Tony Price is your average high school track star/rebel looking to prove himself to his absent, overworked father. Eli Hirsch is a meek boy with a chronic illness that keeps him from having a stable social life. Together, they experience the eerie events that plague their quaint New England town of Blackwater, such as a terrifying creature that stalks the woods and a haunting presence in the harbor that only Eli can see. As the two face the horrors of the supernatural, as well as a healthy amount of teen drama, they grow closer as friends and, in time, start to feel something deeper for each other.
While Blackwater delivers on its more horrific moments, creators Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham capture a more down-to-earth, character-driven narrative in which the supernatural elements are there more for the development of the main characters rather than to give the reader a scare. This works in the graphic novel’s favor, as Tony and Eli’s relationship is a major highlight of the story. Their romance builds naturally and is constantly being tested through their actions and how they react to the odd goings on around them. There is a slow-burn aspect to their dynamic, which may disappoint those looking to jump right into the romance, but it ultimately culminates in a satisfying payoff to this slight enemies to friends to lovers build up. Other character ties are explored and gain some depth and/or resolution, though there are a few that gain some focus only to lead to loose ends. Since relationships, whether platonic, romantic or familial, play such a large role in the story this lack of resolution gives off a disjointed feeling at times.
One quality of Blackwater worth noting is the normalized intersectional representation shown through the characters. Tony is bisexual and half Puerto Rican, while Eli is Jewish, transgender, and queer. Both of them are disabled, Tony having asthma and Eli having a chronic autoimmune disorder as well as being an ambulatory wheelchair user. The representation varies in terms of what is specifically addressed, ranging from a few panels showing a menorah in Eli’s hospital room to the boys’ disabilities playing major roles in the story. Regardless, the creators treat each facet of the characters’ identity with respect, refraining from making them sole, defining characteristics.
Without a doubt, Blackwater’s standout quality is its use of multiple art styles. Arroyo and Graham’s illustrations alternate between chapters, aiming for a more “unique and dynamic” experience. Each artist creates a moody, spooky atmosphere for this small woodsy town, as the black and white color palette gives it all the charm of an old monster flick. A constant foggy texture lays within the backgrounds, giving a further air of mystery to each location. Though Arroyo and Graham both enrich the comic in their own ways, it may come down to the reader’s personal tastes whether the desired effect of both styles works or not. For me, I found myself more drawn to Arroyo’s chapters, where characters have such expressive facial features that each emotion is instantly recognizable, sometimes overexaggerated in a cartoony way that I really enjoy. Arroyo uses the entire face to her advantage when having a character emote, giving it such a dynamic malleability and making for a great range of expressions. In comparison, Graham’s designs are more static, more reserved, to the point where their features somewhat conflict with what the character is meant to be feeling. Still, Graham greatly contributes to the comic through their lush backgrounds, enhanced by the monochromatic hues. While each style has its own strengths, they both fit the story and tone perfectly.
Blackwater expertly balances a cute, budding romance with paranormal perils and a dash of teen angst thrown in for good measure, giving it an appeal akin to Heartstopper, Teen Wolf, and Riverdale all rolled up into one. Presenting a somewhat light horror, there is nothing too off-putting for those just getting into the genre, aside from some visuals of blood. The publisher gives an age recommendation of 14-18, which fits well with the teen-centric issues of the main characters and overall aesthetic. Educators and librarians that are looking for representative and diverse materials that also give variety in genre and story should consider purchasing this title.
Blackwater By Jeannette Arroyo, Ren Graham Henry Holt Books for Young Readers, 2022 ISBN: 9781250304025
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Latine, Queer, , Character Representation: Black, German-American, Latine, Bisexual, Queer, Trans, Chronic Illness, Disability, Wheelchair User, Jewish ,
Fifteen year-old Desideria “Dizzy” Olsen just knows she’s destined for greatness. One day, anyway. But so far, it seems like everything she tries—from ballet to trumpet—just ends in total disaster. So when a portal opens up right in front of her when she’s about to toss her roller skates into the donation bin along with the rest of the accouterments from her abandoned hobby attempts, it suddenly seems like everything is falling into place after all!
It turns out that fate (and new mentor Chipper) has a new mission for her: take on the mantle of ‘Burb Defender and use her newfound powers (plus super cool gadgets like the Helmet of Helping and the Blaster Bracelet) to save her hometown from evil monsters known as Negatrixes and their bad vibes.
As the pressure mounts and Negatrixes multiply, Dizzy starts to realize that there might be more to being a Chosen One than potential fame and cool superpowers. With her own personal Negatrix looming, will the ‘Burb Defender and her new friends the Rollers be enough to defend Ruseberg from the biggest threat yet?
