Posted in Graphic Novels, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Himawari House: A glimpse of adjusting to life as an expat

Himawari House, by Harmony Becker, (Nov. 2021, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250235572

Ages 14+

A glimpse into the lives of three exchange students living in Japan, Himawari House is about the friendships, frustrations, and adjustments that come with living in a new country: in this case, Japan. Nao, Hyejung, and Tina all move into Himawari House and attend the same Japanese school, but have different reasons for being there. Nao wants to reconnect to her Japanese heritage and worries about fitting in with Japanese culture. “Too Japanese” for her American life and “Too American” to Japanese classmates, she struggles with cultural identity. Hyejung, is Korean and moved to Japan to escape her overbearing parents and their unrelenting focus on her academic success. Tina is from Singapore and struggles with connection, preferring to lose herself in fandom. Although Nao’s story is the main driver, Hyejung and Tina have fully realized, moving backstories, all explored here, along with their roommates, two Japanese brothers with widely differing personalities. The group all come together and live here at Himawari House, and the story is a slice of life look into a year in their lives, as they all live and work side-by-side, eat, fall in and out of love, go to school, and talk late into the night. The language barriers are expertly illustrated here – largely bilingual, Japanese characters appear in many word bubbles; the dialogue has a blend of English, Japanese, Korean, and Singlish (the English Creole spoken in Singapore), with a brilliant explanation of the use of accents in the story at the end. Black and white artwork is largely realistic, with Chibi renderings to communicate extreme emotion. It’s a well-done character study and will be popular with teens and young adults.

Himawari House has starred reviews from Kirkus, Publisher’s Weekly, and School Library Journal.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Middle Grade, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Big Graphic Novels Roundup!

I’ve been reading a LOT of graphic novels during this quarantine. They relax me, and I know my graphic novels sections (both kids and teens) see a l lot of action, so I always want to make sure I’ve got the best stuff on my shelves for them – and that I know what I’m talking about when I hand books to readers. Let’s see what’s up:

Go To Sleep (I Miss You): Cartoons from the Fog of New Parenthood, by Lucy Knisley, (Feb. 2020, First Second), $14.99, ISBN: 9781250211491

Ages 12+

These are adorable meditations on new parenthood by Lucy Knisley, whose graphic novel Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos let us peek into the world of her pregnancy with her baby, known as Pal. Go to Sleep is a book of sketches Lucy Knisley created during Pal’s first year, and they are moments that every parent and caregiver will recognize, from diaper “blowouts” (oh, so many diaper blowouts) and breastfeeding through teething to tummy time and those moments where we can’t wait to get some alone time… only to spend that time gazing at our sleepy little one, and waiting for them to wake up and do it all again. Black and white, filled with love and humor, Go to Sleep (I Miss You) is perfect for your parenting bookshelves (and for older siblings, as my eldest reminds me).

In this sci-fi alternate history, we visit 1943 Los Angeles, home of the Zoot Suit Riots. Siblings Flaca and Cuata meet a five-foot tall lizard when he saves them from some unsavory sailors one night, when they got out dancing. They hide him in their home and discover he’s part of a race of underground lizard people. He wants to get back to his family, but there are soldiers and mysterious government men wandering the sisters’ neighborhood, on the lookout. To sneak him back to his home, the Flaca and Cuata dress the lizard up in one of Flaca’s zoot suits and head off on an adventure. Yellow, black and white artwork give a stark, noir feel to the story, which is both sensitive and funny. Marco Finnegan provides smart commentary on racism, gender roles and the counterculture of the period. Teens will enjoy this sci-fi take on a moment in U.S. history that isn’t discussed enough.

