Artie and the Wolf Moon is, on the surface, a YA graphic novel about werewolves and vampires, but there’s so much more waiting for you here. Artie Irvin lives with her mom, a park ranger. She’s a burgeoning photographer who sneaks out one night, against her mother’s wishes, to take some photographs and discovers a huge wolf that somehow morphs into her mother! Confronting her mother, Artie learns that she comes from a long line of werewolves, but may be a “late bloomer” because she hasn’t shifted yet. Artie’s mom agrees to tell her about everything, including her late father, but when racist bullies at school lead to Artie shifting, her mom realizes it’s time to introduce her daughter to her family – and learn about what it means to be shifter.
Olivia Stephens has created a truly original werewolf story with origins in Black history, infused with the power of the wolf to guard and survive. I could read stories about every character in Artie’s family and still want to read more; I love Olivia Stephens’s storytelling and artwork so much. She creates realistic characters and her origin story reminds me of indigenous artwork with earth tones and primitive figures. She creates harrowing moments in the struggle between wolf and vampire and gives readers an incredible story of Black culture, community, family, and history. Fantastic storytelling and I want more.
Rikt is a stubborn young goblin who argues with his parents and storms off to bed. He wakes to the smell of smoke, and discovers his home is under attack by a raiding party of humans. His parents are slain, and he’s forced to run into the woods to escape with his life. Angry, grieving, alone, Rikt vows revenge, but where does he begin? A benevolent deity intervenes and sets him on a path to what he thinks will give him the tools to exact vengeance – but along the way, he meets friends and learns a great deal about himself.
Goblin is a gorgeously illustrated fantasy graphic novel. The colors are as incredible as they are horrible at points: the insidious curling of the smoke around Rikt when he awakens; the firelight as his home burns; the colors dance across the page, looking almost real. Will Perkins brings Rikt’s grief and terror to the page, using color and shadow, to hit readers in the feelings. The majesty of the Goddess as she appears to Rikt is one of the best panels I’ve read so far this year.
Let’s talk about Eric Grissom’s writing: his dialogue is wonderful, with humor, pathos, and wisdom throughout the book. He expertly addresses negative stereotypes, and the damage it wreaks, in a fantastic setting. Think of your own literary biases: when you think of a goblin, do you think of a loving family? A sweet, typical kid? Probably not: and that’s the point of the story. Rikt often hears that goblins are “filthy monsters”, or “dirty filthy thieves”. Grissom touches on the cycles of violence that cause generation after generation to kill (see Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down for a brilliant, meditation on this cycle) and even hints at the violence against indigenous populations, with the murder of Rikt’s family. There is an incredible amount of wisdom waiting in this book. Perfect for fantasy fans and middle schoolers. A must-add to your shelves.
Okay, I know this isn’t technically a teen novel, but it falls under New Adult, is written by YA literary force Julie Murphy, and is a retelling of Disney’s Cinderella, so Here. It. Stays.
Cindy is a new grad with a degree in shoe design and leaves New York to visit with her stepfamily – her mother, two stepsisters, and triplet half-siblings – in California before kicking her job search into high gear. Her dad died several years before, and her mom, a powerhouse executive producer of a popular dating reality show, Before Midnight, is busy getting the new season of the show up and running, but wants to take some time to spend with Cindy and the family before disappearing into her cell phone again. On a whim, Cindy and her two stepsisters find themselves cast as prospective suitresses; Cindy hopes the exposure will be what her fledgling shoe design career needs to get her name out there. The thing is, Cindy is a curvy girl: some may call her plus size, some may call her a lot worse, and her stepmother worries that she’ll be a target for abuse. Cindy isn’t having it. She’s as deserving of a spot as any of those other women, and sure enough, the masses respond with love! Week after week, Cindy holds out on the show and, despite a freeze on communication while she’s on set, Cindy hears word that she’s becoming a body positivity icon! She’s also falling hard for her suitor on the show, but we all know that real Hollywood endings don’t exist – or do they? Cindy learns that when you don’t like the way things in your life are laid out, designing your own future is an option.
