For some immigrant families, the American dream may seem like a fairy tale where things somehow work out neatly in the end, their arrival to the United States marking the culmination of a long awaited destination. For others, the struggle persists as immigrants strive to make sense of their identity in a strange world, trapped between the old and the new. The Lin family, undocumented immigrants from Taiwan, falls into the latter category in their goal to negotiate the multiple roles they play in American culture in Betty C. Tang’s Parachute Kids.
The year is 1981, the Lins have just arrived to the US after an overseas flight from Taiwan, and they meet up with some relatives shortly upon landing in Los Angeles. The heart of the story centers on a trio of children that includes Feng-Li (her American name is Ann), her older brother Ke-Gng (Jason), and older sister Jia-Xi (Jessie). No sooner than they start adjusting to their newfound lives than their parents announce they must return to Taiwan.
Their father must maintain his overseas business while their mother’s visa has expired, thereby leaving the kids to fend for themselves. Feng-Li wrestles with learning the English language, Ke-Gng is pressured into fitting in with a clique of Hong Kong boys at school, and Jia-Xi crams for SAT exams for college and must find a job to make ends meet. The lives of each character crystalize into focus as they tackle intense situations that drag them into the throes of smoking, shoplifting, and even being swindled into a deportation scam.
Tang navigates themes of assimilation, racism, bullying, sacrifice, family secrets, and identity searching on the path towards achieving the American dream. Intense dilemmas are punctuated by hilarious moments of comic relief, reflecting the gamut of emotions ranging from arduous struggles to triumphant resilience. Vibrant colors accentuate the scenes in each panel, capturing the nuanced personas of each character as they juggle the ups and downs of daily life.
An enriching addition to graphic novel collections for juvenile and middle grade readers alike, Parachute Kids depicts the harsh realities of an Asian American experience balanced with warmth, humor, and dramatic flair. Most importantly, the Lin’s story debunks model minority stereotypes that continually perpetuate clichés, focusing instead on developing three-dimensional characters that portray a more holistic experience of growing up and adapting to American society.
Parachute Kids By Betty C. Tang Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2023 ISBN: 9781338832686
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Taiwanese-American, Character Representation: Taiwanese-American,
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
The multiple Eisner-winning series Monstress follows the journey of Maika Halfwolf, daughter of powerful Arcanics, as she tries to figure out what happened to her mother, and what exactly is inhabiting her body. In Vol. 2: The Blood, Maika, the fox Arcanic, Kippa, and the cat-poet, Ren, set out from the pirate city of Thyria, retracing her mother’s steps in her quest to discover the secrets of the Shaman-Empress, the first and most powerful Arcanics in history. Maika believes this quest will lead to answers about the vicious being who has taken up root in Maika. Her quest brings her to the Isle of Bones where an Ancient dwells and tortures the souls of those who unluckily end up there.
Vol.3: Haven sees Maika, Kippa, and Ren retreat to the refugee city of Pontus, but the shield that has protected the city for generations has stopped working. Only a person with a blood connection to the Shaman-Empress can run the technology and help fix it. By now, the monster inside Maika has grown strong enough to take on a full physical form and remember pieces of who he was. Zinn seeks to know more about Maika as he uncovers Maika’s memories that have been long since forgotten, and he shows Maika more about himself and his connection to the Shaman-Empress. The list of Maika and Zinn’s pursuers grows longer, and their list of allies shrinks.
Maika is not a stereotypical heroine in need of saving. She’s rude, unfeeling, and singularly focused on finding out what happened to her mother. She doesn’t want to kill indiscriminately, as Zinn wants, but she has no qualms with kicking the butts of whoever gets in her way. Kippa steals the scenes constantly with her childlike innocence and her oversized heart that cares for everyone, even those who betray her and Maika. Maika scares the daylights out of Kippa frequently, but since Volume 1, The Awakening; Kippa has been steadfast in her opinion that the safest place to be is with one of the most dangerous beings.
Sana Takeda’s art is one of the biggest stars of this series. The amount of detail in each panel is breathtaking. Each piece of clothing and technology is intricate and lush. The color palette is likewise beautiful—a striking mix of pastels and jewel tones with plenty of gold accents throughout. The full page splashes are definitely worth a moment to pause and take in, despite the need readers will feel to keep reading.
There are some content warnings for this title. Characters are not shy about dropping f-bombs frequently, elevating this to a rated-R movie status within the first few pages. There is also a lot of violence and bloodshed. There are a few panels of suggested nudity where most of the body is covered by hair or other objects. For readers (and library collections) comfortable with the prevalence of strong language and violence, this rich fantasy is a worthy purchase for fans of intricate stories like The Wicked + The Divine, or epic high fantasy stories like Game of Thrones and anything by Patrick Ruthfuss.
Monstress, Volumes 2&3 By Marjorie Liu Art by Sana Takeda Vol. 2: The Blood ISBN: 9781534300415 Vol.3: Haven ISBN: 9781534306912 Image Comics, 2017 Publisher Age Rating: Mature Series ISBNS and Order
Title Details and Representation NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Prince Sebastian is the 16-year-old son of Belgian royalty staying with family in Paris for the summer while looking for an appropriate bride. Lady Crystallia is a stunning debutante shaking up the Paris nightlife with bold and flashy new women’s fashion. Their secret is that they are actually the same person: Sebastian during the day and Lady Crystallia at night. The Prince and the Dressmaker tells the story of Prince Sebastian’s double life, and of his best friend and dressmaker Frances, who helps him build and maintain his secret.
