YA Graphic Novel Round-Up 6

The Greatest Thing
by Sarah Winifred Searle
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Content: There is an instance of sexual harassment, some swearing including a couple of f-bombs, and talk of eating disorders. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

It’s her sophomore year, and Winifred is forced to reinvent herself. Her best friends have both opted to go to a private school, leaving Winifred all alone at the public one. She ends up making new friends, but invention comes slowly. She has a negative body image and a poor relationship with food. She hates herself and is sometimes crippled with anxiety and depression. But more than anything, she has a secret that she doesn’t quite know how to share.

There has been several graphic novels that are dealing with both mental health as well as body image, and I appreciate the way Searle tackles both. I liked the way she depicted Winifred’s anxiety and depression in her art, and that she didn’t shy away from making Winifred a larger girl. There was a sense of time – early 2000s – which explains the homophobia of certain characters, but Searle also made the town diverse; it wasn’t just white characters, which I appreciated. It all was done well, and even if there wasn’t a firm “happily ever after” it was hopeful. I really enjoyed this one.

Messy Roots
by Laura Gao
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Content: There are racial microaggressions against the Chinese main character, as well as some blatant racism. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

In this graphic memoir, Gao reconstructs her life from being a small child in Wuhan, China, to moving to Texas when she was four to be with her parents and her childhood, to her moving away to college and figuring out herself. Gao talks not only about her challenges with being both in America as well as trying to keep her Chinese roots, and her struggles with accepting both of those. She talks about the struggles of her parents and the way her Chinese family both felt oppressive and supportive. It’s a remarkable story and a good picture of one immigrant’s experiences in America.

I loved everything about this one, from the art style to the way Gao told her story. She wove past and present effortlessly together, using the Asian racism surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic as a framing device. It was a bit of history, a bit of cultural exploration, and a bit of finding oneself. And it was altogether an enjoyable read.

Atle Zachen/Old Things
by Ziggy Hanaor and Benjamin Phillips
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There really isn’t anything. I don’t really know why this is geared toward older kids; I think younger ones would enjoy it as well. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Benji and his grandmother, Bubbe Rosa, are going out to Brooklyn and New York to gather ingredients for Sabbath dinner. Throughout their trip, Bubbe, whose memory is failing, reminisces about growing up in Europe before the War, and immigrating to Palestine and then Brooklyn. She often forgets where they are, and which stores are which, but Benji is a good, patient companion, helping his bubbe and guiding her throughout the day.

This was a very sweet book. I liked the inter-generational aspect of it, and how Rosa and Benji connected. He was interested in her memories, but also kept her grounded in the present. The art was kind of abstract, mostly grays and sepias except for Bubbe’s memories, which helped add to the mood of the book. It’s a good grandparent story and a good WWII story without actually being wholly about the war.

I really liked it.

Adora and the Distance
by Marc Bernardin, Ariela Kristantina, Ryan Valenza, and Bernardo Brice
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is violence, and people do die on the page. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Adora is the adopted daughter of the leader of a vaguely Spanish nation. She’s got a routine, she’s loved, and she’s happy. Except she has terrible dreams about something coming, and it’s coming for her. Her adopted father asks around and discovers that it’s The Distance, a vague darkness that will devour anything in its path. So Adora, with her trusty handmaiden, and some faithful companions, set out to face the Distance head-on. The journey is perilous, and many will die.

And then it turns out to be an allegory for Autism?

Things I liked: a Hero’s Journey with a black girl as the main character. I liked the idea behind the book, that there’s something Out There you have to confront. I didn’t hate the way the story was executed; I did get the idea that these characters were archetypes willing to sacrifice themselves for the Hero rather than actual characters. But it bothered me that the main character was nine and yet the book is geared toward teens. It really bothered me that instead of actually finishing the adventure, the authors chose to make it about autism. Which really doesn’t make much sense.

I wanted to like this one a lot more than I actually did.

Numb to this: Memoir of a Mass Shooting
by Kindra Neely
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is a mass shooting, and while she doesn’t depict the event itself, the fallout is pretty hard. There are depictions of a suicide attempt and panic attacks. There is also swearing, including a few f-bombs. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Kindra was born in Texas, but after things got too bad – there was a drive-by shooting on her street – her mother moved them to Oregon. There, Kindra made friends, and eventually went to community college. One day in 2015, though, a shooter terrorized her campus, 9 people and wounding 8 others. Kindra was on campus that day, and this is the story of what happened After.

This was a hard one to read – PTSD and anxiety are no joke- but I think Neely is telling a story that needs to be told. She is making points and asking questions that need to be made – not just about mass shootings, but about our (the Nation, politicians, the media) response to them. The title is not just about how Neely ended up feeling, but about mass shootings as a whole. Are we, in fact, Numb to This?

Not an easy read, but a very good one.

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