Daughter of the Moon Goddess

by Sue Lynn Tan
First sentence” There are many legends about my mother.”
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Content: There is a lot of violence, most of it on-screen. It’s in the science fiction/fantasy section of the bookstore.

I started to type out the plot for this one, but it’s really long and somewhat convoluted. Simply: there is a woman, Xingyin, who is forced to flee her mother’s home on the moon and ends up in the Celestial Kingdom, where she does quests and challenges (and saves the prince’s life a bunch of times while falling in love with him) to have her mother released from her imprisonment on the moon.

This one came really highly recommended, so I wanted to like it. But I just…. didn’t. I grew impatient with Xingyin’s quest after quest after quest after quest. And the love story between her and the prince was just… meh. And then, in part 3, there’s a twist that comes out of freaking nowhere, and I just lost patience.

I did finish it, but I have no interest in reading the sequel. I do wish I could have seen what others saw in it, but it just didn’t work for me.

Amari and the Great Game

by B. B. Alston
First sentence: “I sprint down the sidewalk, flying past designer boutiques, luxury shops, and a fancy art gallery.”
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Others in the series: Amari and the Night Brothers
Content: There is some bullying by other kids (and some adults) and some intense moments. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

Spoilers for the first book, obviously.

It’s the start of her first full summer as Junior Agent and Amari Peters is excited. Sure, her brother is still in a magically-induced coma that no one can figure out. and, sure the under-Prime Minister (or something like that) is making a stink about having magicians in the Bureau. But Amari’s going to have a great summer. That is until a time-freeze happens and it doesn’t affect her. It’s so powerful, though, that it has to be a magician’s doing, and it’s left the entire Magical council frozen. Suddenly, what was going to be a great summer turns into one full of suspicion and increasingly hostile circumstances at camp. On top of which, Amari has been challenged to a Great Game with none other than Dylan, for the Crown of the League of Magicians.

Is Amari up to all the challenges?

I love a good series, and this is quite a good series. Alston keeps up the level of action and suspense while having Amari do something that’s familiar – investigate a problem that’s leading to discrimination against magicians – while also making it new and fresh. There are some of the same faces as well as new ones, a lot of the same challenges which Amari handles better – or just differently, and some new faces mixed in as well. It’s familiar without being stale, which is nice.

And Alston knows how to spin a good tale: he keeps up the pace while still allowing Amari and her friends to become fully fleshed-out people. I haven’t liked a series this much since Percy Jackson, and I’m looking forward to the next one!

Amari and the Night Brothers

by B. B. Alston
First sentence: “I’m sitting in the principal’s office.”
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Content: There are some scary moments, mostly with monsters, and instances of bullying. It’s in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Amari’s older brother (and hero), Quinton, has been missing for six months. He had graduated from high school, he had a job – or so he said – and then he just… disappeared. And it’s been affecting Amari’s school life, mostly because she just knows he’s not dead like everyone else assumes. And so when Quinton appears to her in a Wakeful Dream with a nomination to go to the Bureau of Supernatural Affairs summer camp, she figures it’s the best way she has to find out what Really Happened. 

Once there, though, Amari discovers that she is a magician; one with a percentage of magic so high that it’s almost impossible. This brings attention to her, and not always the good kind. Additionally, she is trying out to be a Junior Agent in the Department of Supernatural investigations, which is where her brother worked before his disappearance, and she’s met with all sorts of pushback for wanting to be one of the Elite. And, to top it all off, the evil magician Moreau (yes, like in the Island of Dr…) has a nefarious plan to destroy the Bureau and have magicians take over, and wants Amari to join him. 

I think the marketing material is “Artemis Fowl” meets “Men in Black” but I think it’s more along the Percy Jackson lines. A girl, who doesn’t know her worth, finds a secret camp of people with similar powers, and comes into her own fighting a battle by the end of the book? Comparisons aside, this is a LOT of fun. I liked Amari, felt her struggles were real, glad she found some good friends along the way, and there was a satisfying ending as well as leaving things open for the next book in the series (which I immediately put on hold at the library). I think Alston is one of those writers who, like Riordan, has the potential to capture a whole generation (or two) of children’s imaginations. 