A sweet, silly, and action-packed romp that touches on Chosen One tropes, new friendships, and figuring out who you are, Getting Dizzy is a delightful and enjoyable read for teens and tweens. Refreshingly, the core cast of characters is diverse without being didactic about it: Dizzy is Latine-coded, Scarlett seems to be East Asian (unspecified), Payton is disabled (born without a left hand), and Av is Black and non-binary. This cast is a reflection of the world teens are currently living in, and it’s nice to see them just exist, and not have their identities pointed out in any specific way. Specific traits of each member of the friend group come into play in a vital way later on, and are things unrelated to their race, gender identity, or ability. Instead, what’s important about each friend are qualities like always seeing the beauty in everyone or being incredibly smart.
With the story opening on a younger Dizzy’s dream of ballet stardom clashing with the reality of name-calling at school, the tone is set right from the start. Fiercely independent (just like her mom), Dizzy isn’t afraid to rise to a new challenge. At least, not at first. Like many young people, she’s a big dreamer who probably wishes life was more like a movie montage, especially when learning to fight the Negatrixes means re-learning how to roller skate (and falling. A LOT — an experience writer Shea Fontana is quite familiar with as a former roller derby player).
No stranger to the superhero genre herself thanks to her experience writing for the DC Super Hero Girls series, Fontana infuses the graphic novel with a solid mix of one-liners, goofy idioms, and moments of seriousness. From quick-witted dialogue like Payton’s quip about leaving the rest of her left arm behind when she moved from Seattle to Chipper’s speech about participation trophies and why sometimes it’s the people who aren’t good at something who get chosen, the dialogue helps Dizzy and her friends feel grounded in reality, even when they’re blasting Negatrixes back into portals with colorful magic. While the superhero antics are fun, teens and tweens will likely find themselves drawn to the themes of friendship, perseverance, and figuring out how to fight against our own anxiety and negative emotions, even when it feels easier to just give in.
Illustrator Celia Moscote, known for their gorgeous work on the graphic adaptation of Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath, succeeds again here in bringing Fontana’s cast and this imaginative setting to brilliant life on the page. The Negatrixes feel scary in a Pokémon-esque, cartoonish sort of way, keeping the terror lower stakes and accessible for both younger and older readers. Emotions are rendered in great facial expressions, and the visual pratfalls are hilarious. The colors are bold and vivid, especially the magic: that sparkles and swirls give off a magical girl element perfect for our resident ‘Burb Defender.
A welcome addition to tween and teen collections, Getting Dizzy is a lighthearted but meaningful compilation of an initial run of four comic issues that leaves readers on a cliffhanger and hoping for a potential sequel. Hand it to fans of graphic novels like Sebastian Kadlecik’s Quince, Sam Humphries’ Jonesy, and anyone who enjoys stories featuring magical girls, superheroes, and the power of friendship.
Getting Dizzy By Shea Fontana Art by Celia Moscote BOOM! Box, 2022 ISBN: 9781684158386
Publisher Age Rating: 12+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Latine, Nonbinary , Character Representation: Assumed Hispanic or Latine,
What’s not special about celebrating your quinceanera? This traditional fifteenth birthday celebration is a special time for many young ladies as they enter adulthood. But there is always someone who is a little hesitant in keeping up with traditions. For Kat Fajardo’s protagonist in her newest graphic novel, Miss Quinces, a family party with dancing and dresses is not her thing.
Young comic artist Suyapa Yisel Gutierrez, or Sue for short, is so not looking forward to her trip to Honduras. Not only is she miles away from her friends and summer camp, she is staying out in the country with no cell service, Wi-Fi, or cable and visiting her loud relatives. Things go from bad to worse when she finds out that her mother is planning her quinceanera behind her back. The family is so excited for her but Sue would rather skip it. Wearing a frilly dress and making speeches is just not her. However, with some coaxing from her grandmother and a willing compromise with her mother, Sue settles into the planning stages of her party and gets a chance to finally express herself.
Fajardo’s graphic novel combines the craziness and love of family. Readers will be reminded of their own families after witnessing emotional and hilarious scenes between Sue and her relatives. The main character’s journey to rid her of self-doubt and to be expressive in her own special way is reminiscent of any teenager’s life. Along with her storytelling, Fajardo has created a diverse cast of characters with their own unique style and expressions. Scenes of Honduras’ countryside, city life, folklore, languages, home life, and meals provide U.S.-based readers with a look into a place different from their own, Readers of Latinx descendant will find a connection with Sue and her culture, especially young girls who are preparing for their own quinceanera. For those unfamiliar with the celebration, the author provides a brief explanation of the party, its traditions and photos from her own.
