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.┬áBlack 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, 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.