I can’t wait to read the next one!

The Stolen Heir

by Holly Black
First sentence: “A passerby discovered a toddler sitting on the chilly concrete of an alley, playing with the wrapper of a cat-food container.”
Others in the series: The Cruel PrinceThe Wicked King, The Queen of Nothing
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Content: There is some disturbing violence, child abuse, and swearing, including a few f-bombs. It’s in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Wren thought she was a mortal, until the day when her faerie parents came an violently took her from her mortal family. From there, they kept her in the Court of Teeth, abusing her and trying to make her as vicious as she was. But, she escaped back to the mortal world, prefering to live in the forest, scrounging for food, and breaking faerie spells instead. That is, until the heir of Elfhame, Oak, comes to ask Wren’s help going north to the Court of Teeth to overthrow her mother and rescue his father.

Of course, their quest isn’t that simple. There is a lot of mistrust and backstabbing, and some close calls, and some very tense moments. Black is not afraid to hurt or kill off characters, and there were moments that I was genuinely worried about Wren and Oak. And then the end… let’s just say, well, now I’m going to have to read the next book.

I’ll venture to say that no one understands the fae with all their charms and vicious nature, and no one writes better faerie books than she does. And this is an excellent addition to the Elfhame books.

Audiobook: Blood Debts

by Terry J Benton-Walker
Read by Bahni Turpin, Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Torian Brackett & Zeno Robinson
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Or Listen at Libro.fm
Release date: April 4, 2023
Content: There is a lot of violence, a lot of swearing, including many f-bombs, and an on-screen sex scene. It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

The basic plot? Clem and Chris Trudeau are practitioners of Generational magic – a branch of magic along with Light and Moon and Necromancy. But their family hasn’t had the best history with it. Their grandmother was the leader of the Gen magic council but was framed for murder and killed by an angry mom. Their father was killed after something went wrong with a spell Chris cast. And their mother was slowly dying until they found the cause: a hex doll. Chris and Clem are determined (in spite of adults telling them to stay out of it) to figure out why their family has had such a run of bad luck with magic and fix it.

Truth be told, it’s a LOT more than just that. This book has everything. Family drama? Check. Solving multiple murders? Check. Stupid white people with grudges and guns? Check. Authorities refusing to help because the Trudeaus are black? Check. Zombies? Check. (Seriously.) Wonderfully sweet gay love? Check. Complicated gay love? Check. This book has EVERYTHING. It’s so much.

That’s not to say it was bad. It wasn’t. The audio is especially good – the narrators pulled me in and kept me coming back for more, even as I wanted to cringe and pull away because it’s a LOT. But, I really liked the magic system Benton-Walker dreamed up, and I liked the way he wove the challenges and triumphs of Black people into the book. There’s surprisingly a lot to talk about. (There’s just a LOT. Period.)

In the end, I think it was good? I’m still reeling from the end, and I want to know if there’s another, so at the very least, it hooked me.

Audiobook: Lightlark

by Alex Aster
Read by Suzy Jackson
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is violence, including multiple deaths and one (mostly off-screen) sex scene. It’s in the Teen Section (grades 9+) at the bookstore.

Lighlark is in a world that has been plagued ed with a curse for the past 500 years. Isla knows this: as the Wildling ruler, she has been raised to go to the Centennial, compete, and win – all to break the curse and get the power she has been wanting. But, once she gets to the competition, she realizes that it’s not as simple as all that. There is love, pain, betrayal, and a twisting, winding path to get to the end, and hopefully break the curse.

Is this book a good one? Well, if you mean well-written, with a tight plot that kept me guessing? No, it’s not. But it is fun. I guessed the twist about a quarter of the way into the book, and the love story was SO smarmy. There’s a love triangle between an 18-year-old girl and two 500-year-old men! Ugh. But, it hit every single YA trope you can think of, and it was fun getting to the end of the book – the narration was excellent – even if it wasn’t a good book. Am I clamoring for the next one? Not really. But I don’t regret listening to this one.

