about her that end in humiliation and misunderstandings. After spending many recesses hiding in the bushes crying, Shannon finally has enough. By fifth grade Adrienne has left the school again. Rather than subjecting herself to more confusing and demeaning encounters, Shannon makes friends with two sixth grade girls. The new girls are friendly to all and have lots of fun, are very cool, and do not exhibit tricky behavior. Finally, Shannon is happy socially at school, but then Jen goes ahead and makes a surprising move. Meanwhile, Shannon is also tortured at home by a mean older sister. By book's end we see the motivation behind the sister's horrible behavior and learn to accept and forgive her, much as Shannon does.
Hale is the latest author to join the popular trend of realistic comic memoirs started by Telegemeier's Smile and continuing with El Deafo, Sunnyside Up, Roller Girl and more. These books are wildly popular and Hale's, slated to be released in May, will be no exception. As with the others in this genre, the book is aimed at girls, but its my experience at the library that boys will like it too. Navigating the world of elementary friendship can be tricky for most kids. Hale nails the emotions and confusion perfectly. She remembers her younger self as geeky and creative with no confidence or social know-how. When finally ceasing to try so hard to fit in, finding friends who appreciate her for who she is, and learning to care a little less, Shannon becomes a leader and someone that others seek to hang out with. Real Friends has a great message for young girls struggling with similar troubles and will let them know that they are not alone. Full color illustrations by veteran LeUyen Pham are a perfect fit for the story. They convey emotion and action to the story and add layers and nuances to the plot. This is not a dramatic tale of loosing teeth, going deaf, or living with an addicted sibling, but instead deals with problems near and dear to the hearts of many young people: navigating the troubled waters of friendship. Unfortunately, there are no short-cuts in growing up, but by book's end Shannon has weathered the worse of the storm and is a stronger and more compassionate person for it.