High school is a time of transition. A time for coming of age. Relationships change. Both family and friends. Some end, others evolve, and new ones emerge. You begin to see yourself in a new light. It’s a time when many are suspended in limbo. For Deb JJ Lee, a Korean-American author and illustrator, their high school years were a time of tumultuous self-discovery. In Limbo is Lee’s graphic memoir chronicling the choppy waters of adolescent relationships and sense of self.
Lee struggles to find their place at home and at school. After emigrating from South Korea as a young child, they struggle with their identity and being other, not really Korean but not really American.
The memoir navigates relationships and emotion with great care and depth. After years of playing the violin, Lee comes to the realization that their passion is art, not music. The transition is difficult. Friends are in the orchestra and their parents invested so much time and money in lessons. This limbo between music and art is the theme throughout their freshman and sophomore year. And, as with the other themes of transition throughout the book, there are moments of dread and moments where the weight is lifted and Lee feels happiness or at least some peace. This is clearly communicated through the changing imagery in Lee’s illustrations. Their posture and facial expressions transition from feelings ranging from bored through sadness and loneliness to contentment if not happiness. During the lowest of lows, the panels fill with black smoke, drowning out everything else. But as they emerge from limbo with greater peace, the illustrations begin to shift as well. Rather than focusing on illustrations, Lee begins to find beauty in the details of every day. The pages turn into intricately drawn slice-of-life illustrations. But the peace is temporary, as they continue to navigate life transitions.
Lee’s story will be validating for many. Childhood friendships evolve and no longer seem to fit, and even new brighter friendships sometimes start to fade. These feelings are both devastating and almost universal for teenagers.
From the beginning it is also clear that the mother and child relationship is strained, another very personal and universal experience. However, as the memoir unfolds, it is clear that this mother is abusive, and that the strain in the relationship is far from universal. There are moments when the mother seems to begin to understand her child. When transitioning from music to art, Lee’s mother supports and encourages them, knowing that she must support what her child’s passions are, not what she wants them to be. However, that moment is more of an exception than a rule.
At one point in the memoir, Lee suggests that their mother avoided scrutiny from CPS because of “tiger mom” stereotypes of Asian mothers. Lee’s relationship with their family is complicated. Lee at times fears their mother, but at other times feels loved and supported. The dad is mostly sympathetic and warm but allows the abuse to continue. The complexity of the family dynamics unfold in the narrative as teenage Lee begins to unpack their trauma, a choice that invites the audience to acutely feel the betrayal.
The story will be validating for many. Lee is honest about their struggles and journey with relationships and mental health as a teen. There are no clear-cut solutions or fulfilling peace in the end, but there is therapy and the sense that they are on their way to self-acceptance.
In Limbo is not an easy book to read. The pace of this memoir is slow and deliberate. It focuses on Lee’s arc as a teen coming into themselves, rather than the events of their high school years. The content is also heavy. The book includes depression, abuse, and suicide attempts. However, for those who find their way to this memoir, it is a rewarding experience. I will highly recommend it to students who are fans of Tillie Walden, weighty memoirs, or anyone who needs reminding that the comic medium is a literary art form worthy of acclaim.
In Limbo By Deb JJ Lee Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250252661
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Korean-American, Nonbinary, Depression Character Representation: Korean-American, Depression
The Illustrated Al is a difficult comic to quantify, much like the music of its author. While Alfred Matthew Yankovic (aka “Weird Al”) is most famous as a parodist who found fame mocking Michael Jackson and Queen with songs like “Eat It” and “Another One Rides The Bus,” Al has also written a number of original songs. Some were stylistic satires of other musicians, such as Al’s salute to Sting and The Police with a song about the beauty of a black velvet Elvis Presley painting, “Velvet Elvis.” Others were parodies of certain genres of songs, such as the break-up ballad “Since You’ve Been Gone.” All of them are brilliant, but hard to explain in words. They must be heard.
