The 1980s is considered by many to be a renaissance for movies featuring martial arts. Sure, there were heroes with bulging biceps, quotable one-liners, and very large guns, but there were also action stars who needed no real acting experience, just a black belt in a given martial art. Those movies might not have aged well, and some may even laugh at the unintentional comedy of martial artist/movie starts like Steven Seagal or Jean Claude Van Damme these days, but Eight Limbs, written by Stephanie Phillips and illustrated by Giulia Lalli, might owe some of its narrative DNA to the martial arts movie formula. Rather than being a throwback, however, Phillips’ story updates the martial arts story for this century.
Joanna Carr was a Muay Thai champion until she lost her title in a brutal fight. She went into retirement to raise a family and open her own gym. Joanna seems content to raise her family to train other fighters until a longtime friend asks Joanna to take in troubled foster teen Mari. Joanna soon begins mentoring the girl, training her how to fight. When a misunderstanding drives Mari away, she soon gets involved with a dangerous underground fighting ring. Now, Joanna must step into the ring and fight to rescue her protégé.
Fans of martial arts movies might find the plot rather familiar: a fighter gives up on fighting only to be forced to step back into the ring when everything is on the line. Phillips, however, completely excludes the toxic masculinity and avoids the cliche of a climactic martial arts battle that leaves one or both combatants near death. The crux of this story is the steadily growing bond between Mari and Joanna and how that bond is tested. The martial art of Muay Thai is more a way to give Mari and Joanna the focus and discipline needed to overcome the problems they both face, rather than just another way to pummel a human body into hamburger.
Muay Thai is also known as the art of eight limbs, hence the book’s title. The Muay Thai fighter uses two fists and two feet like other martial arts, but the fighter can use brutal knee strikes and punishing elbow strikes on their opponents, and this fighting style is beautifully depicted by Lalli, showing everything from the fighter’s stance to a freeze frame of a kick connecting. The artwork isn’t quite the hyperkinetic action one would find in an anime, but its grounded depiction of one-on-one combat grounds the overall story.
This book is made for those with a martial arts mindset, but it’s less about Mortal Kombat-style fatalities and more about the spiritual side of martial arts, how martial arts help people discover who they are, what they’re capable of, and especially what is important in life. Joanna might not be doing feats that made Seagal and Van Damme famous, but one could argue that she is a more evolved form of martial artist for this more emotionally and socially aware time.
Eight Limbs By Stephanie Phillips Art by Giulia Lalli Humanoids Life Drawn, 2023 ISBN: 9781643375861
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Bad Medicine is essentially fairly good medicine—a graphic novel celebrating oral storytelling, Cree folklore, friendship, with five creative teens around a campfire by the river, telling horrific tales. The stories are cautionary tales that become more and more spooky as the teens try to excel each other’s stories and telling skills evoking monsters such as impish little folk, ghosts, shapeshifters, and demons from local folklore.
The first tale is told about the vivid experiences of a man fishing in the river in close proximity to the campfire where they are sitting. Although one of the teens protests from the onset that the story is not true, the others are a willing audience to the tale of the man and his fatal adventures with the small trickster beings in the river. The teens are spooked but ready for the next story which “is true, at least.” This tale is also eerie, but the malevolent creature in it is much too human and the story much too familiar for many young Indigenous women on their own. The third story begins in the daylight but, once again, the tale takes a very dark turn with the audience left feeling uncomfortable and uneasy at its conclusion. The supernatural in this story is perhaps not as frightening as the other evil creatures in the previous tales, but perhaps that depends on your perspective. Before the next storyteller takes a turn, one of the teens leaves the campfire to go home, not because he wants to leave but, as the others explain, because he needs to protect his sisters. His story is told next, but not as something that happened in the past. The horror is, unfortunately, much too authentic, happening to him over and over again each evening when he finally is at home. After he leaves, the four remaining teens safely extinguish the fire and make their way home in the dark. They are feeling satisfied with the evening and plan to tell more stories around the fire at a later date.
