Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green (9781941302415)
A harrowing look at anorexia from its very beginnings as a child through to new adulthood and its lingering effects even after recovery, this graphic novel is frank and honest about the illness. A personal memoir, Green tells the story of herself as a child in England being a picky eater and her parents trying to make her eat, of hiding food from them. As a teen, she became anorexic to the point of near death and potential hospitalization. She was pulled from school in order to regain her health. With the help of a nontraditional therapist, Katie did recover but only to find that he had been abusing her. Now her recovery was in peril and she began binge eating to stop the thoughts and feelings that overwhelmed her. Through a slow new recovery, Katie came to terms with food, emotions and being good to herself.
I read this book in a single sitting, unable to turn away from Katie’s very personal story of illness, recovery, setbacks and recovery once more. It’s not a small graphic novel, coming in at over 500 pages but once you begin it, it’s impossible to not know what happens to Katie in the end. She puts an incredibly human face on anorexia, showing readers an amazing vulnerability and strength on every page.
The art here is handled with a delicacy and subtlety that suits the subject well. Small changes in background color, show the difference between memory and current time in the story. The illness of anorexia is shown as a black cloud of tangled lines that follows Katie wherever she goes and takes over entire panels on the page. It is a particularly effective choice so that readers can see the struggle as something tangible.
Heartfelt and vibrantly personal, this graphic novel takes on difficult subjects with grace and care. Appropriate for ages 14-18. (E-galley received from Edelweiss and Lion Forge.)
Real Friends by Shannon Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (9781626724167, Amazon)
Newbery Honor winning author Hale tells the story of her own elementary-school years and the tensions of changing friendships. Shannon has been friends with Adrienne since they were little, but it all starts changing when Adrienne joins the popular kids, particularly Jen who leads The Group. The girls in the The Group vie for Jen’s attention and who will sit closest to her at lunch or at recess. Shannon loves to create stories but can’t seem to tell them without having someone with her. As the years pass, Shannon’s relationships with the other girls in The Group ebb and flow, with situations like bullying and sibling rivalry emerging as well. But what does it take to find real friends?
Hale takes all of the emotions and tensions of becoming a middle grader and honors them in her novel. By using her own personal experiences growing up, she has imbued the tale with personality and wit. It is filled with honesty and humor while not minimizing the drama of bad situations at all. This graphic novel is illustrated by award-winning illustrator Pham. The illustrations are friendly and bright. They reflect both the reality of Shannon’s life but also her rich imagination and the games and stories that emerge from it.
This is a book that will speak to all children in elementary school who are navigating the changes that come at that stage of life. Appropriate for ages 8-12.
Reviewed from ARC received from First Second.
Billy’s Booger by William Joyce (InfoSoup)
This memoir in picture book format celebrates the creativity of a child destined to become an author. William has trouble at school. He wishes math were as much fun as the comics in the newspaper. He wants to play invented sports in gym instead of the normal ones. Notes are sent home from school. Then along comes a creative writing contest and William is very excited. He works and works on his entry. It’s title is Billy’s Booger and it’s all about a booger in his nose that gets super powers. But when the prizes are given out, Billy doesn’t win any of them, not even honorable mention. He is devastated and starts to act like everyone else. When he’s returning all of the book he used for research for his own book, he hears laughter in the library and heads over to investigate. A group of kids is reading his book and the librarian tells him that out of all of the entries in the contest, his is the most popular! He may not have won the actual prizes, but got something even better.
Joyce tells the story with a wonderful tone. He explains the earlier time when he grew up and children played outside rather than at playdates, when there were only three channels on the TV, and when funnies in the paper were a huge part of your day. It is a memoir about a kid who doesn’t quite fit into the school mold. It’s less about the grownups and how they dealt with him, though that is there in the background and more about him as a child and what he loved to do even then. It’s a testament to following your dream, to doing what you love and what you have always loved.
The illustrations are done in Joyce’s signature style, one that embraces vintage elements but also shines with a modern feel too. My favorite part of the book was the insert with William’s book in it. Happily, the pages are made from construction paper that feels so different in your hand. When I turned the page and saw it I cheered aloud. It is such a change from the finished and lovely illustrations in the rest of the book to move to these rougher drawings and paper. What an important element to embrace.
Fans of Joyce will love this glimpse of him as a child and it may inspire children to try their own hands at writing. Get this funny book out when creative writing projects are coming to help inspire really creative responses. Appropriate for ages 7-9.
Reviewed from copy received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Enchanted Air: Two Cultures, Two Wings by Margarita Engle (InfoSoup)
Released August 4, 2015.
In this verse memoir, Engle tells the story of her childhood during the Cold War. With half of her family coming from Cuba and a grandmother who still lived there, Engle had a strong connection to Cuba. It was there that as a child she found herself, connected to the island culture and lifestyle, ran wild in nature, and discovered a quieter life. It contrasted with her life in Los Angeles, filled with bustle and crowded with people. Through both of these distinct worlds, she has a constant, her love of books and words. As the Bay of Pigs escalates, Engle fears for her island family and has to deal with the increased hatred of Cuba and Cubans in America. Cut off from family with the Cuban embargo, Engle can do little to help and again turns to her words to express herself.
Engle is one of the best verse novelists working today. While all of her previous books are splendid, this one is personal in a new way, one that offers up her heart. She shows her love of Cuba so vividly and so profoundly that her connection there runs through the entire novel. At the same time, she also shares the loneliness of a girl who likes books and words and who struggles to make friends at times. Add to that the political turmoil that has continued for decades and you have a book that could have been a tragedy but instead rises beyond that and straight into hope.
As always, Engle’s verse is exceptional. She captures emotions with a clarity in her verse that makes it immensely compelling to read. There are poems that show a pig being slaughtered on the farm in Cuba that makes it sound both brutal and delicious, the perfect mix of tempting and revolting. There are poems that capture the night sounds of Cuba and the longing for a horse of her own. They show the beauty of milking cows, the strength of a hard-working hand, the joy of connecting with a horse as you ride it. It all melts together into a picture of Cuba that is both personal and universal.
Give this to children who loved Brown Girl Dreaming for another verse memoir that is sure to inspire young readers to see the world in a more diverse and brilliant way. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Atheneum Books for Young Readers and Edelweiss.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Released April 2, 2013.
This memoir in graphic novel form details Lucy Knisley’s relationship and ongoing love affair with food throughout her childhood and young adulthood. With each chapter in the book showing an episode in her life that impacted how she related to food, Knisley has penned a book that is not at all about weight watching, but instead the story of how a gourmet is born. The daughter of a chef, Knisley grew up helping out at farm stalls and working at her mother’s catering jobs. She also details how her mother both introduced her to the wonders of food in both taste and the way it can connect people. Each chapter ends with a recipe, showing readers how to create their own sushi or navigate selecting a great cheese.
Knisley’s style is reminiscent of that of Raina Telgemeier with characters who are drawn with an innate humor but also a profound affection. Knisley writes of her relationship with food in particular, but the book is also a love letter to her mother and the impact she had on Knisley throughout her life. I am profoundly grateful for a book about a girl’s relationship with food that does not contain even a moment of weight concern or dieting. Instead it is about finding or creating great food in one’s life.
Funny and delicious, this book is sure to whet the appetite for more books by Knisley. Get it into the hands of teens who enjoyed the books by Telgemeier. Appropriate for ages 14-17.
Reviewed from digital galley received from Macmillan Children’s Publishing.