School for Extraterrestrial Girls Girl on Fire (Volume 1), by Jeremy Whitley/Illustrated by Jamie Noguchi, (Aug. 2020, Papercutz), $12.99, ISBN: 9781545804933

Ages 10-14

Tara Smith is a girl who live with a lot of rules: her parents demand it. Two of their biggest rules? No friends her own age, and always keep her bracelet on. One day, though, Tara’s routine gets thrown into a tizzy, and she loses her bracelet; that’s when the trouble begins. Things get even crazier when she seemingly bursts into flame in the middle of school! Tara learns that she’s not human at all: she’s an alien, and captured by the government, sent off to a school where she can’t put her human classmates in danger, and that’s where she learns the truth about herself. She’s an alien, and her parents – also aliens – likely kidnapped her at a young age. Now, she’s surrounded by other alien students, not all of whom are exactly friendly toward her race. An exciting start to a new middle grade-middle school graphic novel series, School for Extraterrestrial Girls is written by Eisner award nominee Jeremy Whitley, who you may know from his Princeless series and Marvel’s The Unstoppable Wasp. Don’t miss this first volume, which has some nice social commentary set within a very cool sci-fi story.

 

A Map to the Sun, by Sloane Leong, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250146687

Ages 12-18

A strong story about sports and teen relationships, A Map to the Sun starts with Ren and Luna, two girls who meet on the beach during their middle school summer break. Luna disappears without saying goodbye when she suddenly moves, but returns two years later, expecting to pick up where she and Ren left off. But Ren is hurt, angry, and full off mistrust, especially since her older sister’s issues have made life nearly unbearable for her. A new teacher decides to form a women’s basketball team at the high school, bringing Luna, Ren, and a group of other girls who are tagged as the misfits in school. As they practice and improve, we get glimpses into each of their lives and see how succeeding in one arena changes how they react and are perceived in other spaces in their lives. The color palette is bright and beachy; lots of oranges, yellows, and purples, but some of the coloring made it difficult for me to tell characters apart (I read an ARC; this will likely be tightened up in the finished book). The story is strong, and highly recommended for teens and a solid choice for realistic fiction readers. A Map to the Sun has a starred review from Shelf Awareness.

Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge, by Grace Ellis/Illustrated by Brittney Williams, (Aug. 2020, DC Comics), $9.99, ISBN: 978-1401296377
Ages 7-11
DC’s latest middle grade original graphic novel stars our favorite journalist-in-training, Lois Lane. Here, Lumberjanes co-creator Grace Ellis and Goldie Vance artist Brittney Williams create a tween Lois Lane who’s all about creating a viral video for a #friendshipchallenge. The only thing is, she’s kind of driving her best friend, Kristen, crazy with the challenge. Kristen is going to be going to sleepaway camp after the big neighborhood barbecue and bike race, and Lois is desperate to get her video make before Kristen leaves. But words gets out that the new bike store in town may be planning something shady for the bike race, and the fireworks planned for the barbecue go missing. Sounds like a mystery that the two best friends will have to solve – if they don’t drive each other crazy first. Lois’s intensity comes off as almost abrasive at first, but she’s relatable as a kid who’s single-mindedly focused on her task and upset at having to share her best friend – a best friend who is going away for the summer – with a new girl in town. Lois Lane and the Friendship Challenge is a fun summer story.
Displacement, by Kiku Hughes, (Aug. 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250193537Ages 12+

Teenager Kiku travels to San Francisco with her mother to look for the place her grandmother, Ernestina, lived before she and her parents were sent to an internment camp during World War II. Kiku’s mother wants to learn more about her mother’s life pre-camp; Ernestine wasn’t given to talking about it often. As Kiku traipses alongside her, she finds herself being transported back in time, living alongside her grandmother as she, too, becomes a displaced person living in two Japanese internment camps. Powerfully written and beautifully illustrated, Displacement tells the story of the Japanese-Americans who were forced out of their homes and their established lives and stripped of their civil liberties. Kiku – and we – learn things from observing the day-to-day life in camp like human rights abuses that are quickly hushed up and the acts of resistance some engaged in, like the “No-Nos”, who answered “No” to two controversial questions on a loyalty questionnaire the Army had all incarcerated citizens answer. A tribute to the power of memory and, sadly, the power of intergenerational trauma, Displacement belongs with George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy and Art Spiegelman’s Maus in the canon of great graphic novels that belong on every reading list and every shelf.

