Author: Shannon Hale
Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
Publisher: First Second
Reviewer: Yolanda Ridge
I don’t often review graphic novels but that doesn’t mean I don’t love them! I’m a big fan of letting children read everything and anything and I think graphic novels add to the diversity of choices in a truly great way. In addition, I don’t think graphic novels appeal only to those of lower reading ability of interest level. In fact, it’s possible that even for the most advance readers, picking up a graphic novel can challenge their brain in new and creative ways.
On to Real Friends! It is possible that I’m biased about this book because it’s set in the mid-80s and the main character, Shannon, was born in the same year as me! But really, kids of all ages will be able to relate to the ups and downs Shannon experiences as she tries to fit in with ‘the group’ while staying true to her own beliefs. Although this book focuses on friendships, it also deftly touches on other topics such as bullying, family dynamics, mental and behavioural health issues.
Shannon Hale’s portrayal of her own childhood is brave and unflinching. In an author’s note at the back, she explains where the story has been fictionalized, how the relationship with her sister has evolved since elementary school and why she felt it was important to share her experiences. I love her final message to readers:
“Friendship in younger years can be especially hard because our worlds are small. In high school and beyond, I found many supportive, lifelong friends. If you haven’t found your ‘group’ yet, hang in there. Your world will keep growing larger and wider. You deserve to have real friends, the kind who treat you well and get how amazing you are.”
The pictures compliment the story beautifully, with vibrant colours and emotional detail that drip from the page. As LeUyen Pham says in her acknowledgments, Shannon has penned a story that feels like it was ripped out of my own memories and insecurities as a child and her drawings bring those feelings alive in a compelling and engaging way.
A wonderful collaboration!