Best Friends

First Second. 256p. Sept. 2019. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9781250317452; pap. $12.99. ISBN 9781250317469..
Gr 4-7–Hale follows up her poignant graphic memoir Real Friends, which depicted the twists and turns of elementary school relationships. This time the author looks back on sixth grade. In 1985, Shannon and her friends were the oldest students and anticipated being queens of the school. They belonged to “The Group,” a crew of new and old friends who were cute and popular but whose rules of behavior were capricious and confusing, often leaving Shannon anxious and struggling to make sense of it all and fit in. With each page turn, every character becomes ever more believable and complex, and the situations they experience ring true. The artwork is appealing and animated, with backgrounds that darken and become shadowy when Shannon is feeling isolated and sad. Panels move the action along with crisp lines, fun 1980s references, and well-placed, expressive speech balloons. The frequent fantasy sequences are beautifully color saturated, with lovely, hazy shapes that let readers’ imaginations soar right along with Shannon’s. An author’s note speaks honestly and compassionately about anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
VERDICT A terrific look at middle school culture, and a compelling sequel to a fabulous middle grade graphic memoir. This authentic, important book will mean a great deal to many kids and empower those who are happier following their own inclinations than in going along with the group.

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