A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this book.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Real Friends is a graphic novel memoir by Shannon Hale (the Princess Academy series) about her struggle to find good, reliable friends throughout elementary school. She touches on mental health issues and a distressing relationship with her angry older sister, who abuses her emotionally and physically. Hale's Mormon faith is a source of strength for her, and she prays for divine help navigating difficult relationships. Artwork by LeUyen Pham (A Piece of Cake) heightens the emotional intensity and brings some welcome levity with fanciful depictions of Shannon's imaginative inner life.
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What's the story?
REAL FRIENDS begins with fretful Shannon becoming best friends with Adrienne in kindergarten. By third grade, however, Adrienne is getting drawn into "The Group," a small circle of popular kids with a girl named Jen at the center. Kids in "The Group" follow complicated rules and compete for Jen's favor, excluding everyone else. Shannon fumbles at the edges, feeling pulled in and then pushed away, targeted by a bully spreading lies and rumors. She's bullied at home, too, by an angry older sister. Shannon wants to be brave enough to stand up for herself, but she risks losing all her friends. When she finally walks away from "The Group," she feels lonely and unsure. Does anyone want to be friends with nice kids?
Is it any good?
In a remarkable memoir, Shannon Hale writes with heartbreaking honesty about her struggle to form genuine childhood friendships, turning painful memories into an encouraging, relatable graphic novel. Real Friends unites Hale with LeUyen Pham, illustrator of the Princess in Black series. Together, the two create a vivid portrait of a shy, insecure young girl desperate for a kindred spirit.
Pham's artwork is full of tender details and whimsical imagery, depicting young Shannon's imaginative games of pretend and her sister in the form of a fierce bear. And Hale looks back on her elementary school years with sympathy for her younger self and an honest look at times she, too, failed to be a good friend to others. The cruelty of the bullying and Shannon's emotional distress at home can be hard to read. Unfortunately, many young readers will relate to her story and hopefully appreciate her message that it really does get better -- and being kind really does pay off in the long run.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about why Shannon tries so hard for so long to fit in with "The Group" in Real Friends. What makes popular cliques so appealing? Why are mean kids sometimes seen as "cool"?
Why do you think this memoir is told as a graphic novel? How do you think a written memoir or movie would compare?
Do you recognize yourself or your classmates in any of the characters?
- Author: Shannon Hale
- Illustrator: LeUyen Pham
- Genre: Friendship
- Topics: Brothers and Sisters, Friendship, Great Girl Role Models, Misfits and Underdogs
- Book type: Non-Fiction
- Publisher: First Second
- Publication date: May 2, 2017
- Number of pages: 224
- Available on: Paperback, Nook, Hardback, iBooks, Kindle
- Last updated: September 12, 2019
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