Sea Sirens

by Amy Chu and Janet K. Lee
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some intense moments, but the language is actually pretty simple. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section, but I’d give it to the younger end of that set.

Trot is a California girl through and through. She spends the days (when she’s not in school!) at the beach with her grandfather while her mother works — he fishes, she surfs. Except there’s a problem: her grandfather has the beginning stages of dementia and doesn’t always remember where he is or that he’s supposed to be watching Trot. After one experience where her grandfather goes missing, Trot’s mom grounds them both to the house. So, Trot sneaks out with their cat, Cap’n Bill, and they go surfing. Except, they end up in the underwater world of the Sea Sirens. The are mortal enemies with the Sea Serpents, and Trot and Cap’n Bill help defeat them. So, they’re taken in as heroes for an underwater adventure with the Sea Sirens. (And Grandpa comes too!)

As I mentioned in the content, this is almost a beginning chapter Graphic Novel (does it belong with the other beginning chapter books? Perhaps.) — the language is basic, there are a lot of illustrations and not a lot of text, and the adventure is pretty simple. I think it serves the same function as the Babymouse books: it’s there to help beginning readers find a footing in the world of graphic novels. It’s fantastic that the main character is Vietnamese-American, and that her grandfather sometimes slips into Vietnamese when he doesn’t quite understand what’s going on. It’s a cute book — I bet the full-color finished is quite gorgeous — and it’s a start of a series of adventures that Trot and Cap’n Bill will have. It’ll be a good one to put into the hands of those 1-3rd graders who are looking for something fun to read.

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5 Worlds: The Red Maze

by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeler, and Boya Sun
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Others in the series: The Sand Warrior, The Cobalt Prince
Content: There is some fantasy violence. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section at the bookstore.

Oona failed to light the blue beacon, mostly because there’s an order they need to be lit, and red comes before blue. So, it’s off to Moon Yatta, where the red beacon has been harness to power the world. It’s the most technologically advanced of the five worlds, but harnessing the power of the beacon is also draining the world faster. Ooona, Jax, and An Tzu need to find their way through the maze of pipes and machines surrounding the beacon in order to light it, but the Nanotex corporation — who basically run Moon Yatta — is against them.

There’s a nice subplot, too, about the shapeshifters who have been collared so they can’t shapeshift or else they’re banished to the desert to live in isolation and Jax’s role as a starball superstar comes into play as well. The authors are dealing with a lot here: capitalism, and the hero worship of celebrities, as well as the prevalence of misinformation through the media. But, mostly, it’s still an engrossing story that kept me entertained and captivated as Oona and her friends figured out the next step in their overall goal to light the five beacons and save the universe.

It’s a smart, fun series, one that readers of Amulet and Zita are sure to love.


Queen of the Sea

by Dylan Meconis
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: June 25, 2019
Content: It’s a historical graphic novel, so it’s a bit long. It will be in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, though I’m sure a younger reader, interested in English history, would be interested in this one.

On the one hand, I finished this. And didn’t dislike it. I liked the art, I liked the humor, and I liked that the main character wasn’t the queen or a courtier, but rather an orphan girl, Margaret, stranded on an island with a bunch of nuns. It was an interesting story — of the exile of Queen Eleanor of Albion (read: England) after her sister takes over the crown. Eleanor befriends Margaret, or rather, Margaret befriends Eleanor, and they figure out a way to escape and take back Eleanor’s crown. Kind of. It’s mostly about Margaret’s relationships she has with both the island and those on it.

On the other hand, who is the audience for this? Really? A graphic novel loosely based on the childhood of Queen Elizabeth I, no matter how excellently done, is really really niche.

Hopefully, it will find its audience — whoever they are — and there will be people to enjoy this well-done, but really rather odd book.

Lowriders to the Center of the Earth

by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raul the Third
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Content: There are some scary images — all based in folklore. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section.

First off: this is a second book in a series, so I felt like I was missing a bit of origin story, but it really does work okay as a stand alone.

Three friends: Elirio Malaria (a mosquito), Lupe Impala (an impala, the animal not the car), and El Chavo Flapjack Octopus (again, self-explanatory) have noticed that their friend, Genie (the cat!) has gone missing. They decide to go looking for Genie, and soon discover that he’s been taken captive by Mictlantecuhtli, the god of the underworld. Not to be outdone by some god, the three friends take their car into the underworld to get Genie back.

On the one hand, this is a super cool graphic novel. Ancient gods, huge fights, and who doesn’t love a trip into the underworld? They met all sorts of mythical creatures, from the jackal to La Llorona, and even celebrated Dia de los Muertos. If you know Texas, too, you’ll recognize some landmarks.