Kat Fajardo’s Miss Quinces is a definite purchase for school and public libraries. Middle school and junior high school readers who enjoy reading graphic novels by Raina Telgemeier, Kayla Miller, and Terri Libenson will want to give this one a try. For libraries who serve a bilingual community, it will be beneficial to include Miss Quinces in their graphic novel collection, along with the Spanish edition that will be published simultaneously with the English one.
Miss Quinces Vol. By Kat Fajardo Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022 ISBN: 9781338535594
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Latinx, Character Representation: Honduran, Latinx,
This installment of the Dungeons & Dragons graphic novel series opens with a group of traveling miners caught in a blizzard in the Icewind Dale area when they are overcome by anger and start brawling, which ruins their cart and leads to the death of almost the entire party. The only survivor is the driver, Amos, and his leg was injured in the cart crash. Luckily, Runa, a nearby warrior, follows the wolves previously pulling the cart and arrives just in time to save Amos from a remorhaz that bursts out of the mountain and consumes the last of the cart and all of its contents. Runa finds herself facing the remorhaz alone while trying to keep Amos in one piece until she loses her ax in the beast’s eye and a passing dragonborn ranger named Saarvin, avails himself to save her life.
Runa decides to travel with Saarvin until she can repay the blood debt and save his life, so the three of them travel to Ten Towns to see if the local druid can heal Amos’ injured leg. Upon arrival to the town’s tavern, another brawl has broken out between two drunken humans over a bag of chardalyn, which introduces Patience the tiefling and her employer, Belvyre the druid. Amos convinces the party that they should look for the magic-filled lost city his miner companions were discussing in order to find plants that could survive the magical blizzard and help feed Ten Towns, which is almost out of food supplies.Along their travels, they must fight and defeat several frost giant skeletons, recover from a betrayal, overcome a confrontation with Runa’s family, and save a duergar army from a volcanic eruption.
This graphic novel ties in with the recently released D&D Icewind Dale adventure from Wizards of the Coast and does a good job of providing a sense of the terrifying creatures and icy conditions players could encounter were they to travel through the area. Overall, the story makes sense and follows a typical adventure path as the party forms and moves deeper into the dungeon. The side characters brought some extra worldbuilding even though they felt like forgettable non-player characters (NPCs). The main characters stayed pretty flat throughout the story with the exception of Amos, who exemplifies the bad guy with a heart of gold trope. Seasoned Dungeons & Dragons players will catch the Easter eggs sprinkled throughout, but new readers will still be able to enjoy the story as well.
The colored art does a great job of adding atmosphere to the story and identifying our main characters in a blizzard of snowy white and gray. It is highly detailed with a care for shading to add extra depth, which helps immerse the reader in a fantasy world. I particularly loved the facial expressions that conveyed a wide range of emotions from anger to sulking to big-bellied laughter. Although this would not be a core title to include in an average graphic novel collection, if you have a population interested in gaming in general, or D&D specifically, this title would do well. Be aware that there is violence and blood depicted throughout, so it’s probably for teens or older readers.
Dungeons & Dragons: At The Spine of the World By AJ Mendez, Aimee Garcia Art by Martin Coccolo IDW, 2021 ISBN: 9781684057917
Related media: Game to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Latinx, Uruguayan Character Representation: Black
What if going to school, making new friends, and even just the idea of having to participate in a group activity made you feel so awful you wanted to disappear? What if it was much more comfortable to talk to the one friend you do have through a screen and not in person?
Eleven year-old Rena Villanueva, who has social anxiety disorder, knows exactly what that feels like. She’d much rather hang out in her room playing video games and chatting online with her best friend, Sidney. But her mom and her therapist have other ideas (and the ultimatums to go with them), which is how she ends up a real student at the totally fake-sounding Watsonville Ninja School, suddenly the center of an ancient prophecy.
As she trains to become “The Ghost” with ninja master Dysart and her mom spends all her time creating a super advanced AI, Rena learns that things aren’t always what they seem, and that maybe she’s capable of more than she thinks.
Another girl capable of more than she thinks is Adara Sanchez, creator of Shy Ninja and teenage daughter of writer Ricardo Sanchez. In the graphic novel’s forward, readers will enjoy learning about how the original idea for the story came from a young teen riding in the back of her dad’s car on the way to San Diego Comic Con. Even better? The fact that none of Ricardo’s ideas were good enough for the editors he pitched them to, but Adara’s was (and yes, he immediately gave her credit after pitching it). It’s a sweet account of a father and daughter team working together to take a graphic novel from idea to page.
