The boroughs of New York City are filled with the stylish moves of breakdancing teens and tweens. But what happens when they add a twist to their routine? Breakdancing and yo-yo tricks are an unstoppable pair in Gale Galligan’s newest graphic novel Freestyle. The author and illustrator use their skills to create a story with relatable characters having fun expressing their style and flair on and off the dance floor.
The breakdance crew Eight Bitz need to practice every weekend if they want to win the upcoming dance competition. Their team captain is pushing their limits, causing rifts between members. However, things get a bit more chaotic when team member Cory is grounded until his grades improve. Not only that, he is stuck with quiet studious Sunna as his tutor. At first the two have trouble getting along, but things soon change when Cory watches Sunna perform some expert yo-yo tricks. As she flicks her wrist and lets the plastic bauble fly to and fro, Cory becomes mesmerized and wants to learn all the techniques. As the two become closer, however, members of Eight Bitz take note. With tensions in the dance team rising, a few members confront Cory and question his loyalty to the team and their friendship.
Gale Galligan’s artwork and storytelling go very well together. Not only are readers introduced to the world of breakdancing and yo-yo competitions, they are treated to a story of middle schoolers foraging and maintaining friendships while preparing themselves for that next level in their academic careers, high school. Each character has their own recognizable strengths which they use to achieve their goals and weaknesses that they combat in their own way. The cast is very much diverse, with characters of different gender identities and nationalities. There are also pressures of perfectionism and meeting parents’ standards within the story, common occurrences in the lives of most middle schoolers.
What really brings this story to life is Galligan’s artwork and panels packed with slick dance moves and yo-yo throwing action. In double page spreads, tweens are jumping and moving to a hip hop beat while spinning yo-yos fly in all different directions. The artist’s choice of using a bright color scheme adds to the excitement of the pages, giving readers a chance to pore over every single detail. Their research into both activities is prominently shown throughout the story, with characters using different lingos and names to describe routines, movements, and positions.
Illustrator and author Gale Galligan combines the quick moves of breakdancing and yo-yo tricks to create an exciting, heartfelt story of friendship and expression. Public and school libraries should consider this graphic novel in their collections, especially those who cater to devoted readers of Raina Telgemeier and Kayla Miller. Middle school readers and fans of Galligan’s work on The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels will definitely want to give this book a try and perhaps look into the exciting world of yo-yo tricks and dance crews.
Freestyle By Gale Galligan Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022 ISBN: 9781338045802
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Taiwanese-American, Genderqueer, Nonbinary Character Representation: Chinese-American
What does it mean to live? How do we define our identity? Where do we call home? Many of these questions permeate the lived experiences of an artificial intelligence (A.I.) being in Made in Korea, a science fiction thriller replete with philosophical questions, written by Jeremy Holt and illustrated by George Schall.
The story begins when a married couple, Bill and Suelynn Evans, order a nine-year-old female “proxy” they name Jesse, to adopt as their very own daughter. No sooner does she arrive than she starts to observe the world around her, dowloading and digesting all sorts of data—absorbing every book in the house, playing with stuffed animals, and interacting with classmates in school. But pretty soon, her creator, a programmer of artificial intelligence systems from Korea, comes tracking her down. As events escalate so do the stakes when a group of social misfits coax her into partaking in a series of daring, violent, anti-establishment stunts. What intention does this stranger have in store for Jesse? What secrets lie within this adopted proxy? What makes her so uniquely special?
This science fiction thriller explores the unique curiosities and wonders of life through the lens of an adolescent A.I. as she navigates the rocky terrain of adolescence. She attempts to understand who she is and how she fits into society and the rest of the world. Carefully arranged panels capture Jesse’s role as the quintessential stranger in a strange land. Most striking are the emotional nuances of her mannerisms and facial expressions as she learns to navigate multiple dimensions of intersectionality of race, ethnicity, gender, and identity.