EMG Graphic Novel Roundup 6

The Wolf Suit
by Sid Sharp
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Content: There are some scary moments, and handwriting might be difficult for younger children to read. It’s in the Middle-Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Bellweather is a simple sheep: he just wants to live in his little house by the forest and eat blackberries. However, in the forest are some Scary Wolves, who make it difficult to enjoy the delights of the forest. So one day, Bellweather decides to make a wolf suit and put it on, so he can go into the forest and enjoy it. However, there are Complications with being a wolf, and as Bellweather makes more wolf friends, he discovers that maybe being a wolf isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Oh my heavens, this was so cute. From the super-charming illustrations to the laugh-inducing twist (it’s even funny if you see it coming), it’s just all-around enjoyable. I loved it so much.

Fibbed
by Elizabeth Agyemang
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Content: There are some scary moments. It’s in the Middle-Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Nana is a storyteller – she tells the things she sees. However, she seems to be the only one who sees them! Which means that everyone around her thinks that she’s a liar. And when she is sent to be with family in Ghana for the summer, it only intensifies. Especially when she starts seeing Ananse, the trickster god of stories, and learns about the evil that is going on in the forest.

This was a really intriguing way to approach the Ananse tales. I liked that Agyemang updated them, making them more contemporary while keeping the traditional feel. I liked Nana and the way she learned and grew in Ghana and the friends she made. I also liked the way that she and her friends were able to work with Ananse and defeat the colonizers. It’s a solid retelling with a modern spin, and I liked it a lot.

A Tale as Tall as Jacob
by Samantha Edwards
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Content: There is a lot of baby destruction and some sibling fighting. It’s in the Middle-Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

in this graphic sort-of memoir, Edwards recalls her childhood with a brother who was (eventually) diagnosed with ADHD. Jacob was rambunctious and sometimes violent, and often intrusive in Samantha’s personal space. It was challenging to be Jacob’s sister, but there were some good parts, too.

I thought this was an interesting look at ADHD. I feel there is a lot about how the person with ADHD feels or reacts to the world, but it’s not often we are given the perspective of a sibling. I appreciated that outside perspective, and how Edwards reacted to and with her brother. There were some genuinely sweet moments as well as more tense ones. It’s was really an insightful and interesting (and short) book.

The Doors to Nowhere
by Chris Grine
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Content: There is death and some scary moments. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Willow and her friends have gotten to know an old vampire, Elric, who happens to be caught up in this centuries-old conflict after stopping a grand spellbinder from becoming immortal (by killing a baby, who happened to have been Willow’s great-grandmother). In book one (I love it when I get sequels without reading the first one first!), Willow made a wish and it comes true in this book: she can read and speak Gnomish, which allows her to open her great-grandmother’s spellbook. They are chased by the weird museum curator in town (who happens to be an evil elf), who wants to resurrect the grand spellbinder. The kids can stop him, but at what cost?

If you’re lost, well, it makes a bit more sense while reading the book. I think it would make a LOT more sense if I had read the first one as well. I liked the story well enough: it was quick-paced, full of action, and I liked the way the kids – who all had different abilities – worked together. It’s the start (I think?) of a series, that I think kids will like (it’s giving off strong Amulet vibes). Not bad at all.

Just Roll with It
By Veronica Agarwal and Lee Durfey-Lavoie
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Content: There is discussion of mental illness and anxiety. It’s in the Middle-Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Maggie just wants to be like everyone else. But, starting sixth grade has increase her anxiety, and she finds that she has to do certain things to make it through the day. She switches the light switch on and off when she gets home from school (or the house will be sad and might break down), she can’t lend her books out to her new friends. And, most importantly, she needs her d20 to let her know what she can and cannot do. But, as she makes more friends through the after-school RPG club, she finds ways to be more confident. And when she gets professional help for her OCD, she is finally able to become her best self.

