Happy 2020! We’re coming upon the end of our break from school, which means it’s the perfect time to settle in on the couch with a cup of tea (or three) and a new graphic novel ☕️ 📚 Here are four that I’ve enjoyed recently, if you’d like to see.
Best Friends, by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
The follow up from mega-hit Real Friends, I much preferred this sequel. Hale takes the same path as Telgemeier (mastermind behind Guts) and talks directly about the anxiety and difficulties of middle school social dynamics. I love the way Hale’s character asks the questions young girls are thinking, but afraid to say outloud: Wait, so my whole purpose is to get married? And to get married, boys have to like me? And to get boys to like me, I have to be beautiful? But.. what if I don’t want any of that? It felt a little like an updated, graphic novel version of Judy Bloom. The illustrations and ruminations in this one are scarier and more leading than Guts (in one scene her anxieties are spelled out floating around her in the air, with messages like “Your parents are dead” or “Your house is going to burn down”), so know your reader. If they can handle it, this one is realistic and validating.
Pumpkinheads, by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks
Deja and Josiah, high school seniors, have worked at a local pumpkin patch together every autumn of their high school careers. On their final day working the patch together, they decide to embrace their inner YOLO and truly go for it, doing every last thing they’ve longed to do during their tenure. Deja’s list is delicious and mischevious, while Josiah’s is more focused: Tell the girl from the fudge stand that he’s been in love with her since his Patch orientation. The sun is setting on their final night together, but there’s a lot of surprises still in store. Rowell is known for her quirky romances (Eleanor and Park is my favorite, but I also loved Fangirl), and I was happy to see that her distinct eclectic touch extends to graphic novels, as well. This bucket list read is sweet, funny, and will have you smiling to yourself. A quick love story as warm, sweet, and salty as pumpkin patch kettle corn.
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
Welcome back to high school, and that one hellish on and off relationship that you just couldn’t shake. Freddy can’t seem to escape Laura Dean, who keeps… well, you read the title, get it. Her all-encompassing love for Laura makes her a crappy friend, student, and all around human being – but when Laura Dean calls, she can’t help but go running back. The novel opens with a letter from Freddy to a relationship advice guru: How can she break the cycle, and make Laura Dean love her? At the end of the day, isn’t that what we all want – to be loved the way we want to be loved? While I loved the idiosyncratic queer cast and the empowering message of this one, I found the manga-like art and panel flow tricky to navigate. If you’re looking for something more accessible, LGBTQ+ graphic novels have a had a great couple of years – I have a post about my favorites coming up in the next few weeks. If you pick up Laura Dean, be ready for a close study if you really want to get it.
They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker
The incredible story of Takei’s childhood growing up in Japanese internment camps during WWII would be haunting and fascinating on its own (have you seen his TED Talk? It’s amazing). Add in the bleak and thoughtful illustrations of Steven Scott and Harmony Becker, and They Called us Enemy truly deserves a standing ovation. It’s not easy to read about the way Americans and the US government treated innocent people during WWII, but I had no idea how little I knew about the laws and practices of the time until I heard (and read) Takei’s story. This graphic novel is a valuable story of a dark point in America’s history, and it’s a new winner to join the growing list of powerful graphic historical fiction for young readers (if you’re looking for more graphic novels for your history buff, I also loved Drowned City and Illegal).