Graphic Novel Review: “Making Friends” by Kristen Gudsnuk

Seventh grade isn’t off to a great start for Dany – she’s starting middle school, none of her friends are in her classes, and she has to listen to her family argue about what to do with Great-Aunt Elma’s belongings. But when Dany discovers that a sketchbook she inherits from Elma brings anything she draws to life, things take a turn for the interesting.

The first thing Dany brings to life is the disembodied head of one of her favorite anime characters (she didn’t know he was going to come to life when she only drew his head). Once she understands the sketchbook’s power, she decides to draw an awesome new best friend, Madison. Dany loves spending time with Madison and wants to share the power of the sketchbook with her… but how do you tell your best friend that they’re not technically real?

I absolutely loved Making Friends – it’s silly and heartwarming and magical, all at once. What makes this graphic novel stand out is how well author and illustrator Kristen Gudsnuk seems able to recall middle school in all its tragedy and glory.

Lots of middle school stories zero in on the difficult parts of middle school, like trying to be “cool” or drifting apart from your friends, but while Gudsnuk gets those right on the nose, she also doesn’t neglect the fun of middle school. I have two 13-year-old little sisters, and the disembodied head of an anime character is exactly what would appear in any sketchbook for the first time. Watching this kernel of truth grow and mature in Gudsnuk’s reality is pitch-perfect, right down to the Sailor Moon-esque battle royale near the end of the story.

But as entertaining as this side plot is, Making Friends is not about anime; it’s about friendship, of course. Madison’s journey to self-realization and how it impacts her relationship with Dany, along with Dany’s navigation of her relationships with her “real” friends, is charming and compelling. This was a super fun graphic novel, and I highly recommend it!

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher, Scholastic, for review.