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DC Graphic Novels for Young Adults

Wonderful Women of the World

Women change the world…what a perfect topic for Women’s History Month!

Various authors and artists have come together in this collection to honor real-life women. The women are grouped under categories such as strength, compassion, justice, truth, and equality- the virtues that Wonder Woman stands for.

This book is a mixed bag- as all collections are when you pull in different styles of storytelling and art. I was familiar with some of them, as several have written or illustrated other books in the DC Graphic Novels for Young Adults line.

My favs were:

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: Dissent- the iconic Supreme Court Justice who fought injustice and was a role-model for all! The story highlighted some of her more famous cases such as birth control, voting rights and marriage equality.

Keiko Agena: Asian America’s BFF- The author is an Asian American who always felt left out until she saw actress Agena on the tv series Gilmore Girls. The representation felt inspiring, and helped allow the author herself to explore and grow in her profession.

Ellen Ochoa: Destination Space- Ochoa was determined to be an astronaut, and when turned down, doubled down on her training to learn the skills that NASA was looking for. I loved the group picture that showcased other women astronauts that represented firsts such as Sally Ride and Mae Jemison and included Ochoa as the first Latina in space.

Judith Heumann: How to Ignite a Spark- Heumann is a disabled woman fighting for Disability Rights. The story includes references to landmark cases that have moved forward legal rights for those who are disabled. Her advocacy helped push through Section 504- the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Edith Windsor: How One Women’s Love Changed a Nation- Windsor was in a long-term lesbian relationship, but the two were denied the right to marry. When her partner died and she legally was not recognized, she went all the way to the Supreme Court to fight for marriage equality. The illustration style was among my favorites in this collection.

Mari Copeny: Fighting for Flint- Copeny is a youth who helped bring awareness to the contaminated water that plagues Flint, Michigan. Her letter to President Obama brought attention to the community and she helped raise thousands of dollars to bring clean bottled water to the city. Her youthful passion has made a difference!

Leiomy Maldonado: Generational- showcases two different transgender individuals during different years colored blue vs red, and reveals how people have an easier time now than years ago in being true to themselves. Maldonado is featured at the end, as both unite in awe of her.

Despite the worthy intent of this book with some great biographies, I sadly was not impressed, for it seemed to be trying too hard. For a fantastic collection of short stories about women from history, read Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked The World by Pénélope Bagieu instead.

-Nancy

Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story

Jessica Cruz is a high school student living in Coast City. She’s just gotten a museum fellowship and hopes to study the Aztec gods, her favorite exhibit. She doesn’t have time for parties or hanging out with her two best friends or her new friend from the museum fellowship, John Stewart – she’s got too much to do and too many expectations on her. Her parents are undocumented immigrants from Mexico, and Jessica herself is part of the D.A.C.A program – but that’s not common knowledge. She’s been keeping her head down ever since a popular mayoral candidate has been campaigning on making Coast City “safer” by advocating for a stronger I.C.E. presence. When Jessica’s Papá is arrested by I.C.E., she feels like she’s falling apart. As she isolates herself, bent on revenge, she dreams of two Aztec gods: one emphasizing hope and willpower, the other giving into her anger and destruction. How can she help her Papá if she can’t even help herself?

I cried at multiple points during the story. Jessica Cruz is a character near and dear to my heart, in part due to her Hispanic heritage. Spanish is well-executed in the dialogue, which lends an extra layer of authenticity to the story. I and many other readers will emphasize with her struggle to choose willpower or anger. The Aztec gods she dreams about are not only metaphors for these emotions, they represent the Green and Red Lanterns, respectively. John Stewart serves as a friend and mentor for her in the comics, and serves the same purpose here, as well as acting as a jumping-off point for conversations about intersectionality between Black and Mexican American experiences. Together, they choose where to focus their energies for the best outcome: in anger, or in hope?

The art is truly unique, and the most memorable I’ve seen in quite some time. The square figures evoke ancient Aztec and Mayan carvings. While greens and blues are the dominant colors, the backgrounds and background figures are often washed in one or two colors. Overall, the palette is desaturated pastels – but because it looks as if they were watercolors painted wet right over pencils. It has that distinctive gray tone. I LOVED it and lapped it up like water.

If the gorgeous art isn’t enough to wow you, the story of a teen desperate to settle a war within herself to help her family and community will definitely knock you out. This is going on my Best of 2022 list.

Kathleen

Rivera, Lilliam, and Steph C. Unearthed: A Jessica Cruz Story. 2021.