While the conclusion addresses some questions, others remain ambiguous and somewhat rushed. Six standalone short slice-of-life stories by various creators fill the back matter of a world populated by proxies and humans, touching upon themes of family ties. Overall, Made in Korea presents a rapidly unfolding plot between the worlds of the ordinary and the extraordinary while injecting philosophical musings and social issues that include exploring the theme of nature vs. nurture, meddling with the natural order of life, and negotiating the complicated notions of home, self-identity, and self-perception. A drama thriller with substantive ideas revolving around life and humanity makes this graphic novel a thought-provoking addition to science fiction collections.
Made in Korea By Jeremy Holt Art by George Schall Image, 2022 ISBN: 9781534320116
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Korean-American, Nonbinary
Authors who insert a social message into their books might do so subtly, said message coming across as an “aha” moment once the reader finishes the book. Authors might also insert the message into the book with little to no subtlety whatsoever; the social message of the book is evident in the plot summary. While that has the danger of being didactic, sometimes the results can be fun. Eat the Rich, written by Sarah Gailey and illustrated by Pius Bak, is one such book.
The story begins with Joey meeting her boyfriend Astor’s family for the first time. Astor is from the exclusive and affluent neighborhood of Crestfall Bluffs, and Joey is very anxious about saying the wrong thing, not knowing how to sit, and just not belonging. There are traditions in Crestfall Bluffs, and there is a clear social divide that Joey does not want to get on the wrong side of. Joey must learn to survive among the cutthroat one percent and that includes accepting their unusual and rarefied tastes.
Hugo-Award winning author Gailey weaves a very straightforward story, one that rockets toward the gore and bloodshed promised by the book’s cover; there is no dancing around the fact that people in this story die and die horribly. This jump to brutality, however, doesn’t make the book feel rushed, not when the story’s also a character study of Joey’s motivations and her desire to fit in with Astor’s family. There are times where Joey appears to be the victim and others where she is the victimizer. Indeed, there are plenty of red splotches in Eat the Rich’s universe, but there are also many different shades of gray.
Bak’s artstyle does paint a grim yet vivid picture of Crestfall Bluff’s rapacious-yet-well-fed underbelly. Bak shows a knack for capturing the faces of these characters as their smiling veneers fall into the expressions of tortured souls and even hungry devils. And Bak also displays a knack for displaying their physical insides, which are spread open, bleeding, and repurposed into delicacies that are to (let someone else) die for.
Eat the Rich relishes its depictions of violence with ghoulish glee, and that could draw the gorehounds who can watch most horror movie violence without batting an eye. But the book is more than just heavy-handed, though macabre, symbolism drenched in a visceral gravy. The characters go beyond just rich and hungry. Everyone in this universe benefits from this disturbing arrangement, which means the horrors committed can be rationalized away, at least for a little while. If this book did have a message, it’s that the descent into darkness isn’t always an express elevator; sometimes it’s a slow walk down a gilded staircase. The downward spiral can start with just a few compromises.
Eat the Rich By Sarah Gailey Art by Pius Bak BOOM! Studios, 2022 ISBN: 9781684158324
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Nonbinary
Gender Queer: A Memoir begins with an arresting image. As a student, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, taped over two pages of eir sketchbook with blank pieces of paper. The pages concealed an autobiographical comic about gender created for a school assignment, a topic that filled Kobabe with discomfort. In the opening of Gender Queer, we’re shown the censored pages—then, with an immensely satisfying “RIPPP!”, Kobabe tears away the paper, revealing the title page of Gender Queer itself.
Gender Queer is the self-portrait of a queer artist developing the confidence to tell eir story, in eir own words and on eir own terms. Narrating Kobabe’s gender journey from early childhood to the present,this graphic memoir chronicles eir efforts to build a life that affirms every piece of eir identity. There isn’t a single pivotal coming-out scene; instead, Kobabe embarks on a slow, continuous project of self-expression and self-knowledge, with results as precise and dazzling as the constellations that decorate the cover of this deluxe edition.
