ManuManu is no ordinary girl. Manu is cursed.

Manu is a standalone graphic novel that focuses on Manuela Santos (Manu) and her struggle to fit in and discover herself and her magic powers. Manu’s adventures take place at a magic, Catholic school for girls in Santo Domingo. Manu is a troublemaker, often causing various mishaps in her magic classes. Her teachers (the Sisters) determine that Manu is cursed. Her best friend, Josefina, is supportive but critical of Manu, believing her powers might cause her to hurt herself or others. One day, her friend Josefina wishes for Manu’s powers to go away. Coincidentally, Manu suddenly loses her powers. In an attempt to restore her magic, she must venture into the dark forest and embark on a treacherous mission. This is an emotional, occasionally funny story of a girl in a dark place on the precipice of adolescence. Manu is an outcast, separated from the rest of her classmates. 

Author Kelly Fernández’s writing works well for the plot. The illustrations are detailed and work well to enhance the story. Fernández conveys emotion in her text by the use of breaks. It is easy to know when a character is nervous or hesitant to speak. The text also incorporates sound effects to emphasize action. Some of the passages are in Spanish, which adds a dimension to the writing. This is seen when characters recite prayers out of emotion or wish a simple good morning to their teachers. The author weaves in elements from her own Dominican American heritage, including many parts of religion and folklore. A demonic goat is seen as both a character and also in a scene of demonic possession. We also observe various characters transfiguring themselves into animals.

Although the plot has dark elements, humor is also incorporated. Manu’s hilarious mishaps with magic cause mangoes to explode all over her classmates and she also proceeds to make a plant and cake grow uncontrollably. One way that Manu tries to regain her powers is by dousing herself in fish guts. Manu sits stone faced in the back of the classroom and we observe a horrified sister trying to hold her breath from the smell. This is an allusion to puberty that almost anyone can relate to, one of many clever ways the book relates magic to the adolescent experience.

The art, also by Kelly Fernández, makes great use of warm tones, reflecting the drama of the plot. The illustrations are extremely detailed. We see every floorboard detail in Manu’s classroom and also the details on the houses in the outside town. This works well for the graphic novel as it allows the readers to immerse themselves into this fantastical world.

I would recommend Manu in any public library collection. It has strong female characters with a relevant story for children about facing challenges and working through them. There are also strong themes of friendship. The Dominican characters exhibit a realistic range of skin tones. Manu has darker skin and puffy hair. I would recommend this book for older children and younger teens. The subject matter of demons and dark magic might be unsuitable for a young audience.


Manu
By Kelly Fernández
Scholastic Graphix, 2021
ISBN: 9781338264197
Publisher Age Rating: 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)

  • Meghan

    | she/her Children's Librarian

    Reviewer

    Meghan Fangmann is a Children's Librarian at Syosset Library in Long Island, New York. She runs graphic novel book clubs and storytimes at her library. In her spare time, she enjoys reading the latest Manga, Anime, and graphic novel titles.

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