Graphic Novelty²


Mariko Tamaki

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.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me is a coming of age story with a welcoming and needed look at teen romance with a same-sex couple.

Freddy and Laura’s relationship is as normal (and toxic) as any other teen relationship might be; readers will immediately spot Laura’s selfish and callous treatment of Freddy and will be hoping that Freddy has enough strength to break it off for good. I believe teens can learn from this narrative on how to recognize an unhealthy relationship dynamic, and also how to be a better friend to people who truly do care. The narrative also included an in-depth look at Freddy’s friendships and her burgeoning interest in the larger LGBTQ+ community. There is also a very adult decision that one character needs to make, and I was impressed at how it is so respectfully addressed.

The artwork by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell was lovely with a greyscale and soft pink color palette. Her backgrounds are minimalist, but then you’d be treated to an ornate panel where she added much detail to a garden or to the medium’s home. Valero-O’Connell drew Freddy, Laura and the rest of their friends and family in a slightly anime-like style, which was an inviting and charming look for the graphic novel. The illustrations also had a running motif of stuffed animals of Freddy’s that gave their insights, which balanced some of the angst and heavy-hitting topics.

As I said in my earlier Bloom review, I do want to share one problem I had with that cover and this one too- if you were to take a quick glance without opening the book, you would think that the couple was of mixed sexes and I think that is a disservice to the storyline found within. I felt like the publishers weren’t being bold enough with their covers to show what the narrative was truly going to be about, and I found that disappointing. In fact, I was so confused when I first picked up this book that I thought Freddy was Laura and kept looking for the boy from the cover I assumed was Freddy.

I had the pleasure of reading this novel and Bloom for a Tournament of Books that I participated in with other teen librarians. While I pushed Bloom through to the next bracket, this graphic novel deserves the rave reviews and book awards it has already earned.


Guest Post on 2020 YASF Tournament of Books

As the Head of Teen Services at my library, I attend a networking group with other librarians who work with teens in the Chicagoland suburb area. For several years the YASF (Young Adult Services Forum) group has had a yearly Tournament of Books for YA novels from the previous year, and this is my fourth year participating by writing reviews for their blog So like YA know

This year I was assigned graphic novels Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up WIth Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. Both books have gained impressive followings, rave reviews, and book awards due to their positive and true-to-life representation of LGBTQ+ life. Click here to find out which book I chose and WHY!


Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass

Harleen Quinzel has a measly $5 in her pocket when she gets off the bus at Gotham City. Her mother has sent her to live with her grandmother for a while. To Harleen’s chagrin, she finds her grandmother has passed away, but Mama, the current tenant of her apartment, gladly takes in the eccentric teenager. Harleen’s spirits are not dampened by this turn of events; she embraces Mama and his cohort of drag queens just as enthusiastically as they’ve embraced her. However, big changes are coming to the neighborhood. The Kane family, who owns Millennium Enterprises, are looking to buy out the block to build upscale condos and “improve” the area. Harleen faces a difficult choice. Should she organize community protests with her new friend Ivy and her family? Or should she burn the corporation down with the mysterious Joker?

I have to say, this one surprised me. I’m not a Harley Quinn fan, but DC Ink has put out some fine stories, so I decided to check it out. This reimagining of Harley’s origin story will be hard to top.

Harley’s distinctive voice and character lent particular weight to the themes in this story: African-American and LGBTQ+ rights, gentrification, and poverty. As it’s written from Harley’s point of view, her colorful and optimistic speech firmly place us in her head. We see from the art more than hear from Harley about the injustice that happens in the world around her, showing the audience that while you can hide from problems in your head, you can’t escape the real-world causes and consequences. Harley ultimately has a choice: whether or not to see the problems, and how to respond to them. Is there a right or wrong way to fight for justice?

The art is phenomenal. In both an homage to and deviation from your typical Batman, Gotham-style book, it’s rendered in cool sepia. Pops of color come through at critical moments or in flashbacks: Harley red, Joker yellow and purple, hot pink. It feels like reading an old black and white film where someone expertly colored over the reel in the most emotionally charged moments. There are a few Easter eggs and homages to Harley’s history sprinkled throughout that both old and new fans will enjoy.

The question Harley faces here, how to respond to injustice and what the right way is to fight for justice, is something many teens can relate to. The timely, yet timeless, message and stellar art make for a Harley origin story that will be hard to beat in the future.

– Kathleen

Tamaki, Mariko, and Steve Pugh. Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass. 2019.

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