Navigating senior year is hard enough already, but having to choose between living the life you want for yourself and living the life others think is right for you is a level up in difficulty. Nothing makes Noah feel more like himself than designing and sewing clothing, but his public servant parents are adamantly against him attending art school to pursue a career in costuming. Azarie has gotten very good at playing the part of the perfect mayor’s daughter, helping keep up the “traditional” family facade her father projects to the public as he runs for re-election, but deep down, she just wants to read comics and play video games. 

When the two teens from very different worlds accidentally run into each other at the mall, it turns out they’re not so different after all: they both just want to realize their dreams. But unfortunately for them, not everyone else supports them. As Noah and Azarie navigate their double lives and work together towards a common goal, will their new friendship and confidence in themselves hold strong? Or will the actions of those determined to maintain the status quo unravel it all?

Though teens struggling to find and be themselves while under the constraints and expectations of their parents is not a new concept in teen stories, it feels fresh in David Pinckney’s Needle & Thread. The narrative decision to have Noah and Azarie stay purely platonic friends is refreshing and important, and keeps it from falling back onto the star-crossed lovers trope that so easily can happen when characters are from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds (Noah is Afro-Latine and middle class, Azarie is White and wealthy). Their friendship and character development as they discover who they are together and apart is one of the strongest aspects of the story, and readers will root for them as their bond gets tested by outside influences.

Cosplay and the world of cons are starting to crop up more in teen stories and it’s nice to see it presented as just a thing that the friends are doing, and not something that is completely out there or niche. The many scenes of Noah, Azarie, and the Cosplay Squad working on Azarie’s costume for the contest (and Noah’s portfolio) will absolutely ring true to readers who are involved in fandoms and cosplay themselves.

But of course, there could be no Needle & Thread without artist Ennun Ana Iurov’s lovely illustrations. Her line work has a pen and ink style that gives the art a fashion sketch vibe—a perfect choice for this graphic novel’s themes. The muted pastel color palette is absolutely gorgeous, and has a softness which feels right for the introspective aspect of much of the story. And yet there is still such a liveliness to the characters as she depicts both the humor and drama of teenagers trying to just exist as they are. Additionally, an especially creative touch is the intro page for each new chapter: each one has a drawing of a character’s cell phone home screen, giving little context clues like time of year (to help move the story along) and additional story teasers via social media notifications complete with hashtags, or incoming message snippets.

Teens feel pressure from a myriad of sources telling them who to be and what paths to choose. Finding the confidence to assert yourself in a world full of adults who think they know what’s best for you in order to grab hold of at least a little piece of a dream is something both Noah and Azarie strive to do. Maybe, by adding Needle & Thread to your collection, a reader might feel seen or heard enough to try for a little of that confidence too.

Needle & Thread
By David Pinckney
Art by Ennun Ana Iurov
Mad Cave Studios, 2021
ISBN: 9781952303234

Publisher Age Rating: Grade 7-9

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  African-American
Character Representation: African-American, Latine

  • Maddi

    | she/her Youth Services Librarian

    Reviewer

    Maddi is a Youth Services Librarian at the Charlotte & William Bloomberg Medford Public Library in Massachusetts, where she runs the library’s GSA for teens in grades 6-9, two graphic novel book clubs (one for teens and one for 4th and 5th graders), drawing classes for kids and teens, storytimes, and more. She is also responsible for collection development for the teen graphic novel collection, where (in alignment with the rest of the coworkers in her department) she makes it her mission to amplify queer, BIPOC, neurodivergent, and disabled voices. When she’s not at the library, you’ll likely find her: singing in two queer choirs, drawing or hand lettering something, curled up with a book, or spending time with her girlfriend and friends. Maddi runs the MPL GSA Tumblr at mplchameleon, and tweets bookish things at @littlebrarian.

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