Brief and natural conversations around the campfire between each of the tellings and among the teens put the stories in context and make the reader feel that perhaps they too are sitting around the fire with the storytellers. The illustrations have simple unadorned backdrops that, at the same time, establish the distinct setting for each tale. The illustrations accentuate the natural world surrounding the teens as well as real-life concerns that also envelop them as they make their way in the modern world. The rectangular panels are coloured with a mostly subdued palette with the exception of the first tale, which offers bright yellows that fade away to the darker hues of browns and black for the remaining episodes. I did have a little trouble telling characters apart at times.
Writer and illustrator Christopher Twin is from the Swan River First Nations reservation in northern Alberta, Canada. He is a freelance illustrator and comic book artist currently living in Edmonton. He focuses on telling stories, both in text and illustration, of social and cultural divides and life as a mixed-race individual.
This graphic novel is suitable for a teen audience who like horror, scary stories, and realistic fiction featuring Indigenous people. Highly recommended for First Nation collections, those interested in the art of storytelling, and local Alberta lore.
Bad Medicine Vol. By Christopher Twin Emanata, 2023 ISBN: 9781772620870
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Canadian, Cree Character Representation: Canadian, Cree
For many in the United States, there are huge portions of national history that remain obscure, if not forgotten entirely. Thankfully, there are educators and creators working to fix that problem.
Ten Speed Graphic brings us Sí, Se Puede: The Latino Heroes Who Changed the United States. The comic opens with a set of guests arriving at an immersive museum experience dedicated to preserving Latino history. They are immediately welcomed by Camilo, who serves as guide to these characters and the reader through centuries of Latino history. From the early Aztec and Mayan empires right up until the modern day, the book covers politics, sports, entertainment, science, social movements—a whole range of places in society where Latinos have left their mark. Along this journey, the immersive nature of the museum drops the characters into vibrant recreations of key moments with a readily accessible mix of factual information and natural dialogue about the process of learning a history so often overlooked.
Written by Julio Anta, the book is upfront that its primary purpose is one of celebration. From broad cultural achievements to specific individuals who have shaped the nation, the book is brimming with cultural pride for the rich heritage it describes. Even with its primary focus being educational, the text never feels like a dry recitation of facts. The information is direct, but its delivery is bursting with energy befitting a celebration of Latino culture. In broad strokes, it’s a familiar style for other educational materials aimed at youth, though never so juvenile in tone that older teens or adults will be put off.
The book touches lightly on some of the terrible hardships and atrocities faced by Latino communities of the past and present, but these are not dwelled on, as Anta keeps the primary focus on the success and endurance of these historical figures. It’s a complex topic to distill down to a single volume. The text does touch on useful and sometimes uncomfortable considerations when discussing such a broad group of people—debates about terminology, colonialism, colorism, and often conflicting worldviews that have complicated the Latino journey throughout time. The book is not a complex examination of the figures it highlights, nor does it claim to be. It is not intended to be the final word on any of the subject matter it illuminates. Rather, it feels as though Anta positions the text as a first step, to ignite pride in Latino history and encourage the curiosity to dive deeper.
Yasmín Flores Montañez provides the illustrations throughout the volume, and each page of art captures a colorful palate of diverse people and rich history. Balancing moments of triumph with the multitude hardships Latinos have had to overcome, the visuals keep pace with the shifting tone of the writing, propelling the reader along with the museum guide and guests. Emotions and action are clear, the art is a pleasure to look over, and the representations of individuals across the pages show a full spectrum of skin colors, body types, ages, and genders. Through each chapter, Montañez matches the pride and energy of the writing, bringing these chapters of history to life in dramatic fashion.
Whether Latino or not, any reader seeking more familiarity with Latino heritage or forgotten moments of history will find plenty to enjoy here. The cultural pride is evident as each new story unfolds and it is both enlightening and emotional to gain insight into this wide range of figures who have changed modern life in sometimes subtle and sometimes dramatic ways—figures whose names are unknown by far too many. There is plenty more depth that could be provided about the information presented here, but Anta and Montañez succeed in their primary goal: to celebrate the tapestry of Latino history and welcome readers into a better understanding of the threads that make up the whole. The volume ends with an index of topics and a list of additional resources for anyone wishing to dive deeper, while the finale of the narrative seeks to empower Latino readers to embrace the strength of their own heritage.
