Yevgeny only seems to disappoint his parents who are rather desperate for him to find a natural gift that will let him escape Soviet Russia. They already know he’s not much of an athlete, unlike his older brother who is going to be a famous ice skater. When his mother takes him to see Mikhail Baryshnikov dance, Yevgeny tries to become a ballet dancer, practicing the movements in their tiny shared apartment. But what he truly loves to do is draw. Since he sleeps under the huge table, he steals his father’s pencil and draws on the bottom of the table where no one can see. Could those small doodles be the talent that his family has been waiting for? And what about the KGB agent who lives down the hall? And what happened to the grandfather whose pictures have been removed from the family album and no one speaks about? There are so many questions to be answered, but Yevgeny must be willing to start insisting on answers.
In this hilarious and touching book for middle grade readers, Yelchin shares a memoir of his own childhood in Russia during the Cold War. Yevgeny is a wonderful naïve protagonist, who doesn’t understand the immense political and social pressures hovering over his family and the entire Russian people. His misunderstandings of this and his growing desire for answers add tension to the story as readers will understand far more than he does.
As Yevgeny covers the bottom of the table with drawings, readers are shown Yelchin’s illustrations of his family and others in his life. They are humorous and filled with a wry charm that shows Yevgeny’s point of view.
Filled with an honesty about life in Cold War Russia, family expectations, and one gifted child. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
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.
Grimes writes a searing verse memoir of her years growing up with a mother suffering from alcoholism and schizophrenia. Removed from her mother at a young age and separated from her older sister, Grimes found a loving foster family where she discovered the power of writing her feelings and experiences out on paper. She visited her mother occasionally during that time and they were eventually reunited when her mother got sober and remarried. But it wasn’t that simple or easy. Grimes was trapped in a home filled with a cycle of addiction, mental illness and sexual abuse from her stepfather. Told with a strong sense of hope and resilience, this book is a brave look back into a traumatic childhood.
Grimes has created a book that carries readers back into her previous experiences, showing how she survived, how writing helped, and how she found hope and strength in people other than her mother. Grimes has recreated some of her childhood and teen journals which were destroyed. In these small glimpses told in the voice of her youth she shows her confusion and strength vividly.
Throughout the book, Grimes mentions that she doesn’t have clear memories of much of her youth due to the trauma that was inflicted upon her. Her willingness to explore such painful subjects even though her memories are incomplete or entirely gone is a concrete example of her resilient spirit and hope.
A powerful and poetic look at trauma and the building of a new life. Appropriate for ages 16-adult.
This memoir is done in a comic or graphic format. It’s the autobiography of Maia, who uses the pronouns e/em/eir. It tells the story of eir childhood growing up being assigned as a female gender at birth. From loving snakes to peeing outside to taking off eir shirt to go swimming along with the boys, Maia never conformed to gender stereotypes. Eir parents didn’t either, but Maia’s need to not be identified as female ran far deeper. Growing older, Maia had crushes on both boys and girls, and wondered if e was bisexual. Still, Maia had to continue to explore what dating, crushes, love, and sex meant to em until e realized what it meant to be nonbinary and asexual.
Kobabe shares so deeply in eir memoir. It is such a personal journey, filled with moments of deep connection and joy, the agony of pap smears, the constant questioning of identity, and then ending with incredible hope. This memoir was at first written to help eir family understand em, and it will work that way for those wanting to understand being gender nonbinary. It also aids in understanding asexuality and how that impacts relationships. Sex is handled with a refreshing frankness on the pages.
Kobabe’s art is very effective. E does full-page pieces that feature family members and other parts that read as fluid story telling in a more traditional way. These different approaches blend together into a dynamic format that invites readers into Kobabe’s life.
Vital and important, this memoir is tender and impactful. Appropriate for ages 16-adult.
Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson (9781534431515)
Hutchinson, author of several amazing novels for teens, shares a memoir of his teen years as he grapples with being gay and having depression. Hutchinson is open from the beginning of the book that it involves a suicide attempt. He states it with great empathy for both the reader and for his younger self. That tone of self-understanding plays through the novel, never allowing himself to become overly self-deprecating. Hutchinson speaks as a person engulfed in a society telling him that because he was gay, he was broken, focused only on sex, and would live a short life probably because of AIDS. Though he had a wonderful best friend, he could not see a future for himself. Along the way, he started to self harm, started smoking to gain a boy’s attention, and sunk deeper and deeper into depression and self loathing. The spiral is filled with pain and darkness, but the book is ultimately filled with hope and a way forward into life.