When Frances designs a controversial dress for a customer, she finds herself very quickly out of work, then just as quickly hired by the young prince. She is shocked to learn his secret: he’s a boy who likes wearing dresses. Frances wants the job anyway, and she and Sebastian soon grow close as they help make each other’s dreams come true.
Things go well for a while, but begin to sour when Frances realizes keeping Sebastian’s secret means she and her work will forever be a secret, too. Along the way, they must also face challenges as Sebastian’s parents continue pushing him to find a bride, Sebastian struggles with the expectations and pressures of his princely role, and the two begin to develop romantic feelings for each other.
There are both good and not-as-good aspects to this stand-alone graphic novel, but on the whole, I thought it was a sweet, feel-good story. One of the major issues with the comic is something that has been pointed out previously by others: Sebastian, while fictional, is written as the son of the actual monarch Leopold II of Belgium, who is presented in the story as a demanding and intimidating but ultimately caring figure. The real-life Leopold, on the other hand, laid claim to and exploited the Congo (present-day Democratic Republic of the Congo) and treated its people so horrifically and cruelly, he has been compared with Hitler. To the credit of the publisher and the creator Jen Wang, they have fully acknowledged this mistake. They were unaware of the history and will be fixing it in future printings. If you choose to purchase this title, you may want to wait until a newer edition has been released.
A reader’s feelings on The Prince and the Dressmaker may be very dependent on a lot of personal factors. For readers who cross-dress, are LGBTQ+, or have struggled with acceptance or shame due to other aspects of their identity being demonized by society, it may depend on how comfortable and safe they currently feel as themselves. The copy on the back of the book describes it as a fairy tale, and it fits this genre in that the resolution of the story is very ‘happily ever after,’ to the point of being unrealistic or stretching belief. The characters’—and society’s—acceptance for Sebastian can be heart-warming, and as someone who is out and comfortable, I enjoyed seeing the characters get their happy endings. For young people looking to the comic for guidance, or those who have faced more trauma around their identities, the conflict-free ending and speed with which norms are shifted may be a false promise. Sebastian’s outing without his consent is also an element that may bother some readers, especially if they have experienced being outed themselves.
Wang’s artwork is cute and expressive, and she accomplishes a lot with silence and wordless panels. She has a good sense of pacing and timing, both on a larger scale and with individual panel work. It’s a treat to see the fashion and the creativity of Frances depicted in such detail. The content is easily appropriate for the recommended 12-18 age range, and the themes of identity, working toward dreams, parental pressure, and budding romance should appeal to this age group, too.
I personally feel The Prince and the Dressmaker can be a good addition to a collection, but one to be undertaken with some thought and consideration of who your patrons are and how they may be affected. It certainly may not be a book for everyone, but there are some who (like me) may thoroughly enjoy it. While it’s not a sophisticated and high-level exploration of gender, gender norms, and cross-dressing; it’s worth noting that it does address these topics which are often lacking in books for this age group. It’s also very nice to see the positive depiction of a man who cross-dresses without being too over the top or played for laughs. Overall, The Prince and the Dressmaker is a fairly quick and charming read, with likable characters who are allowed happiness and success rather than being torn down for their differences.
The Prince and the Dressmaker By Jen Wang ISBN: 9781626723634 First Second, 2018 Publisher Age Rating: 12-18
Browse for more like this title NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+) Creator Highlights: BIPOC Creator
Jon and Koko are young adults in San Francisco who both aspire to be better people by following the ill-fitting examples of others.
Jon plans to leave everything behind and follow his girlfriend Emily to Peru, where she will teach at an orphanage. Emily’s sense of purpose and dedication inspires Jon, who imagines his own musical aspirations to be comparatively shallow. Koko, meanwhile, is an aimless, chaotic troublemaker who feels destined for greatness but has no idea how to pursue it. After meeting Jon over a stolen tape recorder, Koko decides to devote herself to becoming “good”, a project that she tackles with the same reckless enthusiasm and manic intensity as any of her previous self-serving schemes.
The further they commit themselves to their plans, however, the less sure Jon and Koko feel about the choices they’ve made. “Is it worth trying to be something you’re not? Just because it’s right?”
“Young people in search of themselves” is not exactly a new literary concept, but author Jen Wang brings it to vivid life with wonderfully expressive artwork. Every panel in Koko Be Good is rich with movement and sensuality; the gracefully exaggerated gestures and expressions of even minor characters convey the immediacy of their emotions while also presenting them in a playful light. This balance of lightness and expressiveness perfectly captures those moments of agonized soul-searching as being simultaneously the most important thing ever and really not very important at all.
The characters have distinct voices and body language, and their interactions make even the most mundane situations feel dynamic and dramatic. I particularly enjoyed every image that paired tiny, abrasive Koko with gangly, thoughtful Jon. Wang refrains from telling us everything about the characters and their situations, creating the sense that the characters and the world they inhabit exist beyond what we get to see of them.
There’s a surprising amount of action, slapstick and some violence for a story that focuses on existential journeys, keeping the story fast-paced and engaging. Characters smoke and drink, including one underage character, so this is probably best suited for older teens and adults.
Koko Be Good by Jen Wang ISBN: 9781596435551 First Second, 2010