The Tea Dragon Tapestry

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.

The Tea Dragon Tapestry Vol. 3
By K. O’Neill

Oni Press, 2021

Publisher Age Rating:  9-12
Series ISBNS and Order

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Nonbinary,
Character Representation: Queer, Wheelchair User,

Cheer Up! Love and Pom Poms

Annie is a great student, but her college applications are conspicuously lacking in extracurriculars: no clubs, teams, or sports. Which makes sense, because Annie does not play well with others. But now her mom is pushing her to join, of all things, the cheerleading squad. Surely this will be a disaster. Even if the squad does include Annie’s childhood friend, Beatrice, who still seems really nice.

Beatrice, a.k.a. Bebe, is struggling with issues of her own. She gets a lot of attention for being trans—some openly hostile, and some misguidedly protective. The cheerleading squad is loudly supportive, but at least part of that seems to be because they like how accepting it makes them look. Why else would they secretly conspire to elect her captain of the squad when all she wants is to fly under the radar? Meanwhile, a guy she’s not interested in keeps hounding her, and she’s finding it increasingly difficult to dodge him. Antisocial Annie joining the squad is just one more stressor… unless it’s exactly what they both need.

This is a sweet romance starring two very different young women. Bebe is working on asserting herself, but afraid of coming off as aggressive. Annie IS aggressive, and is learning to communicate and work with others without attacking them. As they fall for each other, they also support each other and help each other improve.

Another big theme is really listening to the people you care about. People always seem to give Bebe what they think she wants and needs, rather than what she actually wants and needs. Her parents are overprotective, the cheerleading squad does big gestures of “support” but doesn’t think to invite Bebe to their regular movie nights, and the pushy guy who keeps hitting on her insists that Bebe wants his attention when she definitely doesn’t. By the end of the story, they all see the error of their ways and adjust their behavior accordingly.

The art is realistic, but softened, brightened, and simplified just enough to give it a friendly, comfortable appeal. The characters are distinct, with different skin tones, body and face types, and hair and clothing styles. Their facial and body language are expressive and natural, and the backgrounds also support the story and help to illustrate character by showing us things like the protagonists’ room décor and choices of phone case.

There is no sexual content here beyond a couple of kisses, and no violence besides one arguably well-deserved slap. Bebe experiences some blatant transphobia—the coach of another school’s cheerleading squad calls her “it” and a cross-dresser, and refuses to let her use the locker room to change—and some awkwardness from friends and family who mean well but don’t always know how to support Bebe. Ultimately, though, those close to her learn to do better and those who are cruel are rebuked and do not get much page time in the story. There is no homophobia around Annie or her relationship with Bebe. There is also another new member of the cheerleading squad who is still working out their gender, and is treated with sensitivity and kindness.

Cheer Up! Love and Pom Poms is a bright, upbeat, inclusive story of love and cheerleading. Hand it to fans of Fence, Check Please!, and The Avant-Guards.

Cheer Up! Love and Pom Poms
By Crystal Frasier
Art by Val Wise
Oni Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781620109557

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Intersex, Trans
Character Representation: Lesbian, Trans

Jo & Rus

How do you find the place where you fit in? Where do you find your people? Middle grade fiction is often preoccupied with these questions, but Jo & Rus provides answers that are a little different than the average. Upper elementary and middle school fans of the new classics of graphic novels (Roller Girl, New Kid, El Deafo) will appreciate Audra Winslow’s fresh take on the middle school story, where it’s the things we love that bring friends together, outside of the conventions of age and gender.

Jo is bullied to the point of constant misery at her middle school because she lives in a trailer park. She’s without friends and without anything to make her life joyful. She lives with her grandmother, who appears too checked out to be a comfort or guide for Jo. Jo’s only source of comfort and release is her old DVDs of the cartoon “Magic Cat,” that she watches over and over, and her prized possession is a Magic Cat keychain that hangs from her backpack. Her beloved cartoon gives Jo a needed dose of imaginary magic in her life. Soon real life provides a little bit of magic too: she saves a one-eyed stray cat (that looks remarkably like a wizard cat in the show) from a trap. The mysterious cat repays her by bringing her back to its home, a junkyard next to the highway. 

