Hope Larson’s Eagle Rock series gets its third installment with All My Friends this week.
The first two volumes of the series, All Summer Long and All Together Now, saw series star Bina undergo the familiar landmarks of middle school: friend and boy drama, the discovery of music, and, familiar to any musician of that age, trying to figure out how to be in a band.
Volume 3 finds Bina firmly in a band, and not your real-life teenage band in which everyone struggles to keep time and doesn’t quite understand how to write songs. No, in Eagle Rock, Bina and her bandmates Kesi and Lora are apparent prodigies with a digital EP and actual gigs . . . and possible record deals for their project Fancy Pink.
It’s real wish-fulfillment stuff, but then the series generally aims less for a slice-of-life truism of being a teenager so much as a sweet, aspirational version of adolescence: these aren’t books to bum kids out, they’re books to make kids hopeful.
Bina’s talents are natural, the way that any artistic kid hopes for their talents to be; her goals are attainable, her friends are sweet, and the drama she faces is generally of a well-meaning sort. Unlike a lot of kids media and YA fiction, there aren’t a lot of “life is unfair, adults are out to get you, and romance will gut you” vibes.
One key ingredient to the series is that the sweet boy-drama, while present, is deep, deep background — Bina’s awkward moments with guys are generally easily maneuvered and filled with mutual understanding. This frees up the story for what really matters: the drama of creative fulfillment.
In All My Friends, Bina has finally found her bandmates, sure, but the struggle of creating the art you desire to create is in the growing pains: hurdles placed in front of the wild expectations all artists secretly harbor.
For Bina — who, let’s face it, leads an exceptionally charmed life — the hurdles are small but ever-present. Sure, one of Fancy Pink’s songs is licensed for a TV show that Bina loves; sure, she’s getting asked to guest on records; sure, there’s an incredible offer for a record deal. Parental interference — kind interference with very real and loving purpose — stands in the way of her super fame.
The girls of Fancy Pink are go-getters and decide to record an album DIY-style — appropriate for cartoonist Hope Larson, who spent a period of her career making lovely, impactful handmade mini-comics.
In such a way, the Eagle Rock series provides a sort of motivational modeling for kids with dreams: stick to it, create, hope for the best, and don’t let the hard stuff get in your way. It’s a powerful message delivered without schmaltz, and Bina has a sort of forward-looking perseverance that it’s hard to doubt she’ll get things done. Not even the ever-present condescending boys can vex her.
All My Friends isn’t the most dramatic of the series — the title sort of tells you that Bina’s gotten certain parts of her life under control — but it’s certainly the one that uplifts the most. It’s a rewarding act 3, one without a lot of hand wringing. Bina’s relationships have solidified, smoothed out, and each of them holds a sort of iconic example of healthy-even-if-tense example. You’ve got your band friends, and you’ve got your crushes, you’ve got your slightly older wise friends, and you’ve got your caring but firm parents.
Sweet, honest, but perhaps a bit best-case-scenario, it’s a delight to read — and, moreover, a delight to dream along with Bina. It’s a great gift for the aspiring niece or nephew, but it’s also just a nice time for yourself.
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