Maia Kobabe’s story begins with a California childhood spent catching snakes, making art, and feeling completely out of step with eir peers. A series of early crushes helps Maia to realize e’s bisexual, but this doesn’t explain the deeper discomfort e feels with eir body and assigned gender. Confused and discouraged, Maia catches hold of a pair of lifelines—coming to books as a late reader, and joining a Queer Straight Alliance at eir high school. Discovering stories that reflect eir own experiences, e begins to feel less alone.
Entering adulthood, Maia finds a word—genderqueer—that reflects the complexity of eir experiences. Just as important, e continues to collect touchstones that affirm eir sense of self instead of eroding it. There’s the first time e listens to David Bowie; the male figure skating costume that fills em with gender euphoria; the queer fan fiction that sparks eir sense of the erotic, yet ultimately makes em realize that e prefers reading about romance to experiencing it firsthand. Kobabe’s sophisticated artwork explodes to life in these moments, expressive full-color panels featuring inventive imagery such as Maia’s gender leafing out like a young seedling, or Bowie’s music as a full-body, cosmic experience (complete with rocketship).
Yet as Maia pieces together identity labels—nonbinary, mostly asexual, queer—and builds a network of supportive friends and family, the obstacles grow. Maia knows that as long as e minimizes eir gender, eir relationships and sense of self will suffer. But loved ones offer pushback when e tries to explain nonbinary identities; Pap smears are a source of trauma that medical professionals rarely take seriously; and everyday interactions come with a cost: Maia must stand up for emself, over and over, just to feel comfortable in eir own skin. This is the Maia who censored eir own sketchbook, and at the close of the memoir, this self-effacement is still palpable. Now a working artist, e hesitates over whether to share eir pronouns with students. “I think I’m carrying more fear than I need,” e realizes.
If Gender Queer is an act of bravery, it’s also a funny, sophisticated, deeply relatable coming-of-age story about charting your way alongside books and best friends into adulthood. Accessible but never didactic, Kobabe’s deft storytelling and polished, appealing artwork excels at communicating with a broad readership. For a queer and trans audience that has rarely encountered nonfiction centering nonbinary experiences, Kobabe’s memoir delivers affirmation, while for readers who are new to learning about queer identities, it educates and invites empathy. Gender Queer is also smart about the way it presents sexual material; this book doesn’t shy from frank discussions of sexuality, masturbation, and sexual health, but the content is contextualized in a way that is sensitive to the needs of younger readers, and Kobabe takes care to avoid explicit sexual depictions of underage characters.
The 2022 deluxe edition collects process pieces and select issues of the original Genderqueer comic strips, providing a snapshot of Kobabe’s creative process. An introduction by She-Ra and the Princesses of Power creator ND Stevenson reflects on the impact of Gender Queer since its initial publication in 2019. Stevenson writes about the book’s significance to himself and queer loved ones, as well as, briefly, those who have sought to remove it from public schools and libraries in “a last, desperate attempt to hammer an infinitely complex world into a small, unthreatening shape.”
Maia Kobabe’s introspective, joyful memoir is an important contribution to comics literature. It is highly recommended for any library collection serving adult and older teen readers.
Gender Queer: A Memoir, Deluxe Edition By Maia Kobabe Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781637150726
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Asexual, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary
The Woman in the Woods and other North American Stories marks the fifth volume in the series of cautionary fables and fairy tales. The eight tales in this volume are from Indigenous nations, told and illustrated by Indigenous artists, and highlighting tales from Odawa, Chickasaw, Métis/Cree, Métis, Ojibwe, Tania, Navajo, and S’Kallam societies. The editors asked each of the authors to ask for permission from the Elders and/or nations to retell and rework the stories for inclusion in this anthology as they recognized and respected the protocol inherent in the gathering of the stories from the people. Unfortunately, there are no source notes included in the collection, making it of less value to educators, librarians, and storytellers than I had hoped. True, the intended audience is middle school readers, not scholars, but the authenticity of each of the tales should be paramount for them as well. I do appreciate the fact that each of the tribal affiliations has been identified for the tales.