Ages 14+
This is a weird, wild noir story that I’d hold for my readers who are always looking for something different. It’s Barcelona, 1942, and Laia is a pregnant woman working as a scriptwriter for a radio advice program. Her husband goes missing, a serial killer is on the loose, and Laia retains the services of a private detective to track down her husband… but she’s got secrets of her own. Read this one a couple of times; the story reveals itself with more than one reading. The drastic black and white artwork places you in the middle of this macabre detective story with a wry sense of humor. Got hard-boiled detective novel readers? Give this one to them, too.
Posted in Fantasy, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads

#BooksfromQuarantine: Into the Tall, Tall Grass

Into the Tall, Tall Grass, by Loriel Ryon, (Apr. 2020, McElderry Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9781534449671

Ages 10-14

This is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year. Yolanda Rodriguez-O’Connell and her twin sister, Sonja, are part of a magical family. Every generation is bestowed with a gift of some sort: in Sonja’s case, she can control bees. Butterflies flock to her grandmother, Wela. Their family has been the talk of the town for generations, calling the family brujas: witches. Since her grandfather’s death a year ago, Yolanda has distanced herself from her best friend, Ghita, and her sister; Ghita and Sonja have found solace together, making Yolanda feel like even more of an outsider. The girls live with their ailing Wela while their father is on his last deployment, but she has fallen into a mysterious sleep, and the girls are facing placement in foster homes. Wela awakens one night and tells Yolanda that she must take her to the last pecan tree on the family land to put things right and Yolanda, convinced this will save Wela, agrees. Yolanda begins a journey filled with revelations along with Wela, her dog, Sonja, Ghita, and Ghita’s brother, Hasik.

Wow. There’s gorgeous magical realism throughout this compulsively readable novel. There’s a family mystery wrapped up in generations of secrets and anguish and a fascinating subplot about relationships: the relationships between sisters, relationships between people and the land, and burgeoning relationships. Sonja and Ghita explore a relationship, and Yolanda navigates her own conflicted feelings for Hasik, who has a crush on her. The descriptions of the land are so rich, readers will feel the grass brushing their legs, the pecans in their hands, and the feel of butterflies in their hair. The meditation on grief and loss, and preparation for loss, is powerful. The tie between the magic thread that runs in the Rodriguez family and the world around them is incredibly described, written almost poetically. I loved everything about this book.

Into the Tall, Tall Grass has a starred review from School Library Journal.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Lauren Myracle’s This Boy is quiet and powerful

This Boy, by Lauren Myracle, (Apr. 2020, Candlewick Press), $18.99, ISBN: 9781536206050

Ages 14+

Paul Walden is an ordinary teen. He’s not a chest-beating jock, he’s just Paul, and This Boy takes us from freshman year to senior year. We meet Paul and his best friend, Roby; we meet Natalia Gutierrez, the girl they both fall for. They’re ordinary teens, doing teen stuff: some beer, some weed, but mainly, video games and talking about girls. Until disaster strikes and Paul finds himself gripped by addiction, depression, and grief.

This Boy is Lauren Myracle is her most powerful. The story shows readers exactly how “this could happen” to the kid next door. We all know Paul: he lives next door, or have a class or two with him. He’s the Everyman (Everyteen) of the story: living with his mom, not terribly close with his dad, loves playing video games and hanging out with his best friend. The dialogue is so painfully everyday teen; the small moments that make up the first part of this book are so spot on, that it makes the ensuing tragedy and Paul’s spiral even more heartbreaking to witness. He tries to dull his grief, but the usual social drinking isn’t working. He ups his game, becoming a full-blown addict. Paul’s mother isn’t invisible in this story; she’s a scared parent who doesn’t know what to do to help her boy. By trying her own methods first, she puts him in danger of a relapse, and has to come face-to-face with her own complicity in it. Paul’s story is raw and gritty, with frank descriptions of sex, masturbation, and drug use.  A strong choice for teen collections, and a good book to hand to readers who enjoy Chris Crutcher, Laurie Halse Anderson, and Eric Devine.  Hypable has an excerpt available.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

March Graphic Novels Roundup

I haven’t done a roundup in a while, but I’m actually a little ahead of the game, so let’s do it! Here’s what’s good for March.

