Real Friends

by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
First sentence:
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s a pretty frank look at friendship and anxiety, and there are some uncomfortable parts. That said, it’s pretty great for 4-6th graders. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I knew, before I even read this, that this was going to be good. It’s Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, after all. It’s not that they can do no wrong, just varying shades of right.

So, even though this is Shannon’s story (of sorts) of her elementary school years, of trying to figure out friendships and make a space for her in this world, of the ups and downs of anxiety and bullying (both an older sister who was somewhat abusive and with girls at school), this is a story for everyone, really. As the oldest in the family, I found myself focusing in on the older sister character, wondering how my younger siblings saw me. The mother in me wanted to give Shannon a hug and protect her from the awful, even though I know that I can’t. And, yeah, I cried.

Part of the reason I read this (I would have anyway!) is because I had school visits (and a small author event) scheduled with Shannon and LeUyen. And at the small author luncheon, they said something interesting: how this story, maybe because it’s so specific to Shannon, is universal. LeUyen found herself in it, even though her family were Vietnamese immigrants in California and not white Mormons in Utah. And there is a lot of truth to that. Shannon also mentioned that there’s a built-in happy ending: she, obviously, has turned out okay. She is happy, she is healthy, she has friends and a successful career. And, she said, that’s a message of hope to kids: you can, in fact, make it through.

I’ve passed it on to K, who loved it. And to C, who has been going through a rough patch of her own. And I do want to give this to every 4-6th grader I know.

As an aside: Shannon and LeUyen are as fantastic and delightful as I thought they would be.  It was wonderful being able to share them with kids and adults here.

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