Jarad Greene (author of Scullion: A Dishwasher’s Guide to Mistaken Identity) writes and illustrates a graphic novel that is described in its blurb as semi-autobiographical. In the author’s note, he explains that both his struggles with acne and his asexual identity came later in life than they did for the novel’s fictional protagonist, the middle schooler Jay.
While in seventh grade, Jay was teased for having perfect skin by being called a porcelain doll. Now in eighth grade, he has severe acne which appears resistant to over-the-counter pimple ointments. He visits a dermatologist who suggests a six-month regimen of Isotretinoin, better known under the brand name Accutane. Accutane works by drying out the user’s skin, but it comes with a host of severe side effects. For Jay, the two most notable side effects are irritability and overheating—inconvenient in his Florida middle school, where both the literal climate and social climate are stifling.
A common theme in middle school stories is changing social dynamics, and we see them changing in A-Okay. Last year, Jay attended all of the same classes as his friends, but this year, his classes are full of strangers. His closest friend, Brace has joined a band, and no longer seems to have time for Jay. Even the new friends Jay makes want to talk about crushes, dating, and kissing; all of which are entirely uninteresting and irrelevant topics for him. He confides in a classmate that he feels like a piece of him is missing due to his lack of romantic interest. The classmate suggests he may be ace, and when Jay later researches asexuality, he feels a sense of affirmation; this touching panel depicts Jay lying on his bed with a self-satisfied look on his face.
The art has bold lines and vibrant colors in a mix of realistic and cartoonish faces, giving fans of the similarly-styled Raina Telgemeier books yet another reason to love this graphic novel. One special artistic touch depicts past events in monochromatic shades of purple, clearly delineating Jay’s previous school year from this one.
A-Okay belongs in most libraries serving upper elementary and middle schoolers. There is a dearth of clearly stated ace representation in literature, particularly in comics, and perhaps even more particularly in books with an intended audience under the age of 14. As a bonus, this book will, without much help, find its audience among fans of other realistic upper elementary and middle school stories, including the aforementioned Telgemeier, Kayla Miller’s Click series, Shannon Hale’s Real Friends series, and Svetlana Chmakova’s Berrybrook Middle School books.
By Jarad Greene
Harper Collins HarperAlley, 2021
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Asexual
Character Representation: Asexual