 

Dragon Hoops, by Gene Luen Yang, (March 2020, First Second), $24.99, ISBN: 9781626720794

Ages 12+

Gene Luen Yang is back, and Dragon Hoops is a memoir of a year following the basketball team during the 2014-15 season at the high school where he taught, Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California. Gene wants to write a new graphic novel – at the same time he’s being courted by DC Comics to write a new Superman story – and he’s wracking his brain, coming up with options. He isn’t really a sports guy, but he decides to explore the Bishop O’Dowd varsity basketball team, after hearing all the buzz in the school hallways. He approaches the men’s varsity coach, Lou Richie, and starts writing the story of the team, the story of the young men on the team, and the pursuit of the California State Championships.

I’m not a big sports fan, and you don’t need to be to read Dragon Hoops. It’s the story of the people behind the team, and it’s exciting to read about these diverse young men, their stories, and their drive. It’s great to see Gene Yang’s journey from someone who has zero interest in sports to becoming a rabid fan of the team, because of the connections formed with the players and Coach Lou. It’s also very much Gene Yang’s story as he struggles with a work-life balance, whether or not to take on the extra work – and excitement! – that Superman would bring, and his struggle to address a difficult chapter in Bishop O’Dowd’s history.

The artwork is realistic with a cartoony feel, and the dialogue and pacing is great. Gene Yang gets readers excited for each game, and builds relationships between reader and players/coaches by interspersing biographical chapters and pivotal games in the race for the championship. He has a powerful thread through each personal story, too: each character, including Yang, has a moment when they step outside their comfort zone to pursue something greater; something Yang uses a literal “step” to illustrate. Yang steps across the street from the classrooms to the gym to meet with Coach Lou; Coach Lou steps across the street to go from public school to Bishop O’Dowd as a teen; Sendra Berenson, the inventor of women’s basketball in in 1892 took a step into a gymnasium to teach the young women in her care a new sport she’d read about; player Jeevin Sandhu, a student and practicing Sikh, takes a step into a Catholic high school so he can play basketball. Gene Yang includes the evolution of basketball from its creation to the present, and the big role of Catholic schools in high school basketball; both things I knew nothing about and found really interesting. Back matter includes comprehensive notes and a bibliography. Catch a preview of Dragon Hoops, courtesy of EW magazine.

 

The Phantom Twin, by Lisa Brown, (March 2020, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781626729247

Ages 12+

This eerie tale of twins, sideshows, and hauntings is perfect for tweens and teens who love their books on the creepier side. If you have readers who loved Neil Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book and Coraline, or loved Mary Downing Hahn’s books, this is the book to hand them.

At the turn of the 20th century, Isabel and Jane are conjoined twins, sold to a sideshow by their family, where they find a family among the “freaks” in the freak show. The two sisters are opposites, with Jane being the dominant personality. Where Iss would rather stay home, Jane wants to go out, and since she has more motor control over their shared body, Iss finds herself dragged along. Jane starts dating a surgeon who wants to separate them; despite Iss’s misgivings, Jane agrees: but doesn’t survive the surgery. Iss is left to face life on her own, but feels the phantom of her sister ever-present, like a phantom limb. Iss returns to the carnival, desperate for familiarity and to rebuild her life. Jane, still the dominant personality, tries to assert herself, and Iss finds herself rebelling against her sideshow family and her sister’s memory, as she tries to negotiate a life on her own and free of others’ expectations.