This makes the idea behind The Illustrated Al all the, well, weirder. As comedian Emo Phillips explains in the introduction, the idea behind this book was to create print music videos for some of Weird Al’s most popular original songs that never got an actual music video based on them. Translating one medium to another is challenging even within a traditional story structure. Adapting music into comics sounds impossible, particularly when the music is devoted to such esoteric topics as a 2000 inch big-screen television set or the biggest ball of twine in Minnesota.
Somehow, The Illustrated Al manages it.
Many of the comics contained within this volume feature art that satirizes other artists, in the same way that Weird Al parodies other musicians. For instance, Ruben Bolling (of Tom the Dancing Bug fame) mimics the Love Is… comics in adapting the Weird Al song “You Don’t Love Me Anymore.” The original parody mocked saccharine love songs, with there being a total disconnect between Weird Al’s tender tone and lyrics such as “You slammed my face down on the barbecue grill. Now my scars are healing, but my heart never will.” The comic creates the same comedic disconnect, with the familiar style of Kim Casali portraying a dejected Al being tortured by his “beloved.”
Amazingly, most of the comics don’t require any familiarity with the songs that inspired them, though fans of Weird Al’s music are almost certain to get the most enjoyment out of The Illustrated Al. My personal favorite was Peter Bagge’s adaptation of “Why Does This Always Happen To Me?” in which Al cries to the heavens over various injustices, such as his favorite show being preempted with an emergency report. He also recognizes the victim of a horrific accident as the friend who owes him money and grumbles about never getting paid back now.
Another comic of note is Craig Rousseau’s suitably sinister spin on “Melanie,” which seems like a romantic song about love at first sight. Then you learn that the singer fell in love with the titular Melanie after spying on her showering with a telescope. Another high point is the adaptation of “Everything You Know Is Wrong,” which is expressively illustrated by MAD Magazine artist Gideon Kendall.
The Illustrated Al doesn’t have an official rating, but I’d suggest that, much like Al’s music, it is a firm PG-13 or T For Teen equivalent. There are no curse words, but there is a fair bit of violence and death, including depictions of suicide and self-harm. I’d also like to include a tongue-in-cheek trigger warning for any gun lovers who might accidentally stumble across the adaptation of “Trigger Happy,” which happily mocks those who think the Second Amendment of the United States Constitution is sacred but basic firearm safety is optional.
The Illustrated Al By Al Yankovic Art by Peter Bagge, Ruben Bolling, Craig Rousseau, Gideon Kendall Z2 Comics, 2023 ISBN: 9781954928640
Publisher Age Rating: 13+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Trailblazing French filmmaker Alice Guy-Blaché was present at the birth of modern film, a contemporary of the Lumière brothers and Georges Méliès. In Alice Guy: First Lady of Film, writer–artist duo Catel & Bocquet draw on original research from late media critic Francis Lacassin to document Guy’s career as the first major woman filmmaker and a pioneer of her industry.
The graphic biography opens with Guy’s 1873 birth and childhood in Europe and Chile. Lively and outspoken, Alice has an early interest in acting that is deemed unsuitable by her middle-class French family. Instead of taking to the stage, she goes to work as a secretary for what will soon become the Gaumont Film Company. Catel and Bocquet depict the chaos of these early years of film, with competing firms squabbling to dominate the new market. In this cutthroat environment, Alice is able to demonstrate business acumen and gain professional standing despite her gender.
In addition to business savvy, Guy has a vision for what film could be—a vehicle for telling stories. She teams up with a cinematographer to film the 1896 film La Fée aux Choux, a fantasy of cabbage-patch babies that may have been the first narrative film. As Alice finds success directing films for Gaumont, she and her collaborators develop the conventions that will define their industry, from filming on location to creating special effects to hammering out the logistics of public film screenings.
Alice also grapples with the ethical issues that face any unregulated new industry. She must take decisive action when an underaged actress is sexually assaulted by an older male professional on her set, or when a script about bullfighting raises questions of filming animal cruelty. Alice’s status as a woman filmmaker informs the way she handles these challenges and inspires her to take risks, from an attempted collaboration with activist Rose Pastor Stokes on a film about family planning to the production of A Fool and His Money, likely the first film with an all-African American cast.
