Real Friends

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Book Review

Shannon and Adrienne have been friends, like, forever. But when Adrienne starts hanging out with the most popular girl in class, Shannon begins to realize that being a great friend … isn’t necessarily her forte.

Plot Summary

They’ve been friends since kindergarten. In fact, Shannon and Adrienne weren’t just friends, they were best friends who played super cheerleaders together, or super spy girls, or whatever else that Shannon’s creative mind might dream up.

That was Shannon’s strength: She could come up with playable stories like no one else. And then all it took was a little time together and a little imagination for fun to be had. It was easy.

Yep, Shannon and Adrienne were going to be best friends forever.

However, it was right about third grade that Shannon began to realize that forever was a lot shorter than she imagined. That year, a new girl popped up named Jen, and she just happened to instantly become the most popular girl in class. She was pretty and funny and nice. In fact, she was a lot like Adrienne.

Before you knew it (or, actually, before Shannon knew it) Adrienne and Jen were hanging out together with Jen’s loyal circle of friends—a collective called The Group. Everybody wanted to be in the group. And everybody wanted to be Jen’s number-one friend in the group. Which was sort of a problem for Shannon.

For you see, even though Shannon made it into the group, she was on the outside edges. She wasn’t all that pretty, or funny, or nice, for that matter. She was more quirky and smart than anything else. But who wants obnoxiously quirky when you can have pretty and nice?

And, well, since everybody really wanted to be as close to Jen’s inner circle as possible, oddballs like Shannon were the easiest to push away.

Friendship, it turns out, isn’t very easy. School girls can be mean. They can be bullies. And sometimes you can feel like you don’t live up to their expectations … or to yours. It’s at times like that when Shannon finds herself hiding away in a bush near the school yard. It’s a place where she can be sad and nobody sees.

That bush is also a place where Shannon can wonder: What will it take to find a real friend?

Christian Beliefs

When Adrienne and her family move away, Shannon is heartbroken, and she prays that Adrienne would move back. And to Shannon’s surprise, she does a short while later. But it turns out that Jen is a praying person, too. And Adrienne attends church with her.

Shannon and her family hold Bible studies together. Later, when Shannon doesn’t think anyone likes her, Shannon imagines dying and meeting Jesus. “Well, I like you,” Jesus tells her.

At other times, Shannon prays to thank God for good things happening and she asks forgiveness for calling some people names.

Other Belief Systems

None.

Authority Roles

Shannon’s mom is loving and kind. We see her concern and care for all her kids, and that includes Wendy, Shannon’s problematic older sister (who Shannon envisions as a terrorizing bear in her life). In fact, it’s through mom that Shannon comes to realize that Wendy had some relationship issues of her own at school. And that paves the way for the girls to go from being at odds to becoming friends.

Shannon’s dad seems to be a nice guy, but we don’t see much of him other than the instances where he praises her for her hard work at school (which spurs Wendy’s ire.)

The story takes us through several years of Shannon’s life, and Shannon has some rough times, friendship wise, as she goes through her early grades at school. But while in fifth grade, she meets and makes friends with a couple of “cool” sixth-grade girls—Zara and Veronica—who admire her creative quirkiness. And those newfound friendships impact Shannon’s world in very positive ways. In fact, those two friends help Shannon gain confidence, and they open up avenues whereby Shannon develops a better relationship with both Jen and Wendy.

There’s one girl in the Group who is regularly mean to Shannon. She steals Shannon’s good ideas and she lies to Jen, telling the girl bad things about Shannon. Shannon tries to make friends with this girl, but it never works.

While in first grade, Shannon makes friends with a young foster care girl who was taken from her parents. The girl eventually moves back with her mom, but her dad “isn’t around anymore.”

Profanity & Violence

Veronica calls Shannon’s rather mean ex-friends “turdmongers,” a name that Shannon uses a few times, too. (Though she prays and asks forgiveness for using it later.) There’s also one scene in which Shannon recalls her mother swearing, but it comes out as: “%#&@!”

When Shannon is quite young, some boys who like Adrienne grab her and Shannon roughly. Shannon fights back, punching one boy and hitting the other with her coat.

Sexual Content

A boy roughly grabs Adrienne and kisses her. Shannon fights the boys off, but Adrienne gets a little upset, stating that she wanted him to kiss her.

Discussion Topics

Do you have a best friend? Do friends make school easier and more fun? Have you ever had a difficult time making a friend? What helps the process? What did Shannon do that made a difference in the good relationships she had?

There were some lonely times in young Shannon’s life. But did that loneliness also give her opportunities to make friends? What do you think she learned after being shunned by the Group? What did she learn about bullies?

Why do you think Zara and Veronica—two older girls—liked Shannon so much? What did she give them and what did they give her in return? Is friendship all about giving and sharing? Shannon and her sister discovered something important about one another that made a difference in their relationship. What was it?

Proverbs 27:9 says that “a sweet friendship refreshes the soul.” What do you think that means?

Get free discussion question for books at focusonthefamily.com/magazine/thriving-family-book-discussion-questions.

Additional Comments

Real Friends is something of a graphic novel life-journal for author Shannon Hale. She and graphic artist LeUyen Pham create a very involving, amusing and well-defined picture of the awkwardness of childhood. Young girls, in particular, will find this book easy to identify with as it speaks of the trials, triumphs and celebrated joys of making friends.

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Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Bob Hoose