I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest
Released May 26, 2015.
This is the first YA novel by Priest, a well-known fantasy author for adults, and it’s a treat. May and Libby have been friends for years, the best of friends after meeting in fifth grade on a playground. The two of them wrote comics together about Princess X, a katana-wielding heroine. But then one day, Libby was gone, dead after a car crash from a bridge. Three years later, May has returned to their hometown and notices an image of a princess holding a katana on a sticker, a sticker that is brand new. May tracks down the image to a web comic where she realizes there are real similarities to the story that she and Libby had created. How can that be? And how strange is it that some of the stories seem to have messages only May could understand hidden inside of them?
There is a real joy in finding a book that does digital life so very well. The online elements of the story and the web comic are clear and make perfect sense. The hacking and dark net also work well in the way they are portrayed where there is information to be found but often it’s not legal to access it. That aspect alone, so often mismanaged in novels, is worth this read. But add to that a determined friend who quickly believes that her dead friend is still alive, an online and real life quest for information, horrible bad guys, and the exploration of Seattle both above and underground. It’s a book that is a searing fast read thanks to its pacing and the need to find out the truth.
The online comics are shared as comic inserts in the book, and were not completed in the galley that I have. The first couple of comics were available and add to the drama of the book. The mix of words and images works very well here with Priest using it both to move the story forward and to show the drama and appeal of the comic itself.
Smartly written with great characters and an amazing quest for the truth, this book is satisfying, surprising and impressive. Appropriate for ages 12-15.
Reviewed from ARC received from Arthur A. Levine Books.
Dragons Beware! by Jorge Aguirre, illustrated by Rafael Rosado
Released May 12, 2015.
Join Claudette on her second quest as a warrior. This time it is Claudette’s father who heads out alone into battle, attempting to get his sword back from the dragon who swallowed it along with his legs and one of his arms. But Claudette is determined not to be left behind in town and heads off with just her dog with her. Her best friend Marie and her little brother Gaston join her a little later. Together they are all captured by the evil wizard Grombach and his army of stone gargoyles. Grombach has encased the entire town army in amber, using his ability to turn things to stone. When he is distracted by the Apple Hag, the children rescue people along with the Apple Hag who in turn is the one who finds the Gaston could be a magic user. The children continue on toward to dragon’s lair, managing to sneak past the dragon’s offspring and deep within the mountain. There they discover Claudette’s father trapped by the dragon and set out to rescue him. But it will take more than the power of the sword and fighting to get them out alive.
I adore Claudette, a girl who wants to be a warrior and never shrinks away from any battle no matter how outnumbered she is. She is entirely herself, proud to be the girl she is. At the same time, I love that she has Marie as her counterpoint. Marie is a girl who loves pretty dresses and worries about her hair, but she too heads into battle in her own distinct way, this time with diplomacy. Then there is Gaston, the boy who loves to cook but also wants to make his father proud so he’s working on warrior skills like creating swords. He’s not very good at it.
These three protagonists make this book a marvelous adventure. It is filled with their large personalities, laugh-out-loud funny puns and one-liners, and lots and lots of adventure, danger and battles. Claudette’s father fights despite being in a wheelchair and characters of all colors appear in the story. This is a celebration of diversity on the page thanks to the art by Rosado which ranges from completely silly to blazing fight scenes.
A very strong female protagonist is the center of these books and she will thrill children with her bravery. Appropriate for ages 8-11.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Edelweiss and First Second.
Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and illustrated by Brooke Allen
The Lumberjane scout camp is for “hardcore lady types” who celebrate “Friendship to the max!” Five friends are spending their summer together here and they are in for unexpected adventures as they earn their badges. When they head out to get their nighttime badge, they encounter the first of the supernatural monsters, a pack of three-eyed wolves. Luckily the friends, Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley, are also elite fighters so they manage to defeat the wolves. Back at camp, their counselor marches them to the office for discipline, but the head of the camp seems more intrigued than surprised by their find. As the summer progresses, the girls face hipster yetis, polite boy campers with a dark side, stone statues that come to life, and plenty of traps. Summer camp has never been this full of wild creatures and epic battles, all done by a group of amazing girls.