Alice’s personal and professional life brings her to the United States, where she starts a family and New York-based studio with her husband, film producer Herbert Blaché. But their once-happy marriage ends in divorce, and business troubles bring Alice’s career to a premature close. Decades later, her role as a woman film pioneer has faded from memory: “The history of cinema has completely forgotten about me,” she tells Francis Lacassin.
Alice Guy’s story is an extraordinary one, and this biography is an exhaustive documentary source for information about her life. An appendix with a detailed timeline, bibliography and filmography, and 50 pages of biographical essays about historical figures depicted in the book makes this a valuable reference work for those interested in Alice Guy’s life and times.
As a casual reader, however, this book didn’t hook me. Catel’s elegant monochrome illustrations are versatile enough to capture both the domestic scenes of Alice’s personal life and the exciting variety of her film sets, but the story itself feels bogged down by the kitchen-sink detail of Bocquet’s script. A number of characters and episodes seem as if they’re present for the sake of completeness, giving the story a choppy, episodic quality. The result is a book that lacks a strong narrative arc, without a clear throughline of who Alice Guy was and what compelled her, creatively and personally, to succeed in this challenging new industry.
This book is recommended for larger graphic novel collections, particularly those that emphasize women’s history or media history. For those interested in learning about Guy’s remarkable life, it’s absolutely worth picking up, but general readers may not find it the most accessible entry point into her story.
Alice Guy: First Lady of Film By José-Louis Bocquet Art by Catel Muller SelfMadeHero, 2022 ISBN: 9781914224034
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: French, Character Representation: French,
Tommie Smith is the subject of one of the most iconic images from the Civil Rights Era, of two black men holding gloved fists high in a Black Power salute during the 1968 Olympics. In Victory. Stand!: Raising my Fist for Justice, Smith tells his story behind that moment. The graphic memoir, co-written with Derrick Barnes and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile gives an account of Smith’s life leading to the Olympics, his choice to make the political statement, and the aftermath.
The book opens with a race, specifically the 200 meter sprint finals. Despite a sharp pain in his thighs and a whirlwind of thoughts, Smith leaps at the sound of the starter pistol. We then immediately flashback to his childhood, 1949 in Texas. Throughout the next few chapters, Smith flashes back and forth between the story of his childhood and school years in the segregated South with his iconic race at the ‘68 Olympics.
Smith and Barnes juxtapose his pain and resiliency during the race with the harsh realities of living and growing as a Black boy surrounded by racial injustices. His parents were sharecroppers who were hardworking and kind, but treated in a way that was obviously cruel and unfair, even through the eyes of a young Smith. He talks about the ways he perceived these inequities, and the moment when he first came to the understanding that this was all about race. In college, Smith begins to realize that his voice matters. It is with that knowledge that he makes the decision to run in the Olympics and raise his fist to the sky. The last chapter details the trajectory of his life in the aftermath. Unfortunately, it felt rushed and included details that were not relevant to the theme of sports and the Civil Rights Movement. I also wish that the parallels with the 200 meter race and his life extended further into the story. However, these are small imperfections in an otherwise fascinating book from an important voice from history.
Anyabwile’s illustrations in gray, black, and white, are filled with texture, movement and emotion. Throughout the book, the illustrations add depth to the story. Much of the emotion and drama comes through in the backgrounds with textures, shadows or expansive black. Anyabwile also did a notable job capturing Smith’s growth from child to adult, sublely adjusting looks and style as time goes on.
At pivotal moments in Smith’s life, Anyabwile steps away from Smith’s story to illustrate more striking images reflecting the reality for Black people in America. When Smith’s family eventually moves to Southern California in hopes for a better life, the very next page features a haunting two page spread with a mother and her young children screaming in pain. In the background a Black man hangs from a tree next to a burning cross. Other images include references to such events as the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing and Martin Luther King’s Assassnation. Smith came of age at the dawn of the Civil Rights era, as he was finding himself and his place in the world, these moments and realities helped to shape who he became. Anyabwile deftly illustrates these pages. They are awash with black and expand beyond the panels typical of most pages in the book. These events are monumental and his illustrations reflect their importance.