I LOVED this book. I adore Julie Murphy, I love the way she writes, I love the characters she creates. She world-builds a fantasy within our reality, and she doesn’t give us “feel bad for me” heroines who hide on their couches with a pint of ice cream and Netflix. No, my friend, they charge into the middle of the spotlight and show everyone around them how it’s done. With snappy dialogue and strong female relationships, If the Shoe Fits is the kind of romance we all want to read, foundation by Disney and fit into today’s reality TV-obsessed landscape. There’s a memorable cast of characters, and I loved, truly, truly loved, that the “evil stepmother” and “evil stepsisters” don’t exist here. There are tense moments here and there, but it’s believable family moments, not cooked up for extra drama.
This is a graphic novel summer: so many good ones hitting shelves week after week! Perfect for Summer Reading and anytime reading, there are some gorgeous, fun, fantastic stories to be found.
Ham Helsing is a young descendant of a long line of vampire hunters who never seem to live quite long, usually because they make rather silly decisions. Ham was always content to let his older brother, Chad, wear the monster hunting mantle; he preferred more creative pursuits, like painting and poetry, but Chad’s daredevil acts led to… well, Ham is the new monster hunter in the family, so he’s off to hunt a vampire. The only problem is, the vampire he’s out to get isn’t what you’d expect. Ham Helsing: Vampire Hunter is the first in a planned trilogy and is a fun, not-at-all scary story about learning that people aren’t always what they seem, and that it’s always good to have friends to back you up. The action is animated, the dialogue is fun and witty, and there are robotic knights, sight gags, a toddler werewolf, and animated bacon. What more can you ask from a graphic novel?
Author Rich Moyer’s website has links to more of his illustration work, social media, and school visit information. Get a look at some more of Ham Helsing at Random House’s website.
A fantasy more geared toward middle- and high schoolers rather than middle graders, the third volume of the Rickety Stitch and the Gelatinous Goo book continues the adventures of the skeletal bard and his jelly-like friend, Gelatinous Goo. In this adventure, Rickety Stitch – an animated skeleton who retains his love of music and his gentle soul, despite having no memory of who he was when he was alive – and Goo travel with an acting troupe to perform in a music competition, but Rickety discovers another performer, a woman named Canta, who brings back memories of his past. It becomes clear that the competition is a distraction from some seedy behavior underneath the city, and Rickety and Goo find themselves right in the middle of the action. The story is full of action and adventure and manages to tug at readers’ heartstrings with Rickety’s genuine tale of loss and memory. Middle schoolers and early high schoolers in particular will love this great wrap-up to a fantasy tale. It helps to read the first two before beginning the third; you may feel lost otherwise, as there is a lot of world-building and character development that’s gone on thus far. Great for your fantasy section.
The follow-up to last year’s Donut Feed the Squirrels, the newest Norma and Belly adventure is an adorable romp to save Pops, who falls onto a truck and heads to the apple orchard where he may end up in a pie! Norma, Belly, and their friend, B, are on the case in this sweet story, perfect for newly confident readers. The watercolor artwork is colorful but not overwhelming, with lots of calming earth colors and cute animal artwork. A school trip to the orchard provides some extra fun as the squirrels dash around the kids on their race to find Pops first.
Mika Song’s website has all sorts of treasures for readers, including extra comics, a newsletter signup, and printable activity sheets! Great to bundle with other graphic novels for young readers, like Narwhal and Jelly, Blue Barry and Pancakes, Fox and Chick, and Shark and Bot. You can also mix up the formats and include other books, like Mo Willems’s Unlimited Squirrels series, or Mélanie Watt’s Scaredy Squirrel series (graphic novels are forthcoming, too: future post!).
Apple of My Pie has a starred review from Kirkus.
Much, much more to come: let these three start you off!
Part Weird Science, part Wonder Woman origin story, You Were Made for Me is a fun teen rom-com that touches on topics including asexuality, bullying, male body image, and friendship. Kate Camilleri is a 16-year-old who sculpts her vision of her dream guy out of clay. When she wakes up in the morning, she discovers she’s not alone: a six-foot tall, floppy haired hunk is laying next to her! Her creation, whom she names Guy, exists to love Katie, but she discovers a whole slew of new problems, including some friction between she and her best friend, Libby, who’s going through some relationship issues of her own, and her male best friend, Theo. All Katie wanted was the perfect first kiss! A fun romp, written in the first person from Katie’s point of view, with additional commentary from Libby, make this a fun read for middle schoolers and high schoolers alike. Good beach read for the summer!
