Real Friends, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Review copy provided by First Second Books.

This is a memoir of Hale’s grade school struggles with friendship and group dynamics, and also her relationship with her oldest sister. It’s trying to be aimed at kids–it’s trying to give kids the message that they deserve friends who treat them well–and I really like that message.

But truthfully I feel like this is really more of an adult-appeal book. I can easily imagine adults giving it to kids in their lives who are struggling with friendship and group dynamics, and maybe some of those kids will find it useful or comforting. But for the most part the ’80s references don’t feel intricate enough to be fascinating to kids for whom they’re historical, just touchstones for people who lived through it. And the semi-nostalgic, semi-rueful adult perspective feels very present–it’s definitely “here is an adult telling you, kiddo, a story.”

Part of my problem here, I think, is with the graphic novel format. This is a very short graphic novel, and there are sections where LeUyen Pham’s art is given a chance to shine, notably the imagination games little Shannon plays with her friends. But none of the things that make Shannon Hale a unique individual have enough *time* to feel very developed here. It’s short even for a kids’ graphic novel. It’s not offensive. I’m definitely behind the message. I’m just not sure about the target audience really connecting with it.

Please consider using our link to buy Real Friends from Amazon.

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