There’s a lot of talking about mental illness in the graphic novels this year, and this one is no exception. Aragwal and Durfey-Lavoie provide a look into what having OCD might be like for one person. I was concerned that Maggie and her parents would try to solve this one by themselves, and was gratified when they got a professional invovled. I’m not sure it stood out to me, but I like that it’s out there for kids to be seen as well as for others to learn more about what OCD really is like.

Cat’s Cradle: The Golden Twine
by Jo Rioux
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Content: There are monsters and some scary moments. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Suri is a storyteller and a foundling that has found a home (sort of) at a traveling carnival. What she wants to be, though, is a monster hunter. Her stories all involve monsters and their capture, and she’s sure she can do that job. If anyone will let her. When the carnival stops, there are rumors of a caitsith, a cat-like monster who can pass for a human. Suri inadvertently encounters one, and takes their golden twine (it’s what makes the caitsith’s human), and then is chased by the monsters before realizing that the carnival has taken off without her.

If you can’t tell from the summary, there’s not a lot to the graphic novel. It’s nicely drawn, but the story…. lacks something. Well, maybe a lot of things. It’s got the bones of a good book, though maybe it’s just the set-up for more adventures (it is book 1, after all). Unfortunately, it’s not quite there as a really good book for me.

YA Graphic Novel Roundup 5

Clementine: Book One
by Tillie Walden
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Content: There are zombies (duh), violence, and several deaths. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

This book is nominally set in the world of the Walking Dead (which I haven’t seen for Reasons), but all you have to know is that there are zombies all over, and non-zombies are rare. Clementine is traveling through the land, looking for… something… She finds an Amish community and then goes off with Amos who has started his rumspringa. They head north and end up in Vermont, on the top of a mountain, with three other girls. Trying to build buildings. In the winter. In Vermont. Of course, it goes badly.

I wanted to like this more than I actually did. Zombie stories can be pretty cool, but I don’t think that Walden did much that was new or interesting with the zombie threat. I did like Clementine and her fierce will to live – at one point she has someone cut off her bitten leg so she won’t be infected. But mostly, it was forgettable (and a bit implausible) for me.

перемога (Victory): Victory for Ukraine
by Tokyopop (there are a lot of writers and illustrators)
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: It’s war, so there is violence. It’s in the Graphic Novel section.

Written in the early days of the Russian invasion, this book is a series of short stories about how (and why) Ukraine will prevail against the Russian invading force. There is really no through plotline, but rather a bunch of different writers/artists being “Yay Ukraine!” and “Boo Russia!” In one story, there is a Ukrainian witch who defeats the Russians (every Ukrainian woman is fierce, and every second one is a witch!). And another story about Russians looting Ukrainian homes to send home state-of-the-art technology to their dirt hovels. And more stories about the sacrifice the Ukrainians are making and about how evil the Russians are.

There’s not a whole lot else to say about this one. In the end, I took it for what it was: War propaganda at its most.

Magical Boy
by The Kao
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Content: There is some cartoon violence. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Max is a trans boy and all he wants to do is figure high school out. The problem is that his parents – especially his mom – aren’t accepting of his being trans. Plus there are bullies at school who think that Max and his best friend, Jen, are an item (which makes them gay, if they don’t accept Max’s trans-ness) and make a big deal about it. It also doesn’t help that Max is part of a long line of magic girls who fight evil for this Goddess. What does one do if they’re supposed to be a magic GIRL if they are a BOY?

I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. It’s got a manga vibe to it, and I liked how inclusive it was. But, it just didn’t do much else for me. I think Welcome to St. Hell addressed the awkwardness and anxiety over gender dysphoria better, and even though this had a super-hero/chosen one element, it didn’t land for me. And it’s a volume 1? I’m not entirely sure where else this story has to go. Not bad, but not my favorite, either.