While the tales are rendered in black and white with various hues of grey, the cover itself jumps with colour. Ironically, the story alluded to on the cover is not included in the collection. Editor and cover artist Alina Pete remarked that she had hoped to include the creation story of Sky Woman and Turtle Island, but she could not find anyone that had permission to tell this story. Sky Woman fell to the water-covered world and fell on the back of Turtle. One by one, the animals dive into the water to try and find land until Muskrat is successful in bringing back soil. Sky woman spreads the soil on Turtle’s back to create the world as we know it. She shows Sky Woman dancing for joy and two constellations on the back cover featuring two of the characters from the tales within the covers.
Most of the illustrations in the book itself have simple backgrounds, focusing on the characters of each tale. The different styles of illustrations make each of the stories individual in a collection continuous from tale to tale without any commentary. Most of the illustrations are rendered realistically, although one or two stories have manga-like characteristics and vary between historical and contemporary settings. They also vary in length.
The anthology begins with the Odawa creation story, “As it was told to Me,” retold and illustrated by Elijah Forbes, which demonstrates that the world needs the balance of good and bad to exist. It is followed by a trickster rabbit story about the cost of vanity from the Chickasaw people. “Chokfi” is written by Jordaan Arledge and illustrated by Mekala Nava. The next two stories are located closer to this reviewer. “White Horse Plains,” from the Métis settlement St. Francois Xavier, relates the tale of the dangers of greed and conflict. It is written and illustrated by Rhael McGregor. The second Métis tale is possibly the most familiar character in the collection for me. Written by Maija Ambrose Plamondon and illustrated by Milo Applejohn, “The Rougarou” tells the story of a werewolf like monster and a young boy who befriends the Rougarou. I must admit that while I am familiar with many Rougarou tales, this is the first time I have encountered this one. Alice RL’s Ojibwe tale of “Agonjin in the Water” relates a tale of another story of friendship between a human and a mythical creature: the mythical, Mishipeshu the Great Water Guardian of the lakes and rivers.
The Taino story that follows gave its title to the anthology. It is written and illustrated by Mercedes Acosta and also focuses on the relationship between a woman and a spirit of a young girl who sees the mysterious “Woman in the Woods.” The penultimate tale, “Into the Darkness,” is a Navaho shapeshifter tale about a character so frightful that no one dares to speak its name. It is written by Izzy Roberts and illustrated by Aubrie Warner. The final tale, written by Jeffrey Veregge and illustrated by Alina Pete, is a romantic tale from the S’Kallam people. The Moon in “By the Light of the Moon” falls in love with Octopus Woman, the Queen of the Salish Sea in Puget Sound. The bright light of the Moon makes it possible for the Moon to watch her dance and to send her kisses. The power of the kisses has a surprising repercussion.
The stories are followed by two pages of concise biographies of the creators including their tribal affiliations and, in most cases, their sexual orientations.
Recommended for middle school and public library collections. Because the book is part of the cautionary fables and fairy tales series, most of the stories have strong lessons imparted in the story line, but they are not dogmatic and do allow the power of the storytelling to shine through. I just wish there were adequate source notes—did I say that already?
Cautionary Fables & Fairy Tales, vol. 5: The Woman in the Woods and Other North American Stories Edited by Kate Ashwin, Kel McDonald, Alina Pete Iron Circus, 2022 ISBN: 9781945820977
Publisher Age Rating: 10-12 Series ISBNs and Order
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Cree, Metis, Navajo, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans, Two Spirit Character Representation: Cree, First Nations or Indigenous, Metis, Navajo
Be wary on Imbolc Day, when the witch, Cailleach, roams the woods, looking for children to feast upon. At least, that is the legend told in Saoirse’s village, warning anyone who dares to venture to the witch’s tower. Eager to prove herself, Saoirse, along with her brother, Brahm, goes to see if there is any truth to the old stories, only to fall right into the Cailleach’s clutches. From that point on, everything Saoirse knows and loves will change forever, as she discovers the meaning behind a mysterious mark on her shoulder, a dire threat to the world of apocalyptic proportions, and her own latent magic that may be more than she is ready to master. In this first installment of a new, action-packed fantasy series, The Last Witch: Fear & Fire begins a tale steeped in Irish lore and history, one that examines the responsibility of having power and the dangers of its corrupting influence.