Victory. Stand!: Raising my Fist for Justice is a notable addition to the graphic memoir genre. It is a definite purchase for my high school collection. Tommie Smith is an important voice from the Civil Rights Movement and I think this book will appeal to a broad range of readers.
Victory. Stand! Raising My Fist for Justice By Tommie Smith and Derrick Barnes Art by Dawud Anyabwile W. W. Norton & Company, 2022 ISBN: 9781324003908
Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: African-American, Black, Character Representation: African-American, Black,
Lewis Hancox’s teen years were much like anyone else’s, filled with the typical high school drama, perpetual awkwardness, and desperation to fit in. For him, however, it seemed like there were extra hurdles to face, being a girl that had yet to discover that he was actually a boy. In Welcome to St. Hell, Hancox addresses his younger self to guide her through those messy years of hating her body, of being confused at who exactly she’s supposed to kiss, of constantly trying to pass as a “normal girl.” Being a typical teenager, the younger Hancox tries to ignore her older self at every turn but cannot deny that she feels like an alien in her own skin. What follows is a humorous, relatable, and down to Earth depiction of Hancox’s gender exploration and eventual acceptance, told in a way that educates just as much as it entertains.
Welcome to St. Hell’s story is refreshingly grounded, widening its appeal to every kind of audience. Though the author’s transness is the focal point, there are other elements and situations that distinguish Hancox’s experiences from coming solely from a trans standpoint. Anyone who has ever walked a high school hallway will relate to those feelings of just trying to survive that time while also making an identity that’s your own, or something close to it. We all face adversities when discovering who we are, and we all fumble along the way. Hancox utilizes these shared feelings within adolescence to illustrate his journey in a context that anyone can empathize with. This is also added by his inclusion of interviews he conducted with his family and friends, detailing their initial reactions to his coming out and how they came to support him. These interviews allow for a different perspective for both allies and trans youth, delivering moments of education in how to best conduct allyship and shedding light on the effects a coming out may have to both parties.
The one thing that may take some readers out of the comic is the heavy use of British slang, which can confuse those not familiar with it, though they may adapt once they find the comic’s rhythm.
Though it has its moments of heartache, Hancox’s story is ultimately one full of honesty, hope, and humor. Even the presence of Hancox’s older self brings the positivity of a future where trans youth survive and have fulfilling adult lives. While trauma and hardship are incredibly valid in one’s gender journey, a memoir that sets a more uplifting tone to a work of trans survival can bring about a great deal of affirmation in trans youths’ lives.
Matching the tone and feel of the comic perfectly, Hancox’s art style looks like it came right out of a teenager’s prized doodle book. At many points, it reminded me of a lot of different zines, though mainly due to its mostly four panel per page structure and black and white color. The art style lends itself to a lot of great, funny expressions, my favorite being Hancox’s big eyebrows that cover a range of emotions all on their own. It is not an overly ornate comic, sticking more to simple character designs and backgrounds, but will appeal to those who prefer more cartoon-like art and less busy panels.
As the memoir is split between Hancox’s high school and college years, there are some mature topics that come into play, such as alcohol use, gender dysphoria, and eating disorders, and includes some brief moments of cartoony nudity and one use of the T slur. Scholastic has given this graphic novel an age rating of 14-18, which is appropriate given the content listed above, though I’m sure college students may be able to relate to the second half as well. Welcome to St. Hell is best for those looking for representative trans comics, whether as a trans youth looking for validating experiences, especially from trans men, or an ally looking to educate themselves on trans matters. I highly recommend this title to librarians and educators aiming to include a good variety of trans works into their graphic novel collections in terms of tone and depictions.
Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure By Lewis Hancox Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022 ISBN: 9781338824445
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: British, Trans , Eating Disorder
Those who know the name Alfred Hitchcock might know him as the director of Psycho. They might even know him from movies he made in America like North by Northwest, Vertigo, and Rear Window, but before he became known as the Master of Suspense here in the states, he had quite a film career in England. The graphic novel, Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense, written by Noel Simsolo and illustrated by Dominique Hé, gives a very comprehensive view of the filmmaker’s life and influences.