It is no surprise to his fans that Hutchinson has written a moving and deep memoir. However, it is amazing how far he is willing to explore his life as a teen, how open he is about all of the things he was feeling and experiencing, and how much he shares in these pages. He bares his entire soul here, in the hopes that it will help someone else find their way out of darkness too. I guarantee, it will.
Hutchinson shares how small decisions, individual conversations, new crushes, and tiny moments shape our lives. He is honest about how he damaged several relationships in his life, how he continued to be absent and self-absorbed, and how that too changed as he dealt with his depression. While it is a book of hope, it is also one about the hard work it takes to come back from the brink, how friends and family can help, and how some questions are simply too hard to ask.
Brave, fierce and incandescent. Appropriate for ages 15-19.
The award-winning author returns with a companion book to her memoir Enchanted Air. In this book, Engle writes in verse about her time in high school. Margarita thinks often of her time in her childhood spent in Cuba, but now that world is entire inaccessible to her and her family. As she attends high school in Los Angeles, Margarita dreams of traveling the world. She is also involved in the unrest of the 1960s as the issues of war, peace, civil rights, and freedom cause protests. Engle finishes high school and goes on to find her own winding path through college on her own terms. It is a memoir filled with hope, longing for peace, and a discovery of personal identity.
Engle is the national Young People’s Poet Laureate, a well-deserved honor given her body of work for children and teens. This second memoir takes a long look at the 1960s in America and the tensions between war and peace. She doesn’t shrink away from topics such as drug use. Her own path to a college degree will also help young people who may be wondering whether they have to go to Ivy League schools to succeed. The joy of finding teachers who are passionate and supportive eclipses the need for the school to be acclaimed.
As always Engle’s writing is exceptional. Here with the personal lens, it is all the more powerful and moving. There are poems that are intensely personal and others that take a less immediate and more philosophical view. The play of the two together allows the book to give a real look at her time growing up and the times of her youth.
Another amazing read by Engle, a poet to be celebrated. Appropriate for ages 13-17.
Reviewed from copy provided by Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Imagine by Juan Felipe Herrera, illustrated by Lauren Castillo (9780763690526)
Poet Laureate of the United States, Herrera here writes a poem that is filled with wonder and possibilities. He invites young readers into his own childhood, filled with tadpoles in creeks, sleeping outside, and feeding chickens. Though his childhood also had goodbyes to people when he moved away and fetching water through the forest. Herrera shares moving to the United States and learning English. Filling pages with words and ink, creating poems and songs. The book ends with him speaking on the steps of the Library of Congress and then asks readers to imagine what they could do.
Herrera’s poem is exquisitely crafted for young readers. He takes them on a full journey of his childhood, showing them the beautiful side, the hard work and the difficulties of learning a new language and moving to a new country. It is a powerful work just right for small children about immigration and the impact the immigrant voices have on our country in so many ways.
Castillo’s art is filled with a sense of memory and longing. She lights her pages with bright sunlight and then haunting moonlight appears. There is a sense of being a witness to Herrera’s life in her work, of watching things happen right at his shoulder. It’s a beautiful way to view someone’s life.
Rich, memorable and timely, this picture book is something special. Appropriate for ages 3-5.
Hey, Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka (9780545902472)
The author of the wildly popular Lunch Lady series has now created a graphic memoir of his childhood. Raised by his colorful grandparents, Jarrett grew up not understanding why he couldn’t see his mother more often. It turned out that she was in jail or recovery centers dealing with the consequences of her addiction. Jarrett didn’t even meet his father until his teens. Jarrett told only one friend when he found out that his mother was an addict, trying to keep the veneer of normalcy in place. He even tried to keep his grandparents from attending school events for the same reason. As Jarrett grew older and became focused on being an artist, he discovered who his father was and that he had two half-siblings. Soon his unusual family grew another branch.
The story here is personal and painful. It is a tale that so many children will relate to, that will show them how success can blossom from pain and how art can help to express that which can’t be said aloud. It is a brave book, one that tells tragic pieces of his life, and yet a hopeful one as well with the humor of his grandparents and the relationships Jarrett has and had with his extended family.
This graphic novel is quite simply gorgeous. It uses a color palette that is refined and limited, combining gray with a subtle orange. The entire feel of the art has a more clouded feel and less crisp lines than his previous work, creating a work that exudes memories and the not-so-distant past.
Personal, painful and profound, this graphic novel is honest and deep. Appropriate for ages 10-14.
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.)