When taking in the comic’s immaculate and engaging artwork, it would be difficult to imagine this story told through any other style. V.V. Glass’ illustrations perfectly match each tone and setting, such as the dark and foreboding witch’s tower in the wintery woods, the dynamic expressions of the characters as they endure both great hardships and welcoming moments of mirth, or the truly epic displays of Saoirse’s magic. The full-page panels that capture the might of these powers are consistently stunning and excel in showcasing both the great beauty and dangers of the magic in this world. Glass’ character designs also assist in highlighting the more gruesome aspects of the comic, particularly in the designs of Saoirse’s witchy adversaries. Black Annis, the witch Saoirse and Brahm mistake for the Cailleach, wears an intimidating smile of needlelike teeth, along with a forked tongue and slitted eyes, a figure that feels as if she had stepped right out of a cautionary fairy tale. There is also the Badb, who wields air magic through her constantly shifting faces, some more frightful than the others. Though eerie at times, the style of the comic adapts easily to whatever mood the text conveys, whether it be light-hearted, mysterious, or simply magical, resulting in a satisfying narrative harmony.
For this first volume, the fast pace of the story manages to include a great deal of plot progression and worldbuilding without doubling down on staggering exposition or giving away too many answers at once. Though the reader learns a great deal by the volume’s conclusion, there are still more unknown elements at play, enticing readers to continue with Saoirse’s journey. Saoirse is a character that is easy to fall in love with: headstrong and determined with a touch of recklessness, but also holds an admirable responsibility to her loved ones. Her external conflict with confronting malevolent witches is paired nicely with the internal battle of controlling her ever-growing magic, ultimately coming to a point where she fears what she is truly capable of. With this comic being only the beginning of the story, it sets up an intrigue in how these feelings will develop and affect Saoirse down the road.
Truthfully, it is the darker, more complex aspects of the comic that give it a sense of identity. Imagine a cross of Avatar the Last Airbender, a Cartoon Saloon production (the studio behind The Song of the Sea and Wolfwalkers), with a healthy dash of a Brothers Grimm fairy tale. As a result, you will get an enchanting yet perilous tale sure to appeal to those who flock to stories of grand, culturally-inspired adventures with an edge.
While the story does not contain explicit moments of gore, there are several gruesome moments that may unnerve younger readers, such as one instance of child-eating and a good amount of off panel deaths. Taking this into account, The Last Witch: Fear & Fire is most suitable for readers 13 and up and will fit in nicely in young adult or teen graphic novel collections that have a good circulation of epic fantasy stories or strive to diversify their collections with materials featuring strong, predominantly female casts.
The Last Witch: Fear & Fire By Conor McCreery Art by V.V. Glass BOOM! Box, 2021 ISBN: 9781684156214 Publisher Age Rating: 14-17
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: British, Canadian, Nonbinary Character Representation: Irish
Take the eerie urban legends of Supernatural, mix it with the mystery and intrigue of Something Stranger, throw in the whimsical antics of Ghostbusters, and what do you get? A smart and fascinating world of supernatural folklore and adventure in The Grimms Town Terror Tales: Rise of the Candy Creeper. A ghoulish adventure geared for middle grade readers, this debut volume, conjured up by the creative team of Neo Edmund (A Tale of Red Riding) and Renae De Liz (Legend of Wonder Woman), brings an enchanting addition to the Storm Kids imprint by John Carpenter and Sandy King.