The book begins with young Alfred’s Catholicism introducing him to human evil and human guilt. As an apprentice for a director, he soon desires to tell his own stories, developing his own cinematic style. This style relies heavily on symbolism as well as dramatic camera angles and techniques that push the boundaries of the medium.
Rather than simply focusing on Hitchcock the artist, the book also looks at the director’s personal life, from his relationship with his overbearing mother to the relationship with his wife Alma. This marriage provided Hitchcock his center, no matter what kinds of temptations and setbacks the movie industry and life in general threw at him.
“Comprehensive” might be one way to describe this biographical work, but another word to describe it is “exhaustive,” or even “exhausting,” because it is obvious that Simsolo has done his research. Moving back and forth through several moments in Hitchcock’s life, the story seems to omit few details about Hitchcock’s life, from the films he made in England, through his successes and failures, to his relationships with co-stars and fellow directors. There is even a filmography at the end that lists all of his films. Simsolo’s script, however, is far from a mere information dump; the book is peppered with anecdotes and dialogue from Hitchcock that show the man’s wry humor as well as his penchant for pranks.
The artwork by Hé, done in simple black and white, is not flashy, but it makes use of the medium to tell the story. Indeed, it is a style that Hitchcock himself might have appreciatee. Not only does Hé capture the likeness of Hitchcock and the famous actors that the director knew, but he pays homage to some of Hitchcock’s most famous scenes. The narrative can be confusing if one misses the captions that denote what year each event is takes place, but Hé displays a flair for capturing Hitchcock and Alma at various stages of their lives, letting the reader know what stage of Hitchcock’s life they’re currently viewing. Rather than an exhaustive exploration of Hitchcock’s technique, this biography is an intimate portrait of the man behind the genius. Any librarian who wants to add variety to their graphic novel collection, or even add variety to their biography section, should pick up this informative book about the man who gave the world the movie Psycho and so much more.
Alfred Hitchcock: Master of Suspense By Noel Simsolo Art by Dominique Hé NBM, 2022 ISBN: 9781681122892
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
In some ways, And Now I Spill The Family Secrets reads like a police file or murder board, carefully drafted forensics shots of the crime scene as a frame for analysis: transcripts of conversations, reproductions of documents, photographs of persons of interest. It is a reconstruction of an adolescence, a reconstruction of a family. I was two thirds of the way through reading it before I realized I hadn’t seen dialog and faces at the same time, that it was so thoroughly different from most graphic novels I’ve ever read. The emotional strength of the narration, the way the story is laid out, drew me in and made me stay up late to get just a few more chapters in. It’s curiously engaging, the people we see are only drawings of photographs, to give us just as much context as the meticulous interiors of apartments and houses. There’s no visual action, no living characters on the page, only in the words.
The book begins with a moment all too familiar to those with a much recorded and photographed childhood, hearing a truth or context that changes something you mostly only “remember” via photos and videos. Is she an unreliable narrator or is what she knows about her family predicated on incomplete understanding and information? Over the course of the book she moves back and forth between the modern day and stories about the past, including her grandmother’s early life and the time her grandmother and mother have spent hospitalized. Extensive documentation comes with the parts that aren’t about Kimball herself, or conversations and asides about why she can only get scant information about some areas. The bulk of the story is about her childhood and teen years, growing up in the ’90s with divorced parents and the strange trajectory of her father’s second marriage. The story focuses on what family means day to day, for supporting one another, and what it might mean as pathology for mental illness.
The art is draftsman style line art of buildings, inside and out, with varying gray washes for shading. Despite the lack of characters and action in the locations, the narration and minute personal details (a label for the location of a memory, haphazard shoes on the floor) makes the pages buzz with the same emotional connection you might have looking at a photo of your childhood home. Kimball excels at transferring that experience to the reader. The interiors are can be claustrophobic and there are times when she lets a bubbled conversation unfurl over a black background or highlights just one image swimming in black.
