Long Distance by Whitney Gardner

Cover image for Long Distance.

Long Distance by Whitney Gardner (9781534455665)

The author of Fake Blood returns with another fantastical graphic novel. Vega’s parents have moved her from Portland to Seattle, leaving behind her best friend. Vega loves astronomy, something she shared with her best friend. She still has her telescope, but no one to watch the stars with. To help her transition to her new home, Vega’s parents send her off to a summer camp designed to help her make new friends. Vega isn’t interested in making new friends, so she is stand offish to the other kids. As things around camp get stranger, including a camper who changes his appearance regularly to try to make friends, rocks that are speakers, no cellphone service, and really strange food, Vega must join forces with the other campers to figure out what is actually going on.

Gardner’s middle-grade graphic novel is a genuine look at moving away from friends and the struggle to regain your footing and make new ones. Gardner though takes it much farther explaining the weirdness of all summer camp experiences in a fresh way. When all is revealed at the end of the book, readers will have the satisfaction of having figured it out along with Vega and the other characters. The pacing of the different elements is nicely done as is the consistent look at loneliness and friendship throughout.

Gardner’s art style is bold and clear. She offers readers a diverse cast of characters, including Vega herself who is a character of color and also has two fathers for parents. The format feels larger than most with some of the images taking up the entire page with great impact. The entire book feels effortlessly modern.

A perfect summer read, particularly for those who have done summer camps. Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from copy provided by Simon & Schuster.

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.

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence

Star Scouts by Mike Lawrence (9781626722804, Amazon)

Avani’s father has signed her up for Flower Scouts so that she can make friends in her new town. But all of the other girls are interested only in talking about makeup and boys. Then Avani is accidentally teleported into space by an alien named Mabel, who is working on her own badges for her scout troop. Being a Star Scout like Mabel is a whole lot more interesting than being a Flower Scout, so Avani starts joining them instead of her earth-bound scouts. As Avani learns to build robots, teleport things, drive space ships, and race jetpacks, she finds a place where she fits in. Now she just needs to get her father to sign off on a permission slip for her to go to Camp Andromeda for a week!

This friendly science fiction graphic novel is filled with humor and lots of action. Avani is a main character of color with her Indian heritage that plays a role throughout the graphic novel in things like language and food. She is game for the entire adventure, allowing herself to try new things, push herself to learn and even form a real rivalry with another troop of scouts.

The art is playful and fun with the dialogue working well to move the book forward at a fast pace that will please young readers. There is lots of action, plenty of space exploration and even camp pranks and jokes. The pleasure is in seeing camping tropes used on an asteroid by alien creatures.

Funny and warm, this graphic novel has strong STEM overtones and even a few poop jokes. Appropriate for ages 8-12.

Reviewed from copy received from First Second.

 

Review: Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash

Released September 8, 2015.

Maggie attends the same summer camp that her mother did and her grandmother did. Camp Bellflower for Girls is one of the oldest camps in the South, and nothing has changed there since it was founded in 1922. Maggie spends her summer with friends she made there previous years. She hates the tether she has to wear to keep herself from sleepwalking at night and she’s really into the Backstreet Boys. Maggie lies the rifle range and finds herself getting better at shooting at least when she can stop herself from thinking too much. That gets a lot harder when she notices Erin, a counselor in the younger girls’ camp. Maggie struggles with her feelings for Erin and though she tries to disguise what she is feeling, other girls at camp notice. Some are supportive while others think that it is very wrong. As Maggie’s summer plays out, she finds ways to deal with the pressure of the rifle range, an angry rival, and also to explore her sexuality.

Thrash’s memoir is told with a broad humor about Christian summer camp and how it feels to be a girl different from most of the others there. At the same time, the humor is never pointed and the girls around Maggie are supportive most of the time and in their own ways. Some want to protect Maggie from her crush, others want to just tease. Yet there is no hate here, which is very refreshing. Thrash also does a nice job of allowing a crush to play out, naturally and tantalizingly. Their feelings for one another are clear even as they themselves feel confused by them. The result is a book about the confusion of being a teen, the tensions of both friendships and attractions with the added dimension of being a lesbian. It is a beautifully done memoir.

Thrash’s book is in full color, but the advanced copy I received is in black and white only. Even with that limited color palette, the illustrations are clear and clever. The characters are unique on the page, which is not easy to do with a camp full of teen girls. Each has a distinguishing feature and it all works so that heroine, her crush, her rival, her friend and others are easily recognized. Throughout the entire book, a river of humor carries through and that same humor is evident in the illustrations. This is a book that could have been heavy and still is emotionally charged. The humor helps that be bearable and makes the book a great read.

A strong and important graphic memoir, this book belongs in every public library graphic novel collection for teens who will enjoy meeting such a strong protagonist. Appropriate for ages 12-14.

Reviewed from ARC received from Candlewick Press.

Review: Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson

lumberjanes

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.

Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown

Lunch Lady and the Summer Camp Shakedown by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

A fourth book in the spectacularly funny Lunch Lady series, this book returns with the same formula of humor and action.  In this book, Lunch Lady is working at a summer camp that the Breakfast Bunch kids just happen to be attending.  This is not going to be the relaxing summer they all expected!  A swamp monster is on the loose at camp, coming out only at night.  Now Lunch Lady and the kids have to once again join forces to find out who is behind the attacks.

The puns here are just as funny as in all of the previous books.  They are guaranteed to have readers groaning and then sharing them aloud with friends.  The art is just as simple and fun too, sticking to the limited color palette that marks this clearly as a Lunch Lady book. 

A winning addition to a very popular series, every library should have this series for young graphic novel fans.  Appropriate for ages 7-10.