Chew, Vol. 1: Taster’s Choice by John Layman & Rob Guillory

Special Agent Tony Chu is a cibopath: every time he eats something, he has a psychic vision of where that food came from, whether an orchard or slaughterhouse. As a result, he doesn’t tend to eat very much (except for beets, which as a vegetable seem to have zero background personality). His unfortunate mission? To chase down illegal chicken-traffickers for the Special Crimes Division of the US Food and Drug Administration (poultry have been outlawed since the bird flu that killed 23 million Americans three years ago) and, when necessary, chomp on the living or dead parts of criminals in order to find out their dirty little secrets. Along the way, he manages to lose his partner to a flying meat cleaver, nearly gets his brother killed, and draws the attention of some very nasty crime bosses who put a price on his head. All while being very, very hungry and never able to eat anything that doesn’t give him nightmares. You think your job is hard? Just try being Tony Chu for one day. This wholly original GN earned a rightful place on ALA’s 2011 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, and a permanent place in my heart for its black humor, snappy dialogue and utterly awesome grossness. This one has everything from projectile vomiting to hamburgers with human finger condiments. It’s not an overstatement to say you’ll laugh ’til you puke–or at least throw up a little in the back of your mouth.

Swamplandia! by Karen Russell

When world champion alligator wrestler Hilola Bigtree dies of ovarian cancer, it is the beginning of the end for the renowned family-run Swamplandia! Florida Everglades theme park. Her husband, the jocular Chief Bigtree, heads to the mainland in search of investors to help pay the park’s staggering debt, her eldest son Kiwi goes to work for the competition, the ominously titled “World of Darkness,” while middle daughter Osceolo decides to elope with her boyfriend Louis Thanksgiving (who just happens to be a dredgeman that died sometime in the 1930’s). This leaves thirteen-year-old Ava on her own in the swamp, waiting for her family to come back and save the only home she’s ever known. Worried that her sister has followed a ghost to her doom, Ava takes the dubious advice of an itinerant bird wrangler who claims to be able to guide Ava to the underworld, where not only could she find and save her sister, but maybe, just maybe, she could see her beloved mother one more time. Ava is so desperate to see her kin that she agrees to go on the journey, even though a still, small voice keeps insisting that what she seeks does not exist. And when the journey turns dark, Ava is forced to discard the magical thinking of girlhood and accept the harsh reality and deep unfairness of the adult world. This is not a book to be rushed through. It may not even be a book for many of you, this slow boiling, twilight character study of a beleaguered family of forlorn alligator wrestlers. But for some of you, those of you not afraid to walk in Ava or Kiwi’s dirty bare feet for awhile, this story is a shining metaphor for the treacherous swamp of adolescence, which is often studded with pits of quicksand and camouflaged alligators, just waiting to swallow you up or drag you down. And only those with the spirit of a wrestler and a heart as big a tree will make it through to the other side. If you’re in the mood for something other than the usual teen angst fare that happens to be gorgeously written to boot, take trip down south to visit Swamplandia! . I hear it’s pretty pleasant there this time of year…

Ghostopolis by Doug TenNapel

When world-weary ghost wrangler Frank Gallows accidentally zaps terminally ill Garth Hale into the in-between dimension of Ghostopolis, the boy finds himself with a new lease on life—or death, as the case may be. As a human being in this spirit world, Garth discovers he has incredible powers that are capable of overthrowing Master Vaugner, the evil Goth dictator of Ghostopolis. But Garth just wants to get back home. Aided by Skinny, his skeletal Nightmare and the friendly ghost of his dead grandfather, Garth almost gets his wish when Frank Gallows and the beautiful ghost mechanic Claire Voyant show up with a machine that can zoom him back into the land of the living. But Vaugner isn’t letting Garth leave until he finds out the secret of his strength and takes it for himself. Soon Garth, Frank and Claire find themselves caught up in the midst of an epic battle for the heart and soul of Ghostopolis. Folks, this is one of those “kitchen sink” books (as in, author and illustrator Doug TenNapel threw in everything but the kitchen sink) that shouldn’t work but it does. There’s action, giant lightning bugs, adventure, a mysterious Tuskegee Airman named Joe, romance, the ghost of Benedict Arnold, side-splitting humor, and a farting werewolf. Somehow, it all comes together and makes perfect sense. I enjoyed every manic moment of it. Don’t believe me? Check it out for yourself—it should be widely available at your local library as it was one of ALA’s 2011 Top Ten Great Graphic Novels for Teens. You’ll also want to be in the know before the planned feature film hits theaters!