It’s Spring Break 2009, and college freshman besties Dani and Zoe have made plans to meet up in New York City. Dani invites new friend Fiona along, and at first all is well. But if two is company, then three’s a crowd and soon Fiona’s worldly cynicism and snarky impatience begins to drive a wedge between Dani and Zoe. Especially after a budding flirtation between Zoe and Fiona blossoms into something more. Can this friendship be saved? Or is this newly formed threesome doomed to die on the vine? The Tamaki cousins have done it again in terms of subtly and sensitively bringing a very specific moment of growing up to universal life. As they navigate famous NYC landmarks and neighborhoods, Dani, Fiona and Zoe wrestle with how they are viewed and how they are viewing themselves, with those viewpoints changing from page to page, from conversation to conversation. So many familiar and charmingly awkward moments around identity, class and gender play out that between the triad that you won’t be able to stop smiling and nodding in recognition. As someone who lived in NYC from 1997-2021, I remember the city of 2009 very well, from the shopping at St. Marks to the giant Virgin sign in Times Square. It is all faithfully and beautifully replicated in this graphic novel–in three-color, double-paged spreads of lilac, cream and black. I miss that version of NYC, and deeply appreciated being transported back. And whether you are a rock solid New Yorker, or have only done the tourist route, I’m betting you will also be transported by Roaming.
Ahhh, thirteen! It is the best of ages (Finally a teenager! Finally some independence!) and the worst of ages (“What the heck is going on with my body?” “Why are my friends acting so weird?”) Author/illustrator Dan Santat sweetly and hilariously examines the ups and downs of thirteen in this graphic memoir of his first time overseas. Dan is a quiet kid who’s learned that the best way to survive middle school is to keep his mouth shut and his head down. Luckily, as someone who loves to draw and and dream, that’s not too hard. But when his parents decide he needs to broaden his horizons by taking a three week trip to Europe with some of his classmates the summer before high school, Dan is is forced out of his shell in a big way. Confronted by new sights, sounds, smells and feelings, at first Dan is overwhelmed by the sheer size of the world outside his small California town. Then after exploring Paris and climbing the Eiffel Tower, Dan not only finds his people (Braden and Darryl), but he begins to find his footing. When his camera dies, he turns to his sketch book and starts drawing all his first time memories. (Remember friends, in 1989 there weren’t any cell phones!) He even works up the courage to start talking to Amy, a cute girl from another school. But then Dan starts worrying about what will happen when he gets home. Will he still be the same old awkward Dan? Or can he be someone new?
This heartfelt memoir is packed with Santat’s specific middle school memories that will be universally true for anyone who is, or ever was, thirteen: Being embarrassed by parents. Being mercilessly teased by friends about someone you have a crush on. Feeling on top of the world when the person you like likes you back, and devastated when they don’t. In thrall to older kids who seem to know so much more, even though they are only a few years ahead of you. Discovering you’re stronger, cooler, smarter, kinder, braver than you thought. It’s all here, and no current or post adolescent will leave these pages without feeling seen. The author’s note, actual photos and acknowledgements will be especially delightful for Gen-Xers like me, who are Santat’s peers and remember this time very well (I was 16 in 1989. I KNOW. GAWD.) Please make sure to find this wonderful tome at your nearest library or bookstore ASAP! You won’t be sorry.
