Navigating middle school is no easy task, especially for future actress Heart Lamarr. Not only does she have to deal with the pressures of performing in her school’s latest musical, there are tests to be taken, friendships to forge, holidays to celebrate, and preteen milestones to accomplish. Comic readers can explore the world of Heart and her little niche of friends in Heart Takes the Stage: A Heart of the City Collection, Vol. 1 by Steenz.

Middle schooler Heart Lamarr is ready for the stage. However, the wannabe actress needs to focus more on her craft than her award acceptance speeches. Lucky for her, she has a small group of friends who are willing and able to help her hone her skills. There’s free spirited Kat with her great advice, theater techie Charlotte’s knowledge of stage productions, and pop culture enthusiast Dean’s insight on the acting style of William Shatner (which may or may not be as helpful as he believes it to be). But her premiere performance on the stage is not the only moment Heart will be experiencing. With teacher strikes, preteen party planning, ear piercings, detention, and Dean’s trail of lies, Heart and her friends will be very busy as the school year continues.

Even though this collection of short comics may look appealing, young readers may have difficulty enjoying it. The artwork of Steenz includes a diverse cast of students, parents, and teachers of different identities and races and her character’s actions flow from panel to panel. The artist uses panel placement similar to that found in newspaper comics, with characters completing a scene, ususally in four panels. However, there are some issues with the main character Heart and the comic’s various storylines. In most scenes, Heart is your typical preteen girl who fails to listen to directions and wants to be part of the newest trend. She is also shown to be self-centered and obsessive with her interests. Readers will fail to find anything relatable to this character, even those who have experience in theater work. It seems that Heart either does not learn from her mistakes or the latest drama she is experiencing is resolved too quickly. Pop culture references from John Wick to Kristin Chenoweth to Disney’s Gargoyles are abundant in each storyline, but young readers who are not familiar with some of the references being used will be lost in understanding their importance in the storylines.

All in all, Heart Takes the Stage will be difficult for most school and public librarians to sell to their patrons. There is nothing that makes it stand out from other middle school comics, especially those that follow the same panel work as a newspaper comic strip. Graphic novel and comic readers in middle school, especially in grades 4-6, may give it a try, but will find its humor lacking and characters unrelatable.

Heart Takes the Stage: A Heart of the City Collection, Vol. 1
By Steenz
Andrews McMeel, 2022
ISBN: 9781524871598

Publisher Age Rating: 8-14

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

  • Gloria

    | She/Her Children's Librarian, Elmont Memorial Library

    Gloria is a full-time children’s librarian at the Elmont Memorial Library in Long Island, New York where she runs a monthly STEAM program, a graphic novel book club, and storytime for preschoolers. During her free time, she is found reading anything and everything from the classics, to poetry, to the newest best seller. Her other interests include writing, online games, exploring new areas in her home state, and spending time with friends, family, and colleagues. She has also written articles and reviews for the website Cosplay, Comics, and Geek Culture in Libraries and on her personal Goodreads page.

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