Borrowing characters from the mythos of Grimms’ fairy tales, the story spotlights Hansel and Gretel, who come home one evening to find their house ransacked and their parents gone without a trace. Upon closer inspection, they stumble into a hidden underground science lab deep in the subterranean levels of the house where they discover an arsenal of techno-magical weapons. In time, they learn that their parents are actually monster hunters. This secret operation undertaken by their Grimm ancestors has apparently endured for centuries. Before long, the siblings find themselves swept into a supernatural world lurking with uncanny characters including a grim-mannered goblin, a wraith-like pumpkin-headed Candy Creeper—the Boogey Man of stolen Halloween candy—and a nefarious witch named Hildaga Vontrix who lives deep in the woods just outside of town. Along the way, they acquire newfound powers, but at what price? And just what deadly secrets lie behind their family history? To find their parents, Hansel and Gretel must uncover their past to vanquish the deadly forces threatening them and save Grimms Town from imminent danger.
This spooky spin on a classic fairy tale for adolescent readers serves up just the right amount of scares, adventure, and mythical intrigue for a new generation. The narrative momentum revolves around Hansel and Gretel’s lineage shrouded in mystery, unfolding in incremental flashbacks from their happy-go-lucky Aunt Zoe, who reveals a darker, sinister history steeped in ancient folklore. Candy-like colors of neon green, gold, and pink illuminate vibrant panels, while deeper shades of blue and purple dominate scary scenes of malevolent beings prowling around the shadier corners of Grimms Town. The constant banter between the sister-brother duo enlivens the story, with some panels packed with heavy dialogue. The plot unravels fairly quickly as Hansel and Gretel are sucked into a fantastical world besieged by unimaginable dangers as they attempt to reunite with their parents, while encountering bizarre characters to help them unlock the secrets to their past.
This first venture into a world teeming with supernatural beings, ancient magic, and threatening danger at every turn sets the stage for further adventures. Grimms Town Terror Tales marks an entertaining addition to libraries seeking to fill a lighthearted dark fantasy and horror niche for younger readers.
John Carpenter Presents Storm Kids: Grimms Town Terror Tales Rise of the Candy Creeper By Neo Edumund Art by Renae De Liz Abrams, 2021 ISBN: 9781733282161 Publisher Age Rating: 8 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Nonbinary
How does it feel to fly? To soar above the world, nothing but you, your plane, and the sky? Would that be enough?
For pilot Jay Corvidae, it has been. Flying for AVO, the country’s aviation guild, with his best friend and fellow pilot and engineer, Sable Auliya, is what he knows, and what his future seems to hold. Until the day his plane is chartered for a flight by the mysterious Fix Vulpes, who certainly knows quite a lot about radio operation for a no-class thief.
As AVO asserts their power and takes control over international governments, Jay and Fix’s adventures take a turn for the dangerous (and the amorous), while Sable charts her own course as she rises through AVO’s ranks. With war looming on the horizon, the truth can shift and change in an instant, and Jay, Fix, and Sable must all face the same question: what does freedom really mean?
With Eighty Days, A.C. Esguerra has built a world very similar to our own. Though the world they created is purely fictional, with countries named things like Easterly and Northerly, and no year adjacent to our timeline is specified, the setting and character design emulate a 1930s-esque Europe on the brink of WWII. AVO, then, could serve as a stand-in for any fascist government in Western history, though the style of their uniforms (and much of how the high ranking AVO officer side characters look in general) will likely have readers associating them with Nazi Germany.
Similarities to our world aside, Esguerra’s world-building is strong and highly detailed. Teen readers will be thrust immediately into the world of Eighty Days with background information coming out slowly throughout the graphic novel’s 300+ pages. It is divided into four “books”, and takes turns centering the three central characters’ journeys. This deep end approach to storytelling may be daunting for some readers, and some may even get a bit lost as they try to follow the intricacies of the plot. But it may also serve to help immerse some readers and keep the stakes high.
It is impossible, however, to separate Esguerra’s textual storytelling and world-building from their absolutely stunning artwork. Rendered completely in black and white with shades of grey, their swooping, sweeping line work evokes the beauty and grace of flight. This style works well to create a sense of place and tone for this quasi-historical tale, and is especially effective in the many wordless sequences of train travel and flight. Esguerra’s stylistic choices do fall short, however, in some of the action and fight scenes, where the loops and swirls that worked so well in skyscapes become muddled and harder to decipher when characters moving at high speeds are being depicted instead.
