Best Friends, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
I’ll keep this short, because the panels that I’m including below—the quality of the photos is ENTIRELY on me, it’s really hard to take pictures of pages in a new paperback without breaking the spine!!—really do speak for themselves.
And if you haven’t read either, they are both very very much worth reading.
Back when I read Real Friends, I told patrons that I wished that I had had it—or even a book like it—in fifth grade.
It covered so much of my elementary school experience, so much of the confusion and the heartbreak and the emotions and the mistakes and discoveries and on and on and on. Reading it almost retroactively made my younger self feel less alone.
Almost. I still wish I could catapult it back through time to my 11-year-old self.
The same can be said of Best Friends, which covers Shannon Hale’s sixth grade year. Flirting with popularity (okay, that part was unfamiliar to me); friends who maybe aren’t really friends; friends growing apart; differing takes on who or what is “fun” and/or “cool” and differing responses and reactions to said cool factor; how hard it can be to like things that DON’T have that elusive cool factor; and how even harder it can be to OWN liking those things, rather than just pretending to like the other stuff.
And, you know, the Challenger explosion.
This one grapples head-on with the unspoken social and cultural rules—most specifically the gender-based ones—that are so so so mind-bogglingly weird and confusing and profoundly illogical.
Because, surprise, they’re not really based in logic or real REASONS. (Or, well, reasons that a kid is going to find helpful—it’s not like I could sit down with my sixth-grade self and be like, SEE, THERE’S THIS CENTURIES-LONG HISTORY OF WOMEN AND GIRLS BEING SEEN AND TREATED AS DIFFERENT AND LESSER BECAUSE YADDA YADDA YADDA, and have her respond with anything other than, WELL WHAT THE HELL THAT’S NOT FAIR.)
Here are two examples: I loved this, because it’s a wonderfully simple way of showing how all all these social and cultural messages come from so many different sources, and how a sixth-grade psyche might—and in Hale’s case, did—take in all those messages and boil them down into one specific lesson:
And I loved this, because it touches on how some of these social constructs are passed down from generation to generation, often unthinkingly and uncritically, again, JUST BECAUSE that’s how things are/have always been/always will be (hopefully, given that kids are reading these books like gangbusters, not that that third one, but you take my point):
Uhhhh... why are you still here? Go read it!