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Graphic Novel

Heartstopper (Vol. 3)

Now that Nick is out as bi to his mom, and Charlie has told his parents that he and Nick are dating, the boys start thinking about telling others as well. They’d like the secret to be out, but they also want to take it slow. Charlie is afraid of Nick getting bullied the way he was. They get a taste of this when Nick’s brother David comes home from uni for the summer holiday. Fortunately, they have the upcoming school trip to Paris to have something to look forward to. Plenty of shenanigans ensue with Nick and Charlie trying to be discreet, and some of their classmates and friends falling for each other in the City of Lights. As Nick and Charlie try to keep their relationship a secret, they discover secrets about each other, too. How much longer can they keep it up?

The more this series goes on, the more the story deepens. While there is plenty of drama (and this volume had a lot with the Paris trip!), it never feels over the top or out of place. New feelings and concepts are introduced organically and not just for the sake of inclusion. For example, Charlie explains his lack of eating as stemming from feeling a lack of control during the period he was outed. This makes sense for his character. It also works at introducing mental health issues and, assuming eating disorders, for young men, which are typically overlooked. If my thinking that Charlie has an ED is correct, I have no doubt that it will be handled as delicately and empathetically as prior issues have been.

This was a pretty easy read to get out of the slump I’ve been in. The font is bigger and though it’s in a handwriting style, it’s never unreadable. The only color throughout the book is a minty green, becoming lighter or darker depending on the mood and/or setting. While the characters and backgrounds are more abstract, emotion is more the point, and it comes across perfectly.

Looking forward to the next volume!

– Kathleen

Oseman, Alice. Heartstopper (Vol. 3). 2021.

Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human

“So… what is sex? Are there different forms of it? What counts as sex?” “What if I don’t like it?!” “What is consent and how to I give/get it?” “What if I’m not sure of my gender identity or sexuality yet?” “Why won’t anyone give me straight advice about relationships?!”

If you’re asking any of these questions and/or looking for sex ed in comic book form: this is for you. But it’s also so much more! Each individual chapter addresses the above questions, plus:

  • Body positivity and how to talk kindly to yourself about your body (but also in general!)
  • Masturbation and the different forms it can take
  • How to have safe sex, including what methods are good for preventing pregnancy and which are good for preventing STIs
  • Kinks, fantasies, and aftercare
  • Dealing with emotions such as jealousy and rejection

Each chapter is a conversation between two to four individuals about these topics. The characters are either friends, significant others, or siblings. All are presented as teenagers or college students, so each character is discussing with their peers. That was awesome! I think generations younger than I are becoming more comfortable with having these frank conversations with people they trust, and it was wonderful to have that shown! Also shown were a vast array of body types, including skin color, sizes, and differently abled! It reinforced the chapter on body positivity in a wonderfully passive way!

There were helpful (and anatomically correct) diagrams and illustrations throughout. There is also an index and a resources section at the back. Overall the language was plain and straightforward, though with some slang that (I felt) was a touch overused and will be outdated quickly.

Overall this was a very informative graphic novel that is presented in a no-nonsense, yet conversational and easy to understand manner. I think it’ll be easier for teens to digest this graphic novel – presented as conversations between peers of all types – rather than a more traditional or drier sex-ed book. Highly recommended for all YA library collections.

– Kathleen

Moen, Erika, and Matthew Nolan. Let’s Talk About It: The Teen’s Guide to Sex, Relationships, and Being a Human. 2021.

Allergic: A Graphic Novel

On her 10th birthday, Maggie and her family go to their local shelter adopt a puppy! She’s wanted absolutely nothing more for a very long time. But just as they find the perfect puppy and meet him, Maggie starts feeling sick. Her skin starts itching, her face swells up, and she can’t stop sneezing. So she ends up going to the doctor on her birthday. Later, at an allergy doctor, Maggie takes a scratch test and has an unusually strong reaction to most animals. The doctor advises Maggie to stay away from animals and pets until they can start her allergy shots. Maggie is devastated. With a new baby on the way, a new school, and her twin brothers having each other, Maggie feels all alone. A new girl named Claire moves in next door and things start looking up – until Claire gets a puppy. Can they still be friends even though Maggie feels betrayed?

There was so much more to the story than the main character discovering animal allergies. All kinds of big changes are happening around Maggie and she’s not sure how to deal with them at first. Change, of course, is inevitable, and there are multiple coping strategies shown. Taking deep breaths is reiterated throughout the novel, which we see helping not only Maggie, but other characters too! We also see Maggie talking to others about how she feels. While this doesn’t fix some things, it does help her to process them and see the positive side. In the case of her allergies, she starts to get shots which will make her reactions less severe over time. While she’ll never be cured, she can learn to live with it.