That said, the characters in general are beautifully drawn, and each has their own vibrant personality that shines through in their character designs. Jay has a more guarded, yet cocky look behind his glasses, and it’s clear how he was unable to resist Fix with his unruly curls and sweet but impish smile. Sable, a young woman of color (perhaps their world’s equivalent of South Asian?), exudes both strength and elegance in equal measure.
Aimed at teens 13 and up, Eighty Days will challenge readers to question what they know about the world around them, especially regarding oppressive governments, and will show what a difference just a few people can make. It would be a solid additional purchase for collections where adventures, slow burn LGBTQIA+ romances, and alternate universe historical stories are popular, and where the art aspect of graphic novels is especially appreciated.
Eighty Days By A.C. Esguerra BOOM! Archaia, 2021 ISBN: 9781684156573
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Filipino-American, Nonbinary Character Representation: South Asian, Gay
The third and final book in K. O’Neill’s Tea Dragon series is just as poignant and artfully crafted as the previous two installments. In the first book, aspiring blacksmith Greta meets Tea Dragon Society members Hesekiel, Erik, and Minette; and begins caring for Ginseng, a tea dragon who recently lost her previous owner. Now it’s over a year later, and Ginseng still hasn’t begun to grow new tea leaves, a sign that she is still grieving. Greta is preparing a smithed object for the great blacksmith Kleitos’s test. If she passes, she will move to his forge to become his apprentice. Minette receives a parcel from the monastery where she previously lived with her parents, and where she was training to become a prophet. The parcel contains a tapestry she started but never completed, and seeing it triggers a series of disturbing dreams in which she tries to connect with her ancestors but is unable to do so.
Ginseng’s and Minette’s stories play out in parallel. Greta tries to do everything she can to help Ginseng move on and feel happy again, while all Ginseng wants is time to grieve. Minette wants to focus on the joyful experiences she’s had since she left the monastery, but she keeps getting pulled back into feelings of loss. Both Greta and Minette gradually learn that it’s important to allow oneself—as well as one’s friends—to be sad. As Erik says to Minette, “It’s alright to let those feelings” [of sadness] “wash over you, and give them time to soak into the earth. That’s when things start to grow again.” While Erik means this metaphorically, it could be taken literally, since Ginseng’s leaves begin to grow once Greta makes it clear that she will be there for the tea dragon throughout her mourning period.
As was the case in the previous Tea Dragon titles, the art is beautiful. Humanoid characters are portrayed with a wide range of skin tones, genders, sexual orientations, and abilities, as well as light fantastical elements like horns or antlers. Though the sweeping, border lineless paintings don’t leave a lot of room for facial detail, O’Neill’s illustrations convey even the subtlest emotions with finesse. The colors are earthy and bright, with clear delineation of changing seasons among the background flora. The most memorable and lovable aspect of the Tea Dragon series is the tea dragons themselves, and Ginseng, Chamomile, Rooibos, and Jasmine are all just as adorable as ever.
O’Neill’s Tea Dragon universe is elaborate, and existing fans will be excited to discover that at the end of The Tea Dragon Tapestry O’Neill has included a compendium of essays explaining the universe in more detail. While this book could potentially be read as a stand-alone, readers will benefit from having previously read The Tea Dragon Society, since The Tea Dragon Tapestry continues Greta’s and Minette’s stories first established in that book. Lovers of The Tea Dragon Festival will appreciate the cameos from Rinn and Aedhan. The Tea Dragon Tapestry is a must purchase for libraries where the first two volumes were popular. Recommend this series to pensive kids who enjoy meaningful reads and cute animals. Oni Press has also released related merchandise such as enamel pins, plush tea dragons, and tie-in card games, which may signify an expansion of the fandom.