As an entry point into the subject, as a work of graphic nonfiction, and as a celebration of the proud history of a rich ethnic heritage, Sí, Se Puede is a work well worth adding to any collection and can hopefully serve as a jumping-off point for further conversation, learning, and celebration of the vital diversity that has shaped the United States since its founding.
Sí, Se Puede: The Latino Heroes Who Changed the United States By Julio Anta Art by Yasmín Flores Montañez Ten Speed Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781984860910
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Colombian, Cuban, Puerto Rican Character Representation: Black, Latinx, Queer, Genderqueer, Trans
It might be hard to believe, but there was a time when Marvel superheroes weren’t necessarily everywhere. They couldn’t be streamed directly into your television any time you wanted. Many of these heroes may have already found their way onto lunchboxes and underwear, but the one place kids were guaranteed to find their adventures was on the comics rack. For a few cents from a hard-earned allowance, a kid could catch up on the latest adventures of Spider-Man and the Fantastic Four. This is the world Patrick McDonnell, creator of the comic strip Mutts, remembers fondly and his book The Super Hero’s Journey clearly shows his love for these heroes.
Doctor Doom has realized another nefarious plot that will bring him closer to his goal of world domination. Superheroes are too busy arguing with each other to stop Doom’s plans; things look dire. Luckily, Uatu the Watcher has decided he must no longer merely watch and must once again interfere (his usual M.O., honestly) in order to set things right, all while creator McDonnell illustrates what these comics truly mean to him and why they have stood the test of time.
This particular work is hard to categorize. If just looking at the overall plot, it seems like a book that could be stuck in a library’s children’s department until a well-meaning parent checks it out for their child to read. However, McDonnell is doing more than just reskinning a story and calling it his own. He’s incorporated biographical information about himself and how as a child he was drawn to these heroes. He’s brought in quotes from deeply spiritual writers like Eckart Tolle and Henry David Thoreau. This book is less a story on defeating Doctor Doom than it is defeating mental and spiritual obstacles that hold humanity back, an idea he claims that Marvel books illustrate. This deceptively simple story is a love letter to the Marvel Universe that also introduces a discussion of what these stories say about the human and superhuman condition.
The panels McDonnell chooses also illustrate that this is more than just another story where superheroes ban together to stop a greater threat (no offense to Thanos and Avengers: End Game). The panels incorporated into this book show his admiration for comic book luminaries like Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko. McDonnell also inserts his own drawings, which add a surprising humanity to these superhumans. Uatu goes from looking like an omniscient cosmic being to just a Good Samaritan who wants to help the people he’s found stranded on the road.
While this book would be ideal for any adult collection frequented by patrons who love not just the Marvel movies but the Marvel books of yore, it might also be a hard sell for some. Librarians may find they have to contextualize the book, explaining that, although McDonnell might be known for a comic strip with cute animals, this super hero’s journey is quite ambitious.
The Super Hero’s Journey By Patrick McDonnell Abrams, 2023 ISBN: 9781419769108
Publisher Age Rating: Preschool and up NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are best friends, muddling through high school together. In the previous volume, the four girls worked together to get their high school to carry free menstrual products in the girls’ bathrooms. Now, Abby is determined to go further: to convince the school to carry the products in all bathrooms so that trans and nonbinary students can access them. Meanwhile, Sasha is so wrapped up in her boyfriend that her grades are slipping, which hurts her self-esteem. Brit is dealing with endometriosis and with two boys vying for her attention. And Christine is still not ready to come out to everyone—or to admit she has a massive crush on Abby.
Educating readers about menstrual issues is part of the authors’ goal, so it’s perhaps not surprising that this volume, like the first one, can be a little didactic. At the beginning, Brit explains endometriosis to her friends, accompanied by cartoon diagrams of a uterus. After that, though, Look on the Bright Side focuses mostly on crushes. Christine is scared to confess her feelings to Abby; Abby isn’t sure about her own orientation; and Brit finds herself reenacting Pride and Prejudice with two boys in her class. (Despite being a huge fan of the BBC Pride and Prejudice miniseries, Brit never comments on how closely her love life parallels that story: she is torn between a grumpy-but-noble boy named Fitz and a charming scoundrel named Jorge.)