With candy-colored hues and deconstructed panels, creator Rachel Smythe brings the first part of her popular webtoon Lore Olympus to the full-color print page. In a modern metropolis where the Greek gods run high power businesses, drive cool cars and party in slick nightclubs, young goddess Persephone is a cotton-candy colored country mouse. Sheltered by her protective mom Demeter, she has little understanding of the politics, gossip and corruption of the big city. Luckily she has worldly Artemis to show her around her first grown-up party. It’s there she is spotted by Hades, who’s undone by her otherworldly beauty. After a series of godly misunderstandings, Persephone ends up spending the night on Hades’ Underworld sofa and charming his vicious dog Cerebus. In short order they are both smitten, but unsure how the other deity feels. Complications of both the godly and mortal ensure, ending in an emotional mess of a romantic cliffhanger. If you were one of the many devoted fans of Circe by Madeline Miller or Lore by Alexandra Bracken, then you are sure to fall deeply in love with Lore Olympus! And if you can’t wait to find out what happens next, Vol. 2 & 3 are available now 🙂
Have you ever felt like you woke up in the wrong body? That’s how M feels, except she KNOWS it’s the wrong body: suddenly she exists when only a moment before she felt nothing at all. When she opens her eyes for the first time, she is told by her creator, Dr. Frances Ai, that she is Maura–Frances’s sister, who died in a lab accident. Frances was able to work her scientific magic to bring Maura back from the dead–except, despite being in her body, M doesn’t remember being Maura at all. Luckily, Maura still exists as a ghost, appearing to M through mirrors, instructing her on how to act and what to say, so that M can convince Frances that she has Maura back. But Frances knows something is wrong, and M does too. How can she truly enjoy being alive when her life is not her own? And if she tells Frances the truth, will the doctor make good on her claim to take M apart and start over? This character-driven, Frankenstein-adjacent take on self and sisterhood is moody, broody and deeply felt. M’s painful realization that it isn’t enough to just be somebody, that she must be herself no matter what, will resonate with anyone who’s ever felt like they were stitched up in the wrong skin. Debut author/illustrator Talia Dutton‘s sweeping black, white and deep teal tones and classic comic style effectively portray Frances’s determination, Maura’s verve and M’s shifting sense of self. M might be for monster, but it’s also for marvelous.
It’s 1991, and Allison is desperate to escape her domineering dad, a mean, petty mid-level magician who forces her to act as his show assistant long after she has outgrown the role. She finds some relief when she discovers how to post to the local BBS (bulletin board system) by using the landline to dial in through her dad’s computer. There she meets sweet Sam, and they hatch a plan to get her out her house and away from her dad’s rages. Meanwhile, across town, Richard is the new kid in school. He used to have a tight crew back home but here, he can’t seem to catch a break. He’s become the target of a nasty local bully who’s escalated his attacks to the point of spraying Richard’s house with a BB gun in the middle of the night. Just when he thinks he’s reached his breaking point, Richard receives a mysterious note in his locker with directions on how to access a BBS called EVOL. He dials in and is introduced to Evol House, a community of outsider teens living on their own and led by tough, fearless Tina, who confronts the bully and teaches Richard “how to stay sane in this town…You listen to music. You come to Evol House. And you make shit.” How these four teens end up coming together is the satisfying conclusion of volume 1 of this affecting, minimalist graphic novel about the early days of the Internet. For those of us old enough to remember (I was a high school senior 1991) the Internet was initially a welcoming space where you could find like minded people and form community. While that still happens, as writer and critic Roxane Gay recently pointed out, much of the community spaces of Internet have been crowded out by cancel culture. Despite it’s somewhat dark title and sharp, angular art, Incredible Doom is an ultimately hopeful reminder of what the Internet was to kids and teens looking for connection, and what it could still be for those willing to wade through the cancelling, consumerism and contradiction to find the community waiting on the other side. I’m looking forward to Volume 2, and can’t wait to see what Matthew Bogart and Jesse Holden do next! Â
What do you do when you find out that your mom and best friend is dying of cancer? Weep with sadness? Rage at the unfairness of it all? Yes, and sometimes even write a stunningly good graphic memoir about it. Now ten years after Tyler Feder‘s mom died during her sophomore year of college, she has written a frank, poignant and even funny road map of how to navigate being in the “dead mom club.” Tyler’s mom Rhonda was awesome. She had a signature pixie hair cut, made amazing Halloween costumes and birthday decorations, and loved perfumed hand lotion and scary carnival rides. Feder’s choice to render her sad family history in a soft pastel pink palette helps soften the blow of seeing effervescent Rhonda lose her dark mop of hair and descend into sickness. With the benefit of healing time, Feder is even able to seed her story of grieving with gentle humor. There’s tips on “how to make a good cry a great cry,” “Dead Mom: The App,” and a “My mom died young reaction Bingo board.” The section on the family sitting shiva after Rhonda’s death is my favorite, where Feder lovingly details the strangeness of her terrible new state of motherlessness, but how friends and family helped her through. Good for both a cry and a laugh, Dancing at the Pity Party is perfect for anyone who’s ever lost a loved one, or loves someone who has.
