#cbr11bingo #ILoveThis (Warning long review)
This is the second time I have read Real Friends by Shannon Hale. And it is still as good, if not better this time around. The great thing about this newer generation of graphic novels is that they are so much more relatable than they used to be. Of course, there is still the stigma that they are “just comics” but even “back in the day” they were so much more than that.
Books like Shannon Hale, Jennifer Holm or Raina Telgemeier are novels that give the story of “fitting in” or “trying to overcome fears and anxieties” or “just every day struggles.” They are for anyone who has had a similar background to Hale. Or for whomever has wondered about the ups and downs of growing up. And who has not wished they had books that helped them through it?
This book, and Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm, fit the category I LOVE THIS because I am now not only loving the fact both are great stories, but I am loving the fact I finally understand how powerful illustrations can be in a novel. I loved Real Friends before and am excited for the second one but had to refresh my memory who everyone was! This story is broken up into the chapters that fit the main character of the memory/story Hale is writing about. Everything is based on her own experiences but with a fictional flavor. You meet Shannon’s best friend, we see how they outgrow each other, we see how the popular crowd acts and we see how “cool” might mean different things to other people, but in the end, friendship is easy. It just takes a little time to understand the ins and outs, but eventually you will get there.
The other part, you get a tiny look at what things looked like “back then.” And by “back then” I mean the late 1970s to mid-1980s (a fabulous era to be alive if you liked neon, huge bows and finger-less, laced gloves or scarves and belt out the wahzoo) for Real Friends. And for Sunny Side Up you see the years 1975 and 1976. And while I can relate to Hale better than to Holmes (as Hale and I are “birthday twins” but a year apart so we were experiences “those years” the same time) I still understand the “wanting to be the good one” and “keeping secrets” that Sunny finds herself a part of.
Sunny’s story is a bit grittier than Shannon’s was, but still a perfect fit for the 8 to 10 crowd. I would even go to 12 or young 13 just because of the middle school element. Both books give you a peak at families and friendship. Sunny is dealing with the secrets surrounding her older brother, also the secrets her grandfather is keeping from her, even the secrets of the “little old ladies” (they have cats, but pets are not allowed) in the senior home her grandfather lives in (and she is staying with for the summer). Here we see a little of the time (crazy cars, a few crazy outfits) and since it is 1976 the craziness of the United States bicentennial.
Both stories show how the right friends can help with any problem and how the wrong friends can hurt more than you realize. And some of those hurts come across in LeUyen Pham’s illustrations (Real Friends) and Matthew Holm’s (Sunny Side Up) illustrations. Pham shows the jealousies on the fact of the bullies, the fear on the kids Shannon’s story cast as the “villains of her imagination stories” when they are defeated and the anger on the fact of her sister, Wendy. Holmes shows us the how Sunny is introduced to comics, her face after a bad night’s sleep on the sofa couch, and even a bruise that came in the most unexpected way for Sunny.
Rich and deep and bold colors are all over each page. They also soften the more serious elements of the story because they friendly and “round” images. There are the realistic elements of buildings and bushes and “pointing things” but nothing seems “bad” or “scary” (not even Big Al, a local alligator Sunny has a run in with).
And while it is rare I recommend a publisher, I do occasionally. And if you are looking for good middle school reads in graphic novel, Scholastic and Graphix (Sunny Side Up) work, but so does First Second from MPS (Real Friends).