All the protagonists are imperfect but good-hearted and easy to root for. They make mistakes and struggle with misunderstandings and fears, but they overcome these challenges with help from each other and from their families. While the girls’ friendship is central to the book, we also get at least a glimpse of each girl’s family, all of whom seem loving and supportive. Their school environment, too, seems positive. The high school has a new principal since the events of the last book and there is an active LGBTQ+ club.
The art is colorful, with a simplified cartoon style. The characters are all distinct, in part because they include a variety of races and body types. The backgrounds include enough detail to set the scenes, which are generally at school, outside, or at the girls’ homes. The focus, though, is on the characters. Despite the simplicity of their designs, they are expressive—important in a book with so many emotional plotlines. Their feelings are often underscored by scribbles or smudgy textures in the backgrounds of the panels, especially when the characters are stressed.
There are lots of crushes in this book, but no nudity or sexual content beyond a couple of quick kisses. There is one discussion in which the girls joke about wishing for bigger or smaller boobs. Characters discuss attraction, but not in terms more explicit than, “I think she’s cute.”
Despite being set in high school, this book fits nicely among the many popular graphic novels depicting the trials of middle school life. That’s a good thing, because middle school readers may benefit most from clear discussion of menstrual issues. And while this book does drop a fair amount of information on endometriosis, it centers on friendships, romance, helping others, and figuring out life. The heroines are relatable and kind. This volume can stand alone, but reading Go with the Flow first will provide some context (and a lot more menstrual information). Hand both books to fans of authors like Raina Telgemeier, Megan Wagner Lloyd, and Kayla Miller.
Look on the Bright Side By Lily Williams Art by Karen Schneeman Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250834119
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14 NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: African-American, Lesbian, Queer
History tells us of a violent feud between two clans in Feudal Japan—the blood-thirsty Akuno and the peaceful Omura. Though they were outmatched, the leaders of the Omura did not fear, for they had the power of prophecy on their side. Their legends told of a stranger with snow-colored skin, who would come in their time of greatest need and lead them to victory over their ancestral enemy.
This did not come to pass.
Unfortunately, the first snow-skinned stranger who came to the Omura was Captain Nathan Garin of the US Army. An idiot and a drunkard, Captain Garin led the Omura into battle, where they were promptly slaughtered. Since then, the Omura are largely forgotten, save as an example of how not to fight a war.
This history is largely meaningless to Todd Parker, a Japanese American professor of film history. His grandfather told him tales of the Omura, but he never expected it to be relevant to his life. Then again, Todd never expected to travel through time to feudal Japan while chasing the woman who stole his wallet, either. Now, on the eve of the final battle between the Akuno and the Omura, it is up to Todd to rewrite history and convince his ancestors of the folly of their beliefs.
White Savior is one of the most metatextual works of fiction I have ever read. Author and artist Eric Nguyen makes it clear how annoyed he is by the plethora of fiction in which a modern man uses his advanced knowledge to avert disaster. This applies to both historical fiction where a white savior is charmed by a different culture and the speculative fiction where a time traveler uses their knowledge of the future and technology to save the day.
Nguyen is not alone in this annoyance. The trope was prominent enough among classic science fiction that Mark Twain satirized it in 1889 with A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I find this a fitting comparison because White Savior, much like the Mark Twain novel, is only saved from being preachy by being uproariously funny. What Blazing Saddles was to the Western, White Savior aspires to be to movies like The Last Samurai.
While the script by Nguyen and co-author Scott Burman tackles the racism of the white savior trope, he also mocks the time travel savior through his hero, Todd Parker. Far from full of helpful knowledge of the future, Todd mostly snarks about his misfortune and makes pop culture references nobody understands. He also breaks the fourth wall to a degree that would shame Mel Brooks.
Nguyen’s artwork is as sharp as his satire. He does a fine job illustrating the architecture and armor of feudal Japan. The colors by Iwan Joko Triyono are also good.
Dark Horse Comics rated this volume as 14+. I think that is a perfect rating, as the sophomoric tone and sarcastic examination of tired tropes is ideally suited to the cynical teen audience. There is some bloodshed and adult language, as well as some suggestive remarks when Todd wakes up to find himself being bathed by several women in a scene he is quick to say he is positive is not historically accurate.
