Real Friends

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Real Friends Book Poster Image
Popular with kids
Painfully honest, hopeful memoir of coping with frenemies.

Parents say

age 10+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 8+
Based on 13 reviews

A lot or a little?

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

Educational Value

Depicts early signs of obsessive-compulsive, anxiety, and other behavioral health disorders, and a note from the author refers interested readers to the website for the Anxiety and Depression Association of America for more resources. The note also demonstrates how siblings can grow up to have happy, close relationships despite early difficulties.

Positive Messages

Hang in there: Many kids have rocky relationships through school, but it gets better. Forgive what you can, but set boundaries with toxic people. Being nice is a valid way to become popular. If you're unhappy with the established social order among your peers, you can shake things up and refuse to participate. Be true to your values and you'll find where you fit in. No one's destiny is to be alone.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Young Shannon is imaginative and fiercely loyal to good friends, to the point that she sometimes betrays her own best interests. She can be self-centered and inconsiderate, but she's never mean on purpose. Shannon eventually finds the courage to stand up for her values. Her mother can be warm and affectionate, but she seems overwhelmed and doesn't intervene when Shannon seeks help dealing with her abusive sister. Shannon's father is barely present. Some friends at school are kind and welcoming.

Violence & Scariness

Shannon's sister is verbally and physically abusive, and Shannon is scared to be around her. Boys restrain girls and forcibly kiss one as the other fights them off. A boy spits on a girl. Members of clique are competitive and jealous, circulating lies and rumors in campaigns to exclude other girls.


Kids make pee jokes and call others "turdmongers." Mom swears but word isn't shown, and her daughter is shocked to hear it.

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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User Reviews

  • Parents say
  • Kids say
Adult Written bykelkey May 25, 2019

Daughter Really Enjoyed

My daughter and her friends read this for Oregon Battle of the Books and they all really liked it and read it multiple times. I think it dealt with some realit... Continue reading
Adult Written byKELLY E. March 8, 2019

Pretty intense for a 4th/5th grade nomination

I was a little shocked when I read about boys forcing kisses on second grade girls, the physical bullying from "friends" and sisters, and imagining su... Continue reading
Kid, 9 years old May 19, 2020

Nice book

I think it is a really nice book and good for kids 8 and over it is just a little dark but it is still a great book
Kid, 11 years old March 19, 2020

I’ve read this book way to many times

This book is surprisingly dark. That’s really it. Very good book.

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?

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