Ascendance of a Bookworm: Part 1, Volume 1

by Miya Kazuki and Suzuka
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: Aside from it being a manga, which is kind of tricky to learn to read, there’s nothing. It’s in the manga section of the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Urano is a college student who loves books. Loves them so much that she surrounds herself with them. And, unfortunately, that is her downfall: she dies in a book-related accident. And then wakes up, reincarnated into 5 year old Myne, as a peasant in a world with a low literacy rate. It becomes Urano/Myne’s goal to find a book, and when she can’t find one, to make one.

My youngest told me that I would really like this manga series, and she’s right: it’s bookish, it’s cute, it’s fun. And unlike other isekai manga, this one is centered on a girl with a goal is really quite fun. I adored the fish-out-of-water aspect as Urano tries to figure out how to operate in this new world and body. And her focus on inding and then making a book is completely relatable.

So, yes, I have picked up the next few volumes of this one. I have found a magna that I like!

The Leak

by Kate Reed Petty and Andrea Bell
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: It’s got one kiss and some talk of making out. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Ruth Keller is 12 years old, and wants to be a journalist when she gets older. She runs a little newsletter, reporting on stories in her middle school and town. And then one day, she is out fishing at the town lake with her friend Jonathan, and she sees something weird: a mysterious sludge and a dead fish on the shore. Ruth sees a story — local companies must be polluting the lake – and runs with it. The problem is that she’s only 12, and adults aren’t listening to her. Well, that, and she kind of jumps to conclusions before she gets her facts right.

This is a really great little story not just about youth activism and awareness, but also about facts and truth and how stories can be affected by perspective. There were a couple of subplots that I didn’t care for — one involving Ruth’s older brother hand his girlfriend (who is a mentor to Ruth), and the other involving Ruth and Jonathan “liking” each other — but that didn’t take away from the charm and message of the main story.

A solid middle grade graphic novel.

The Girl from the Sea

by Molly Knox Ostertag
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some kissing. It’s in the teen/adult graphic novel section of the bookstore, but I think younger kids who don’t mind a romance would like this one.

Morgan lives on a small island, where she has a good group of friends. However, this summer things are changing: her parents just got divorced, and Morgan has come to realize that she’s hiding a huge part of who she is: she’s gay. She figures just make it through high school, and get away from the small island town, and then she can live her Real Life.

Except the universe has different plans: Morgan meets Keltie, a strange girl with some secrets of her own. As the two girls get to know each other, things change a lot faster and a lot more than Morgan is ready for.

I have really enjoyed Ostertag’s other graphic novel series (there’s a third one I haven’t read yet) and this one is just as delightful. She captures the feelings of feeling isolated and different and wanting to feel like they fit in. She captures first love and trying to make it work with someone who is very different from you are. I adore her art and I think it works really well with the story she’s crafted.

Definitnely a real winner.

Firefly Legacy Volume 2

by  Joss Whedon, Zach Whedon, Chris Roberson, George Jeanty, Karl Story, and Stephen Byrne
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: Firefly Legacy Volume 1
Content: There is some nudity and sex (but not graphic) and lots of violence. It’s in the graphic novels section of the bookstore.

While Volume 1 covered backstory and the time in between the series and Serenity, this volume of two longer stories and a short story picks up after the movie. Which means it’s more grim, Wash and Booke are dead (sorry: spoilers) and the world that Mal and his crew inhabit is an increasingly grim one. But they have their own little family on the ship. Inara has left being a companion and is with Mal, Kaylee and Simon are together. Jayne has left but comes back. And Zoe and River have formed a bond over Zoe’s baby. It’s sweet. Except the ‘verse and the Alliance won’t leave them alone. There’s a warrant out for Mal’s arrest because of the New Resistance, and the Alliance is still after River.

It’s a grim couple of tales, with a very sweet short story intermission, but ones that I felt were super compelling. I liked the first volume, but I really liked this second one. The multi-chapter format gave the stories room to grow and find depth, and (as always) the characters were compelling. I don’t think Kaylee and Simon had enough to do, but I did like Jayne’s crisis of conscience. And? The story isn’t over. It ended, sure, but there are lots more stories that could be told about the crew (and I am interested to see where this one goes next. If there is a next.)

Probably not a great place to pick up if you’re not familiar with the world-building, but a delight for fans.

Superman Smashes the Klan

by Gene Leun Yang and Gurihiru
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some violence and use of slurs against Asian people. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

It’s 1946, and Roberta and Tommy Lee are moving from their home in Chinatown to a different part of Metropolis. They’re anxious about making new friends, and their father has started a new job which comes with new responsibilities. They begin to make friends, and Tommy earns a spot on a baseball team. But things don’t go smoothly: the (white) neighbors aren’t happy and soon the local Klan (of the Fiery Cross) are working to terrorize the Lees.

Which is where Superman comes in. The story of the Lees confrontations with the Klan are interwoven with Superman trying to figure out who he fully is. He is fast and strong, but he’s not really come into all of his powers (as we currently know them) yet. It’s a fabulous dual narrative as the Chinese immigrant Lee family deals with figuring out how to fit in and be themselves ans Superman (the alien immigrant!) figures out the same.