I’m not a huge fan of the art style, it’s tri-color pen-and-ink, but it just reinforces the busy-ness of the book to me. I get why the author was using that style; it kind of looks like tattoos, and it is reminiscent of doodling on pages, but it didn’t work for me. And while I appreciated the use of Spanish mixed in with the English, the fact that they provided footnoted translations (which, again, I understand why) really ground my reading to a halt. It worked better once I figured out I could just gather the meaning of the Spanish from the context.

I’m not sorry I read this one, though. It’s clever and fun, and even if the art wasn’t my favorite, I think it was worth the time. Maybe start with book one, though.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 7, 2019
Content: There is implications of sex (but none actual), some teen drinking, and a few instances of f-bombs plus other language. It will be in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Freddy has a problem: her girlfriend, Laura Dean, keeps breaking up with her. It’s more complicated than that: Laura will be super cute and lovey and want Freddy to do all sorts of things with her and Freddy will feel wonderful, and then Laura Dean will take off, or Freddy will find her kissing another girl, or she’ll just disappear and leave Freddy hanging.

This roller coaster ride of a relationship is taking its toll on Freddy, too: she’s become a crappy friend to her actual friends, whom she stands up often because of Laura Dean. And she’s questioning whether or not it’s her fault that Laura Dean keeps taking off.

I loved this. Seriously. I loved that it was a lesbian love story, that everyone was so accepting, but that Tamaki and Valero-O’Connell used this to talk about abusive relationships. Because, as the reader probably figures out before Freddy: Laura Dean’s super abusive. In fact, that’s the whole arc of the story: helping Freddy figure out that even though Laura Dean is popular, and even though she might enjoy the time she spends with Laura Dean, that doesn’t mean they have a healthy relationships. But they also tackle other issues: one of Freddy’s friends is in the closet to his family, and his boyfriend is upset he can’t go to a family party, and Freddy loses the connection with her best friend, right at the time when she needs Freddy the most.

This book is messy and complicated, but it’s also glorious and compelling. And I hope people read it because it’s fantastic.

Glitch

by Sarah Graley
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Release date: May 14, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some video game-style violence. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

A new video game, Dungeon City, has dropped and Izzy is dying to play it. Sure, she told her friend Eric that she’d wait and they could play it together, but it’s there and its new… and it turns out she can go INTO the game. And it’s up to HER to save the world. She teams up with a robot, Rae, and together they take raid dungeons and take on bad guys and work to save the world.

Except. Izzy is spending more of her time in the game than in the real world. She doesn’t sleep at nights, snoozing her way through the school. Her parents are worried. Her teachers don’t know what to do with her. And worst of all, she’s neglecting her friendship with Eric. Can Izzy find a balance in her life again? (And maybe, just maybe, save Dragon City too?)

While this one was fun — I liked the game, and I think the video game aspect will pull kids in — I ended up thinking it was a bit heavy-handed with the whole TOO MUCH PLAYING VIDEO GAMES IS BAD vibe. Really. That’s what I got out of it. Izzy played the game too much and she neglected everything else and there were Consequences which she only resolved by not playing (well, winning) the video game. If it weren’t quite so heavy-handed with that (it may have been my adult eyes, though; I’m not sure a kid would get that out of the book) I would have really thought it was fun. It’s a clever premise (which was actually done better in In Real Life) but I think it would have been better served with a lighter touch on the friendship and real life is better messages.

Animus

by Antoine Revoy
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Content: There are some unsettling images. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, but I’d give it to a 5th/6th grader who wants something weird and unsettling.

Tucked away in Kyoto, Japan is a small, unassuming playground. No one things about it, not parents, not kids who play there. Except, one day, friends Hisao and Sayuri see a masked ghost. That tells them the playground is alive: the swings can transport you into people’s dreams, the statues can hear everything, and the slide… well, the slide ages you super fast.

Which might explain all the missing children.

So, Hisao and Sayuri embark to figure out what makes the playground tick, and to perhaps find some of the missing children, and maybe put things back to rights.

I think I expected this to be creepier than it was. It was odd more than unsettling, Weird more than disturbing. The mystery wasn’t terribly mysterious. And I kept thinking that maybe Japanese kids being drawn by a Frenchman was a bit, well, problematic. That said, the art was gorgeous, and I appreciated that Revoy kept the traditional manga black and white instead of coloring it.

Maybe I just went in with too high of expectations.