There are just so many good middle grade comics out this year!
Real Friends is one of the ones that might have passed me by if it wasn’t for a friend, so I’m grateful for her reminder. I haven’t read her Princess In Black series, which I heard a lot of good things about, but I’m a huge fan of her middle grade and YA books. Shannon Hale is one of my favourite storytellers, although I guess I may not talk about her as much as some of the others – years after I first read it, her Goose Girl is still my favourite retelling of one of my favourite fairy tales.
Real Friends is different from her other books, though, and not just because it’s a comic. It’s also a memoir, telling the story of Shannon Hale’s childhood.
She used to have trouble making friends, but she didn’t care, as she had one good friend (best friend) in Adrienne. However, when Adrienne got in with the popular kids – known as The Group, and led by Jen, the most popular girl in class – things began to change.
Between trying to find a place in The Group and at home (where she has a lot of siblings and a very easily irritable teenaged elder sister), every day was an uncertainty for Shannon. Sometimes I’m reminded of the Ghibli movie Omoide Poroporo (Only Yesterday) even if the stories were nothing alike – I think because both included a lot of less-than-happy childhood memories that made me remember my own childhood so vividly. Unlike the Ghibli movie, however, Shannon grows a lot within the years captured in Real Friends, and learns one of the most important lessons of all – the difficulty of finding true friends, and how rewarding it is when you do find them.
Of course, I have to give LeUyen Pham props for bringing Shannon Hale’s story to life – her art is lovely, with varied depictions of the middle schoolers. She made Shannon’s older sister look so incredibly cool, someone I’d be desperate to be friends with in school, but too intimidated to talk to.
If I had the money, I would be donating this book to any local school library that would have it. (I would also include Svetlana Chmakova’s Awkward and Brave, because they’d go together so well with Real Friends.) I would go back in time and hand this over to kid!me if I could. But I can’t, so all I can say is, do give this book a read, and do gift this to someone you think would like it.