I picked this one up entirely because it won the Cybils Young Adult Graphic Novel and I wasn’t disappointed. Between the story by Yang and the art by Gurihiru, there is not only a fun and interesting story, but an incredibly relevant one. And a good reminder: Superman is a hero for everyone, not just white people. And that we’re all in this world together, so we should figure out how to make it work together. It’s an incredibly hopeful book as well as showing the evils of racism and extreme hatred. Definitely highly recommended.

The Magic Fish

by Trun Le Nguyen
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There some fairy tale-type violence. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

 Tiến is a first-generation American, trying to live his best life. However, he has recently come out as gay to his friends, and wants to share that with his parents. However, he doesn’t know if they understand English well enough and he doesn’t know the words in Vietnamese. His mother feels like Tiến is growing apart as he grows up, but they do still share one thing: a love of reading fairy tales. And maybe through this connection,  Tiến will find a way to share about his life.

Honestly? It was a gorgeous book. The art was spectacular, and the fairy tale retellings (three re-tellings of Cinderella-type stories) were marvelous. I liked  Tiến  and his friends and the way he tries to navigate coming out and his feelings while his mother deals with being separated from her elderly, sick mother.

However, I’m not entirely sure who this graphic novel is for. I know adults will read it and love it, as will those who enjoy fairy tale re-tellings. But, is it for the middle grade age group? Maybe? Maybe there are some 4-8th graders who will read this and see themselves, or need to read this because they lack the confidence to come out to their family. But it lacks a real plot, which most middle grade books kind of need to have.

At any rate, it’s a gorgeous book, and Nguyen is a talented artist. I will be curious to see what he does next.

A Wealth of Pigeons

by Steve Martin and Harry Bliss
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some mild swearing and pictures of bums. It’s in the Graphic Novels section of the bookstore.

I saw a poster at the store for this book, and thought to myself: “Huh. So, Steve Martin is doing cartoons now.” And yep, I was right. He is! He has collaborated with New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss. Collaborated is the right word — sometimes Martin would send ideas to Bliss to illustrate, and sometimes Bliss would send illustrations to Martin to caption. Either way, what they have come up with is an utterly enjoyable collection of small comics that just delighted me.

Not all of them are hilarious — some of them did make me laugh out loud, but most just made me smile — but it’s just the utter charm of the book that won me over. There are dog jokes and cat jokes and Woodstock jokes and Bliss and Martin poking fun at themselves.

And there’s not much else to say. It’s delightful, and is the perfect thing to pick up at the end of this very long and often horrible year.

Fangs

by Sarah Anderson
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some swearing. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Okay, I have to admit that this one caught my attention because I unpack the freight at the bookstore now, and a whole bunch of people were ordering it. I wanted to see what the fuss was about.

And I get it. It was stinking cute! It’s basically snapshots over the course of a relationship between a vampire and a werewolf. Their compromises (he, the werewolf loves the sun and outdoors; she, the vampire, does not) and fights and joys. It’s a celebration of differences — they don’t try to change each other, but are accepting of any quirks and oddities and weird habits — and of relationships.

It didn’t take long to read, but I found it utterly charming. More like this, please!

Swamp Thing

by Maggie Stiefvater and Morgan Beem
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is some swearing, including a couple f-bombs. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Alec Holland is awkward socially, unlike his twin, Walker. He’d rather just spend his time in his lab, working on isolating plant’s memories and putting them in other plants. And when an unfortunate incident at home sends the twins to their cousin’s house in rural Virginia, Alec figures that’s how he’s going to spend his summer: with his plans, in a lab.

It doesn’t work out that way, though. It didn’t take long for Walker to fit in with the local teenagers, and get into trouble. And no one really takes Alec’s work seriously. So when things get a little out of hand, who’s to blame?

I know nothing about DC’s Swamp Thing, so I went in completely blank to this origin story. But, I loved it. Maggie has a way of capturing inner conflict — can Alec just fit in? Can he figure out his plants? Why is he doing this anyway? — and the super natural. And Beem is a perfect fit for this: she embodies Maggie’s descriptive qualities and brings them to life: the art is lush and dark and beautiful. It’s a gorgeous book.

And while the ending felt a little rushed, I think it worked. It definitely left some room open for us to see where Alec will go from here. A really good graphic novel. Hopefully, Beem and Stiefvater will team up again!

Class Act

by Jerry Craft
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: New Kid
Content: There is talk of crushes. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

It’s the start of eighth grade at Riverdale Academy Day School, and so Jordan and Drew are no longer the new kids. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy to navigate the school culture, especially for Drew, who is a darker-skinned Black kid than Jordan. In fact one of the things I found most interesting about this book was the way Craft leaned into racisim and colorism. Jordan is a lighter-skinned Black kid, and everyone (well, white teachers) often overlooks Jordan when talking to or about the Black kids at school.

In fact, as the book follows Drew (though we still get a good dose of Liam and Jordan as well as some of the other friends they made in New Kid), Craft highlights all the little ways that Drew is battling racism in his every day life. Especially from well-meaning white people (which caused me to reflect on the myriad of ways I may have been unintentionally racist towards Black friends).

It’s a fun book, though. I enjoyed learning more about Drew and his life, and how he struggles to figure out who he really is and what he really wants. My favorite section though was when Liam and Drew visited Jordan’s family for an afternoon. I loved seeing the interactions between the adults and the kids and just experiencing Joy.

An excellent book. (And hopefully there will be more!)