Tuva is 12 and in that middle school limbo that we all know well: her two best friends reflect the sides of her struggle. One wants to grow up and pursue a romance with a boy, the other wants to stay a kid and build forts in the forest. Tuva falls in the middle – she wants a little of both in her life but mostly she just wants to be herself and not have to define who that is. Mariam is the new girl in school and as Tuva is starting to feel distant from her friends, she develops feelings for Mariam.
Cross My Heart & Never Lie is a charming and heartwarming graphic novel about a young girl’s journey of self-discovery during her transition to adolescence. The story is told in the form of a diary, as Tuva confides in her readers about her feelings of not being like other girls her age, her developing crush on Mariam, and her struggles to navigate the ever-changing landscape of middle school friendships. The book’s pacing is leisurely, with dynamic, full-page images interspersed between pages of text and action, creating a sense of time unfolding unhurriedly.
Dåsnes’s illustrations are simple yet expressive, perfectly capturing the mood and tone of the story. The pastel palette – heavy on the pinks and purples – adds a touch of sweetness and innocence, while the handwritten font gives the reader the feeling of peeking into Tuva’s most private thoughts. Nora Dåsnes is a Norwegian author and although the main character reads as white, there is some diversity among the supporting characters. One of Tuva’s best friends is Vietnamese and although her ethnicity is never identified in the text, Mariam is depicted as a person of color.
The graphic novel tackles several themes that are sure to be relatable to middle schoolers, including friendship, identity, and self-acceptance, sensitively and inclusively. The characters are believably multidimensional: Tuva and her peers act out and show kindness in turns. Dåsnes handles Tuva’s challenges with grace and compassion. We don’t necessarily expect Tuva to fall in love with a girl, but it happens naturally, and she is also lucky enough to have a lot of caring eyes around her.
Overall, Cross My Heart & Never Lie is an insightful graphic novel that is sure to resonate with young readers. It is a perfect read for anyone who is feeling lost or confused amid pre-adolescence, or for anyone who simply enjoys a heartwarming story about friendship and self-discovery. Cross My Heart & Never Lie is a great choice for readers of all ages, but it is especially well-suited for middle schoolers and young adults. Fans of Raina Telgemeier, Lucy Knisley, and other graphic novelists who write about the challenges and joys of growing up will love this book.
Cross My Heart & Never Lie
By Nora Dåsnes
Hippo Park, 2023
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)