High school sophomores and best friend group Abby, Brit, Christine and Sasha have had it up to HERE with the empty tampon dispensers in their school’s bathrooms. What’s a girl supposed to do if she forgets her essential supplies? Isn’t it the school’s responsibility to stock these vital necessaries used by 50% of the population? Activist minded Abby thinks so, so she launches a giant demonstration to draw attention to the issue. There’s only one problem–she brings her friends into it without asking their permission, putting them all at risk for suspension. Can Abby do an abrupt about-face and win back her best buds’ trust, while still holding the school accountable for supporting menstrual rights? This sweet, funny graphic novel was inspired by the creators wish to normalize periods and stop them from being such a taboo topic. But it’s also a delightful friendship story, full of secret crushes, awkward flirting and the highest of high school drama. If you grew up reading Raina Telgemeier or Shannon Hale, you’re going to love Go with the Flow. Period! (hee hee!)
I am seriously sports adverse. You might even call me allergic. So, it turns out, is award winning and all around awesome graphic novelist Gene Yang. That’s why he was surprised to find himself writing a graphic memoir about, well, basketball.
Gene didn’t even know much about The Dragons, the basketball team at Bishop O’Dowd Catholic high school where he taught math. But when he starts hearing his students talking about how this is the year for the Dragons, he senses a story. And what a story it is! Gene finds himself caught up, just like the rest of the school, in the drama of the Dragon’s 2014 basketball season. A team that always makes it to the California State Championship, but never seems to seal the deal, the Dragons are determined to win this year, and Yang invites himself along for the ride. Interspersed between the personal stories of the individual players, their charismatic coach Lou Ritchie, and fast paced season games, are captivating chapters on the origins of basketball and famous games and players from basketball history. (I can’t even believe I wrote that last sentence.) Each time a character makes a major decision, in basketball or in life, Yang shows them taking a step: across a line, across a street, or into the future. It’s a quiet, yet powerful visual that underscores the fact that the most monumental changes are often initiated by the smallest act. Suspense builds not only as readers race to the end to see if the Dragons will win State, but also to see what happens to Mr. Yang, who’s undergoing his own personal crisis regarding his calling as a teacher and an artist.
I have always been an unabashed fan of Gene Yang, and I’m clearly not the only one. I think everything he creates is outstanding. Each book is better than the last, and I think, how can he possibly top THIS one? By making a person with NO sports gene CARE ABOUT BASKETBALL AND BAWL LIKE A BABY THROUGH THE WHOLE LAST CHAPTER, that’s how. I don’t care who you are or what you like to read, you will love this book. Coming to a library or bookstore near you just in time for March Madness, 2020.
It’s “seasonal” friends Deja and Josiah’s last night working at the local pumpkin patch, and their nostalgic feelings are running high. For four years, they’ve worked together at the Succotash Hut, bonding over corn and lima bean stew. Now they’re seniors, and it’s time to trade gourds for college textbooks. But Josiah has one last wish to fulfill before the pumpkin patch is in his rearview mirror forever: introduce himself to Marcy, the mysterious Fudge Shoppe Girl who he’s been crushing on for the last four falls. Deja is more than willing to help him in this quest, especially as it means making the rounds of the patch’s many delicious snack stands. But there are several obstacles standing between Josiah and his true love, including an escaped billy goat named Buck, a candy apple-stealing middle school hooligan who keeps targeting Deja’s treats, and his own confusing emotions. By the time the tired twosome finally track down Marcy, they discover that things have shifted between them, and what each of them thought they wanted has changed over the course of one last memorable journey around the pumpkin patch. This charming autumnal-themed graphic novel is brimming with light romance, cute banter and of course, pumpkin-flavored treats. Fans of Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks will be pleased by their timely, tasty collaboration that is destined to both steal hearts and whet appetites!
Poor Freddy! No matter how much attention she pays to her popular, super hot girlfriend, Laura Dean, LD just keeps breaking her heart. Her friends Doodle, Eric and Buddy are tired of seeing her so upset and consoling her every time Laura Dean decides to take a powder. Freddy doesn’t know why she keeps taking Laura Dean back, but she does, even though Laura only wants to hang out on her schedule, and doesn’t really share any of Freddy’s interests or hobbies. Freddy finally writes in to Anna Vice, an internet advice columnist, in a desperate attempt to understand her rollercoaster relationship. But before Anna can write back, Laura Dean pulls a stunt that finally shows Freddy once and for all the kind of person she truly is. Now Freddy has to decide if this time, she’ll be the one doing the breaking up.