The Phantom Twin is fabulously creepy with an upbeat twist. It’s a feminist tale and a story of life on the fringes as much as it’s a story of grief, loss, and starting over. Back matter includes an author’s note on sideshows, carnival lingo, and more resources for further reading.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Preschool Reads, Toddler Reads

Sara Varon’s Hold Hands eases fears

Hold Hands, by Sara Varon, (June 2019, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596435889

Ages 3-6

It’s a day in the life of a preschooler in this adorable graphic novel by award-winning graphic novelist Sara Varon. Her adorable animal characters all hold hands: camels hold hands with giraffes, the sun and the moon share a hand-to-hand clasp as they pass in the sky, cats and dogs walk hand-in-hand, even the title page of the book sports colorful letters with sweet, smiling faces, holding onto one another. The whole day is seen as a series of hand-holding moments: a little bear holds hands with his mother, father, and brother during morning routines and on the way to daycare; holds hands with teachers and friends during the school day; during playdates; on the way home, and during bedtime stories and nighttime routines. The rhyming text is short and sweet, assuring readers that every time is a good time to hold hands: “Hold hands when the day is new, when you need a pal, or when one needs you”; “Hold hands with your buddy when you’re on the go, especially if your teacher tells you so”. The illustrations are colorful, boldly outlined, and loaded with sweet details, like a father wearing bunny slippers, or a heart charm hanging off a mom’s rear view mirror. Sara Varon emphasizes the power of connection by creating little starbursts around each hand-holding relationship.

Hold Hands is perfect for kids in daycare and preschool, and it’s an adorable testament to the power of physical contact. A must-have.

Posted in Graphic Novels, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Croquette & Empanada: An adorable graphic novel romance

Croquette & Empanada: A Love Story, by Ana Oncina, (June 2019, Andrews McMeel), $16.99, ISBN: 9781449497064

Ages 14+

This adorable graphic novel works as a YA crossover. Inspired by her relationship with her boyfriend, Croquette & Empanada: A Love Story is a series of slice-of-life glimpses into the relationship between an adorable potato croquette and an empanada. We see them at the beginning of their relationship and as they progress; we see them endure traveling together and putting up with annoying hostel-mates; figure out so-sleeping, and work being a couple at social events.

The artwork is mainly black and white, with peach accents. The characters move in a world inhabited by both human beings and other sentient food. There is sweet humor everywhere – During a romantic dinner, Empanada offers croquette a bite of her favorite food, which he declines. It’s a croquette. Later, she takes a bite out of Croquette’s backside. Empanada says of long-winded Croquette at a party, “He repeats more than garlic” – and who strolls in, but Garlic, who sits down to chat with Croquette, to Empanada’s amusement. Relatable moments abound, from the clean apartment visit at the beginning of a relationship to the more “lived-in” look of a partner in a comfortable, established one; Croquette plans on a productive day… as soon as he takes a quick nap.

A cute graphic novel for teens and adults alike. Light and fun, with sweet and relatable humor and adorable artwork.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Middle School, Realistic Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads

March graphic novels look at the power of relationships

The Breakaways, by Cathy G. Johnson, (March 2018, First Second), $12.99, ISBN: 9781626723573

Ages 8-12

This Bad News Bears of Soccer story stars Faith, a child of color who joins her school team at the urging of Amanda, one of the school’s popular girls. Thinking it’s a great way to make new friends, Faith signs up, only to discover that there are different soccer teams, and she’s been put on the Bloodhounds, which is made of up the lousiest players in the school. They may be horrible at soccer, but the group gradually comes together to form a tight friendship unit, and that’s the heart of the story.

There’s a fantastic diversity among the group. There are queer characters, including one who’s transitioning, and characters of color. The storyline is moved forward by each character’s quest for identity and acceptance within their families and the group, making for some deeply heartfelt moments. It’s a book about friendship, self-awareness, and acceptance, set in a middle school – often a battleground for kids who want to stand out without being “different”.