At the junkyard Jo meets Rus, a high school senior who is also dealing with bullying at school because his family owns the junkyard. Jo and Rus bond immediately over the cats who make their home at the junkyard. The ruined van teeming with cats that’s pictured on the cover is home base for Jo, Rus, and their friends, and becomes the emotional center of the story. It’s a refuge from the hostile school environment, and a safe space for them to be themselves. 

Rus is an open and kind kid, and he and his friends welcome Jo into their group without question and without a hint of romance or sex. They recognize a kindred spirit and make it a point to coach her in coping with her bullying. They encourage her musical talent and include her in their jam sessions. Rus is generous with his laid-back philosophy of life, telling Jo when she hears about the stresses of high school that, “it can be fun, too. Everyone has problems and gets stressed, it’s just life.”

It’s in this view of teenage friendship that author Winslow (they, their) differs from other authors of middle grade stories. There is never a question of Jo developing a crush on Rus. Although his impending departure for college causes anxiety and stress for Jo, it is only because she’s afraid of losing her friend. The book is dedicated to “the Rus to my Jo,” supporting the strong sense of autobiography in the story. It’s heartening to see stories of adolescence that highlight different experiences of gender and sexuality. 

The art in Jo & Rus is full of rich natural colors and loving views of Rus’s home junk yard. A scene of the kids watching a rocket launch from behind their Florida high school shows the lyricism in Winslow’s view of a well-worn Southern suburbia. 

Jo & Rus is a great purchase for most collections of middle grade graphic novels, as it rounds out more conventional tales of middle school social life like Shannon Hale’s Real Friends.

Jo & Rus
By Audra Winslow
Kaboom, 2021
ISBN: 9781684156108
Publisher Age Rating:  9-12

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Creator Representation: Gender Nonconforming,
Character Representation: Latinx

The Magicians: New Class

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 The Magicians 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

Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir

Kimiko Tobimatsu, a 25-year-old queer, mixed-race Canadian woman with no history of health problems discovers a lump on her breast. In this powerful and honest autobiographical memoir, depicting her emotional and physical experiences with breast cancer, superbly illustrated by Keet Geniza, the reader weaves through the corridors of this disease with Kimiko. Her story commences with the newly complex life of constant appointments, evaluations, treatments, and the difficult conversations with everyone she cares about as she contemplates having breast cancer. The most appealing aspect of this novel, for me, is how the author and illustrator expand the customary narrative of cancer patients to illuminate the continual issues, rarely discussed, once a patient is deemed “cancer-free.”

“There’s not a lot of writing out there on cancer and disability. Maybe because for those of us who are now cancer-free, the ongoing symptoms are after-effects (of surgery, radiation, meds), not the result of disease still being present.  Or maybe it’s because the mainstream cancer narrative is about overcoming adversity, not about experiencing ongoing disability” (92).

Kimiko’s relative youth generates a multitude of additional concerns once the cancer has been contained. She becomes highly aware of her body, its image, the food she consumes, the relationships new and old, being queer, all while becoming attuned for the perpetual need to rest, regroup, and rejuvenate. Her relationships with her family, especially her mother, play a huge role in Kimiko’s self-discovery as does her floundering relationship with her partner. She addresses many popular mindsets, within and outside, the medical profession regarding gender expression, reconstructive breast surgery, reproduction, early menopause, and the stereotypes perpetuated by the ubiquitous “pink ribbon” campaigns. In this compellingly told story, she shares with the reader her discoveries of how she found her own approach to move forward and the energy and dedication that the move demanded on her personally. As mentioned previously this is a robust resource for others who do not see themselves in standard breast cancer tales.

Geniza’s use of muted blues, blacks, and grays intensify the gravity of the situation, highlighting, through the expressive facial portraits, the fatigue and worry that the experience has on all those involved, not only the protagonist. The illustrations add to the tenderness, the pain, and the hope of those within Kimiko’s circle. The illustrations effectively and economically enhance the text in the relating of the narrative and in bringing the characters alive for the readers.