It’s an arresting memoir but not good graphic medicine. It doesn’t claim to be graphic medicine but it seems important to make the distinction when so much of the book is about bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and there are still so few realistic depictions of those in literature of any kind. Dr Ian Williams, the founder of graphicmedicine.org and the one who coined the new genre term “graphic medicine” defines it as the “intersection between the medium of comics and the discourse of healthcare.” For all of her extensive family history excavation, she doesn’t place a lot of context on their experiences against fuller knowledge or information about mental illness. It feels like she offers her mother’s bipolar disorder as a condition to explain a lot in her life without making it clear that it’s an individualized experience, that many people are capable of getting it under control, that many others struggle at finding a good medication or at staying on their medication. Maybe part of that was not going into more detail on what her mother’s actual treatments have been and respecting her privacy, but the few Kay Redfield Jamison quotes about mania and depression just made me want a lot more context. Even the mention of her mother’s spending binges (common symptoms of mania) being hints isn’t fleshed out for people who don’t already know that detail about bipolar.
I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys family history memoirs and wants to read more about how children experience divorce, a good read-alike for Fun Home. Because the connection between the art and the text is more illustrative than carrying the story the way other graphic novels do, it may be more accessible to people who aren’t familiar with graphic novels or worry about “missing” something in trying to navigate back and forth between pictures and text. It would be a good choice for a book group as there’s a lot to talk about in Kimabll’s intentions and how her family’s wishes contradict the story. There’s no content that would cause any issues beyond the frank discussions of suicide and mental illness. Older teens might find it interesting but the level of introspection will be better appreciated by adults. Readers who are interested in graphic medicine depicting schizophrenia and bipolar should try Swallow Me Whole by Nate Powell, States of Mind by Patrice Guillon and Emilie Guillon, and Marbles by Ellen Forney.
And Now I Spill the Family Secrets By Margaret Kimball Harper Collins, 2021 ISBN: 9780063007444
It begins with a knock on the door from the FBI. Two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a silent invasion permeated the United States, targeting Japanese American citizens as enemy aliens.
On February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was passed, uprooting nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes into internment camps. We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration, written by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura, with artwork by Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki, chronicles the bold exploits of three intrepid Japanese Americans who challenged the constitutionality of the executive order during their internment.
This epic story begins with a montage of three incidents: An ominous rapping on the door of twenty-two-year-old Jim Akutsu, a civil engineering student living with his parents in Seattle, disrupts their peaceful evening. FBI agents are on the move to round up Japanese Americans into relocation camps. High school graduate Hiroshi Kashiwagi, nineteen, gets pulled over by a cop for staying out past curfew one night in central California. Upon closer inspection, the cop labels him a “Jap spy.” Twenty-one-year-old Mitsuye “Mitzi” Endo, a typist for a state agency in California, receives a letter one day threatening dismissal from her job on the grounds of purported affiliations with the Japanese community and thus, holding allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. This interconnected trio of stories sets the stage for the harrowing events in the Pacific Northwest impacting Japanese Americans subjected to the camps without due process. There they will be tested for their loyalty to the US government.
Meticulously researched and intricately narrated, each story unfolds from the point of view of the internees as well as the US government officials. At Camp Minidoka, Akutsu refuses the draft to serve in the army, for he believes the so-called loyalty questionnaire from the Selective Service to be a ploy to incriminate himself. Signing this oath of allegiance would equate to confessing to a nonexistent allegiance to Japan even though he was already a natural-born American citizen. Kashiwagi refuses to sign the loyalty oath altogether while in Tule Lake, testing the limits of his rights as an American. In Topaz, Mitzi Endo foregoes an opportunity to leave the camp in a strategic move to serve as a witness in a lawsuit against the US government for having imprisoned people based solely on race. Through defiant acts in the form of draft resistance, hunger strikes, and prosecuting lawsuits, the trio stood their ground to uphold their unalienable rights as American citizens.
