Best Friends, a graphic novel by Shannon Hale and Leuyen Pham, tells Shannon’s story of transitioning from being a “kid” to being a “tween” as she enters middle school: balancing wanting to play and pretend with wanting to be accepted and cool.
Shannon’s story reflects her experiences with anxiety that are unpredictable and often unexplainable. As she grows older and becomes more aware of the world around her, and the possible tragedies it could offer, her anxiety becomes more difficult to understand and control. Thinking back to my own childhood, I could personally relate to her fears of her parents dying and her house burning down, while also battling the very real feelings of fear and irrational coping mechanisms: “Maybe she’s [her mom] okay because I worried. Maybe I need to keep worrying so that she stays safe” (p. 155). I think many students will be able to relate to these feelings too.
Shannon authentically tells her story of growing up and heading into middle school with her experiences of being left out, trying to fit in, what values she compromises for popularity, being preyed on by an older boy, not being ready to “like boys”, and being worried about what it means to say, “No.” One of her childhood coping mechanisms illustrated in this graphic novel is her use of visual art and storytelling as therapy and a way to process her experiences. This allows her the opportunity to try out ways of responding to situations, to fail without repercussions, and possible ways to find her inner truth and power.
As a teacher, Shannon’s story also reminds me of the power of our words. When Shannon tells her teacher that she wants to be a writer when she grows up, her teacher responds, “The evidence would suggest that you already are a writer” (p. 215). This simple, and maybe even unrecognized, encouragement empowers Shannon to stay true to who she is in all parts of her life.
In the author’s notes at the end of the book, Shannon tells her readers that she hopes we have room to make mistakes. This reminds me that whether we are going down a new, unfamiliar road, taking a risk, meeting new people, moving to a new city, or taking on an unexpected surprise, these experiences may be full of fear, but they are also full of possibility and hope.