As sixth grade begins, Shannon has found a group of friends. The best part? They are the most popular girls in school. It finally feels like Shannon has it all figured out. But if that’s true, why does she get stomach aches all the time? Why does it feel like she’s navigating a minefield whenever her friends ask her a question? And why does she feel like an outsider all the time?
Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham return to Shannon’s world in this sequel to the semi-autobiographical graphic novel Real Friends. Detailed, colorful illustrations delve into a year of Shannon’s life (based on Hale’s real life childhood) as she deals with an anxiety disorder, navigates friendships, and tries to understand boys. Throughout it all Shannon tries to find who she is and where she belongs. Maybe it isn’t with her so-called friends?
Sixth grade is a confusing year for most. You are stuck between childhood and teenagedom. What seems like a fun game at recess one day, can be deemed babyish the next. One day boys are seen as the enemy, infected with cooties. The next, it is okay to be friends with them. Shannon struggles to keep up with the rules and opinions of her friends, but her big imagination is seen as a negative. As she tries to keep a grip on who she is supposed to be, her anxiety spirals. Every move is scrutinized and Shannon finds herself losing who she is. Is she a mean person? Does she have to be a mean person to fit in?
Hale and Pham pack a lot of topics and issues into 240 pages. The biggest one being Shannon’s anxiety. The book takes place in the 1980s, so it wasn’t as well-known as today. But Hale and Pham treat it in such a grounded, relatable way that it is accessible to adolescent readers. In contrast to Pham’s otherwise cheerful artwork, Shannon’s anxiety is illustrated as a dark cloud, effectively portraying how anxiety feels to a kid.
Best Friends may be even better than its predecessor. Hale and Pham are a dynamic team that tells a story from the 1980s, but reveals how most adolescent events, feelings, and issues are evergreen. This is a highly recommended purchase for all libraries.
By Shannon Hale
Art by LeUyen Pham
First Second, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: 8-11