by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
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Others in the series: Real Friends, Best Friends
Content: There is talk of crushes and “going together” and mental illness. It’s in the middle-grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.
It’s eighth grade, and Shannon finally feels like things are going to go Her Way. She’s basically found her people in the drama club and thinks she understands how to navigate middle school. Except, she doesn’t feel beautiful, compared to her best friend, Jenn. There are friendship ups and downs. Her classmates keep asking whether she and her other best friend, Andrei, are “going together”. It’s hard when everything everyone says sticks in her brain, rumbling around, making her question her worth. (I get that.) Is she “good enough”? Can she even be good enough? Will anyone really gruly get and like her?
This is such a smart book: Hale and Pham get not just the mid-1908s (it’s the 1987-1988 school year), but the inherent angst of being 13/14. There are good moments, ones where Hale captures the silliness of young teenagers, but also ones that she uses as teaching moments, like the time she was assaulted by a mall Santa. She is open about her mental illnesses, and the mistakes she made (and her parents made) as a teenager — most telling was the way he “threw” her appointment with a therapist. It was the 1982s; therapy was only for “bad” people, and she didn’t want to be seen that way. It does have a hopeful ending, though. And Pham’s art captures everything perfectly.
I am going to miss this series, but I can’t wait to see what Hale and Pham do next.