Wyatt Croft is a witch on the run. Originally from the fae kingdom of Asalin, Wyatt – a transgender 17-year-old boy – escaped a past loaded with trauma and abuse, finding home and family in our world. That all changes when Wyatt’s fated mate, the fae prince Emyr, shows up and demands that Wyatt return with him to fulfill his role as Emyr’s husband and take the throne of Asalin. Wyatt reluctantly returns to Asalin, with his best friend, Briar, in tow, and learns that relations between witches and fae are heading toward revolution – and Wyatt, who’s trying to resolve his own conflicted feelings about Emyr – is right in the middle of it. An anti-fascist, queer fantasy with incredible worldbuilding and characters you’ll love – and love to loathe – The Witch King has it all: romance, high fantasy meets contemporary fiction, and a wicked sense of humor. There’s powerful storytelling throughout The Witch King: being trans isn’t at the heart of the hatred toward Wyatt; transgender and nonbinary characters are major characters in the story, but Wyatt’s being a witch is the issue. The abuse and abandonment of witches takes the place of being LGBTQ+ in our society here, allowing readers to both see a functioning society where diversity is embraced in theory, but in practice, it’s very different. Sound familiar? Revolution, reform, and the idea of burning everything down to rebuild make The Witch King one of the most readable, relevant novels you’ll read this year.
Seventeen-year-old Mia has dancing in her blood: her great-great-great grandmother, according to a family legend, was one of the girls painted by the artist Degas when she danced at the Paris Opera. She lives and breathes ballet, with dreams of being accepted by the American Ballet Theatre. When she’s accepted for a summer program at Institut de l’Opéra de Paris, she’s thrilled – this could be her chance! – but she’s not expecting to have to share a room with her dance rival, Audrey. And she’s definitely not expecting Louis, a handsome young Frenchman with a Vespa, who offers to be her tour guide around Paris. As she and Louis start exploring Paris – and their feelings for each other – together, Mia has to consider what is truly most important in her life, and whether there’s room for both Louis and ballet. A YA romance with an intriguing mystery taking place in the heart of Paris, Kisses and Croissants is perfect for readers with a bit of wanderlust. There’s friendship, competition, a little splash of family strife, and the quest for perfection that drives Mia and her friends. Very readable, with very likable characters. Give this to your Anna and the French Kiss, Love & Gelato, and Isla and the Happily Ever After fans. With all the quarantining we’ve had to do lately, expect road trip romance to bring the readers this summer! Lists from author Ashlee Cowles, Book Addicts Guide, and Brightly will help you pull together a great display.
The best-selling, award-winning author of Simon and the Homo Sapiens Agenda and Leah and the Offbeat is back with her latest YA novel! Kate Garfield and her best friend, Anderson Walker, are high school juniors who have communal crushes. It’s their thing. But when their latest shared crush from drama camp ends up as a student at their high school, things get a little uncomfortable. Matt is sweet, funny, and is a theatre fan, just like they are. He’s cast in the school production of Once Upon a Mattress as Kate’s love interest; he’s in the same drama class as Anderson, while Kate is left out. Kate and Anderson realize that this is not a usual passing crush, and have to figure out how to navigate these new waters while still maintaining their bestie status. There’s great character development here, and discussions between Kate and Anderson touch on some sensitive points like being gay, out, and Black in the U.S. South; splitting a life between homes when one’s parents are divorced, and images versus reality when it comes to “bro culture” (or, as they’re often referred to in Kate in Waiting, “f-boys”). The dialogue is wonderful, realistic, and smart; friendships withstand ebbs and flows of daily teen life. It’s just an all-around great YA novel that should be a big book this summer. Theatre kids will love the process of seeing a production come together, and teens will love the smart, funny writing that breaks your heart and puts it back together again.
Kate in Waiting has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and made the Indie Next Great Reads list.