At PICA, the Peachtree Institute of Collegiate Arts, art is everything! Peachtree native Molly Bauer spent her whole life with the plan to attend the art school in her own backyard. Sure, the school isn’t perfect, but being a student there would be a dream come true for Molly. In Ngozi Ukazu and Madeline Rupert’s Bunt!: Striking Out on Financial Aid, things don’t work out anywhere near how Molly expects, so desperate times call for desperate measures…softball.
Molly wasn’t expecting to spend her first day as a PICA student at the financial aid office and she certainly wasn’t expecting to find out the scholarship she received no longer exists. How is she supposed to pay for art school now? She’s left taking on predatory student loans and pouring over ways to fund her education. Then she finds an extremely specific loophole involving collegiate sports and an often overlooked athletic scholarship! (PICA is an art school, after all.) Molly just needs to start a school softball team and win one game to get a very lucrative scholarship.
With the help of her best friend Ryan, a PICA dropout and local Peachtree legacy kid, Molly takes on the ultimate group project in the form of an art school softball team. Some of their fellow students even think it’s all just very elaborate performance art.
Bunt! is a modern graphic novel retelling of the classic ragtag sports team trying to beat the odds. The team consists of a mishmash of personalities, with, “Let’s not suck at sports!” as their initial rallying cry. Ukazu’s writing makes the team come alive; each character’s particular quirks and interests are ever present without overtaking the plot. Readers will find themselves rooting for the players and getting equally annoyed at their shortcomings. With the variety of stereotypical art school students as characters, it’s easy to find a favorite.
Rupert’s art is colorful and comical. There are panels with less obvious background action, so readers will want to keep a close eye as they read along. The character design is all very distinctive, so everyone stands out, unlike some other team books where the teammates start to blend together. Peachtree itself jumps off the pages, too.
Bunt! will find its audience in young adult readers, particularly older teens close to the characters’ ages. The bureaucracy of college financial aid is unfortunately relatable, even if Bunt! deals with it in a very silly way at times. The book also deals with the threat of colleges and universities overtaking the towns and communities they’re located in and how that affects the people who live there. There’s some light vigilante justice that might make readers question how they’d deal with a similar situation.
Readers who enjoyed Ukazu’s beloved Check, Please series will enjoy this new graphic novel of hers, with Rupert’s engaging art style. Bunt! is a recommended read for anyone who has played softball, considered themself an art student, or who loves the story of underdogs doing their best to save the day and certainly anyone who might be all three. It will be a great addition to art school library shelves.
Bunt! Striking Out on Financial Aid
By Ngozi Ukazu
Art by Mad Rupert
Macmillan First Second, 2024
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18)