EMG Graphic Novel Roundup 5

A-Okay
by Jarad Greene
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Content: It’s a very “middle school” book, with crushes and friendship issues. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Jay is starting 8th grade with a face full of acne. This is a problem, mostly b because he is very self-conscious of his looks, and he thinks that his friends won’t like him anymore. He tried everything, but nothing seemed to work until he goes to a dermatologist and got on a heavy course of medication. The only problem is that it gives him mood swings and makes him sweat a bunch. On top of that, his best friend is more interested in hanging out with his new band members and Jay feels alone. He tries to make new friends, but it doesn’t go terribly well. And one more thing: he’s just not interested in a couple of his classmates the way they are in him.

I liked that this book dealt not only with the way boys feel about their appearance but also with the lack of feelings of attraction to people. I think there are more of these coming out now, normalizing not “liking people”, which I really appreciate. It’s not a really great graphic novel, but it is a good one, and one that I think kids will find valuable.

The Flamingo
by Guojing
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Content: there are very few words, so this works as a beginning chapter book, a picture book, or a graphic novel. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section of the bookstore, but it can definitely go younger.

The simple story of a city girl who goes to visit her grandmother in an unnamed (but presumably Asian) country. They spend days on the beach, and at night, her grandmother telles==s her the story of how she came to have a flamingo wing. It’s a simple story, one that is meant to delight as well as entertain, and when the girl returns home to the city, she draws the flamingo adventure for her grandmother.

There is not much to this book, but man, it was absolutely gorgeous. The art is so so evocative, you can’t help but fall in love with the characters from the girl and her grandmother to the flamingo. It’s absolutely stunning.

Living with Viola
by Rosena Fung
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Content: It talks pretty frankly about anxiety, and implies suicidal thoughts. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Olivia is a sixth grader, and her parents have transferred her to a new school, one with a better reputation so she can get a better education, which means starting completely over. That’s shared enough, but Livvy has pretty bad anxiety, which she personifies as “Viola” Sometimes Livvy can keep Viola at bay, but often Viola becomes so big that it’s overwhelming. Livvy does make new friends, but there are friendship struggles and struggles with her immigrant parents as well as with her extended family. Overarching it all is Viola, and her insistence that Livvy is just no good.

This is an excellent graphic novel for a couple of reasons. First, it’s great that it shows anxiety as something “other” – it was a little weird to get used to at first, but eventually, I did. I think it’s beneficial because kids will realize that anxiety is not “them” but something outside of their control. At least by themselves. At the end of the book, Livvy goes to see a therapist who gives her some tools to help keep Viola at bay better. The book doesn’t get into medication, but it does provide hope that anxiety isn’t something to be ashamed or afraid of. I liked that Livvy felt like a sixth grader, aught between friends who want to “grow up” and Livvy wanting to carry around her cute plush unicorn. That pretty well sums up sixth grade. I also enjoyed Fug’s exploration of Livvy’s Cantonese heritage, from the microaggressions of kids at school (why does your food smell, why don’t you speak Chinese) to Fung choosing to make every time a character speaks in Cantonese in red. It’s a clever, good, well-drawn graphic novel and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Button Pusher
by Tyler Page
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Content: There is some domestic violence, as Tyler’s dad has a temper. There are also allusions to swearing (but they are @#!!). It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

In this graphic memoir (sort of), Page relates his history of having ADHD during his childhood, and his path to his parents not only getting him diagnosed but also the ups and downs of medication. There is also family drama: Tyler’s dad has an explosive temper and is pretty misogynistic towards Tyler’s mom (and his boys, too, really). Page doesn’t sugarcoat the contention at home, and even recalls the times when his mother had had enough and wanted to leave (but chickened out). There is a lot of “it gets better” in this book as well, as Page is looking back on his childhood.

It’s well-drawn, and I liked that Page spent time trying to explain what ADHD is, and how the brain of a person with ADHD works (and doesn’t work). It may be a bit advanced for kids, but I found it fascinating. And I think the purpose of the book is to not only try and illustrate what a kid with ADHD looks like (though, as Page notes near the end, it’s different for everyone), and to create awareness. I don’t think the problems at home had much to do with the ADHD (except maybe Page’s dad was undiagnosed? I felt like he was bipolar, but that’s me being an armchair doctor), but Page was trying to be as honest as possible about his childhood. A really good graphic novel, though maybe not as much for kids as it is for their caregivers.

Didn’t finish: Besties.

Audiobook: Broken (in the best possible way)

by Jenny Lawson
Read by the author
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including many, many f-bombs. It’s in the humor section of the bookstore.

In this series of short, sometimes thoughtful, often very funny, essays, Lawson reflects on life, mental illness, writing, and well, just about everything.

Honestly, this isn’t the first book of hers I’ve listened to, an I have to say that it’s really the best way to experience them. (Granted, I’ve not read them, so I can’t definitively say.) I love listening to Lawson — who is really a great narrator — spin her stories, making me laugh. She is a personable writer and a narrator, and does much to just bring you in as a listener into her little world.

I definitely recommend the audio book for this one, if only for the last little bit when she talks about recording the book during quarantining for COVID (since her immune system is shot, she took the quarantine seriously) and it was a nice way to wrap the book up.

She’s crazy, yes. But in the best possible way. I loved this.

Words on Bathroom Walls

by Julia Walton
First sentence: “My first doctor said it was unusual for the symptoms to manifest in someone so young.”
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Content: There’s swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and some tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Adam is a regular teen. Mostly. He has regular teen boy desires, interests… the only difference is that he’s been diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. The kind that make you see things — in Adam’s case, he sees people and hears voices. He’s on a new trial drug, though, and as part of it, he’s required to go to therapy. He doesn’t want to, and he doesn’t want to talk to the therapist, so the book is a series of diary entries where Adam describes what’s going on in his life, how he’s reacting to the drug, and answering the therapist’s questions, such as they are.

I found the format of the book to be super fascinating: it got us in Adam’s head, while not being mundane or super weird; the entries were made weekly, so Adam was able to reflect on the week. So, while he may have had episodes, the book never took the reader through the middle of them, since the entries were always written afterward. I thoroughly enjoyed being in Adam’s head; he had a super strong voice that came through, and I enjoyed his sense of humor around his mental health. It was also a case in which the parents (hooray!) were absolutely fantastic. They fought for Adam and his rights and wanted nothing but the best for him. The conflict was partially internal — Adam against his mental health — and from his peers, who just don’t understand what’s going on.

It’s a really excellent book; definitely a good look at a mental health issue that not many people know much about.