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

Review: The Seven Good Years by Etgar Keret

I’ve truly missed the experience that an engaging Nonfiction book evokes, so The Seven Good Years arrived in my hands at the right time. This wise, witty memoir—Etgar’s first non-fiction book, and told in his inimitable style—is full of wonder and life and love, poignant insights, and irrepressible humor.

I’ve read Keret’s short story collections (Suddenly, a Knock on the Door & The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God & Other Stories) in the past and enjoyed the experience immensely. With the news of a brand new collection dropping in Hebrew and eager to get my hands on it, I decided to check this slim book out in the meantime.

Which is why I was glad to find that The Seven Good Years reads familiar like one of his short stories. Each bite-sized chapter dedicatedly captures knick-knack themes and ideas on everything from Etgar’s three-year-old son’s impending military service to the terrorist mindset behind Angry Birds. There’s Lev’s insistence that he is a cat, releasing him from any human responsibilities or rules. Etgar’s siblings, all very different people who have chosen radically divergent paths in life, come together after his father’s shivah to experience the grief and love that tie a family together forever.

In short, I inhaled the book. It’s funny how I really tried to take my time with it, hoping to save it for the weekend, but I found that the more I read, the quicker I began zooming through the pages. Every time I put it aside, I’m convinced I remember the book to be better than it actually is, but then I start reading again and slip so easily into his writing from chapter to chapter.

It’s this passage, in particular, that I recall made me grow fond of the book’s voice:

“Before I started publishing books, I inscribed dedications only in those I bought to give as gifts to people I knew. Then one day I suddenly found myself signing books for people who’d bought them themselves, people I’d never met before. What can you write in the book of a total stranger who may be anything from a serial killer to a Righteous Gentile? “In friendship” borders on falsehood; “With admiration” doesn’t hold water; “Best wishes” sounds too avuncular; and “Hope you enjoy my book!” oozes smarm from the first H to the final exclamation point. So, exactly eighteen years ago, on the last night of my first Book Week, I created my own genre: fictitious book dedications. If the books themselves are pure fiction, why should the dedications be true?
“To Danny, who saved my life on the Litani. If you hadn’t tied that tourniquet, there’d be no me and no book.”

“To Sinai. I’ll be home late tonight, but I left some cholent in the fridge.”
“To Feige. Where’s that tenner I lent you? You said two days and it’s a month already. I’m still waiting.”

To Avram. I don’t care what the lab tests show. For me, you’ll always be my dad.”

And this passage that I took to heart because it put into words what I couldn’t explain:

“They’re a kind of meditative disengagement from the world. Flights are expansive moments when the phone doesn’t ring and the Internet doesn’t work. The maxim that flying time is wasted time liberates me from my anxieties and guilt feelings, and it strips me of all ambitions, leaving room for a different sort of existence. A happy, idiotic existence, the kind that doesn’t try to make the most of time but is satisfied with merely finding the most enjoyable way to spend it.”

This is exactly what keeping Shabbat means, for me.

However, as much as I enjoyed his silly writing, his approach to certain topics rubbed me the wrong way. The main that came to bother me, which I quickly noticed had a recurring theme in the book, was his not-so-subtle hatred for religious Jews. It shows quite apparent when Keret talks about his sister, who made tshuva by “discovering religion” which he, time and again, refers to as: “Nineteen years ago, in a small wedding hall in Bnei Brak, my older sister died, and she now lives in the most Orthodox neighborhood in Jerusalem.”

He states that his sister won’t read what he writes, which grants him the opportunity to recklessly bash her religious way of life (which, really, only bothers him because it means that he isn’t the one making all the decisions, like whether or not his girlfriend can come over to visit the family whenever he decides). Instead of taking this chance to look into Judaism to connect on a deeper level with his sister (there’s so much intricacies to discuss), he just brushes it off as some kind of “madness.”

