Mush: Sled Dogs With Issues by Glenn Eichler & Joe Infurnari

Dogs have always been known as man’s best friend, but maybe they’re more like men (and women) than we thought! That’s the premise of this hilarious graphic novel that reads like a canine version of The Office by Glenn Eichler, a current writer on the Cobert Report and former producer of one of my fav old animated series, Daria. Dolly is the lead dog of a group of neurotic sled dogs who live with a reclusive trapper and his wife somewhere in the far, far North. Lately she’s been questioning what it actually means to lead, and starts to wonder if she really wants the responsibility of keeping everyone on track. This causes jealous Guy to start angling for Dolly’s job by growling rumors and lies to the other dogs. Meanwhile, dim-witted Buddy keeps trying to have a ‘relationship’ with sleek Venus just because they were mated a few times. Venus couldn’t be less interested, and decides she is NOT going to just be a puppy making machine for the rest of her life. Purebred Winston puts on airs which drives everyone nuts, while sly Fiddler keeps the pack guessing who’s side he’s really on. It all comes to a head when Guy finally challenges Dolly for the lead, and the humans, who are having some serious issues of their own, have to get involved. When it comes to resolving conflict, we can be just like dogs–or maybe dogs are just like us. Joe Infurnari’s sketchy artwork is quirky and expressive–each dog looks and sounds suspiciously like someone you might know, while the often pastel color palette sets readers right down into a cold Northern lanscape with pink and blue sunsets and snow covered pine trees. Surprisingly philosophical, this witty GN uses a rag tag pack of quarreling sled dogs to demonstrate how utterly wacky, banal and complex the human race can be.

Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol

It’s already hard enough for Russian American Anya to fit in at her preppy private school with a last name no one can pronounce (“Borzakovskaya”), a clueless mom and a booty that makes her regulation plaid skit a bit too snug. But after she takes a tumble down an abandoned well and discovers the skeleton of a long dead girl, life gets even more complicated. When Anya is finally rescued, she finds that she has brought home a little souvenir of her accident—Emily, the skeleton’s lonely ghost. At first Anya is annoyed with having to explain the modern world to Emily, who died ninety years ago. But soon she sees how having an invisible friend helps when it comes to cheating on tests or sneaking a smoke on school grounds. However, Emily begins wanting more and more of Anya’s attention, and Anya realizes that if she actually wants to make some living, breathing friends, Emily’s got to go. Except Emily has other plans… This gray-scale graphic novel is the kind of creepy treat I revere—a genuinely scary ghost story with a minimum of gore, a few well-placed frights and a bit of humor that turns gasps into giggles. Debut author and illustrator Vera Brosgol’s crisply drawn details convey Anya’s mood and characterization perfectly—down to the Belle and Sebastian and Weezer posters in moody, sarcastic Anya’s room. Besides being a classic ghost yarn and a realistic portrayal of the horror of high school, this is also a terrific story of being true to yourself and your culture while learning how to fit in on your own terms. After whetting your goulish appetite with Anya, try Hope Larson’s Mercury for more good ghostly, teen angst fun.

Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King

Let’s be clear: Lucky Linderman is NOT lucky. First of all, he’s named after his grandfather, a Vietnam POW who’s presumed dead. Also, because of an ill-worded homework survey intended to liven up the social studies curriculum (“If you were going to commit suicide, what method would you choose?”) he’s on wrist-slashing watch by the assorted powers and teachers-that-be. He’s being seriously bullied by Neanderthal-in-training Nader McMillan, whose blood pressure doesn’t even rise when grinds Lucky’s face into the pavement. And did I mention that his distant parents are too involved in their own middle-aged misery to notice how wretched he is? Lucky hasn’t smiled in over six months, and so far nothing’s tempted him to start up again. The only place where Lucky doesn’t suck is his dreamscape, a humid jungle full of danger where he heroically rescues his grandfather over and over.  But he can’t keep hiding in his dreams forever, and when Nader finally goes too far, Lucky begins seeing the ants: tiny heralds who tell him the hard truth about what he needs to do to get his life back. There’s only one problem: Lucky’s not sure he wants it. This darkly humorous book may be one of the best I’ve ever read about how it feels to be relentlessly, aggressively bullied and how adults don’t do nearly enough to protect teens who are being targeted. Lucky’s story is raw, ragged, honest and true and quite possibly happening to you or someone you know. The way to make it end is both the easiest and hardest thing to do: act. Tell. Help. Read. And don’t stop until you see a change.