This smart, super realistic graphic novel sprung from the head of Mariko Tamaki, author of the awesome This One Summer (with Jillian Tamaki), Emiko Superstar and some terrific Lumberjanes, among many others. Tamaki’s characters are so authentic, so completely recognizable, that if you are or ever were in high school, you will recognize yourself or someone you know. It’s so refreshing to read a story with LGBTQ characters who are just living their lives like any other teenager in an accepting environment (well, as accepting as high school can be for any one!) Freddy even pokes fun at this in her email to Anna: “I’m aware that I should be grateful that I have the ability to get broken up with and publicly humiliated the same as my hetero friends. I am progress.” Rosemary Valero-O’Connell‘s pink-tinted artwork perfectly captures Freddy’s fragile feelings of love and the rose colored glasses through which she sees the world–until the truth about Laura Dean rips them off. You won’t want to miss this utterly true take on high school romance and relationships, which is out right NOW!
Amanda, or “Mads” as her friends call her, is not that into kissing. It’s usually too awkward, handsy or wet. No big deal, she has enough to fill her days without worrying about locking lips. There’s minor league baseball games and trash TV with her dad, Mass on Sunday with her mom, and after hours adventures with her best friend Cat every weekend. But then a mysterious phone call turns her comfortable world upside down. Mads discovers a hidden family secret that suddenly sheds new light on her lack of kissing enthusiasm. With Kiss Number 8, Mads begins to understand that maybe it’s not the act of kissing itself, but WHO she’s kissing that’s the problem. Author Colleen AF Venable and illustrator Ellen T. Crenshaw have hit a home run when it comes to portraying uber-realistic teen characters and their equally confused and conflicted parents. Venable’s deft dialogue sings, while Crenshaw’s eloquently drawn black and white facial expressions capture every turbulent emotion that Mads and her friends experience. This funny, poignant graphic novel about figuring out who you are while navigating parental expectations, friendship loyalties and religious beliefs should be at the top of your summer reading list!
Readers of this blog know that while I love me some graphic novels, I’ve never been a huge superhero comic fan. The one exception is Marvel’s Runaways, which captured my heart way back in 2007. That’s why I was THRILLED to discover that hotshot romance author Rainbow Rowell has penned a new chapter in the timeline of do-good teens whose parents are big villainous baddies! (SPOILERS AHEAD: Only keep reading if you are already well versed in the Runaways universe. Otherwise, head back to the beginning.)
At the end of the original series, The Runaways fell apart. Alex and Gert died, Molly went to middle school, and Carolina headed to college. As Nico slums it in a cheap apartment, trying to decide her next move, she is stunned when Chase shows up, a nearly dead Gert in tow. Turns out Chase decided to time-machine it to Gert’s death, hoping to bring his buxom, lavender-haired love back to life. Once Gert is revived, (and over being really pissed that she missed two years of action) she’s ready to rally the troops and restore the Runaway’s badass reputations. The only problem is that no one seems terribly interested, which throws Gert into a deep depression. Why did Chase rescue her only to have re-lose the only family she has left? It’ll take a geriatric baddie to bring the gang together and set them back on the superhero path! Fans and newbies to the series alike will find much to love in this delightful reboot. Volumes 1-2 are out now, and Volume 3 comes out Apil 23rd, so hightail it to your nearest library or bookstore for immediate Runaways gratification!