White Savior By Eric Nguyen, Scott Burman Art by Eric Nguyen Dark Horse, 2023 ISBN: 9781506736273
Publisher Age Rating: 14+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Japanese-American Character Representation: Japanese-American
Known as the Silent Witch because of her ability to cast magic without vocal chants, Monica Everett leaves her secluded station to attend Serendia Academy. But she isn’t attending to learn, she’s there to secretly protect the second prince, Prince Felix Ridill at the behest of her colleague Louis, who was charged by the king to secure the protection. The prince would never suspect Monica as a spy sent to protect him since the reason she learned unchanted magic was to circumvent her inability to speak in front of others due to anxiety.
Shortly after arriving at Serendia Academy, Monica immediately discovers that something is not right. A noble is accused of embezzling from the student council funds, and a chance encounter with the second prince in the gardens ends with a potted plant being thrown at him from a great height. Despite this, Monica manages to make a new friend and get close to the prince to help with the investigation. All this with her cat familiar, Nero at her side.
Being the first volume in a new series, there were some cases of info-dumping exposition, but also new characters were given name and rank placards to help the reader identify the many characters featured in volume one. Luckily, none of these text boxes detract from the illustrations since they are lovely. The use of shading is used well in the absence of color to create plenty of contrast between locations and characters. And there’s lots of little details sprinkled throughout as well to reinforce that these students are nobility.
I personally enjoyed this series opener since it contains both magical school and dark academia tropes. The main character is quite powerful but is so shy that she comes across as a background character instead of a main character that demands attention. The story moves forward quickly for a first volume, answering a couple of questions while introducing plenty of others to keep the reader interested. This would likely do well in any teen collection and especially at any library where patrons are looking for more magical school or dark academia titles. There is also a light novel of the same name.
Secrets of the Silent Witch Vol. 01 By Matsuri Isora Art by Nanna Fujimi Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975365301
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Japanese,
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 ISBN: 9781662640544
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Only the smartest, most capable mages work at Harré and that’s just what Nunnally Hel plans to do. After meeting a receptionist at the esteemed establishment, she is determined to follow the same career path. She studied hard and is now heading to the kingdom’s magic academy to continue working toward her goal. At the magic academy, Nunnally faces social challenges and, as the commoners and nobles clash, discovers her magic type and meets her nemesis, Lord Alweiss Rockmann. Rivalry arises between Alweiss and Nunnally as soon as they start school and remains constant throughout their six years there. They are the top two students in their class and Alweiss is always number one, driving Nunnally nuts. She questions her teachers, but never gets a clear answer.
After their fifth year of school, all of the students participate in the Practical Magic Combat Tournament, which is observed by recruiters from Harré and other professional organizations. The tournament is divided by gender; Alweiss and Nunnally each win 1st place for their division and receive job offers pending their graduation. Alweiss is surprised to learn that Nunnally wants to be a receptionist, but doesn’t explain why. Even with job offers, feelings of competition continue between the two during their final year of school. After graduation, Nunnally heads off to begin her work at Harré. The book ends with a bonus classroom argument scene between Alweiss and Nunnally from their fourth year.
I Want to Be a Receptionist in This Magical World, Vol. 1 is a pleasant read that left me wanting more. The story is well written. Mako does an efficient, natural job at giving the reader a good idea of the characters’ personalities. I found all of the characters interesting and would love to see more content with the background characters. Hopefully, that will come in subsequent volumes. Some character development among both the main and background characters is seen. Watching Nunnally’s relationships with her classmates develop and grow from enemies to friends is heartwarming and watching Nunnally and Alweiss become obsessed with each other is fun. It’s cute to see the reactions of the teachers and other students to their constant bickering. Even though Nunnally adds the goal of wanting to beat Alweiss, she admirably remains focused on her primary goal of working for Harré. The storyline is gratifying and motivating. Nunnally identifies her goal at the beginning of the story, and in each chapter the reader gets to see that she is closer to achieving her goal.
The story moves quickly, beginning with Nunnally as a young child and ending with her entering adulthood. I would have loved to spend more time witnessing her experiences in each year of school and seen her relationships develop more gradually. I would have enjoyed reading a more detailed account of events across five or six volumes. Rushing through so many years gives the impression that volume 1 is a prologue to the true story of Nunnally working at Harré and possibly falling in love with Alweiss. If that is the case, I am excited to read volume 2 and see Nunnally start her new adventure of working at Harré and potentially fall in love.
