YA Graphic Novel Roundup 2

Squire
by Sara Alfageeh and Nadia Shammas
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Content: There is violence, including suggestions of genocide. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Aiza dreams of becoming a squire for the knights of the kingdom, even though she is an Ornu, a people that has been conquered and oppressed by the kingdom. It’s her heart’s desire, though, and eventually, her parents let her go. What she finds when she gets there, however, is not what she was expecting. She hides her heritage – Ornu get tattoos on their arms and she hides that — and makes some friends. She fails her first exam, and starts trainging with the caretaker in the camp. But when she and her friends are out on a routine patrol, and they are attacked by Ornu villagers, Aiza needs to decie between her dreams and her people.

Oh, I loved this one so much. I loved that the authors are Jordanian- and Palestinian-American, and while this book isn’t explicitly Muslim, they are pulling on the cultures of the area. I loved that you have a girl who is learning and using her spunk to improve and gain respect from other people. I loved that they deal with prejudice and colonialism and war. It was an engaging story, with great art, and absolutely a joy to read. Don’t pass this one up.

Twelfth Grade Night
by Molly Horton Booth, Stephanie Kate Strohm, and Jamie Green
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Content: It’s super lovey-dovey, but not really anything else. it’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Vi same to Arden High for a fresh start – she wasn’t really jiving any more with the uniform of the private school anymore, and she needed a chance to be more expressive. Her twin brother, Sebastian, has decided to stay in the private school – which means he’s away at bearing school. Vi finds it all a bit disconcerting to be in school without her twin, but she eventally makes friends. There’s a dance coming up – and (especially if you’re familiar with Twelfth Night) shenanigans enuse.

I am a sucker for a good Shakespeare retelling, and this is a really good Shakespeare retelling. I liked that Vi is leaning toward non-bineary (though she still uses she/her pronouns) and defies the stereotypes of nonbinary characters. But there is a definite LGBTQIA+ element to this, which is a nice touch. I loved the way they set the play in a high school, and it follos the play pretty much beat for beat. I liked the addition of the faeries from A Midummer Night’s dream to the high school, and how it’s just a delight to read. I loved the art, and thought it was all a lot of fun.

Grishaverse: Demon in the Wood
by Leigh Bardugo and Dani Pendergast
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Content There is violence, including suggestions of genocide, and some murder. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

While this isn’t the story of how the Darkling became the Darkling, it is a story about the Darkling before he truly came to power, and gives some of the reasons behind what he did that led him down the path to becoming the Darkling. He and his mother are wondering Grisha, and they find a village to shelter them. Aleksander is supposed to keep his powers quiet, especially the fact that he is an amplifier. But things go awry, and he ends up murdering a couple of the villagers.

It’s not a deep story, though it’s an interesting exploration of the “bad guy” as the main character. It’s slight, but the art is beautiful, and it serves as both a good interoduction ot the Grishaverse and a nice addition for someone who has been immersed in the world. Not bad at all.

Two Graphic Novels about Belonging

Huda F Are You?
by Huda Fahmy
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Content: There are instances of racism and Islamaphobia. It’s in the Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

In this loosely autobiographical graphic novel, Fahmy tells of the time in her childhood when her parents moved the family to Dearborn, Michigan just so they could be a part of a bigger Muslim community. Huda went from being the only Muslim to one of many hijab wearers. She talks about the struggle she had to figure out who she was, in relation to her friends, her family (and sisters), and her religion. There is an incident with a teacher who grades Muslims harsher after 9/11 and a slight bomb “scare” at the high school, that brought Huda’s conflicts within herself to a head. Can she stand up for herself, especially in the face of Islamaphobia?

I adored this one. I think everyone can identify with the feeling of being an outsider, but I can empathize with identifying with a religion where you are in a place where your religion (mostly) is in the minority, and then moving somewhere where it is the majority religion. It messes with your head and identity. I loved the humor of this book and the way it treats religion as something that can be a big part of a teenager’s life, without it seeming all-encompassing or something the teen needs to “grow out” of.

Smart, fun, and worth reading.

The Tryout
by Christina Soontornvat, illustrated by Joanna Cacao
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Content: there are some instances of racism and bullying. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Also loosely autobiographical, Soontornvat reflects upon 7th grade and the way trying out for the cheer team affected her. She grew up in a small town in Texas, and her parents – a mixed-race couple (her mom is white, her dad is Thai) – ran a Chinese restaurant in town. She reflects on how har it is to make and keep friends in middle school, and the ups and downs of friendship. But the central challenge is Christina’s desire to try out for the cheer team. It’s a challenge becasue her best friend Megan is trying out as well and Christina fears that it wil negatively affect their friendship. They encounter racism (Megan is Iranian) at their small-town school – none of the teachers can pronounce Christina’s last name, and some kids are blatantly racist to her and Megan. Christna works hard, though, and finds value in trying out for the team, and along the way, makes and strengthens friendships.