I first heard about how wonderful this comic book was when it was not yet a graphic novel, and I am so thrilled that the first four comics have been turned into this novel that is perfect for libraries. I had high expectations for this comic and was still dazzled by it and rather twitchy to get my hands on the next one. The characters are phenomenally well done, each girl having her own distinct personality and style. Add in the delight of finding a budding lesbian love story and it’s pure magic. I love kick-ass heroines, and this series has FIVE to fall for.
The art is well done too with its own vibe. It has the friendly feel of a Telgemeier combined with more edge that make the battle scenes really work. There is plenty of action and humor to make the book race along. I love the addition of extra art at the end done in a variety of styles. It invites fans of the characters to draw them and create their own stories about these great girls.
This is a graphic novel to devour in one sitting and immediately turn to the beginning and start again. Pure girl-power perfection. Appropriate for ages 12-16.
Reviewed from library copy.
The nominations for the 2015 Eisner Awards have been announced. These awards are for the best in comics and graphic novels and include specific categories for youth. Here are the nominees in those categories:
Best Publication for Early Readers (up to age 7)
BirdCatDog by Lee Nordling & Meritxell Bosch
A Cat Named Tim And Other Stories by John Martz
Hello Kitty, Hello 40: A Celebration in 40 Stories edited by Traci N. Todd & Elizabeth Kawasaki Mermin, Book 3: Deep Dive by Joey Weiser
The Zoo Box by Ariel Cohn & Aron Nels Steinke
Best Publication for Kids (ages 8-12)
Batman Li’l Gotham, vol. 2 by Derek Fridolfs & Dustin Nguyen
El Deafo by Cece Bell
I Was the Cat by Paul Tobin & Benjamin Dewey
Little Nemo: Return to Slumberland by Eric Shanower & Gabriel Rodriguez
Tiny Titans: Return to the Treehouse by Art Baltazar & Franco
Best Publication for Teens (ages 13-17)
Doomboy by Tony Sandoval
The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley
Lumberjanes by Shannon Watters, Grace Ellis, Noelle Stevenson, & Brooke A. Allen
Meteor Men by Jeff Parker & Sandy Jarrell
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang & Sonny Liew
The Wrenchies by Farel Dalrymple
The Lunch Witch by Deb Lucke
What is a witch to do when no one believes in magic anymore? She has her family’s potion recipes and cauldron, but that’s about it. Then she realizes that there is one perfect job for someone who creates horrible brews – being a lunch lady! So Grunhilda becomes a lunch lady, one who scares all of the children. But Madison isn’t scared of Grunhilda despite the fact that she is the one person who knows that she is not what she seems. Madison has enough knowledge to blackmail the witch, but that’s a dangerous course even when the witch wants to help you. Grunhilda finds a kinship with Madison, but her horrible ancestors are maddened to find their magic being used for good, so they step in and cause all sorts of trouble for both Madison and Grunhilda.
Lucke’s story is a delightful mix of horrible potions, bats that don’t listen, nasty dead ancestors with too many opinions, and amazingly also two people who may just become friends through it all. Lucke creates a story around Grunhilde that offers her back story and makes her transformation to an almost-good witch believable and organic. Madison too has her own story, one that also makes the story work well and makes her own role and connection ring true.
The art of this graphic novel is gorgeously strange and wild. Each chapter leads in with a differently stained page, from oily splotches to actual tomatoes. The pages too are dark and stained, as if Grunhilda herself had been using the book in her kitchen. Against that the white of aprons and speech bubbles pops. Other subtler colors are also used and create a subtle effect against the dark page.
A funny and heartfelt story of unusual friendships created during the most unusual of times. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from library copy.
Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
Astrid and Nicole have been best friends for years, but something is changing. When Astrid’s mother takes them to see roller derby, Astrid immediately wants to do it. Nicole is more interested in doing her ballet camp. Without telling her mother that Nicole won’t be helping with carpooling, Astrid starts at roller derby camp. There she discovers that there is a lot to learn about roller skating, hitting and friendship. As Astrid struggles to keep up with the more advanced skaters at the camp, she finds herself dreaming of of being the star of the roller derby. As junior high and the roller derby show near, Astrid has to figure out how to handle her new budding friendship without losing it to jealousy and how to be a strong teammate.
