Graphic Novel Review: Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Summary: Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Real Friends is Shannon Hale’s graphic memoir of her middle school experience with real friends — and girls who weren’t quite friends. I got this book after I signed up for a Kindle Unlimited trial membership (which I’m enjoying so far).

Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends since Shannon came out of her shell in early elementary school. She had earlier been the shy middle child who never felt like she quite fit in anywhere. But with Adrienne, it was like she could finally exhale. But when Adrienne starts hanging out with the popular girl, Jen, Shannon suddenly doesn’t know where she fits in anymore.

As we go through the stressful roller coaster years with Shannon, each chapter highlights her relationship with one of the girls in the new friend group. Each of the girls basically lives to impress Jen, the ultimate cool girl, and the group operates by making other girls feel left out. Thankfully, Shannon eventually finds friends who like her, but also has to learn whom to let in and whom to.

The Good

This is a very absorbing graphic novel; I just kept flipping the pages, despite how anxiety-inducing and heartbreaking a lot of Shannon’s experiences were. I didn’t love this book like I do Telgemeier’s work or Varian Johnson’s Twins, but it is definitely a necessary story to be told. Shannon is so desperate to fit in, as most people are around that age. She’s earnest and willing to make herself the butt of jokes just to be accepted. At home as well, her parents are stretched with five kids, and as the middle child, she feels friendless, even with her siblings.

I liked reading Shannon’s experience with each girl, and that division felt like a clever way to approach the story. Fortunately, although the story is frustrating and sad most times, there’s also some comic relief here and there. Ultimately, I was so pleased when Shannon found good friends, kind of like I celebrated while reading Robin Ha’s YA graphic memoir. The story does feel unfinished at the end, but I hear there’s a sequel and I’d like to check that out as well. Finally, the Author’s Note is really thoughtful in acknowledging that other people may have experienced the same situations differently — which is kind to consider.

Overall: Real Friends by Shannon Hale

Shannon Hale’s Real Friends is a realistic, moving depiction of the roller coaster that middle school friendships can be, and how affirming it can be to find true friends. This graphic memoir highlights the impact of bullying, toxic friendships, and anxiety on kids — especially those who just want to fit in. If you enjoy graphic novels about big families, bullying, and friendship drama, you’ll like this one. It’s also a short book at just 224 pages, so it will be perfect for reluctant readers who like books under 250 pages.

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Have you read this book or anything else by Shannon Hale? I’m thinking of buying the sequel. If you’ve read it, would you say it’s worth it?

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