Real Friends

Thanks to NetGalley, I have come across a book that is a must-purchase for my school library. As a matter of fact, I think this book will probably be a welcome addition to most elementary, middle school, and public libraries. I wish it had been around when I was growing up. The book is Real Friends, a graphic memoir written by Shannon Hale and wonderfully illustrated by LeUyen Pham.

To say that I related to young Shannon in Real Friends would be a drastic understatement. Make her a chubby girl in a small town in South Carolina, and parts of this book could have been my own story. I’m sure that anyone who ever had trouble making friends as a child (or even as an adult) will be able to see themselves in this book.

Shannon met Adrienne on the first day of school, and they became best friends. For Shannon, Adrienne was her only friend. Adrienne, on the other hand, had lots of friends. It was sometimes hard for Shannon to share her best friend with others, but she tried. She even made a new friend when Adrienne moved away, but she was always waiting for Adrienne to return and things to go back to normal.

Well, Adrienne did return, but things didn’t exactly go back to the way they were. Shannon and Adrienne were still friends, but Adrienne was also part of The Group, some of the most popular girls in school. Shannon didn’t always fit in with The Group, but she hung around with them anyway to stay friends with Adrienne.

One of the girls, Jenny, seemed to really dislike Shannon, and she made it pretty clear that she wanted Shannon out of The Group. Shannon took this really hard and spent a lot of time crying in the bushes. (This was something she did at home, too. Her older sister wasn’t exactly nice to her a lot of the time.) Shannon didn’t know what she’d done to make Jenny so mean to her, but she was growing a little tired of it all. Maybe she didn’t want to be part of The Group after all if this is what she had to deal with.

Eventually, after she and The Group ended up in different fifth grade classes and Adrienne transferred to a different school, Shannon made a couple of new friends. These friends were popular as well, but they were popular because they were nice…unlike Jenny. They seemed to like Shannon just as she was, but could it last? These girls were in the sixth grade and would be going to junior high next year. What would Shannon do then?

Join Shannon as she navigates the ups and downs of friendship (and even sisterhood). It’s not always an easy path, but putting in the effort to find real friends–and to find peace within–is always worth it.


Let me reiterate this one more time: Real Friends should be added to every library that serves elementary or middle grade children. Young readers will love the graphic novel format, and they’ll stick around for the thoroughly relatable story. Market it with Cece Bell’s El Deafo and Jennifer Holm’s Sunny Side Up, and it will surely fly off the shelves.

Look for Real Friends when it’s released on May 2nd. Your library patrons will thank you.

Yes Please

Occasionally, I like to take a little break from my standard fare of children’s, middle grade, and YA literature. That break generally takes the form of a romance novel or a memoir. This time, I chose to read a memoir, specifically Yes Please by Amy Poehler.

This book could be classified in a number of ways: nonfiction, autobiography, humor, and, of course, memoir. What I’d like to emphasize here, though, is that it is a book for adults. Unlike most of the other books I feature here, this is not a read that belongs in a YA collection. Are there certain elements that will appeal to teens? Sure. But this is a book written for adults and should be treated as such. It contains frank talk of marriage, sex, drug use, being a woman in a male-dominated industry, parenthood, and simply navigating life.

Now, all that being said, I did like Yes Please. It wasn’t exactly what I was expecting, but I guess that’s a good thing. I started this book thinking that I would be getting something similar to Tina Fey’s Bossypants (which I loved). To a certain extent, that’s what I got, but there was also a more serious side to Poehler’s book. It wasn’t the laugh-out-loud experience that I anticipated. Sure, there were moments of hilarity, but, at least in my opinion, the book was more about Poehler reflecting on what led her to where she is today.

Amy Poehler takes readers through her admittedly wonderful childhood, through her early days in improv, on to her time with the Upright Citizens Brigade, SNL, and Parks and Recreation. She paints a very vivid picture of how difficult and exhilarating it was to be a young comedian in both Chicago and New York, and she doesn’t shy away from the–in my eyes–darker aspects of the world she inhabited. There was a great deal of partying and lots of drug use, and Poehler did her share of both.

Things began to change for Poehler when she got married and became a mother. In this book, she talks more about the latter than the former. She only briefly glances on her divorce from Will Arnett (which I totally understand), but the love she has for her two boys pours from this book. It’s clear that those boys are adored by their mother…but also that she works to make time for herself. She admits that she has no desire to be a stay-at-home mom, and she cautions women to stop shaming each other for their choices. Her motto of “Good for you, not for me” is one that could serve us all…and maybe help some people to mind their own business.

I like to think I know a fair amount about the entertainment industry, but I have to admit that I’m not familiar with a lot of the names Poehler dropped in this book (and she dropped a lot of them). I knew some of them simply because I’ve watched Saturday Night Live for years, but others were completely new to me. I’m not sure what that says about me or this book, but I’m guessing other readers may also feel like they need to bone up on their “Who’s Who of Improv” after reading Yes Please.