I must add a disclaimer here, your reviewer experienced similar encounters with the upside-down experiences of being diagnosed with breast cancer and its after effects. Kimiko’s story, although quantitatively different, strongly resonated with me as I reviewed her story and especially her disclosures about the aftermath of being “cancer-free”. Ironically, perhaps, I found reading this graphic novel experience joyful and poignant. It reverberated loudly with me although I match the perceived demographic of breast cancer patients in Canada. Her story strongly demonstrates that each person’s experience is uniquely their own, regardless of common, or in this case, uncommon markers of the disease and treatment. It also points to the unexpected interconnections in the shared experiences as well.

This graphic novel is a strong entry in the genre of graphic medicine and should be widely accessible in all public libraries as well as academic library collections highlighting memoirs, health and wellness narratives, and LGBTQ dialogues.

Kimiko Does Cancer: A Graphic Memoir
By Kimiko Tobimatsu
Art by Keet Geniza
ISBN: 9781551528199
Arsenal Pulp, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Adult

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Traits: Queer
Creator Highlights: Japanese-Canadian, Queer, Genderqueer, Disability

Be Gay, Do Comics

The Nib compiles approximately fifty webcomics (many of which were previously published on from forty creators on a wide variety of LGBTQ+-related topics into this Kickstarter-backed anthology. The comics run the gamut from one-page funnies to ten-plus-page detailed glimpses into queer history. Associate Editor Matt Lubchansky’s introduction explains the origin of the title’s source, the phrase “Be Gay, Do Crime.” Lubchansky also discusses the significance of comics as a means to express queer identity in a singularly accessible manner.

Some of the most interesting comics in the anthology serve to educate readers about various aspects of the queer experience. These include histories, cultural and national disparities in treatments of queer people, and procedures like embryo adoption and securing birth control as an asexual person. One historical highlight is The Life of Gad Beck, written by Dorian Alexander, which details gay Jewish Beck’s resistance under Nazi Germany. Levi Hastings’ gorgeous illustrations are rendered in black, white, and pale blue, with thick outlines (there is no art tool information in the book, but it looks like Hastings used oil pastels). Another particularly informative contribution is Sam Wallman’s A Covert Gaze at Conservative Gays, an illuminating piece about historical and contemporary right-wing activism among queer people. At first glance, Wallman’s panelless comic closely resembles a infographic by a Mad Magazine artist; Al Jaffee comes to mind. But this black, white, and pink comic strikes a perfect balance between discussing “gay supervillains” like Milo Yiannopolous and more sympathetic conservatives like gun advocates in the wake of the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Kazimir Lee’s What’s It Like to Raise Kids in Malaysia When You’re LGBT? is another interesting piece which details political perspectives and individual experiences of queer people in Malaysia. The standout art is reminiscent of a mid-20th century picture book; the full-color illustrations are predominantly in earthy reds, pinks, yellows, and browns, and there are minimal outlines in the characters’ block-like head and body shapes.

The anthology balances its drier informational pieces with funny one-page strips and relatable memoirs. A memoir highlight is Dancing with Pride by Maia Kobabe (Gender Queer) and is about eir experience in a folk dancing class where dancers are assigned different roles based on their perceived genders. The simple illustrations appear to be in pencil and watercolor, and feature a page where the dancers are lined up in order so their shirts make a rainbow, a very subtle and sweet nod to queerness in non-queer spaces. Another moving piece is written by Sarah Mirk and details activist Pidgeon Pagonis’s experience as an intersex child. The piece, Gender Isn’t Binary and Neither Is Anatomy, is illustrated by Archie Bongiovanni (A Quick & Easy Guide to Pronouns, Grease Bats).  A couple laugh-out-loud funny highlights include Joey Alison Sayers’s The Final Reveal, in which the extremes of gender reveal parties are spoofed, and Shelby Criswell’s Astrological Signs as Classic Queer Haircuts

As is always the case when I read comic anthologies, there were pieces that didn’t resonate as well with me as those I’ve named above. Rather than specify them, I will argue that it is because this book features something for every reader. If a piece didn’t resonate with me, it is sure to resonate with someone else. The queer representation is so varied, with gay, lesbian, bisexual, trans, nonbinary, intersex, and ace representation, and with countless intersectional queer identities, that I am confident every queer reader will find something to relate to in this book. Due to its array of art styles and queer representations, I would particularly recommend Be Gay, Do Comics for fans of Iron Circus’s anthologies, like FTL, Y’all, Smut Peddler, and The Sleep of Reason.