Students in over their heads, death, sexual intrigue, dismemberment, and bickering coming to a head with a threat to the whole world; The Magicians: New Class is full of these touchstones from its parent franchise, Lev Grossman’s The Magicians trilogy. We’re introduced to a handful of hedge magicians in a house in New Orleans before seeing them on a stage at Brakebills Academy for Magical Pedagogy where Dean Fogg unveils an initiative to incorporate hedge magic into the august school. Hedge magic is traditionally taught outside of institutions, passed down in informal houses and has existed for millennia. Hedge magician Keshawn Warren will be joining the staff and three of his students will be admitted as 3rd year students, the first hedge magicians to practice at Brakebills. The new students, Pat, Emily and Audrey, find themselves in a special class with three current third year students, Brian, Sophie and Andy. Andy is outspoken in his disdain for hedge magic and is only mollified upon learning the supposed history of magic traditions class is really for learning illicit battle magic. Deadly mistakes are made. A super villain is revealed. To avoid spoilers I’ll stop summarizing now. Taking place sometime after the events of the novels and TV show, the story and characters stand separate from those. Prior experience just gives the reader a fuller sense of the world. I have seen all of the TV show but have not read Grossman’s original novels.
I have read criticisms of the novels’ narrow male focus and problems with their depiction of homosexuality. This comic is a refreshing break from this, centered on a woman, peppered with sexual tension between Andy and Pat, with a nonbinary supervillain. We spend the most time with Emily, a hedge witch who hands over her prescription meds when she starts at Brakebills and is instead given a noxious green potion that she’s told will cause her body to start producing the proper hormones. I did not pick up on the importance of that scene until 30 pages later when she’s wearing a t-shirt that says “Trans Rights”, in part because I wasn’t familiar with the names of the prescriptions and there are a number of conditions (magical and not) that could be affected by hormone imbalance. It is later specifically stated (during a discussion of crushes) that Emily is trans. I thought this was a clever way of revealing this aspect of her character and a clear benefit of writer Lilah Sturges’ perspective that makes own voices books richer. Emily is the only hedge magician really interested in the formal, academic Brakebills experience, and like the previous novel/TV hero Quentin Coldwater, she feels that magic and Brakebills represent the only chance she has left at life.
The art by Pius Bak is sketchy and insubstantial, backgrounds are only hinted at, often only one or two faces are shown with strong emotional detail and any other faces are inscrutable or blank. I have to wonder if readers without a prior knowledge of Brakebills can get much of a sense of the setting from the occasional antiquated architectural fragments. Gabriel Cassata provides a wonderful moody color palette of muted browns inside the school, with the battle magic practice made visible as columns and circles of neon green and blue energy. When the students sneak out at night to show off to each other the panels are cloaked in heavy blue grays, crackling gold sparks of magic illuminating the scenes.
I loved TheMagicians TV show because it was charming, inhabited by fascinating characters with deep emotional journeys and lots of hijinks. I did not find much of that in this miniseries. We don’t learn a lot about the characters, other than who they’re crushing on and what kinds of magic they’re interested in. This felt like an introduction and I was disappointed to find the series was only 5 issues, I would have enjoyed seeing the characters develop in future volumes. When they’re showing off to each other, the hedge magician Pat does a particularly meta comics trick, turning Andy’s dialog into a Mylar balloon on a string. I wanted more of that humor and playfulness that acts as a great counterpoint to the serious themes in the TV show.
I would put this in the adult section at my library but wouldn’t be surprised to see older teens heading for it, given the crossover popularity of the original novels and show. It has strong language, gore, and sex, with Audrey’s bare back the only nudity. The violence is in a fantasy vein but still made me squirm. It may appeal to fans of Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen, Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and Buffy, or any other world where young adults have to save the world. For another outstanding comic about a woman exploring the nexus of magic and trans issues, try Sex Death Revolution by Magdalene Visaggio.
The Magicians: New Class By Lev Grossman, Lilah Sturges, Pius Bak, Gabriel Cassata, Archaia, an imprint of BOOM! Studios, 2020 ISBN: 9781684155651 Publisher Age Rating: 15+ Related media: Book to Comic
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Nonbinary Character Representation: Gay, Trans