This was a middle-grade graphic novel, so it was broken up into chapters and the art was round and cutesy. I thought the chapters where Maggie go to the doctor were excellent. Everything Maggie went through was explained simply, accurately, and with compassion to ease fear and anxiety! Heck, even I’ve developed allergies in my old age and went through the same thing a few years ago, and even I felt better =P

This sweet story starts out with an allergy, but ends up being so much more. Maggie deals with a lot of changes at the same time, grows through them, and ends up finding that things might even be better than they were where we started off.

– Kathleen

Wagner Lloyd, Megan, and Michelle Mee Nutter. Allergic: A Graphic Novel. 2021.

Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Rachel Carson

The second volume in the Seen series focuses on Rachel Carson, whose writings and accomplishments on environmental issues eventually led to the creation of the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) in the United States. As a little girl, Rachel loved nature. She acquired a bachelor’s degree in biology, and a master’s in zoology and genetics. While working as a typist as a young adult during the Great Depression, she publishes her first article, then her first book, which unfortunately becomes overshadowed by World War II. She publishes her second book, The Sea Around Us, after the discovery and widespread usage of DDT. She goes on to publish her most famous work: Silent Spring.

Though Rachel faced public disbelief and outrage for her work, she never let it sway her. She let the facts, and sometimes lack of facts (lack of long-term effects of pesticides, for example) speak for themselves. She did her best to emphasize the potential consequences for humans as well as plants, animals, and insects. We are all connected in a symbiotic relationship and what affects one of us will affect the others. This is what Rachel strove to get us to understand before she passed away prematurely at 56 from cancer. Though she lived a short life, she lived a full one defending and speaking out about her passion.

Just like the first volume about Edmonia Lewis, the illustrations are no-fuss. There is also a bibliography and teaching guide at the end. This book is instead written in first-person as if Rachel was writing or speaking to us, as opposed to the third-person narration from Edmonia’s volume.

A wonderful second installment in a most welcome and informative series! Looking forward to the next volume.

– Kathleen

Willis, Birdie, Rii Abrego, and Kieran Quigley. Seen: True Stories of Marginalized Trailblazers: Rachel Carson. 2021.

And Now I Spill the Family Secrets

Margaret Kimball’s memoir starts with her mother’s suicide attempt on Mother’s Day 1988: the secret in her family, the thing they never talk about. She traces the event and the effect it had on her family throughout her life, and backwards through her family tree. With the gift of hindsight, she identifies how she grew up around her mother’s mental illness through her parents’ separation, divorce, and her father’s remarriage. And now, catching up to the present day, how she sees her mother in her brother Ted.

This was a tough read. The presentation was unique and immaculate. The illustrations were entirely in black and white and almost solely scenery (such as a room in a house, a street, or the exterior of a building) or memorabilia such as photographs, video stills, and transcripts of diaries. The only figures we see at all are those from the recreations of photographs and video stills. In that regard, this memoir feels extra personal and criminally invasive. I felt while reading as if I was going through her dirty laundry – which was probably the point. Since no one in her family talks about anything important, neither does the book offer a figure to serve as a narrator nor any characters other than who we see in Kimball’s recreations. The reader is left along only with Kimball’s words in a room we don’t know.

However difficult it is to get through, we are rewarded with an intimate portrait of how mental illness affects a family. I’d give it to an older teen. The presentation is easily among the best I’ve seen this year, so it’s worth checking out for that alone.

– Kathleen

Kimball, Margaret. And Now I Spill the Family Secrets. 2021.

The Sprite and the Gardener

Wisteria is a new sprite who just moved to the Sylvan Trace subdivision. In days of old, sprites helped humans grow and maintain their gardens, but sprites don’t really do that anymore. Humans developed their ways of gardening and they didn’t need the sprites anymore. Wisteria is disappointed about that. However, she finds that a property on Meadowgreen needs some help… so Wisteria nudges their morning glories along. Elena, the girl who lives there with her mom, is overjoyed to see them bloom in the morning. How can sprites no longer do something that make humans so happy? Wisteria wonders. Can she continue to help Elena without being discovered or ostracized by her peers?

This graphic novel was bigger than I was expecting. The story was short, but the book itself measures almost 9 x 12 inches. This must have been to let the gorgeous illustrations shine. They were reminiscent of the art nouveau style, with luminous, rich colors and thin, flowing lines. While the art is grounded in reality (especially for the plants), the color usage lent it a touch of whimsy and magic.

I’d been in kind of a reading slump, and this graphic novel lifted me out of it. As mentioned above, the story was short. It was also adorable. Both Wisteria and Elena want to help the plants and people they love in their own way. They have to learn to work together and accept help from those who offer it. Just because things change doesn’t mean it’s a bad thing – change can be good!