Be Gay, Do Comics
Edited by Matt Bors
ISBN: 9781684057771
IDW, 2020

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Traits: Asexual, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Queer Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Intersex, Nonbinary, Trans
Creator Highlights: Black, Filipino-American, Puerto Rican Asexual, Bisexual, Gay, Lesbian, Queer Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans

The Magic Fish

This is a book close to my storyteller’s heart highlighting the power of stories to transcend time and place while remaining relevant and personal. Initially, the protagonist Tien and Hien, his mother, listen to each other read folktales to gain language skills and deepen the strong ties between the immigrant mother and her American-born son. She struggles with English and he is not conversant in Vietnamese, but they both comprehend the tales they share. Interwoven with the tales are the very real bittersweet concerns of a mother homesick for Vietnam and the family members left behind and of her teenage son, Tien, who is searching for the precise words in Vietnamese to come out to his parents about his sexuality. The telling of the folktales, intertwined with the personal experience stories, exemplifies the alienation both characters are experiencing and the trials and challenges they must overcome along the way while illuminating the strong family bonds, love, and respect for each other.

The three folktales, the number so pertinent to the genre of western folklore, include two variants of the Cinderella tale type, a loose adaptation of the German variant “Allerleirauh” and “Ta’m Cam” from Vietnam, and The Little Mermaid by Hans Christian Andersen. They serve to emphasize both the universality of the archetypes and the cultural differences in the traditional tales as well as the innate visual interpretations of the listeners reflecting their own backgrounds and individual needs.

As the author explains in his after note, Tien would be most familiar with the western sensibilities of princess stories popularized by contemporary toys and cartoons reflecting the anachronistic visual details of these tales and these sensibilities are faithfully illustrated in this retelling. The second variant is told by his mother’s aunt on her visit to Vietnam upon the death of her mother. Here, the tale is reminiscent of French colonial elements in the building structures and clothing of the characters. The third tale is told to Tien by his mother, reflecting her visual memories of Vietnam, Hong Kong, and San Francisco. “The mermaid is a stand-in for Helen’s [Hien] experiences, a woman who wanted to escape to another world and manages to make it there at the cost of her ability to communicate. It is this underlying element of not being able to adequately communicate that ties the three folktales and the contemporary story together so successfully. Because the three tales are told with such care and detail, readers of the graphic novel share the stories along with the characters. Nguyen trusts the folklore to do their magic as they illuminate Tien’s struggle to come out to his mother and the unconditional love his mother has for him as she struggles to comprehend what he is trying to tell her. The contemporary story also amplifies the friendship and acceptance that Tien has from his school mates, if not the school administration. There is one dark segment when the teacher and priest’s guidance is detrimental to Tien’s well being, but this is eventually overcome as well.

The expansive retellings are delineated by the light purple backgrounds, while the sandy yellow background signifies Hien’s memories, and Tien’s contemporary 1998 experiences is rendered in tones of red. The black and white illustrations themselves are simple with clean lines and layout except for the marvelous clothes and buildings in the folktales themselves. Most of the illustrations were created digitally, a new, but ultimately successful, experience for Nguyen.

This quiet and reflective book also warms my librarian heart as it validates the effectiveness of libraries and books. It is a book that I raved about to Gina Gagliano, publishing director of Random House Graphic, in a personal conversation without realizing her robust contribution in bringing the book to fruition. I join in Nguyen in thanking her as this is a book I will be raving about in my university courses on comic books and on storytelling and with friends.

Highly recommended for readers of all ages of folktales and those who appreciate the values of compassion and human kindness.

The Magic Fish
By Trung Le Nguyen
ISBN: 9780593125298
Random House, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 12 +

Title Details and Representation
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Character Traits: Vietnamese American, Queer
Creator Highlights: Vietnamese American, Queer
Related to…: Book to Comic

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities

Oh, what a delightful little book this is. Witty, engaging, and down-to-earth, A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities, created by Mady G. and J.R. Zuckerberg, is the introduction to LGBTQ+ identities we’ve been waiting for. For queer and trans youth, those who know their gender identity and those who are still figuring it out, this guide seeks to answer their questions and validate their feelings. For allies, it’s a window into what it means, and how it feels, to be queer and/or trans, and for everyone else, it’s a great starting point to learning more about these identities. As a queer-identifying person myself, I am sad that there wasn’t anything like this book when I was younger and thrilled that it exists now.

