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Book review: Shannon Hale's 'Real Friends' recalls navigating tricky elementary school years

Posted May 16

"REAL FRIENDS," by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham, First Second, $12.99, 224 pages (ages 8-12)

Real-life lessons on being a friend and making friends abound in the graphic novel-style “Real Friends” by Shannon Hale that is wonderfully illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

Drawing on memories and experiences from elementary school, Hale shares her perspective and difficulties navigating friendships, dealing with bullies and teasing and challenging sibling relationships.

Her best friend is Adrienne, who is also friends with Jen. And Jen is the leader of The Group, the popular girls in their grade. No one wants to do anything that would jeopardize their spot in The Group, especially when they are callings dibs to sit next to Jen at lunch and asking her who she likes best.

However, it’s hard to know where Shannon is in The Group, and if she and Adrienne can stay friends. It gets complicated when Jenny, who has never liked Shannon, spreads rumors and bullies her.

It’s also tricky to navigate life at home when one of her older sisters has mood swings and can be a bear at times.

Shannon has a very active imagination and decided to be a writer in the fourth grade, but the games she wanted to play weren’t exactly the ones The Group does. She knows where she can hide if needed, but it’s hard to be lonely with so many people around. The names of the people were changed, Hale writes in the author’s note at the end of the book, but the experiences are “the story I’ve been telling myself about my elementary school days.”

“Real Friends” is an honest, poignant and at times humorous story of navigating the ever-changing landscape of school popularity, which is as relevant today as it was when Hale was in elementary school.

Pham’s illustrations help beautifully portray the range of emotions that the girls experience. Pham has also illustrated Hales' Princess in Black series. Hale is the author or co-author of more than a dozen books, including the Newbery Honor book "The Princess Academy."

Email: rappleye@deseretnews.com Twitter: CTRappleye

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