#1160 – REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Real Friends
Written by Shannon Hale
Illustrations by LeUyen Pham
First Second  5/02/2017
978-1-626-72785-4
224 pages    Ages 8—12

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“When best friends are not forever . . .

“Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. Bit one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in it wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying the others.

“Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?

“Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale and bestselling artist LeUyen Pham join forces in this true story about how hard it is to find your real friends—and why it’s worth the journey. ” [INSIDE JACKET]

The Story
[WC 395]
Real Friends is the true story of author Shannon Hale, a middle child with a best friend who is also a middle child. Shannon and Adrienne meet in kindergarten, sitting together fearful of starting school. Shannon repeats what her mother told her that morning, “It’s okay, you’ll make friends.” The two girls become fast friends and inseparable. Then, Adrienne’s family moves and the girls no longer attend the same school.
Shannon feels lost once more, but some changes do not last. Soon Adrienne’s family returns and the two girls are together again. Unfortunately, while away Adrienne met a new friend who happens to be the leader of an all-girl clique called The Group. Being friends with Adrienne gets Shannon in The Group, but it is a rocky relationship. Shannon never really knows where in The Group she belongs. A bully makes matters worse, leaving Shannon unsure of how to defend herself without sounding whinny—a tough act to pull off.

Shannon feels insecure at home as well. Her two older siblings hang out, as do her two younger siblings, leaving Shannon with no one at home. Adding to her feelings of alienation is Wendy, the oldest sibling, who treats Shannon extremely bad physically and verbally. Shannon visualizes Wendy as a big grizzly bear, kept in check by the parents with a big heavy chain collar/leash. But even the parents are unaware of the problem, leaving Wendy to babysit the others and putting Shannon in direct line for more abuse. Of the two bullies, Wendy is the worst.
Shannon copes by counting, an early sign of obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Mom takes Shannon to the doctor more than once for recurring stomachaches, missed school, and other minor ails. The doctor first diagnoses a milk allergy and then gets closer when she calls it anxiety, but the remedy is not good, “Try not to worry so much.” If Shannon could do that, she would do that. Given the decade (1980s) childhood psychological ailments were little known and not a priority. The prevailing thought being kids will grow out of whatever troubles them.

Adrienne leaves Shannon once and for all when she is enrolled in a school for gifted students. Shannon finally has had enough and stands up to The Group, finding new, healthier friends. A wonderful twist occurs with Jen, the queen of The Group.
Review
[WC 331]
Real Friends is a roller coaster of a ride. Shannon is bullied at school and at home, and her lifelong best friend betrays their friendship for a popular group. Feelings develop on every page. How the reader reacts to those will depend on their own childhood memories. Many of the emotions Shannon and the other characters go through will stick with the reader long after the story has ended and the author’s note read. If you are a middle child, much of Shannon’s life will resonate with you. It is amazing how our childhood stories are so similar. Real Friends proves this out. Hale never downplays any of her character’s emotions. She lays them out and lets the reader feel what they may.

Real Friends is a fast read, thanks to Pham’s pen and digital graphic images. She shows Shannon’s emotions, her struggles, and her triumphs in perfect harmony with the text, which is completely dialogue. The adult narrator makes a few asides, pinned to the top or bottom of the box, leaving the speech bubbles intact. The bright, beautifully created illustrations, such as Shannon depicting herself with a pet lion she sicks on The Group—relates its version of Real Friends without favoring any one character. Since Shannon begins the story in kindergarten and ends it at the end of fifth grade, she ages along the way. Pham does justice to all the characters as they grow from year-to-year.
Many will unjustly label Real Friends a girls’ book. Real Friends is a childhood relationship story. Boys can gain a lot of empathy reading Shannon’s struggles. Many boys go through the same emotions. Just change gender and you have a boy’s story. If you like graphic novels, Real Friends is the real deal. It contains outstanding images and a wonderful story. Real Friends is a relatable, candid, and often poignant memoir of one girl finding her place in her immediate world.

Highly recommended.

REAL FRIENDS. Text copyright © 2017 by Shannon Hale. Illustrations copyright © 2017 by LeUyen Pham. Reproduced by permission of the publisher, First Second, New York, NY.

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Add REAL FRIENDS to Your Goodreads Shelf HERE.
Reading Guide with Activities and Discussion Questions can be found HERE.

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Illustrations from REAL FRIENDS by Shannon Hale copyright © 2017 by LeUyen Pham. Used with permission from First Second/Roaring Brook Press.

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Copyright © 2017 by Sue Morris/Kid Lit Reviews. All Rights Reserved

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Real Friends
Written by Shannon Hale
Illustrations by LeUyen Pham
First Second 5/02/2017
9781626727854

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