The artwork is beautiful, with lovely colors on the front and back covers. Even though the pages are black and white, the concept of color is expressed in an easy way for the reader to understand. In the beginning of the book, Nunnally’s love for the colors and magic in her world is translated into amazed facial expressions and stars, fireworks, and swirls in the sky. The reader knows that Nunnally has dark hair in the beginning of the book, due to shading. When her hair and eyes turn light blue, the shading reflects that. Her hair and eyes are suddenly shaded much lighter.
The facial expressions of the characters are fun to watch. When they feel extreme emotions, their features are simplified in a humorous way. When Nunnally is irritated or annoyed, her usually big, detailed eyes are drawn as little half circles with horizontal lines on top. Throughout the book, as the characters grow up, the aging and physical growth moves quickly with the story, and Yone and Maro implement each transition amazingly smoothly and subtly.
I Want to Be a Receptionist in This Magical World, Vol. 1 will appeal most strongly to teens who enjoy fantasy stories. It takes place during high school years. Ages are not mentioned, but the art style of the characters changes throughout the book. The readers get to watch the characters grow from pre-teens to young adults. Thirteen-18 year olds will likely find those changes relatable and exciting.
I Want to Be a Receptionist in This Magical World, Vol. 1 By Mako Art by Yone, Maro Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975352899
Publisher Age Rating: T NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Your face is crooked. You’re going to make everyone you love sick and die. You’re ugly and no one likes you and you’re going to be alone forever. The bees flying around Isaac Itkin’s mind never seem to shut up. What if they’re right? Buzzing, written by Samuel Sattin and illustrated by Rye Hickman, is a look into the life of a twelve year old boy with obsessive compulsive disorder.
Isaac was recently diagnosed with OCD. Focusing is impossible with the same intrusive thoughts never giving him a break. He just wants to get through the school day and maybe draw a little before going home where he doesn’t have to worry about being such an embarrassment. His mom is busy and his sister can’t stand to be around him, so diving into his sketchbook is the perfect way for Isaac to escape all the noise. The particular unrelenting noise of his OCD is depicted in the form of a small squad of bees that encircle him at every chance, always colorful in an otherwise drab world. They’re always waiting to pop up and ruin his day, to convince him of things that are untrue that he can’t escape.
Then Isaac meets Micah at school. Micah notices his drawing of a dragon and asks if he’s interested in joining their Swamps and Sorcery game. Similar to Dungeons and Dragons, the tabletop role playing game is all about fantasy, letting players be whoever (and whatever) they want to be as they work together. It also doesn’t hurt that Micah themself catches Isaac’s eye as he develops his first crush. Within the world of the game and the supportive circle of friends he plays with, Isaac finds life becoming more colorful day by day.
Buzzing is one of the latest graphic novels aimed at younger readers that features a RPG within the story. While parts of the game do come to life on the pages, the story isn’t so much about the game as it is about Isaac’s relationship with his new friends and his family, especially as they begin to understand his mental illness. His sister is learning how to deal with her younger brother’s new diagnosis and how to support him, even if she doesn’t quite understand.
His mom wants to keep him away from anything that could potentially be triggering and to live in the present in the real world, taking advice from doctors they’ve seen. Any reader who’s had to defend their interests to misunderstanding families will relate to Isaac and his mom. She only wants the best for him and has to listen to him to understand what that best really is. Sattin doesn’t write Isaac’s mom as bad or negative, but instead as a parent learning to understand what her son is going through.
Hickman’s art style features very expressive faces and the wordless panels contain just as much emotion as the others. The color palette fluctuates throughout the book. It’s colder and sterile when Isaac is feeling his worst but bright, warm, and colorful when he’s feeling joyful and accepted. The fantasy scenes will catch the eyes of RPG loving readers especially!
Buzzing is recommended to middle grade readers and has some cross appeal to younger teen readers. It’s also recommended to anyone working through their own OCD diagnosis or even to parents reading to better understand their child.
Buzzing By Samuel Sattin Art by Rye Hickman Little, Brown, 2023 ISBN: 9780316628419
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: Queer, OCD, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD)