Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd

Cover image.

Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd and Michelle Mee Nutter (9781338568912)

Maggie discovers that she has severe allergies that make her sneeze and also break out in hives when she interacts with any animals with fur or feathers. But Maggie is determined to find a pet that will work for her. She starts with a list of potential pets. The fish died too quickly, the lizard loved her brothers more, hedgehogs are illegal, and some animals just aren’t interesting. Meanwhile at home, they are expecting a new baby in a few months and Maggie often feels like the odd one out since her younger brothers are twins and always doing things together but without her. Then a new girl moves into the neighborhood. Maggie and Claire become close friends, until Claire gets a puppy of her own, the ultimate betrayal. Perhaps there’s a different solution, and all it will take is one mouse to test out!

There is so much empathy and heart in this middle-grade graphic novel. It captures the essence of being a middle grader, of not quite fitting in yet and feeling emotions deeply. Friendships are difficult, full of misunderstandings and possibilities. Add into that severe allergies and a growing family, and you have a book that is full of challenges to navigate. Maggie is a strong protagonist, full of ideas and a hope that her allergies can be overcome somehow.

The art by Nutter is colorful and inviting. It depicts a busy and loving family, Maggie’s physical allergy reactions, and then her newfound connections with people who just happen to be animals she can be around.

A sunny and welcome look at allergies, friendships and family. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.

The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard

Cover image

The Crossroads at Midnight by Abby Howard (9781945820687)

This graphic novel offers a series of strange and tantalizing short stories sure to give readers the shivers. Set in ordinary places like the beach, on a farm, and near a lake, these stories take the mundane and make it strange and horrifying. From a lonely girl who discovers the terrifying truth of what happened on the farm next door to a young girl who meets a boy on the beach who becomes her best friend but who only comes out at night, these stories invite readers to look under the surface to the darkness and weirdness that lurks there. The stories also ask whether monsters are kind or cruel, and how we know what a monster actually is. Some people trust too much, others too little and some find a new path.

I’m a huge fan of Howard’s 2020 graphic novel The Last Halloween: Children. She uses the same gorgeous pen and ink illustrations here, once again creating a world adjacent to our own that is bewildering and yet familiar. Her skill with storytelling is clear as she creates one tale after the other, stringing them together into a beautiful yet horrifying collection that can’t be put down.

She manages to quickly bring us into each story with both her text and her illustrations, showing us at first how normal each scene is and then swiftly ripping that away. It’s a pleasure to experience each reveal, timed just right for maximum impact and then to have the story play out in unexpected and surprising ways.

A great graphic novel for teen horror fans. Best read after dark. Appropriate for ages 13-18.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Iron Circus Comics.

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable

Cover image

Katie the Catsitter by Colleen AF Venable, illustrated by Stephanie Yue (9780593306321)

Katie’s friends are heading away to sleepover camp for the summer but Katie and her mother can’t afford for her to attend. When Katie discovers that she can go for just one week, she creates a plan to earn money in their apartment building. Unfortunately, she kills houseplants, isn’t strong enough to lug groceries up the stairs, and cleaning is a bust too. But when a neighbor discovers that Katie has a way with cats, she asks her to cat sit her 217 cats, who luckily are trained to use the bathroom rather than litterboxes. Very quickly, Katie realizes that these are not normal cats. They use the computer, 3D print things, order pizzas, and destroy the apartment. Just when Katie is about to lose yet another job, the cats come together and repair the apartment before their owner returns. As she continues to cat sit, Katie starts to believe that the owner just might be the infamous burglar who has been roaming the city despite the local superheroes searching for her.

This middle-grade graphic novel is purr-fect feline fun. Set in an urban area filled with less-than-super heroes and crafty villains, Katie’s life is rather mundane. She goes to school, spends time with her single mother, and looks forward to postcards from her best friend. That all changes when she starts cat-sitting and the fascinating cats take over her life. Their naughty evil natures as well as their technology skills make for an unusual job.

The art and words work well together, creating a world primarily set in the single building and the surrounding neighborhood. Full of expressive characters, dynamic cats and strange superheroes, the book is funny and has just the right amount of quirkiness.

A great book for cat lovers and babysitters alike. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from e-galley provided by Random House Kids.

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds, art by Danica Novgorodoff (9781534444959)

The original verse novel by Reynolds won many awards, including a Newbery Honor, Printz Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor. I was hesitant to take a look at the graphic novel version of the book, wondering how it could work. While the graphic novel does not improve the book (because how could it), instead it is like a new jazz version of the original, taking the story and transforming it into something similar but altogether different. This new graphic version is incredible, just as moving, tense and personal as the original.

Readers who may hesitate at picking up a verse novel will find this new version more approachable. Beautifully, Reynold’s wring is intact here, so many of his important lines and statements left to speak directly to the reader. Novgorodoff manages to transform the work with her art. She sweeps the pages with watercolor blues, fills violent parts with blood spattering red, highlights Will on his elevator journey through death and hope using color and light.

Amazing, transformative and fully in honor of the original work. Appropriate for ages 12-16.

Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum.

YALSA 2021 Great Graphic Novels for Teens

YALSA, the Young Adult Library Services Association, has announced the titles included in their 2021 Great Graphic Novels for Teens list. The list includes 126 titles selected from 145 official nominations. It’s one of the best library collection development tools for YA graphic novels. The committee also selected a Top Ten, which follows:

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Blue Flag (vol 1-5) by Kaito

Fights: One Boy’s Triumph Over Violence by Joel Christian Gill

Go with the Flow by Karen Schneemann, art by Lily Williams

Guantánamo Voices: True Accounts from the World’s Most Infamous Prison by Sarah Mirk, art by Gerardo Alba, Kasia Babis, Alex Beguez, Tracy Chahwan, Nomi Kane, et al

The Low, Low Woods by Carn Maria Machado, art by DaNi

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Superman Smashes the Klan by Gene Luen Yang, art by Gurihiru

Wonder Twins (vol. 1 & 2) by Mark Russell, art by Stephen Byrne

20 Best Graphic Novels of 2020

Here are my favorite 20 graphic novels from 2020. They cover a wide variety of topics and age levels. Enjoy!

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha (9780062685094)

“Ha’s memoir is marvelous. She creates real emotion on the page, not shying away from the raw reaction that she had as a teen to being moved to an entirely different country unexpectedly. “

Astronauts Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani, illustrated by Maris Wicks (9781626728776)

“A stellar look at gender in space and science that is inspiring. “

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook

Banned Book Club by Kim Hyun Sook and Ryan Estrada, illustrated by Hyung-Ju Ko (9781945820427)

“This graphic novel is so powerful. It looks at a totalitarian regime and the efforts to overthrow it, particularly the ideas and books that the regime forbids.”

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne

Beetle & the Hollowbones by Aliza Layne (9781534441538)

“Layne has created a graphic novel for middle schoolers and teens that is an intoxicating mix of magic, goblins and love.”

Displacement by Kiku Hughes (9781250193544)

“Hughes ties our current political world directly to that of the camps, showing how racist policies make “solutions” like internment camps more likely to happen. “

Donut Feed the Squirrels by Mika Song (9781984895837)

“Screamingly funny at times and wildly silly…”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dungeon-critters-by-natalie-reiss-and-sara-goetter.jpg

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter (9781250195463)

“Perfect for anyone who has spent time with Dungeons and Dragons or crawled through video game dungeons like World of Warcraft, this book is captivating.”

Flamer by Mike Curato (9781250756145)

“Curato has created a graphic novel that really speaks to self discovery and learning how to survive.”

Fly on the Wall by Remy Lai (9781250314116)

“There is so much sheer honesty and vulnerability on these pages that it is breathtaking.”

The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard (9781945820663)

“Perfect for teens who enjoy blood, gore and demons mixed with lots of humor.”

Lightfall: The Girl & the Galdurian by Tim Probert (9780062990471)

“The art and story flow together seamlessly, creating a world that shines with golden light. He creates vistas in his world so that readers can view the expanse of the continent.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is long-way-down-the-graphic-novel-by-jason-reynolds.jpg

Long Way Down: The Graphic Novel by Jason Reynolds, art by Danica Novgorodoff (9781534444959)

“Beautifully, Reynold’s wring is intact here, so many of his important lines and statements left to speak directly to the reader. Novgorodoff manages to transform the work with her art.”

The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen (9780593125298)

“It is remarkable that this is a debut graphic novel. It is done with such finesse, weaving the fairy tales and the modern world together into a place full of possibility and transformation.”

Pea, Bee & Jay: Stuck Together by Brian “Smitty” Smith (9780062981172)

“Smith has created a madcap race of a book. Filled with all sorts of puns about peas and bees, the book’s writing is pure silliness.”

Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz (9780525552857)

“Goerz creates a mystery where all of the elements snap into place by the end and it also becomes about more than punishing a culprit, ending with new friendships and greater understanding.”

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (9781250171122)

“The writing is superb, the plotting is clever and clear. The art is phenomenal with race and gender playing major roles. The characters are deep, well conceived and very diverse.”

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (9780593125243)

“Knisley fills her book with small moments of life on a farm and in the country. Every person who lives, loves or tolerates the country will enjoy her depiction.”

Twins by Varian Johnson, illustrated by Shannon Wright (9781338236132)

“Sure to be popular, this graphic novel appears light but has lots of depth to explore about sisterhood.”

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed (9780525553908)

“Human, tragic and empowering, this book gives a human face to the many refugees in our world.”