This is another good one about finding where you belong. Middle school is rough, and I think Sontornat recognizes that. THis one reminde me a lot of Real Friends, centering navigating female friendship in the heart of the book. But I also like how it debunked some of the cheer stereotypes and reminded me (again) that cherlieading isn’t just a fluff thing that popular girls do. I really appreciated the author’s note at the end.

Really soild.

Amina’s Song

by Hena Khan
First sentence: “As I reach for a pair of silver earrings that my best friend, Soojin, might like, Zohra smacks my hand away.”
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Others in the series: Amina’s Voice
Content: There is some talk of “liking” boys. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Amina has spent the last month or so in Pakistan visiting her family. She’s enjoyed her stay, though there are frustrating things: she doesn’t speak Urdu well, and everyone would rather practice their English than let her practice her Urdu. And, even though her family is Pakistani, she feels, well, too American.

But when she gets back home and starts seventh grade, no one seems interested in her trip and her stories. On top of that, for her history project, she chose to research Malala Yousafzai, but her classmates only want to focus on the negative parts of the story How is Amina going to keep her promise to her uncle to champion the good things about Pakistan?

Amina struggles with balancing the two parts of her life: the side that loves Pakistan, and her family and her faith; and the side that feels American and loves living here as well.

I love how Khan balances the conflict within Amina; it must be what many children of immigrants feel. I liked that there was a boy that Amina was friends with, and in spite of her friends thinking there was something “more”, all it was is friendship. It was refreshing to read about a seventh grader who wasn’t looking for a boyfriend. I was thoroughly charmed by this sone, and by Amina. I hope there are more stories of hers to tell.

Love from A to Z

by S. K. Ali
First sentence: “On the morning of Saturday, March 14, fourteen-year-old Adam Chen went to the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some mild swearing, including a couple of f-bombs. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

Zayneb is a senior in high school in Indiana, and she’s dealing with an Islamophobic teacher. He’s constantly bringing up ways in which Muslims are backward and how the religion is repressive, even though he’s white and doesn’t know nearly as much as Zayneb, who is actually a practicing, hijab-wearing, Muslim. Which makes her a target. So, one day, right before spring break, she’s had enough: and starts passing notes with a friend about the teacher and needing to take him down. He intercepts the note and reports her to the principal, and gets her suspended.

Which leads her to spending time with her aunt, who is a teacher at an international school in Doha. And that’s where Adam comes in. His father is the director of that school, and Adam’s home from spring break at college in London. Except he’s dropped out: he just got a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis, which his mother had and died from complications connected to, and he’s determined to make as much art as he can, while he still can. He’s also Muslim: his father, who is a Chinese-Canadian, converted to Islam after the death of his wife, and Adam and his younger sister Hanna soon followed.

Adam and Zayneb have an instant connection, and while this book is dealing with heavier stuff like racism, people’s perceptions of Islam, and dealing with a diagnosis of MS, it is, at its heart, a rom-com. There’s a meet-cute in the airport, there are several meetings, a setback or two, and eventually, they fall in love and are super happy together. It’s a good Muslim story: they don’t actually hold hands or stay out all night, or even have sex in the back of a car. They enjoy talking and connecting and do everything properly and by the book. And the physical stuff doesn’t happen until the Epilogue, after Zayneb graduates from college and they get married. It’s really quite sweet.

I loved seeing a really religious rom-com, because there isn’t many of those out there. And because I’m an outsider to Islam, I appreciated the glimpse into that religion. There’s this one scene where Zayneb is face-timing with a friend, who has another friend (who is a white girl) with her. Zayneb says something to the effect how white feminists want to free Muslim women from wearing the hijab, because it will free them from oppression, and that’s not what it means. I have to admit that I was one of those white feminists for a very long time, but I’m coming to realize that it’s just an expression of their religion, and just because it’s different from me, doesn’t mean it’s oppressive or wrong. I appreciated that reminder.

In short: it was a unique YA romance, and I really enjoyed reading it.

Internment

by Samira Ahmed
First sentence: “I strain to listen for boots on the pavement.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are instances of mild swearing, plus a handful of f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore, but just because of language. The themes are good for anyone, really.

It’s in the near future, and the U. S. government has decided that Muslims are a threat to the country. It started with a registry, with everyone declaring their religion. And then Muslims began to be discriminated against (well, they probably were already), and now they’re being rounded up and taken to internment camps. To keep the rest of America safe from them.

Layla and her parents are among those rounded up and sent to camp Mobius in the California desert. It’s a harrowing experience: being arrested at home and then shipped on a train to an isolated “camp” (read: prison; there aren’t cells, but they’re kept in with an electric fence) where they were expected to comply to rules and are constantly watched over by drones and guards.

Layla, however, is not okay with all this. (Fair.) In spite of her parents’ pleas to just get along, Layla decides that she needs to Do Something. So, she smuggles out articles she’s written about conditions in the camp — the Director using intimidation and force and the disappearances of other internees — to be put on blogs. She organizes protests. She makes friends with sympathetic guards on the inside who help her along with her boyfriend on the outside. They stand up for what they believe in, and resist.

I think that was the thing that was most striking to me: that resistance to authority comes from the teenagers. It probably always has. Adults get complacent, and are conditioned to not make waves. But teenagers? They’re often idealistic and want a better world. And have the courage to make it happen. And Ahmed captured that perfectly.

Yes, this book is heavy-handed: Ahmed hammers the idea that This. Is. Wrong. home in so many ways, but I think this book is meant for White People. Seriously. I am sure that so many of the themes of racism and exclusion and mistrust of the Other are already known to Muslim (and Black and Asian and Native) people. The people who need to see this are White. And probably middle class. And comfortable in their lives. (Like me.) We need to remember that inaction is the same as action. And that just because we don’t see or experience the problems doesn’t mean they’re not there.

In the end, the question I thought this book was asking was: What kind of White Person will you be? (Granted, I’m coming at it with this perspective. I’m sure others will get something different out of it.) And that’s a good question to be asking right now.

Love, Hate, & Other Filters

by Samira Ahmed
First sentence: “Destiny sucks.”
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Content: There’s some talk of sex, but none actual. There is also swearing, including some f-bombs. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Senior Maya Aziz has one goal in life: to go to NYU (she’s been accepted!) and get a degree in filmmaking. However, her parents — even though they’re on the liberal end of the Indian Muslim scale — would rather she go close to home — University of Chicago or Northwestern — and get a degree in something practical. It also doesn’t help that they’re trying to set her up with a nice Indian Muslim boy… even if they don’t want her to get married just yet.

Maya just wants to live her life the way she wants to, and she was starting to make headway (even with the super popular white football player who’s interested in her!) when there’s a hate crime in a nearby city, and suddenly her small town isn’t safe — for her — anymore. And things just escalate when her parents’ dental practice building is vandalized Now her parents are refusing to let her go anywhere, let alone to New York to go to school.

Oh this was SUCH a good debut! Ahmed tackles conflict in a religious family, not with just culture but with belief, and she tackles the differences between parents and children — Maya’s parents aren’t bad or controlling; they just feel they know what’s best — and tackles the differences between immigrants and their first-generation American children. But she also addresses racism and prejudice all while wrapped up in a very sweet love story.

She’s definitely a writer to watch.

It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel

aintsoawfulby Firoozeh Dumas
First sentence: “Today’s Sunday and we’re moving, again.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content:¬†There’s no swearing (well, maybe a mild one) but the subject matter — middle school and the Iran Revolution in 1978 — might be a little mature for the younger set. It will be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section (or the YA — grades 6-8 — section, I haven’t decided) of the bookstore.

I was in third grade in 1981 when the American hostages in Iran were released and I have a vague memory of it. Nothing substantive, just some hazy images of me seeing the news on TV. I don’t know much else about that, and even though I’ve read a bit about the Iranian revolution, that’s one aspect that I didn’t know much about.

Zomorod Yousefzadeh is in America because her father has a job with an oil company in California. They’ve been here before, when Zomorod was younger, but now she’s going into 6th grade, and she wants to turn over a new leaf. Be more American. So, she changes her name to Cindy and sets out to make new friends. It’s not easy being Iranian in California in the late 1970s (most people either think she’s Mexican, or ask her if she owns a camel. The answer is no to both), but eventually, Cindy figures things out. And then the Iranian revolution happens, and suddenly the home she and her parents thought they could go back to is no longer there. Add to that, Americans were taken hostage, and suddenly Cindy and her parents find themselves subjected to anti-Iranian sentiment. Her father loses his job. Garbage is left on their doorstep. Kids at school tell her to “go home”. It’s not easy.

Loosely based on Dumas’ life, this novel not only captures a slice of history (fairly accurately, but without being kitschy) but also manages to be timely as well. I found myself thinking about how Americans reacted to Muslims after 9/11 (or now, really). Or how immigrants are treated in general. It’s a good thing to see American life from the perspective of an immigrant, and to find out that we’re equal parts good and bad. (Which really isn’t a surprise.) Dumas also manages to capture the awkwardness of middle school with grace and humor. There were some actual laugh-out-loud parts. She definitely understands middle school, with all its ups and downs. And it was delightful to read a book where the parents weren’t bad or sick or dead.

It’s definitely an excellent read.