Jamieson is a roller derby girl herself, so the skills and hard work depicted in this graphic novel offer plenty of detail and reality. The result is a book that shows how hard you have to work to be successful and the determination it takes to stand up over and over again after you fall down. At the same time, the tone is realistic, and does not overdramatize learning new skills and being part of a rough sport. The tone is always realistic and honest.
That same tone continues in the depiction of the friendships that Astrid has. The two friendships, one that Astrid is growing out of and one that is just beginning, are shown in all of their fragility. Astrid’s own responses are honest and depict the difficulties of a young girl trying to find her own voice and her own place in the world. Many readers will see themselves on the page, whether or not they are derby girls.
Get this one into the hands of fans of Raina Telgemeier! It’s another graphic novel with a strong and funny female protagonist. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from copy received from Dial Books.
March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
The powerful second book in the March graphic novel series continues the true story of the Civil Rights Movement. Told by John Lewis in the first person, this book captures the dangers and violence faced by the Freedom Riders as they headed into the deep south. The nonviolent campaign for civil rights faced beatings, police brutality, bombs, imprisonment and potential death. Yet they found a way to not only keep going but to continue to press deeper and deeper into the south. This book is a harrowing read that shows how one young man became a leader of in civil rights and politics in America.
Lewis’ personal story allows readers a glimpse of what was happening behind the scenes. Historical figures like Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X make appearances in the book, and their own personal perspectives on civil rights and nonviolence is shared. The pushback on the nonviolent aspect of the movement is also shown clearly on the page when new people joined the cause. This shift towards more reactionary tactics threatens to undo the progress that had been made to that point.
Thanks to the graphic novel format, there is no turning away from the violence. Beatings are shown up close and will a frenzy that is palpable. The dangers are not minimized nor overly dramatized, they are shown honestly. There are unforgettable moments throughout the novel, some of them small like a boy being encouraged to claw out a civil rights worker’s eyes. Other moments are larger from the mattress protests in the jail to the march of the children and the police brutality that followed.
Immensely strong and powerful, this graphic novel series allows us to see how much progress was made thanks to these civil rights heroes but also inspires young readers to make more progress against the continued racism in our society. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from library copy.
YALSA has selected the 2015 Great Graphic Novels for Teens. The list includes 79 titles that are recommended for ages 12-18 and that are both high quality and appealing to a teen audience. They also select a Top Ten which you see below:
47 Ronin. By Mike Richardson. Illus. by Stan Sakai
Afterlife with Archie: Escape from Riverdale. By Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa. Illus. by Francesco Francavilla
Bad Machinery V.3: The Case of the Simple Soul. By John Allison
In Real Life. By Cory Doctorow, illus.by Jen Wang
Ms. Marvel: V.1. No Normal. By G. Willow Wison. Illus. by Adrian Alphona
Seconds: a Graphic Novel. By Bryan Lee O’Malley
The Shadow Hero. By Gene Luen Yang. Illus. by Sonny Liew
Through The Woods. By Emily Carroll
Trillium. By Jeff Lemire
Wolf Children: Ame & Yuki. By Mamoru Hosoda
The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend by Dan Santat
Nana in the City by Lauren Castillo
The Noisy Paint Box: The Colors and Sounds of Kandinsky’s Abstract Art illustrated by Mary GrandPré, written by Barb Rosenstock
The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus illustrated by Melissa Sweet, written by Jen Bryant
Sam & Dave Dig a Hole illustrated by Jon Klassen, written by Mac Barnett
This One Summer illustrated by Jillian Tamaki, written by Mariko Tamaki
Viva Frida by Yuyi Morales
Here are my picks for the best graphic novels of the year for youth! As always, share your own picks in the comments.
Comics Squad: Recess! by Jennifer L. Holm
The Dumbest Idea Ever! By Jimmy Gownley
El Deafo by Cece Bell
The Graveyard Book: Volume 1 by P. Craig Russell
Hidden: A Child’s Story of the Holocaust by Loic Dauvillier
Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle by Dana Simpson
Return of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier
The Stratford Zoo Midnight Revue Presents Macbeth by Ian Lendler