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Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Real Friends, written by Shannon Hale and illustrated by LeUyen Pham. First Second, Macmillan. Raincoast. 2017. 17.99 ages 8 and up

"Let's make the I Hate Shannon Club.

Adrienne ...

Sorry, we're the I Hate Shannon Club,
and you can't be a member.
Well, I don't want to be anyway!
Because I hate you!

The I Hate Shannon Club only lasted a day."

This memoir, told with heart and pain, will speak to many students ... as they experience Shannon Hale's story told with such candor. They may be feeling as she did right now, have had such encounters in the past, or may suffer the same in their future. No matter when, this new graphic novel will help them realize they are not alone, or the only ones going through it.

She talks about the time between entering school in kindergarten and the end of fifth grade:

"Some have said that memories are the stories we tell ourselves about our past. Best Friends is the story I've been telling myself about my elementary school years. If you were to ask the other people portrayed in this book how it happened, surely the story they've been telling themselves would be different from mine."

Shannon wanted to be in 'the group'; it was not to be. Instead, she was bullied. Jenny was particularly fond of making her life miserable. For Shannon, it meant stomach problems, sick days and many medical visits. We are beginning to recognize anxiety in young children today, with research and a growing understanding for what they face. Too often, we told them to stop worrying, to find new friends, to live with it. Thankfully, that is changing.

It is not easy. Shannon helps readers understand that. Even home was not a sanctuary for her. Her older sister was abusive and caused great worry in the family. Shannon worked hard to deal with what was happening, often retreating to her vivid imagination to provide reprieve and courage as she learned more about herself. She does not make light of her own shortcomings. Some of it is hard to read, as it can be heart-wrenching. Still, it is a story worth sharing.

Finding friends can be a time of happiness and hurt. This book helps readers be more empathetic toward both Jenny and Wendy, who are experiencing difficulties of their own. LeUyen Pham's art helps with this, as they make visible the turmoil as well as the imaginary bent shown by a gifted storyteller. Emotions are evident, and beautifully portrayed.

 In her author's note, Ms. Hale offers advice for those who might feel as she did:

"Friendship in younger years can be especially hard because our worlds are small. In high school and beyond, I found many supportive, lifelong friends. If you haven't found your "group" yet, hang in there. Your world will keep growing larger and wider. You deserve to have real friends, the kind who treat you well and get how amazing you are."

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