Aside from the name-dropping, if I had to make a complaint about this book, it would be that it felt a bit choppy. Poehler jumped from event to event and back again fairly regularly. I eventually got used to it, but the frequent back-and-forth was a bit jarring at times.

All in all, Yes Please was an enjoyable read, and I would recommend it to adult readers who want an inside look at the world of comedy, particularly how a young woman worked like mad, paid her dues, and went on to become one of the most beloved and recognized comedians in the world.

 

 

Let’s Pretend This Never Happened

*Note to regular readers of this blog: This is not a YA/middle grade book. It’s a memoir (intended for adult-ish readers) packed with irreverent humor that the easily offended will not be happy with. (Those people need to lighten up.)*

Every once in a while, I have to put aside books that I just can’t get into and read something different. It’s usually because I need a break from the seriousness of many YA books…or I need a good laugh. The book I finished last night, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: A Mostly True Memoir by Jenny Lawson (also known as the Bloggess), definitely qualifies as different…and it was so over-the-top hilarious that I’m still laughing.

When even the dedication page makes you laugh-snort, you know you’ve got a winner.

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It just got better–and weirder–from there.

Now, I’ve only been reading Jenny’s blog, The Bloggess, for a short time, but I still thought I knew what to expect in this book. Yeah…not so much. From her childhood in rural West Texas, through her struggles with anxiety both as a teen and an adult, and her life with her daughter and husband, Jenny addresses just about everything with irreverent humor and her own brand of crazy. I loved it, and I laughed so much that I gave myself a headache and had to take some Advil and a nap.

I’m not going to go into everything I liked about this book. I don’t have that kind of time. But, if you think you might be interested in reading Let’s Pretend This Never Happened–and learning more about taxidermy, impregnating a cow, sadistic turkeys, couch etiquette, the wild world of working in human resources, or what it’s like in the head of someone with an anxiety disorder–you might want to check out Jenny’s blog first. If the Bloggess seems to float your boat (and you’re not easily offended), you should definitely read this memoir. I don’t usually even read memoirs, but I’m now recommending this one to every crazy person I know. (And there are a lot of us. I work in public education. I’m pretty sure being medicated is now a job requirement.)

After reading this insane (in a good way) book, I feel like Jenny Lawson and I could be great friends…who never meet and only communicate via email/social media because our anxiety issues make actual physical meetings awkward and unpleasant. Welcome to the blogging community. We’re great in print.

If you’d like to learn more about Let’s Pretend This Never Happened and the Bloggess, check out Jenny’s blog (obviously), Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest. You’ll likely never be the same. You’re welcome.

Bossypants

This is a bit of a departure for me. Followers of this blog have probably already figured out that I don’t read a ton of nonfiction. (I think I’ve posted on a grand total of two nonfiction titles in the past five years–Snow Falling in Spring and Four Perfect Pebbles. I should be ashamed…but I’m not.) Anyway, when my book club decided to have everyone read different nonfiction titles for our January meeting, I knew I’d have to stretch myself a bit.

I’d seen a few reviews for Tina Fey’s Bossypants throughout the past couple of years–and I think Tina Fey is one of the funniest women in the world–so I decided to make this book my nonfiction pick for book club. That was a great decision. I zoomed through this book, and I was actually disappointed when it ended. Tina Fey’s voice comes through so clearly in this book that I felt like I was sitting in my living room having a conversation with her.

Fey is absolutely hilarious, but she also explores some issues that are common to working women–dealing with sexism in the workplace, the importance placed on appearance, and balancing career and family. (I may be single and childless, but even I have to remind myself to work less and spend more time with my family.) She talks about her family, how she got started in comedy, and writing/performing for Saturday Night Live and 30 Rock. I thought the process that went into her performance as Sarah Palin was especially enlightening!

In some ways, Bossypants is a look at the differences between women and men in power. Tina Fey, in my opinion, is a power player in the world of comedy. Does that mean that she’s held to the same standards as the men around her? Not exactly. But I think Fey is doing everything she can to make the ground more level for other women in comedy…and society as a whole. If you don’t believe me, watch Mean Girls and see if you can figure out what the basic message of that movie is!

While Bossypants does address some hot-button issues, even the most serious of topics are treated with Fey’s trademark humor. I appreciate that, and given that this book is a best-seller, a lot of other readers enjoy it too!

Now, normally the books I review are intended for YA or middle grade audiences. This one is a little different. Can some teen readers handle something like Bossypants? Sure! What about middle school students? Not so much. I would give this book to teens who are a little more mature, don’t mind colorful language, and understand wry humor. Having worked with high school students, I realize that narrows things down a bit.

This foray into nonfiction has proven so successful that I may read more of it in the future. For now, though, it’s back to stuff that is pretty far removed from reality…or is it?