Witchlight by Jessi Zabarsky (9780593124185)

“Set in a diverse medieval fantasy universe, this graphic novel demands that people of all races and abilities be seen and accepted.”

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter

Dungeon Critters by Natalie Reiss and Sara Goetter (9781250195463)

Join a band of brave heroes who adventure through dungeons and then take on more sinister threats above ground. There is Rose, the pun-flinging pink cat mage. June is the quieter dog healer who keeps the entire group alive. Goro is the big green creature who serves as the muscle. Finally, Jeremy is the frog with a sharp sword and a vendetta against The Baron. After finding a strange plant, our heroes must figure out how it is being used by The Baron to potentially take over the world. As they work through the threats and puzzles, the group steadily reveal themselves to the reader. Goro misses his boyfriend Horse Boy and Jeremy seems to be far more royal than he first appeared. Meanwhile, there is some romantic heat between Rose and June that plays out throughout the book.

Perfect for anyone who has spent time with Dungeons and Dragons or crawled through video game dungeons like World of Warcraft, this book is captivating. There is plenty of action for those who love that aspect of gaming, but really where this book shines is in the character development, just like any great D&D campaign. The inclusion of LGBT elements and full-on romance is marvelous. It’s a book sure to make everyone feel included in gaming, dungeons and even fancy dances.

The art is bright and dashing while the writing adds the joy of puns as well as moments that will have you laughing out loud. The two together make for a book that is a fast read because the action gallops along and readers will want to know what happens to these characters that they love.

Full of action, romance and humor, this is a dungeon worth crawling for. Appropriate for ages 10-14.

Reviewed from library copy.

Flamer by Mike Curato

Cover image for Flamer

Flamer by Mike Curato (9781250756145)

Aiden Navarro is fourteen and attending summer camp with his Boy Scout troop. He is leaving his Catholic Middle School and has decided to go to public high school, though he’s starting to dread what that means in terms of the bullying escalating even farther. After all, he doesn’t know how to dress himself since he’s been wearing a uniform to school for years. He also worries about how his sister is coping with his often abusive father now that Aiden is gone to camp. To make it all more complicated, Aiden is also gay and closeted. When he finds himself becoming attracted to one of his friends, Aiden has to decide whether to let him know or not. When things don’t go well, Aiden reaches a dark place that has him questioning how to go on.

Curato has created a graphic novel that really speaks to self discovery and learning how to survive. The setting of the summer camp really creates an atmosphere of freedom mixed with closely living with other boys his age. This can be a mix of exhilarating but also being unable to escape from bullying that targets Aiden’s sexuality. I applaud Curato for incorporating exactly the sorts of dirty jokes that boys in a group make together, all of them teasing about sexuality in a way that is damaging and hurtful.

The art in the book is done in black and white until the flames enter the pages. Those flames can be from bullying, from shame, from attraction, from rage. They all color Aiden’s life and therefore the pages. It’s highly effective, particularly as Aiden makes a decision about suicide.

A compelling look at a gay teen learning about himself and finding his core of fire. Appropriate for ages 12-15.

Reviewed from library copy.

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson

Cover image for The Fire Never Goes Out

The Fire Never Goes Out by Noelle Stevenson (9780062278272)

This deeply personal graphic memoir tells the author’s story of being a creative person in our modern world. Spanning from 2011 to 2019, the book explores her life as a young adult. Starting with her time in art school with its loneliness and her growing meltdowns and self harm, the book explore the darker side of her personality. Her inner flame of creativity and passion battles the hole that she sees as gaping right at her middle. Still, that darkness is offset by wonderfully mundane happy moments such as apple picking in the fall and watching TV with people she enjoys. As the years progress, that strain of darkness and depression vs. creativity and wild energy continues. Stevenson shares her huge accomplishments too such as publishing her first graphic novel to great acclaim and winning national awards for it and running a highly successful series for Netflix. Still, those never quiet the negative thoughts. After finally crashing to her lowest point, Stevenson emerges like a phoenix, a woman in love, getting married and carrying her fire with her still.

There is so much sheer honesty and vulnerability on these pages that it is breathtaking. The mix of Stevenson’s writing with her illustrations, many created at the time she is talking about, makes for a dynamic read where her skill as both writer and artist is evident on every page. Perhaps most telling is how her huge successes did not diminish her negative internal experience, instead perhaps accelerating the crash. Her honesty about self harm and struggles with mental illness is amazing.

Stevenson carefully stays away from generalizing her experience, instead keeping her memoir very personal and about her own journey through creativity and the way it can burn and destroy as well as build. Because of this, readers can see themselves in her, relate to her feelings and see a way forward that does not involve a complete loss of self or creativity. It’s a book of hope, for creative queer people in particular.

Strong, personal and empowering, this is a memoir is a courageous look at mental illness. Appropriate for ages 16-19.

Reviewed from library copy.