Two Graphic Novel Memoirs: Cub and Best Friends

Shannon Hale continues her middle-grade memoir with Best Friends; Cynthia Copeland tells how she became a writer in Cub.

Cub by Cynthia Copeland. Algonquin, 2020, 222 pages.

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 12-15

1972 was not a great year for America, but it was a pretty good time to be a kid in Litchfield, Connecticut. At least, once you learn how to survive among the social predators of 7th grade. Cindy is not one of the cool kids, with her granny dresses and long hair her mom insists on putting in rag curlers every night. Straight hair and flared jeans are in! But she has one good friend, and one great teacher who encourages her writing ambitions—even to introducing her to the girl reporter at the local newspaper. Tagging along to city council meetings is far from scintillating, But Cindy slowly begins to catch on to asking questions and getting answers. Of course, there’s bigger news than local zoning laws: Nixon’s reelection, the Equal Right Amendment making its way through state legislatures, the end of the Vietnam War . . . and Junior High drama.

Cynthia Copeland (Cindy) pictures this pivotal year in her life as a giant step toward adulthood and her eventual career as an artist and writer. There are no earth-shaking events—at least in her personal life—but it’s good to see adults provide valuable encouragement and uncool kids become good friends. Cindy’s warm relationship with her father is especially heartening. Her first boyfriend is a chaste and sweet relationship: someone to hold hands and talk with and take to the first dance (even though Cindy doesn’t treat him well at the end, and regrets that). Her politics lean left but not annoyingly so. A big takeaway is that ambitions take concrete actions to come true.

Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic/literary value: 4


  • The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA), which was supposed to guarantee equal rights for women, was vigorously opposed by Phyllis Schlaffley and other conservatives, who feared it would, among other things, oblige women to register for the draft. (In 1972, a very real concern.) After passing several state legislatures, it failed to achieve the required 2/3 majority of states. The ERA was recently revived in the Virginia Legislature, but probably won’t go anywhere since its expiration date is long past.

Best Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham. First Second, 2019, 235 pages

Reading Level: Middle Grades, ages 10-12

Recommended for: ages 10-13

With a new curly hairstyle and a new attitude, Shannon is looking forward to sixth grade. Fifth grade was angsty, but sixth-graders run the school! Her place in The Group is secure, since Jen, Queen of sixth grade, is her new bf.  But life at the top has its challenges—mainly, how do you stay there? Shannon doesn’t know all the right songs and doesn’t get to see the same TV shows, and once into the school year, all the old uncertainties emerge. Who is talking about her? What are they saying? And what about the BOYS? Is it ok to like-like them now, and what does it mean if no boy like-likes her? Before long, Shannon’s natural sensitivity grows into full-fledged anxiety, sometimes so bad it keeps her home from school.

“Be yourself” is standard advice for tweens and teens, but most of them don’t yet know who they are. As in Real Friends (see link below), Shannon Hale captures middle-school anxiety with a sure touch. What’s missing in this installment is the family tension added by Shannon’s sister Karen, who has moved to L.A. to pursue a modeling career. Karen dispenses wisdom about self-confidence and perseverance from afar. Shannon’s LDS family is wholesome and supportive, if not always perceptive, and the reader is happy to see her make it through another year. Her autobiographical note at the end helps kids see middle-school drama from a more mature perspective.

Overall Rating: 3.75 (out of 5)

  • Worldview/moral value: 3.5
  • Artistic/literary value: 4.25

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More at Redeemed Reader

  • Real Friends explores Shannon Hale’s fifth grade experience.
  • Graphic memoirs from the 1970s and 80s are a thing! Other examples we’ve reviewed are Guts, Sunny Side Up, and Hey, Kiddo.
  • Cub celebrates Cynthia’s early work ethic which led to her success. See the links at “Books to Get Your Kids Working,” our interview with Gene Edward Veith’s about Vocation. We gave a starred review to a charming graphic novel for younger kids on a similar theme, New Shoes.

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Janie is the VERY senior staff writer for Redeemed Reader, as well as a long-time contributor to WORLD Magazine and an author of nine books for children. The rest of the time she's long-distance smooching on her four grandchildren (not an easy task). She lives with her equally senior husband of almost-fifty years in the Ozarks of Missouri.

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