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Best Friends

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Best Friends Book Poster Image
Lively graphic-novel memoir about finding the right friends.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Kids will learn a little about anxiety, when it becomes a disorder, and a little about OCD behavior. Author's note at the end encourages talking to someone about the book if you have similar feelings and provides an online resource for further information about anxiety.

Positive Messages

Don't be afraid to try new things, and keep looking for new friends, until you find what you love, figure out who you are, and make friends with people who really "get" you. Don't let anyone or anything tell you what you can become or make you think your choices are limited because of who or what you are. When you do things that hurt others, you feel badly and it makes you unhappy, so do your best to be brave and kind to everyone.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Shannon's a positive role model for learning from her mistakes, trying to make things right, learning to stand up for herself, and learning that it's OK to follow her own path even when it takes unexpected directions. Her friends and classmates show a wide variety of skin color; neither race nor ethnicity are mentioned. Adults are supportive and encouraging, except one teacher who's professional but not friendly at all with Shannon. Shannon also has a good long-distance relationship with an older sister who's moved away from home.

Violence

A beating is mentioned along with the victim having broken ribs and a broken jaw. A teacher grabs a student roughly and is fired. Illustrations show monsters and skeletons in a haunted house ride; Shannon knows they're fake but they scare her anyway. A fantasy segment has illustrations of a scary dark wizard as a giant, skull-like head. Bullying is mentioned but not described. Shannon gets hit on the head with a ball and taunted; it's not clear whether it was intentional, but if it was an accident there was no apology or acknowledgement of it. A boy is accidentally given a concussion while roughhousing, clearly accidentally, and the perpetrators and witnesses visit the victim, apologize, and bring him a gift.

Sex

A fantasy segment illustrates an embrace with hearts. One illustration shows a kiss.

Language

"Buttocks" and "butt."

Consumerism

Brands of candy mentioned incidentally.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Best Friends is a graphic-novel memoir by Shannon Hale, continuing her story from Real Friends as she's about to start sixth grade. Many familiar characters return and new ones are introduced. Bullying is mentioned, and we see Shannon get hit on the head with a playground ball and taunted, though she doesn't seem injured. Roughhousing accidentally causes a concussion. A few scary illustrations show haunted-house monsters and skeletons, and a fantasy segment shows a scary dark wizard with a large, skull-like head. Details about Shannon's anxiety and some OCD behavior are illustrated and described. The author encourages talking about feelings, especially anxiety, and provides an online resource for further information. The fantasy element also illustrates and embrace with hearts all around, and one kiss that's more of a hostile gesture than a romantic one. Themes explore friendship, group dynamics, gender roles and relationships, and navigating a confusing world in which the rules always seem to be changing.  Ultimately hopeful, positive messages are about finding the inner strength to try new things, staying true to yourself, and keeping on searching for deep, meaningful friendships.

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What's the story?

As she's about to start sixth grade, Shannon is sure she knows who her BEST FRIENDS are. She's also looking forward a fun year as, finally, the oldest, coolest kids in the school. Instead, each new day seems to bring some new rule or a change in the old rules about friendships, what it means to be a girl, how girls and boys are supposed to relate to each other, and what's cool. This makes Shannon nervous and afraid that she'll do something uncool that will make her lose her friends and get cast out of the popular clique, The Group. Until her alter ego Alexandra, hero of a fantasy story Shannon's writing, shows her how to find and channel the inner strength that was in her all along.

Is it any good?

This lively, honest graphic-novel memoir captures all the turmoil and drama of being 12 and discovering that you don't, in fact, finally have everything figured out. Author Shannon Hale's storytelling in Best Friends ably conveys how confusing friendships can be in a way that big kids and tweens will really relate to. And the dynamic illustrations of LeUyen Pham add depth to both characters and emotions. Interweaving the fantasy story into the narration helps readers follow Shannon's journey as she learns how to find the inner strength to forge her own path, and to keep looking for deep, meaningful connections with others.

The graphic-novel format makes this a good choice for reluctant readers, and it's a great opportunity to talk to kids about friendship, group dynamics, like-liking someone, anxiety, fears, being true to yourself, and more.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Best Friends shows friendship. Is it realistic? What makes a good friend? How can  you tell if someone's your friend or not?

  • Do you get anxious feelings like Shannon does, or do you know someone who does? Where can you go for help, or how do you think you could help someone with their feelings?

  • Did you like Shannon's fantasy story about Alexandra? How do you think writing that story helped Shannon? What are some of your favorite creative outlets?

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