I felt it acutely in the following passage on strangers telling him “what a waste” for a pretty face to not show her body to the whole world because she chooses not to: “And then they’d roll down the window and shout to me how broken up they were about my sister. If the rabbis had taken someone ugly, they could’ve handled it; but grabbing someone with her looks—what a waste!”

His choice of words, full of tension simmering just under the surface, hinted at a lot of pent-up anger towards his sister, which he was now releasing through talking remorselessly about her choices in life. It’s unequivocally unfair towards her and her warm family. The only passage that shows them in a good light:

“As I walked into my sister’s house, less than an hour before Shabbat, the children greeted me in unison with their “What’s my name?”—a tradition that began after I once got them mixed up. Considering that my sister has eleven, and that each of them has a double-barreled name, the way the Hasidim usually do, my mistake was certainly forgivable. The fact that all the boys are dressed the same way and decked out with identical sets of payos provides some pretty strong mitigating arguments. But all of them, from Shlomo-Nachman on down, still want to make sure that their peculiar uncle is focused enough, and gives the right present to the right nephew.”

And it doesn’t end with his sister, he also comments on his older brother’s short-lived period in the yeshiva and then their grandmother’s brother, Avraham, who also turned away from religion; implying that they made the better choice in doing so.

It became all the more taxing when Keret had the audacity to claim all the above, but when an elderly Polish woman in Warsaw does the bare minimum (literally preparing a jam sandwich) he commends her. His behavior can be considered textbook Stockholm syndrome: bashing your own people and hugging the ones that stood idly by while your entire family was annihilated…

Anyway, I left The Seven Good Years after the aforementioned with a sour taste in my mouth; I’ll stick to Keret’s fiction from now on.

bookspoilsbookspoilsbookspoils

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying The Seven Good Yearsjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!

Review: Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

Real Friends 12-- bookspoilsI’ve had my eye on this graphic novel memoir set in the 80s for awhile now, so I was beyond keen on getting my reading on. I sped through this thrilling ride in one big whirlwind.

When best friends are not forever . . . 

Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.

Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group―or out?

This book, to be honest, made me feel utterly frightened for my nine-year-old sister. Like, what kind of fresh hell is going on in the American education system where the amount of bullying Shannon went through in the fourth grade was completely overlooked to the point of oblivion.Real Friends 9-- bookspoils

This is frightening… The amount of pain and suffering school can bring to a child made me that feel sure about my decision to homeschool.

I was then also gobsmacked by the abuse Shannon experienced at the hands of her older sister, looking to alleviate her own pain by putting it all on this little girl. I mean, if it’s unacceptable to hit a nine-year-old stranger, then it sure as hell is unacceptable to hit your own sister.Real Friends 1-- bookspoilsI’m still shellshocked at this panel.Real Friends 10-- bookspoils This poor kid experienced utter terror in her own home. Shannon ran to hide just at the sound of Wendy’s voice and that had me nearly in tears.

Please, treat your younger siblings with all the love and respect you have.

Shannon’s perspective gave us a very keen look on her girlhood, and it made me understand certain outbursts kids might have with a more clear eye. Like, when she was “playing” with her siblings and starts crying when caught, not at her loss but at the overwhelming build-up of emotions from feeling left out. It made me remember that kids tearing up isn’t usually about the situation at hand but about something much deeper in their heads that only they have the knowledge about. And it’s our jobs to show them that they can trust us enough to share their thoughts.Real Friends 13-- bookspoils On a more uplifting note, Real Friends has some incredible art that I’d like to highlight by sharing a few favorite panels of mine:Real Friends 3-- bookspoilsReal Friends 4-- bookspoilsReal Friends 6-- bookspoilsReal Friends 7-- bookspoilsReal Friends 11-- bookspoils

bookspoilsbookspoilsbookspoils

Note: I’m an Amazon Affiliate. If you’re interested in buying Real Friendsjust click on the image below to go through my link. I’ll make a small commission!