The story begins with a group of curious forest snails. They come across a gathering of queer and transhumans camping in the woods—much different from the humans they’re used to seeing—and are surprised by the snail Iggy, who belongs to one of the humans. Iggy becomes their guide, and our guide, into the wonderful world of queerness, and takes us on a journey through gender identity, sexuality, gender expression, gender dysphoria, and more. Iggy has learned about queer and trans identities by listening to his human, Bowery, a queer educator, and the story shifts back and forth between Iggy’s education-driven narrative and the more personal accounts of queerness discussed around the campfire. A third group, the sproutlings, also play a part in this guide. They are a group of nature-dwelling creatures of all shapes, colors, and sizes, and represent a world in which everyone is free to explore their gender without fear or judgment from others. They are not immune to feelings of confusion or loneliness but are fully supported in their quest to discover who they are and what makes them feel true to themselves. It is a different world from our own, but one that we’re shown is possible.

The concepts within this book are complex, but the chapter format makes them less intimidating and easier to digest, especially for those who may be new to such terms and ideas. Individual segments include coming out, asexuality, gender expression, etc. I’m impressed with the writers’ abilities to tackle them in a way that is easy to understand, yet feels like nothing is left out. For example, one of the most popular ways of describing gender has been as a linear spectrum, with male and female gender binaries sitting at opposite ends of this spectrum, and other identities falling somewhere in between. While this guide acknowledges this view, it also highlights the more inclusive approach to gender as a fluid, nonlinear spectrum that holds space for all identities and allows for plenty of room to explore. The general tone of this guide is thoughtful, clear, and empathetic, with a simplicity that normalizes the queer experience and teaches nonqueer humans how to be respectful allies.

While I typically prefer colorful palettes in the graphic novels that I read, I appreciate that the creators opted for a minimal array of pinks, yellows, and blues. It’s fun, colorful, and pleasing enough to the eye, but doesn’t detract or distract from the information being relayed. All in all, this is a wonderful resource for schools and libraries serving the Teen+ age group. Tweens may also benefit from this guide, although the true meaning of a lot of the concepts discussed may be too difficult for them to fully grasp. If you’re looking to improve your LGBTQ+ collection, or are interested in similar titles, I also recommend A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by the same publisher.

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities
By Mady G. and J.R. Zuckerberg
ISBN: 9781620105863
Limerence Press, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: Teen and up

Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Queer Trans, Agender, Genderqueer, Nonbinary
Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator

Chronin, vol 1: The Knife at Your Back

In Chronin: Knife at Your Back, Mirai Yoshida is out of time. Literally. A history grad student from 2042, she has disguised herself as a man and finds herself trapped in 1864 in Edo, Japan.

This gender-bending, time-hopping adventure by writer and artist Alison Wilgus is simply drawn with clean lines and and somber grey shading. But the plot is rich enough to keep the reader heading down the Tokaido Road when Yoshida, in her ronin disguise, is hired as a bodyguard to accompany a tea house owner on a trip from Kyoto to Edo.

Edo (Tokyo) is a political powder keg in 1864. The Tokagowa Shogunate is set to fall, as pro-imperial forces gather, but Mirai has issues of her own to worry about. Besides being disguised as a samurai (a capital offense), she’s dealing with her ex-boyfriend-turned-patriot and the possibility that they might have altered history.

The average reader’s lack of Japanese history is no impediment to understanding the story. Not a lot of time is spent on exposition or explanation of terms (and there are no footnotes). I am a fan of the Edo period, and readers of historical samurai manga like Rouroni Kenshin, Peacemaker, or Kaze Hiraku may be familiar with the Shinsingumi or the Imperial factions of this civil war and the resulting Meiji Restoration.

Chronin’s flashbacks reveal Mirai’s studies in the future and the tale of how she became trapped in the past, as well as her ex’s radicalization that caused him to abandon his studies for a tea house mistress and life in 1864.