The library I checked it out from had it under “Teen,” but I thought it skewed a little younger. Very young kids will love the illustrations and it would be great for a storytime or for parents to read with them. Though of course, people of all ages will enjoy it, as I can attest to 😉

– Kathleen

Abrego, Rii and Joe Whitt. The Sprite and the Gardener. 2021.

The Backups: A Summer of Stardom

Performing arts students Jenni, Lauren, and Maggie audition for and land the roles of backup singers for Nika Nitro’s summer tour. Jenni can’t believe she gets to be up close and personal with her favorite pop star all summer. Lauren’s under orders to not study her beloved classical music for a while. Metalhead Maggie just needs a job for the season. Though the three girls are very different, they become close and start to enjoy working with one another, even under the heavy tour demands. Of course, mischief and hijinks ensue as well. Can their newfound bond handle the strain?

Because this is a middle-grade graphic novel, what started as a “never meet your heroes” story took an unrealistically saccharine turn and ended too neatly and happily for me to really believe it. That’s my only complaint, though! Otherwise, it’s a fun, quick read about friendship and hard work. It’s fun to see girls of different musical interests come together for a common cause. There was plenty of diversity as well.

Bright and glittering colors pop off the page. The concert sequences were especially fun, with different lighting and star effects that made you feel you were in the venue. The figures were cutesy and cartoony, but not overly so, unless the melodrama of a situation called for it.

Here’s another beach read for you! This middle-grade novel tells a cute and colorful story about hard work and female friendship and support, with a happy ending.

– Kathleen

de Campi, Alex, Lara Kane, Dee Cunniffe, and Ted Brandt. The Backups: A Summer of Stardom. 2021.

Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights

Here in graphic novel form is a history of women and their struggle to earn rights. Women warriors, rulers, writers, speakers, leaders, of all colors, from antiquity to today, are included. The name, years of birth and death, a portrait, and a short story or biography (including direct writings or quotes were applicable) are included for each woman.

The overall narrative is constructed as an AI classroom, in which school girls asked about how women got the right to vote. As the AI teacher shows us, women’s right to vote was very closely entwined with other rights: labor, birth control, civil, and disability. The fictional girls in the story learn from the immersive AI environment, but also from each other.

Though text-heavy and stuffed full of information, I found it to be an easier read than expected. The time stamps were very helpful. There are also chapter breaks, often with a fun two-page spread of a big scene with multiple women related to that chapter title. Trying to guess all the real and fictional character was a lot like playing “Where’s Waldo”! Each chapter (for the most part) followed a different time period, and the art would change slightly accordingly to reflect that time. It would even change within chapters according to place: for example, going from the Mayan Empire to the Vikings to the Celtic Empire.

What surprised me the most was simply how many women were featured here. Most were given 1-2 pages dedicated just to them; some, like women of the Civil Rights movement, were grouped together on one page. The writings and quotes accompanying each woman made reading about them so much more interesting and immediate. A great deal of research was done for this book to show, rather than just tell, how women created and continue to create change. Highly recommended.

– Kathleen

Kendall, Mikki, and A. D’Amico. Amazons, Abolitionists, and Activists: A Graphic History of Women’s Fight for Their Rights. 2019.

What Unites Us: The Graphic Novel

Journalist Dan Rather wrote What Unites Us: Reflections on Patriotism in 2017. This is the graphic novel adaptation of that book, which is a series of essays. The graphic novel is broken up into chapters, each talking about a specific topic on American patriotism. The first chapter defines patriotism and it is that definition that guides us through the rest of the book. Through stories both personal and historically significant, Rather illustrates how patriotism has evolved since he was a child. As patriotism encompasses many forms, so too does Rather talk about patriotism through the lenses of inclusion, exploration, and more.

The illustrations were lovely. Though they were minimalistic, to let the writing take center stage, they were still carefully crafted. Each line has purpose, with no frills or fuss. Red, white, and blue are the only colors used. Often, a whole panel will be red or blue, though some combine the two. For example: red can be the entire foreground and blue the background. Very occasionally the two will mix into what looks like a watercolor bloom.

Rather himself was the main “character,” who served as the narrator for the book. He “speaks” his essays to us, which gave it a nice personal touch, as if you were having a conversation with him. He mentions various public and historical figures, all of whom are drawn true to life.

While overall the book was thought-provoking, and I appreciated that he did not sugar coat yet remained optimistic… it’s a white man’s optimistic view of American patriotism. I would like to see, and will be seeking out, graphic novels which speak to women and BIPOC’s points of view on America then and now, and what we can do to make this country better for everyone. This graphic novel was published in a series called World Citizen Comics, more of which I’ll check out.

Happy Fourth of July for our American readers!

– Kathleen

Rather, Dan, Elliot Kirschner, and Tim Foley. What Unites Us: The Graphic Novel. 2021.

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