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.

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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.

New Kid

by Jerry Craft
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Release date: February 5, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some bullying, and it’s a bit on the longer side. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

In the letter that accompanied the ARC, Craft wrote that he wanted to draw a graphic novel that featured kids who looked like him because he didn’t find any when he (or his sons) were growing up. He wanted to feature a kid of color, having some of the experiences — that were not just “gritty” — that kids of color have. And I think, with this graphic novel, he succeeded.

It’s the story of a kid — Jordan Banks — who wants to draw and go to an art school but whose parents have decided that a fancy (white and rich) prep school will give him better opportunities in life. Problem is Jordan doesn’t want to go to a fancy prep school, especially one where he’s in the minority.

The book follows the school year — my favorite thing was the chapter titles that referenced movies (Upper, Upper West Side Story; Straight Out of South Uptown were a couple that made me smile) — as Jordan learns the ins and outs of making friends, standing up for himself and others, and the ways in which well-meaning white people just Don’t Get It.

It’s funny, it’s sweet, it’s honest, and it’s eye-opening, and Craft is definitely a graphic novelist to keep an eye on.

The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch

The Witch Boy
by Molly Knox Ostertag
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there (Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch)!
Content: There are some intense images of violence. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I’d been seeing this one on a LOT of the best-of 2018 lists and I realized I knew NOTHING about it (I had gotten it in, but really paid no attention to it), so I realized I needed to get this one and read it. And since it looked up K’s ally, I decided to buy both it and the sequel as well.

Aster is part of this old magical family, where the girls are all witches and the boys are all shape-shifters. But Aster, at 13, has realized that his talents lie with being a witch rather than a shape-shifter. Except, because that’s what GIRLS do and he’s obviously not a girl, he’s forbidden. Like actively. Every time they find him sneaking around trying to learn witchcraft, the women shame him and shun him. Especially since the last time a boy tried to be a witch — Aster’s grandmother’s brother — he turned into a monster and was never seen again.

(Yes, I do think this is meant to be a feminist allegory for gender roles and toxic masculinity and how silly they are. If a boy wants to be a witch, then LET HIM BE A WITCH.)

Things get complicated when Aster’s cousins — all of whom embrace the traditional male role and become shape-shifters — start disappearing. And Aster — because he’s both male and a witch — is the only one who can save them.

The story continues in The Hidden Witch; Aster’s family has (kind of sort of) accepted him as a witch and is trying to teach him, when his non-magical friend, Charlie, gets attacked by a bit of dark magic called a “Fetch”. It turns out that there’s a rogue witch in town, and the family has to figure out how to take care of them.

This one, honestly, wasn’t as good as Witch Boy, which I adored. She did wrap up the story of the grandmother’s brother, which was left hanging in the first book, but I’m not sure how much I cared about that. I did like seeing Aster use his witchcraft to help Charlie figure out where the Fetch was coming from, but it just didn’t have the larger conflict that Witch Boy had. Even so, it’s delightful series, expertly drawn (Ostertag worked on Star vs. the Forces of Evil, and her art style fits that). I adore the friendship between Aster and Charlie, and I liked how Ostertag worked in diversity without making it a huge “look at me, I’m diverse” issue.

She’s a solid graphic novelist, and someone I’m excited to see more from.

Bloom

bloomby Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau
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Release date: February 12, 2019
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some teenage drinking. It’s talking about after high school, though, so I’m not sure younger kids will be interested. It will be in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Ari has grown up in his family’s bakery, supposedly to take it over when his father retires. Except that’s NOT what Ari wants. He wants to go to the city, get an apartment with his friends, and try to make a living playing music. He’s just out of high school, and super conflicted about everything in his life.

Enter Hector. He’s coming off of a breakup with one of his best friends, Andrew, and has moved into his grandmother’s house (she recently passed) to try and sort things out. And when Ari puts up a help wanted sign, Hector answers it, because he loves to bake.

And so begins a sweet little story as Ari and Hector bond over baked goods, as Ari (who is definitely much less mature than Hector) tries to figure out what, exactly, he wants out of life.  Drawn in shades of blue, Panetta and artist Gancheau capture both the uncertainty of life after high school as well as the blush of first love.

It’s charming and sweet and lovely.

5 Worlds: The Cobalt Prince

cobalt princeby Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeler, and Boya Sun
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Others in the series: The Sand Warrior
Content: There is some fantasy violence. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Picking up where the first book left off, we get more of Oona’s backstory as she tries to figure out how to light the rest of the sand beacons and change the fate of the five worlds. The Cobalt Prince is the leader of the blue planet, Toki, which conquered the sand planet, and destroyed the sand castle. Turns out, though, that he has been taken over by the Mimic, an evil spirit that wants to gain control of the universe. Oona finds her sister there, working with the Cobalt Prince. Can she figure out her past, and save her sister and stop the mimic?

I put off reading this but honestly, I shouldn’t have. This is such a great series. I like the art, and while there’s a huge cast of characters, I think the authors juggle everything incredibly well. I also like how each individual one has it’s own arc while being a part of the larger whole; it makes it so each can be read as a stand-alone, which is nice.

Here’s to waiting for the next one!

Amulet: Supernova

supernovaby Kazu Kibuishi
First sentence: “Mind if I join you, Traveler?”
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Others in the series: The Stonekeeper, The Stonekeeper’s CurseThe Cloud SearchersThe Last CouncilPrince of the ElvesEscape from Lucien, Firelight

First: I would highly suggest you read (or re-read) the other seven books in the series before tackling this one. It’s been more than two years since the last book came out, and if you’re anything like me, you won’t remember what’s going on. Also: it’s a fantastic experience reading one right after the other, seeing how Kibuishi has fit everything together and foreshadowed events throughout the series.

That said, there really isn’t much to say.  The resistance is fighting an Incredible Battle Against Impossible Odds. Emily is fighting for control with the Voice of the Amulet. Everything seems dire. And, no, it doesn’t quite end here. There’s one more (it does say “to be concluded in book nine” at the end). But, Kibuishi’s art is still amazing, and the story telling still spot-on. And the characters still worth adventuring with.

I will be incredibly sad to see this come to an end after so many years, but I’m sure it will be completely worth it.