This one’s a must-add to your shelves. Talk this one up to your Lumberjanes fans.

The Mary Sue has a great write-up and preview of The Breakaways, and you can visit author/illustrator Cathy G. Johnson’s website for more info.

Kiss Number 8, by Colleen AF Venable/Illustrated by Ellen T. Crenshaw, (March 2018, First Second), $17.99, ISBN: 9781596437098

Ages 12+

Mads is a Catholic school teen who whose dad is her best friend. They go to minor league baseball games together, watch TV shows together, and generally just hang out together. It rocks her world when she discovers that her dad is hiding a secret, and it couldn’t have come at a harder time: Mads is also discovering that she may be attracted to her friend, Cat.

Kiss Number 8 looks at a sexual awakening within a close Catholic family. Mads tries out different kisses with different guys, trying to feel something, because her wilder friend, Cat – the archetypal Catholic school bad girl – encourages it, and it’s because what Mads feels like she’s supposed to do. While she torments herself over what she thinks her father’s hiding, she and Cat fall out, and the rumor mill goes wild, leading Mads to admit to her feelings and attractions to herself, and to Cat. Once Mads accepts herself, she has to deal with her father’s secret, his reaction to her emerging identity, and his overall mindset; luckily, she has support from a place she never dreamed of.

I really enjoyed Kiss Number 8. The characters are real, and Mads’ struggle with her own identity and sexuality works seamlessly with the family secret, revealed in all of its emotional pain. Mads has to come to realizations about herself, her relationships, and her own father, in order to move forward, but she’s a smart heroine that navigates these challenges to come out on top. Kiss Number is an exploration of teen sexuality, families, and relationships. A necessary book for your collections.

Colleen AF Venable and Ellen T. Crenshaw‘s websites both offer some sneak peeks at Kiss Number 8 and their additional work.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Supernatural thriller: We All Fall Down

We All Fall Down, by Natalie D. Richards, (Oct. 2017, Sourcebooks Fire), $10.99, ISBN: 9781492654384

Recommended for readers 13+

Part fated romance, part supernatural thriller, We All Fall Down is the story of Theo and Paige; two friends who are haunted by a night on an old bridge, where an argument between Theo and another classmate turned into a fight; Theo took a swing, but it was Paige who was injured.

Four months later, they’re each trying to move on, but something at the bridge refuses to let them forget. Paige and Theo must work together to stop whatever energy is coming from the bridge.

I had higher hopes for All Fall Down, to be honest. It’s an interesting look at two characters with varying mental illnesses – Theo claims to have “ODD, ADHD… I’ve got to be forgetting some letters here”, and Paige suffers from severe anxiety. The story didn’t really need a supernatural element added to it to be compelling; Natalie Richards had great material to work with, had she gone deeper into the characters, their relationship, and the repercussions of the night Paige was injured. It’s an interesting thriller that started strong, but could have been unputdownable with just a slight change in focus.

Posted in Fiction, Graphic Novels, Historical Fiction, Teen, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

More manga classics! Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility

austenSense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen (adapted by Stacy King)/illustrated by Po Tse, (Udon Entertainment/Morpheus Studios, Aug. 2016). $19.99 ISBN: 9781927925638

Recommended for ages 12+

Udon’s Manga Classics line continues to put out the most popular literary classics in manga format, no doubt to the relief to high school and college students everywhere. This time out, I read Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. When sisters Elinor and Marianne Dashwood’s father dies, their family is forced by family finances and turmoil to move to a cottage in Devonshire. Elinor has high hopes for her former romantic interest, Edward, while Marianne falls for John Willoughby – who seems to be hiding something. Colonel Brandon, an older man, also shows interest in Marianne, but she’s initially afraid that he’s too old for her. Similar to Pride and Prejudice, we have romantic entanglements and complicated relationships. Manga fans who also want some reinforcement of the Austen classic will appreciate this more visual layout of all the relationships in this story. Great for middle, high school, and college students.