Unretouchable
by Sofia Szamosi
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is mention of body image and eating disorders. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Olivia is a recent high school graduate living in New York City with her mom, who works at a high-profile golf magazine. She wants to go to an art school, and her mom sets up an internship with a digital-imaging specialist at Fash, the top fashion magazine. Olivia is excited to learn more about how art can be used commercially, but then she actually gets into it. She learns that pretty much any image that is published has been retouched: every model is made thinner, perfect, and flawless. And it’s not just the fashion industry: digitally altering/retouching images is everywhere. Olivia even learns that one of her favorite influencers is a digital construct. It makes her question everything: the purpose of art, the prevalence of digital images, and what she wants to be when she grows up.

I really liked this one. The art is reminiscent of Persepolis, done all in black and white and with angular lines. But I really liked the exploration of body image and our perceptions of our bodies and how media/industry uses that against us. it was fascinating and important and just a good story of a girl figuring (some) things out.

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands
by Kate Beaton
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is swearing, including many f-bombs. There are also instances of sexual harassment, abuse, and rape. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

After college, saddled with debt and no lucrative job prospects, Beaton decides to head out west to Alberta to work for the companies that mine the oil sands. It’s hard work – though she mostly works in the tool shed and the offices – in camps with very little time off. The workforce is mostly male; Beaton comes across very few women in the two years that she works out there. She puts up with a lot: harassment from the men, being hit on, being put down. She is even raped (twice? I think?). But, it pays well, and by the end of the two years, she is completely debt-free.

This was a hard one to read. The oil sands are a hard place, and Beaton doesn’t shy away from the difficult things that happened. She is open about the harassment, but also not harsh on the men; there’s a panel where she explains that she understands that the men are far away from their families and have needs. I don’t think she’s excusing their behavior, just that things are different out there. I’m still not quite sure if I liked it, though. I do think it’s important – look at the things that capitalism and patriarchy have wrought – but it’s not one I’m going to read over and over again. Still: quite good.

Captain America: The Ghost Army

by Alan Gratz, illustrated by Brent Schoonover
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Publication date: January 3, 2023
Review copy provided by the publisher
Content: There is violence depicted, but not terribly graphically It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Captain America and Bucky are in the field in the middle of World War II when they encounter something they’ve never seen before: Ghost Nazis. They defend themselves against some Nazis, later coming back as indestructible ghosts. The source of this turns out to be a magician that’s trying to prove something to his grandfather and (dead) father. It happens to be just outside of Romania (yes there was a Dracula joke), and Bucky and Cap find a good Romany family to help them infiltrate the magician’s castle and defeat them.

Give this to either a kid who is a history buff but also wants a bit of action/adventure/magic with it or a kid who is a Captain America fan and won’t mind the history bit. Alan Gratz is known for his middle-grade historical fiction books, and you can tell here that he knows his stuff. It’s jam-packed with tidbits about WWII – mentions of the Japanese internment and the United States “Ghost” Army. It’s got adventure and a small bit of romance. Perfect for lots of kids.

Honestly, though? It’s not for me. I found it kind of pedantic and predictable. And the relationship between Cap and Bucky was kind of weird (i was expecting more Batman/Robin, and it didn’t quite hit). But I can see how certain kids will eat it up.

YA Graphic Novel Roundup 4

Hollow
by Shannon Watters, Branden Boyer-White, and Berenice Nelle
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Content: There are some scary moments with a ghost. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Izzy Crane has recently moved to Sleepy Hollow from San Francisco and she’s getting used to the whole small-town feel of things. She’s kind of made friends with Croc, the class prankster, and she has a crush on Vickie Van Tassell, whose family has a Legacy in this town (and who is not supposed to be doing anything with someone whose last name is Crane!). Then a mysterious substitute shows up at school, and Vicky and Izzy realize that Vicky’s life is in danger due to a centuries-old curse on the family). It’s up to the three high schoolers (with the help of the Headless Horseman) to thwart the curse and save Vicky’s life.

I’m a complete sucker for riffs on classic literature, and this is a smart retelling. I liked Izy’s relationship with both Croc and Vicky and the way they worked together. I liked the Headless Horesmeent, and the knowledge the book had that it was playing on the classic story. It was smart, it was fun, and I loved reading it.

Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure
by Lewis Hancox
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Content: There is teen drinking, and some nudity as Hancox tries to describe his gender dysphoria. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

In this graphic memoir, Hancox chronicles his teen years and growing up in a small English community, which they affectionately (or not) dub “St. Hell”. It’s not pleasant growing up: Hancox suffers from intense gender dysphoria and is struggling with his body. He tries everything – from being anorexic to power-lifting – to get rid of what he finds disgusting: his body. As he navigates this, he has friends and family who, while more supportive than not, often make missteps. But then, it was the early 2000s, and no one really knew what they were doing.

The thing I liked best about this memoir was that Hancox inserted himself into the story as well. His present self would go back and interact with characters in the story, from his past self to his parents and friends. He assures his past self that things do eventually turn out, and he asks his parents what they were thinking and why they acted the way they did. it’s not only a good story, it’s a healing one, and not just for the author, I htink. I think – no matter if we are trans or not – we should look at our past selves with compassion; we didn’t alwyas know what was going on and what we were doing, and hindsight is always 20/20. But it’s also a good look into what is ogin on the brain fo someone who is trans, and how (at least for Hancox) that played out.

Crumbs
by Danie Stirling
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Content: The characters are older – say in their late teens or early 20s, so it might not be too interesting to younger readers. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Ray is a witch, who has her sights on being a Council member. She’s gone to school, and she’s passed her examination to be n intern. Laurie is kind of aimless: he works at his aunt’s bakery, and is trying to be a musician, but keeps flopping at auditions. When they meet, there is an intstant attraction. As they start their relationship, they discover that having magic doesn’t really make relationships easier. They go through the ups and downs of establishing a relationship and communication and balancing that with their own interests and careers.

This was a very sweet graphic novel. I liked the magic system (the cell phones were really cool) ad I liked what Stirling created. I liked the way Ray and Laurie developed their relationship, and how it resolved in the end. It was charming and sweet and cute and fun, all those cozy words. There’s nothing deep here (though it is a good representation of a healthy relationship), but it was delightful to read.

Constantine: Distorted Illusions
by Kami Garcia, illustrated by Isaac Goodhart
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Content: There is underage drinking and demons. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

John Constantine has grown up in London, and his stepfather wants him to go to America and study under a magic master. John wants no such thing, but he does want to get out on his own. So he lies to his parents, heads to Washington, DC to live with a friend of his, and joins a band. He does meet with the magic master and it goes more than badly. But John steals a magic book and he and his friends start dabbling. They unwittingly summon a Greater Deamon which takes possession of Constantine’s friend and creates havoc.

I don’t have much of an attachment to the character of Constantine; I only vaguely know him through Sandman (only the TV show, really), and so I have no idea what Garcia is trying to do with this character. The story wasn’t terrible, but it wasn’t really engaging either (there are only so many bad-boy stories you can read). I liked that Constantine’s stepfather was the real parent, being there for his stepson in ways that Constantine’s father wasn’t. I also appreciated that Constatine had a definite growth arc.

I think that those who are interested in the character would be more into this one than I was.

If Anything Happens I Love You
by Will McCormack, Michael Govier, Youngran Nho
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Content: It deals with grief and the trauma of a school shooting. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

An unnamed girl is dead and worrying about her parents’ grief. Her parents have been stuck since the moment they found out she was killed in a school shooting. But, through the magic of – something? – she is able to reconnect with them and remind them of the good things in her/their life before she was so brutally taken away.

I have no idea who this book is for. On the one hand, it shows the absolute grief of parents having their kids untimely taken away from them. It’s a horrible thing, and one I wish we could figure out how to address in this country. But, is it for kids? The girl is 12, but she’s not really a protagonist. Is it for parents who are grieving? Is it for kids who are in school, having to deal with lockdowns and shooter drills? is it to just raise awareness? Also: it’s not really a graphic novel, but more like a picture book for older kids/adults. It wasn’t a bad book, I just have no idea who it’s for.