Kristen Gudsnuk’s Making Friends freshens up the idea of “kid gets magic way to make life changes, learns what true friendship is” with a layer of magical-girl media influences.
Danielle is struggling with being separated from her friends now that she’s in seventh grade. Feeling lonely, she draws a picture of Prince Neptune (the evil-but-cool villain on the Solar Sisters cartoon she watches) in Great-Aunt Elma’s notebook, only for him to appear! He’s still got his magical powers, but more insidiously, he convinces Danielle there’s nothing wrong with continuing to use the notebook to make her life easier.
That doesn’t work, though, particularly once Danielle creates a friend, Madison, for herself. She envisions a cool, funny, smart girl, but Madison’s intelligence means she soon starts asking uncomfortable questions about why she doesn’t remember anything or seem to have parents. Danielle learns to worry about consequences to her decisions, ultimately having to work to make up for her unthinking choices to take shortcuts.
The style will seem familiar to fans of current popular cartoons, all rounded edges and minimal yet expressive features. It looks like something the reader could draw, with a little work, bringing them closer to the content. Fantasy elements mingle with all-too-realistic emotions, making each more powerful. Yet there’s plenty of humor as well.
Young readers in particular will find a lot to relate to in Making Friends, as the idea of wishing for the kind of magical powers seen in all kinds of modern entertainment is common. Yet the exploration of the paradox of cool — only people who don’t care about being cool wind up seeming cool — is meaningful, as Danielle learns more about focusing on others instead of herself, even though her concerns are sympathetic.
The book is lots of fun, with plenty to think about and enjoy in the unpredictable twists and peopled with characters I wanted to be friends with. While the underlying concept is familiar, the use of imagination (both Danielle’s and Gudsnuk’s) turns it into something new.
Making Friends is now available for preorder from your local comic shop with Diamond code MAY18 1775. It’s due out July 31 in bookstores, August 1 in comic shops. It’s also available as a hardcover (code MAY18 1776). (The publisher provided an advance digital review copy.)