The Sanchez duo’s portrayal of Rena’s desire to stay in her safe bubble of video games and minimal social interactions where she can be her regular energetic, engaging self feels realistic and genuine, and the discomfort she feels when pressed by her therapist to push herself outside those boundaries feels truthful to the behavioral therapy experience, especially in treatment of anxiety disorders. Additionally, the juxtaposition between her friend Sidney’s unspecified physical medical condition that forces him to stay inside alone in an actual bubble and Rena’s wish to do the same for her mental health presents conflict between the two BFFs in a “grass is greener” way that will be relatable to kids and tweens dealing with their own mental health struggles.
On the topic of representation, for a story with some focus on ninja lore there seems to be very little Japanese representation outside of the historical stories Rena learns about. But there is some racial diversity in our central characters, as best friend Sidney is Black, and Rena herself is coded as Latinx, given her last name and her tan skin.
And of course, Shy Ninja wouldn’t be the same without Arianna Florean’s vividly colored illustrations bringing an animated feel, absolutely perfect for showcasing the fast-paced action of Rena’s ninjutsu skills and daring missions. Florean’s emphasis on lively, exaggerated facial expressions add to the cartoony vibe, inviting readers to dive into a book that’s just a blast to look at as well as read.
It’s refreshing to see an uptick in middle grade content with mental illness representation as of late, and Shy Ninja does it well, creatively combining realism with chosen one prophecy tropes and adventure in its portrayal of social anxiety disorder. It would be a welcome addition to any library’s middle grade/tween collection, especially where slice of life stories featuring unsuspecting girls who are ready to maybe kick a little butt are popular.
Shy Ninja Vol. By Adara Sanchez, Ricardo Sanchez, , Art by Arianna Florean Humanoids Big, 2021 ISBN: 9781643378633
Publisher Age Rating: 8+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Latinx Character Representation: Latinx, Anxiety
What’s great about fantasy is that it is a genre that allows you to do whatever you want. With the right storyline, characters, dialogue, and unique creativity, a fantasy graphic novel can take your readers on a journey that they may see themselves in. Writing and illustrating duo Alejandra Green and Fanny Rodriguez have done just that in their new graphic novel Fantastic Tales of Nothing. The ladies have created an energetic new series with a lot to offer to readers, whether it’s the inclusion of non-binary and diversified characters, its hilarious use of word play, or a world with hidden mysterious that are waiting to be solved.
In the land of Nothing, two races of beings are constantly fighting one another, the Human Empire and the shape shifting Volken Court. For now, there is peace between the two but that could fracture at any time. Amidst all this there is Nathan Cadwell, a common minstrel who discovers that he possesses magic from an ancient spirit named Lerina. He is soon thrust into a quest to stop a possible war and vanquish an evil entity. Lucky for him he has two volken mercenaries to aid him, the magical crow Sina and the tough wolf Bardou, and a being who he calls Haven who speaks the ancient tongue and may be an important key in his journey.
This graphic novel takes readers into a truly magical and mysterious fantasy world filled with color, well thought out characters, and plenty of action. The creators have crafted a vast landscape of forestry, deserts, townships, and seaports with hidden details that keep the reader searching within each panel. They use a palette of shadows and dark colors for panels that take place at night or in a dark area and bright colors of various hues for sunny days and magical actions. Scenes with magical forces at work flow from panel to panel along with any action that is taking place, keeping readers alert to any revelations or plot twists that may arise. As for the story, readers will recognize common fantasy tropes (a group quest, each teammate with a specific skill, traveling different lands, etc.) but they will appreciate how this story takes a different turn.
Most of the cities and towns are inspired by Hispanic architecture and cultures, with townspeople that appear Latinx, and Nathan using a few Spanish words during conversations. There is also Haven, a non-binary character who speaks an ancient tongue that the writers may only translate if it is important to the story. Other than that, their dialogue is kept in their tongue. The story also contains some humorous dialogue, mostly wordplay centered on the various lands and cities the group visits and the fact that their land is just called Nothing.
Fantastic Tales of Nothing is a great fantasy read for those who enjoy similar graphic novels like Amulet or Bone. It is a great addition to both public and school libraries, especially those with patrons in fourth-sixth grades grades. Librarians should also mention to their patrons that the duo Alejandra Green and Fanny Rodriguez have their own website with other comic series and news about upcoming and current illustrated projects.
Fantastic Tales of Nothing By Alejandra Green Art by Fanny Rodriguez ISBN: 9780062839473 Harper Alley, 2020 Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Character Traits: Latinx