Review: Best Friends by Shannon Hale, LeUyen Pham (Illustrator)

I wish I could gift the book Best Friends to my younger self. I guess that’s what you have little sisters for – to make their childhood a bit more bearable. Sequel to Hale’s graphic novel, “Real Friends“, Best Friends explores the confusing in-between period of time where you’re no longer a kid, aka sixth grade *cue scary sound effect*

Shannon Hale managed to yank out all those suppressed memories from those early school years. Everything covered in Best Friends reminded just how glad I am not to be in the sixth grade *shudders*. The boys being mean just to appear ‘cool’, the girls being in constant competition, the petty fighting, the gossiping. How did we all survive that? And more importantly, why do little kids act so mean? I guess that’s why I’m studying Psychology.

Speaking of, yes, I still cannot stop analyzing the characters I encounter in books. This must be like book editors who can’t mentally stop correcting the writing they read in their free time. It’s simply impossible after you read the DSM to not look for signs of a disorder in every behavior. Like Jon Ronson wrote in his book The Psychopath Test:

“I wonder if I’ve got any of the 374 mental disorders,” I thought.
I opened the manual again.
And I instantly diagnosed myself with twelve different ones.

So reading Best Friends where Shannon Hale covers anxiety and OCD (presence of obsessions, compulsions, or both) was really interesting to see unfold within such a young character. I can’t stop thinking about her spiraling thoughts.

I’d recommend this book for many reasons (relatability, mean girls, finding your voice), but the mental health aspect made the book stand out for me.

This here paints the picture so clearly. “The worries were wrong” is so powerful.

This showcases the cycle of obsessive thoughts and taking momentary comfort in repetitive behaviors or mental acts like praying or repeating words silently.

Oh, and the gorgeous art by LeUyen Pham grew even more detailed and colorful this time around. Here are some of my favorite parts of Best Friends:

I wasn’t sure at first of the story within a story aspect, but if you want to buy my immediate love feature the ocean in your book.

It was also interesting how she featured writing as a tool of escapism when her friends didn’t want to play pretend anymore. It starts with the little things and then grows into something bigger… I mean she has multiple books out now.

Don’t stop! I loved that her teacher encouraged her writing (and that Shannon Hale included the real paper her teacher graded.) Having a teacher believe in you grants so much confidence when you’re young – or at any age, really.

…Until she grows tired of you too. Ugh!!! Those friends. I forgot all about those friends… Don’t bring me back to sixth grade, please. Ever.

Oh, that art!! I loved it when the art would suddenly change in style. It brought the story to life for me. So good!!

This page convinced me. I want a third book with Shannon in middle school or high school, please!

Me during this pandemic. Hovering in this cruel cycle of wanting to know what’s going on but also coming out of it with less knowledge and more fear. I only noticed the fear mongering in the media when I compared watching the news VS watching something I enjoyed. Wow. What a difference in mindset afterward. Do an experiment and notice your emotions after watching the news VS after watching your favorite movie or favorite Youtube channel. It will make you want to never watch the news again. Who wants to feel full of despair and anxiety? Not me.

Ah! What a powerhouse. Like my favorite Sarah J. Maas quote: “My name is Celaena Sardothien,” she whispered, “and I will not be afraid.”

This is what this book granted me: solidarity. We’re not alone in our thoughts.

READ THIS BOOK! Gift it to your younger siblings, cousins, neighbors. It’s so insightful and fun and thoughtful. I want a third book!

Oh, and help out this college girl by buying my books on Depop. I’m selling my books on Depop because I’m moving soon. If you’re looking for popular YA books; poetry; books full of dogs: foreign editions of books… Come take a look here

DEPOP BOOKS: Help out this college girl

… by buying my books. I’m selling my books on Depop because I’m moving soon (oh, and I need to pay for college textbooks). If you’re looking for feminist reads; popular YA books; poetry; foreign editions of books… Come take a look here

Feel free to message me about any questions you might have!

Review: Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer

“My life story is the story of everyone I’ve ever met.”

Wow. W O W.

I had an inkling when I first tried to read this book that it would trigger some unresolved trauma within me, which is why I set it aside back when it still felt a bit too much. But coming into this now, I can say I’m glad for the wait. I needed it.

Funny enough, I decided to pick up Foer’s book after seeing it in a dream recently where I was roaming the library shelves for the right read. My dream featured Foer’s Here I Am, but in real life, my local library currently only holds his Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. It felt like the right time to dive in.

Firstly, I have to highlight my keen appreciation for Foer’s characters. He breathes life into his creations. I’m a sucker for his dialogue and curious character traits. I still think about a particular line I read in Here I Am that gave voice to the process of growing up – it all happens in one day when you don’t pick up the little one and then you realize they’re not so little anymore.

I have trust in his writing. The quote I opened this review with has been with me since at least 2014. His words have staying power.

Usually, I’d cover my thoughts and feelings throughout my reading. Usually. This book is different in that the last 30 pages had me releasing tears that have felt stuck for the last ten years. Like, I could wash my face with all the tears that kept on coming. I feel compelled to focus on that experience. I’ve never had a book release me so. Is this the peace of mind everyone keeps mentioning? I guess that’s why I kept avoiding this book like the plague.

I’ll admit at first I had a bit of a tough time with this book because I felt so invested in Oskar, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about this other bizarre storyline happening with his grandparents or the hunt. The author excels at interactions – so please, don’t bore me with subplots of characters we won’t see again.

The book built itself up just for the ending. And so it felt heavy because we spent so much time circling around the real issue for it to then be uncovered so completely felt a bit jolting, at least for me. I mean, that would explain my extreme reaction.

“My search was a play that Mom had written, and she knew the ending when I was at the beginning.”

Oskar’s mental state was all I cared about. The last 40 pages granted me peace of mind after seeing someone you care for finally receiving the attention they deserve. Protect him at all costs, I kept yelling whenever I’d read how no one monitors the terrible things he looks up online (“which I know about but really, really wish I didn’t”). But I have an affinity for his inventions and curiosity, though I feel bad that they keep him from falling asleep. I love the thought that he’d be thrilled to know that some of his inventions finally exist, like the cuddle bed. What a gem of a boy!

What keeps echoing in me are the phone calls (and when the tears really hit):

“Are you there? Are you there? Are you there?”

Tears.

For a book that started off barely keeping my attention throughout it, those last pages really picked up the game. If I were to draw a graph of my reading experience, the spike shows with the chapter, “A Simple Solution To An Impossible Problem.”

It took me a full day to come back to write about it.

Oh, and coming into this book after having watched The King of Staten Island, I can’t help but go back to this scene in the movie that mirrors the thought-process of children who went through trauma: When they drop Harold off at school, Scott tells him to kiss his sister goodbye. “Now, if she dies tomorrow, you’ll remember that.” The end is always in sight.

There’s also this line in the book “the end of missing someone” that pains me because it hit me now as I’m writing that Oskar won’t experience that feeling again… heavy boots. That’s why he’s so eager to hear new memories people have of his dad. Oh. I’m telling you, this read isn’t light.

But the fact that I can write so many lines simply over that ending shows just how its all-encompassing nature. I’ll have to prepare for Here I Am next.