I Am Not Starfire

Mandy is superhero Starfire’s daughter. They’re opposites in every way: Starfire is tall, thin, tan, and glowing with power and being adored by millions. Mandy is shorter, bigger, loves black, and has zero superpowers and one best friend in Lincoln. She recently walked out of her SAT exam and isn’t planning to go to college. She wants to get away from anything and everything having to do with superheroes, including being the child of one. Things might be taking a turn for the better when Mandy’s paired up with Claire for an English project. The Claire whom Mandy won’t admit even to herself that she has a crush on. When a picture of Claire with the Teen Titans shows up on her social media after a study session at Mandy’s house, and Starfire finds out about the missed SAT exam, it looks like things can’t get any worse. But something from her mom’s past catches up with her and Mandy is forced to make a choice – and see just how much like, or unlike, Starfire she really is.

Nancy recommended this one to me, thinking I’d like it. She knows me so well 😉

Lincoln himself best summed up the book on page 155: “What I said was we hold our parent’s hope for a new future, but that future isn’t necessarily going to be what our parents thought it would be.” At its heart, this is a story duality and trying to carve yourself a place in the world outside your parent’s influence and expectations. Each character is struggling with this in a different way. Mandy doesn’t have superpowers like her mom, but doesn’t want to follow a predetermined path such as college either. Lincoln is a first-generation Asian American and does want to go to college to make systems better for POCs. Mandy’s life looks perfect on social media, but she also carries expectations of others that make her be a person she doesn’t want to be.

The art reinforces this by constantly setting up different dualities. Mandy and Starfire are often positioned across the panel or a whole 2-page spread from one another, reinforcing how different they are by simple distance. Starfire’s colors are primarily pink, yellow, and purple, while Mandy’s primary colors are black, grey, and green. When they do find common ground in the end, their placement side-by-side feels earned and we see that they compliment each other rather than set each other off. The lineless style art is very modern, not like “traditional” comic book art of the ’80s, when Starfire was first introduced. This further reinforces the idea of forging your own future ahead, rather than sticking with what your parents did.

Older middle-grade readers, YA audiences, and up will love Mandy’s journey of figuring out who she is and what she wants outside of her mother’s influence.

– Kathleen

Tamaki, Mariko, and Yoshi Yoshitani. I Am Not Starfire. 2021.

Poison Ivy: Thorns

Pamela Isley is a loner who loves plants. So much so that she releases a gas (toxic to humans, not plants, of course) in a local park in an effort to stop it from being bulldozed and constructed over. A few people get seriously sick, and residents in the surrounding area need to evacuate. This leads one of Pamela’s classmates, Alice Oh, to stay temporarily with Pamela and her father. Though Pamela would rather hang out in the greenhouse her mother donated to her high school than with her peers, Alice is all right. She’s helped Pamela avoid Brett, a guy at school who bothers her. However, Pamela isn’t sure she can trust Alice; especially with the family secrets she and her father keep. As she and Alice get closer, as more than friends, can Pamela open up?

This is a perfect pre-Halloween read. The overall tone is dark, gothic, and creepy. Most of the story takes place in the Victorian Isley mansion, or in settings surrounded by plants. Readers who know that Pamela eventually becomes Poison Ivy will be interested in this origin story, but horror and suspense fans will find plenty to appreciate as well. Pamela’s honest struggles to open up and do the right thing in this story juxtaposed against the knowledge of who she eventually becomes is what makes this read so tense.

What was most interesting to me was the seamless inclusion of feminism into Pamela’s character. She states more than once throughout the book that she has had enough of men controlling her body. It fits within the context of the story (that I can’t go into for spoiler reasons), but also is interesting given the history of the character as a femme fatale who uses her womanly charms to get what she wants. A teenage Pamela standing up for herself, specifically to stop men from taking advantage of her body, added a depth to her character that I hadn’t realized was missing until now. I had good timing reading this shortly after the new abortion laws being passed in Texas (though admittedly, Pamela takes “my body, my choice” to the extreme here!).

Contributing to the suspenseful atmosphere are the murky, muted colors and low lighting in the art. Pamela’s red hair is the brightest thing on most pages, but not by much. The linework is sharp and thin, evoking the titular thorns and reminding readers that no one person or place is safe.

Though you’ll come for the perfectly creepy atmosphere and art, you’ll stay for this queer and feminist representation of Pamela Isley becomes Poison Ivy. Add it to your TBR pile this October!

– Kathleen

Keplinger, Kody and Sarah Kipin. Poison Ivy: Thorns. 2021.

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