Ari just knows his future calling is to play in an indie pop band with his best friends, not work from the crack of dawn every day in his family’s struggling Greek bakery. But until he can convince his parents of that and scrape together enough rent money, he’s stuck at home making sourdough rolls. Then cute, tall Hector applies for an job behind the counter and suddenly baking sourdough isn’t so bad. Soon they are spending more and more time together, as Ari shows Hector the ropes and Hector grows closer and closer to Ari’s family. When the time comes for Ari to fully turn over the baking reins to Hector and take off for the club stages of big city Baltimore, he finds it’s not as easy as he thought. But before Ari can figure out what his heart is telling him, a terrible accident blows up his relationship with Hector and drives them apart. Can Ari make a new future for himself while finding his way back to Hector? This tender romance of a graphic novel, drawn with just a touch of manga and shaded in tones of turquoise blue, is sweetly reminiscent of another classic blue-tinted love story near and dear to this reviewer’s heart. Ari’s messy, tousled hair and Hector’s wide, welcoming smile won me over instantly, and I waited with bated breath for these two boys to figure out that what they were feeling was more than just a summer crush. Tasty extras include a recipe for the Kyrkos Family Bakery’s Famous Sourdough Rolls and a finger-snapping summer playlist of beachy songs from Hector to Ari. Fans of Rainbow Rowell, David Levithan and Nicola Yoon looking for a new swoon, your wait is over! Pluck this Bloom asap from your nearest library or bookstore!
It’s no small task to take an iconic piece of prose, break it down into a graphic format and also manage to say something new. But that’s exactly what Ari Folman and David Polonsky did in this utterly arresting transformation of one of the world’s most beloved texts, The Diary of Anne Frank. As many of you already know, Anne Frank was a Jewish teenage girl who kept a diary from 1942 to 1944 while living in hiding from the Nazis with her family in Amsterdam. The original diary is full of wry observations, silly asides and bursts of teenage angst, rage and sadness. Folman and Polonsky condensed and edited down Anne’s well-known words, instead using highly expressive character faces and richly designed two page spreads to further convey her thoughts, fears and dreams. The results are vivid, moving and in some ways, even more intimate than Anne’s prose entries. Seeing Anne’s jealousy of her perfect sister Margot depicted on a single page of devil/angel poses or the two sets of bickering parents drawn as fire breathing dragons adds a fascinating new dimension to a classic many know by heart. Both a compelling true story and stunning work of art, Anne Frank’s Diary is a book you’ll want to own so you can pore over the full color pages again and again.
Way back in the day when Amazon was still just an online bookstore, I was hired to write freelance reviews of YA novels (which sadly, are now long gone from the site.) In one of my very first assignments, I was sent three ARCs: Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, Monster by Walter Dean Myers and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Yeah. If you know YA literature at all, you know that those were the BIG THREE, the titles that ushered in the new golden age of YA lit by dealing frankly with issues of race, sexual identity and sexual assault while also being universally accessible and beautifully written. They broke the ground for Angie Thomas, John Green, Libba Bray, Jason Reynolds and basically every other modern YA author you know and love.
All of these books have continued to resonate with teens, but in particular, the popularity of Anderson’s Speak has grown exponentially. It won multiple awards, was made into a movie and is taught in high schools all over the country. And in 2018, twenty years after the publication of the original book, Laurie Halse Anderson and artist Emily Carrol have transformed it into a simply spectacular graphic novel.
Speak the Graphic Novel tells the now classic story of Melinda, a high school freshman who has stopped talking because she was raped at a party the summer before ninth grade. She is shunned by former friends and ignored by her busy parents. The only adult who shows her any positive attention is her art teacher, the goatee-ed Mr. Freeman, who instructs her to to take one subject (a tree) and “explore it in every way possible until you figure out how to make it say something, express an emotion.” Both Melinda and her tree evolve over the course of the school year until she finally finds her voice again and confronts the boy who assaulted her. Melinda’s voice is sardonic, self composed and darkly humorous in a way that felt revolutionary when Speak first came out, and continues to today.
Carroll has taken that voice and embellished it with her own ominous , shadowy style, full of close ups of mouths that smile, spit, snarl and snicker, all mocking Melinda’s own lips that rarely open and are dry and scabby from biting. Faces melt, eyes go black and panels flow like blood into each other, visually depicting the pain Melinda won’t voice. The pages lighten as spring approaches, except the two page spread where Melinda confronts her rapist and does everything she was too stunned to do before–screams, hits and says “NO!” in one long, savage word bubble that bursts into a dozens of sharp triangles. Like her tree, Melinda survives, grows, and renews herself, refusing to give up even when the pages go dark.
Fans of Speak will find their old friend freshly and inventively interpreted, while newcomers will fall under Carroll’s dark spell immediately, only resurfacing to go back to the beginning and read again before heading to their school library to check out the original. Do not miss this brilliant reimagining of one of the most celebrated books in YA history!