Real Friends

Written by Shannon Hale, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham


I thankfully never put it down on paper, but in 5th-6th grade I mentally composed what amounted to a full ethnography and kinship diagram detailing the social hierarchy and complex relationships between every single individual, subgroup, and clique in my elementary school. It was a miserable exercise, but I couldn’t help retracing it again and again. Like Hale, I grew up in Salt Lake City, in a neighborhood apparently only a few elementary schools over from and a time just a few years after the locale depicted in this graphic memoir. Reading this book felt as if Hale had somehow found my secret anthropological study and laid bare the culture I attempted to analyze, but in a far more compelling and entertaining telling than I could ever have done then or now. I fear I may be biased because of my familiarity with the specific setting and culture, but to me this book explores the complexities of elementary school friendship and social life like no other book I can recall reading. The cruelty and kindness of childhood is all there, and it all comes in a mix from all the characters, just as it does in real life. On top of that it is funny, often in a refreshingly honest, self-deprecating way. LeUyen Pham’s artwork is extremely engaging and makes the story work. Highly recommended for:

  • fans of Roller Girl, El Deafo, or Raina Telgemeier
  • any young person trying to negotiate friendships and school social life
  • any grown up parent or teacher who has blocked out what it is like to dwell in such a childhood society and needs an empathetic reminder

Review by Joshua Whiting, Library Program, Granite Educational Technology Dept.
Rating: ★★★★★ (5 stars)
Interest Level: Grades 3-6

Real Friends
Written by Shannon Hale, Illustrated by LeUyen Pham
First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press
211 pages
Release Date: May 2, 2017
A review copy was provided by the publisher.

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