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Shannon Hale & Leuyen Pham

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Page 45 Review by Jonathan

"Let's make the 'I hate Shannon' club."
"Adrienne..."
"Sorry, we're the 'I hate Shannon' club and you can't be a member."
"Well, I don't want to be anyway! Because I hate you!"

Fortunately the 'I hate Shannon' club only lasted one day. Though the ups and down, or rather ins and outs of being one of the friends that formed 'The Group' went on considerably longer for young Shannon, engendering an ongoing state of nervous tension in her that developed into mild OCD and other issues.

At the risk of sounding sexist, I do wonder whether young girls aren't far worse for this sort of behaviour than boys, which fortuitously for us here, makes for some fascinating reading! As a kid at primary school I only ever remember bickering disputes between boys being settled with a brief exchange of windmilling bunches of fives, then everyone was friends and playing again normally as though nothing had happened!

Meanwhile, I'm already seeing a little bit of the sort of behaviour Shannon details in this intriguing autobiographical work - well, it's basically an anthropological study of playground behaviour - amongst some of my daughter Whacker's friends, particularly one otherwise delightful girl who seems utterly incapable of playing with more than one friend at once, and can become very unpleasant and extremely possessive of individual friends in a group situation. I have suggested the bunch of fives solution but fortunately Whackers is more restrained than her father was in that respect, at least as far as girls are concerned. Boys who annoy her on the other hand are fair game as her best friend Edward occasionally finds out when he pushes it too far...

Still, I digress. As gripping as this is, well because of it, it actually makes for a little bit of uncomfortable reading knowing that my child will undoubtedly go through (though hopefully not be the instigator of too much of) the sort of behaviour that not infrequently made young Shannon's life miserable. Not that this is all doom and gloom, not at all, it focuses just as much on her true 'real friends' as the false ones, and it is just as interesting to see how those friendships first took root and then developed over time, standing the test of it, and others calculating attempts to hijack them, as all happened with Shannon's first real best friend Adrienne.

Then, there is her older sister Wendy, who to the younger Shannon seems to have a mysterious switch that flips her from loving sibling to total bitch for no discernible reason whatsoever, making home life just as testing at times as her school day. It's not until an impactful conversation with her mum that Shannon starts to realise Wendy might be far more like her than she'd realised...

LeUyen Pham's artwork, meanwhile, is utterly delightful. She's absolutely brilliant at drawing kids, with all their myriad facial expressions that can go from ecstatic to devastated and back again in the space of three panels. Plus she also neatly adapts her style for Shannon's daydream / fantasy sequences, or where she's illustrating the girls' elaborate role-playing games, usually involving them being spies or superheroes. Ah, the joys of unbridled childhood imagination and seemingly all the time in the world to just play and have fun with your friends. Assuming they're not busy making an 'I hate you' club that particular day, that is!

The term all-ages is frequently bandied about, not least by myself, but this is a genuine example of a title that works brilliantly well in very different ways, depending on the age of reader, to equally resounding effect. I will certainly be encouraging Whackers to read it before too long, as an educative, informative but also entertaining piece, whereas older readers will certainly read it with wistful / grimacing reminiscence as they cast their minds back to making their first real friends, and indeed arch-nemeses!

Recommended for voracious readers of Raina Telgemeier (SISTERS, SMILE, DRAMA, GHOSTS), for some young ones far prefer real-life material that they can relate to, rather than the more fantastical thrills which we carry so much of.

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