The plot reads like an exciting manga and the art is reminiscent of a Japanese woodblock print, with lightly shaded, simple backgrounds. The characters are flatly drawn without shading or a lot of detail. The time travel trope is fairly common and has been explored in comics and fiction—certainly the phrase “Butterfly Effect” applies here. As unexpected events occur and expected events fail to materialize, Mirai (which means “future” in Japanese) is left wondering what the hell went wrong.

This first volume reveals each character’s motivations bit by bit and leaves some secrets left unanswered. It’s an engrossing, fast read, not bogged down by the political or historical plot. These simply serve as a backdrop to Mirai’s own adventure.

Wilgus’ previous graphic novel works include an Avatar: The Last Airbender prequel, Zuko’s Story. Volume 2 of Chronin: The Sword in Your Hand is set to be released in September of 2019. In it, Mirai is forced to concoct a plan to set history to rights, but will face some formidable enemies, and only time will tell if she will survive, let alone make it back home.

The publisher rates it for older teens, which makes sense as the main characters are grad students. The libraries I have checked all list this graphic novel in their adult graphic novel section, most likely due to the plot and the age of the main characters. The simplicity of the art and lack of color reduces the impact of the violent sword fights. But this graphic novel will appeal to teens and adults alike. I eagerly look forward to reading the next installment.

Chronin, vol 1: The Knife at Your Back
By Ben Wilgus
ISBN: 9780765391636
Tor Books, 2019
Publisher Age Rating: T+
Series Reading Order: (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Japanese Queer Genderqueer
Creator Highlights: LGBTQIA+ Creator

As the Crow Flies, vol. 1

Thirteen-year-old Charlie; a black, queer teen, finds herself in the middle of a Christian backpacking retreat for girls. As the only black camper, Charlie feels like an outsider. From the start, the camp leader, Bee, describes redemption as a “whitening.” As Charlie listens to her, she grows uncomfortable, but chooses to stay quiet and wrestles internally with herself and her choice to come here, which she believes was God’s answer to her prayer.

The group soon sets off on a pilgrimage inspired by a similar one a group of women took in the 19th century. As the hike goes on, Bee tells the story of these women and preaches about feminism, but it becomes clear to Charlie that this feminism only included the white, straight, rich women of the time. A girl like Charlie would never have been included in this first pilgrimage. Feeling more and more out of place, she pleads to God, questioning why she came and begins to doubt herself.

Fortunately, Charlie befriends an outspoken girl named Sydney, who is also an outsider in the camp. Sydney confides in Charlie that she is transgender, but is keeping it a secret for fear of ridicule from the other campers. They find comfort in each other as they discuss their lives, religion, and thoughts, realizing they both are left out of the history of the hike. The story ends before the hikers reach their destination, leaving some questions, but ultimately is still a satisfying conclusion. (As the Crow Flies started as a webcomic and was published after a Kickstarter campaign. Melanie Gillman continues to work on the story of Charlie and Sydney, and a second volume is planned.)

With realistic and detailed colored pencil illustrations and several wordless pages showcasing the scenery of the hike, the book has a strong sense of setting and place. You can feel the sun beating down on Charlie as she struggles up the mountain. The enormity and beauty of the environment make it easy for Charlie to believe in and talk with God. A feather seems to be following her around and she feels it is a sign from above. This splendor also makes the casual racism and homophobia feel like a slap in the face. The juxtaposition of such beauty with ignorance is startling, pulling Charlie and you away from the nature.

The characters are dynamic and diverse. Charlie interacts with mean girls, who tease Sydney for wearing skirts, but by the end one of them has a change of heart. The kindness of Bee’s daughter helps Charlie along the way as well. For such a short and concise story, a lot is addressed; including race, religion, sexuality, and feminism.

With heart and humor, As the Crow Flies makes you think and consider what you’ve been taught about feminism, religion, and history and consider who has been left out of the story.

Appropriate for tweens and older, this is a must-have for diverse and inclusive collections.

As the Crow Flies, vol. 1
by Melanie Gillman
ISBN: 9781945820069
Iron Circus Comics, 2017