The narrative flow of each character’s experiences unfolds fluidly, juxtaposing Sasaki’s abstracted and expressionist style of Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s story alongside Ishikawa’s more solidly rendered character designs of Jim Akutsu and Mitzi Endo. Historical documents contextualize the plot with startling and compelling authenticity. Typewritten memos to war relocation authorities, racial profiling signs, front page newspaper headlines, reenactments of speeches and discussions amongst US government officials—these visual details merge seamlessly to create a historical account of the socio-political milieu on the US home front during World War II.
On the eightieth anniversary of Executive Order 9066, We Hereby Refuse adds a critical chapter to the annals of US history and complements all library collections. This graphic novel tackles themes of racism, assimilation, survival, and resilience, centering on the lived experiences of Japanese Americans and their tenacious stand to test the integrity of the American justice system. Theirs is a story that deserves to be told and retold for future generations lest history repeats itself.
We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration By Frank Abe, Tamiko Nimura, , Art by Ross Ishikawa, Matt Sasaki, Chin Music Press Inc., 2021 ISBN: 9781634059763
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Japanese-American, Character Representation: Japanese-American,
This entertaining story shares the experience between two siblings as they discover that the brother, Jacob, has Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) while his older sister Samantha has to deal with going through all the trials and tribulations of school, moving and new siblings. This book is unique in that we get the perspective of a sibling learning how to cope with ADHD in the family, instead of from the perspective of a parent, or the one diagnosed. We see her dealing with the changes her family is experiencing as Jacob struggles in school, difficulties he has in forming relationships with others, and her parents continuously doing their absolute best to learn everything they can while trying out new accommodations to keep things in their household fair and functional.
This story starts off with an introduction by Samantha, as she explains what life is like in her family with her new baby brother, Jacob entering their world. It’s a very realistic, and not a sugar coated version of what life was really like. She even includes her mother’s brief episode of what she calls baby blues, or postpartum depression, a subject that was once quite taboo to talk about. There’s a lot of humor and empathy to be felt as Samantha shares some of the craziness that Jacob brings to their world with needing to have diapers duct taped on, and his super human baby strength that shocks everyone.
Their misadventures include the harder times they face as Jacob gets himself into real trouble and has a difficult time adjusting to school. We see Samantha maturing as she feels upset that she gets so frustrated with Jacob when she doesn’t want to get angry with him, hit him back, or say rude things to him. She has real guilt and clearly loves her little brother, despite how challenging he can make it for her to have patience sometimes.
This is a fantastic story that shares a glimpse into life with ADHD. The characters are easy to relate to, the story moves at a good pace, keeping any reader engaged, and it is sure to bring out a lot of laughs. The artwork was created by the author, Samantha Edwards. She has a colorful and fun artistic style. The chapter title pages are creatively done, they’re stylized as a young child would draw with crayons. To end things off, she includes some photos from her actual childhood with her brother Jacob, whom this story is based on with a note about how this story is fictional, but based on her real life experiences.
Overall, this is a terrific graphic novel that I would highly recommend for any elementary or middle school library collection. The story keeps the reader wondering what will happen to this family next. The main characters face some challenging situations that they aren’t sure how to navigate, but as a family unit they work through the problems and find a way to live happily, despite having incredibly different personalities and temperaments.
A Tale as Tall as Jacob: Misadventures With My Brother By Samantha Edwards Andrews McMeel, 2021 ISBN: 9781524865047
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12:
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
When sharing revolutionary stories from history, the telling often stops with the victory. Run, by the late Representative John Lewis, does not. It is 1965, the Voting Rights Act has been signed into federal law, and the organizers of the Civil Rights Movement begin to navigate the next steps.
Run, Book One is the first volume in a sequel series to the acclaimed graphic novel memoir series, March. Both series share the history of the civil rights movement through the memories of John Lewis, written in collaboration with Andrew Aydin and illustrated by L. Fury and Nate Powell. The March series ended with the signing of the Voting Rights Act, and Run explores the changing philosophies of civil rights activists and continued voter suppression in the following 2 years.
Run was published posthumously. Representative John Lewis passed during the summer of 2020, however, he worked diligently with Aydin, Fury and Powell in the years preceding his death to tell this story. They conducted extensive research through interviews, newspapers, photographs, and primary source documents, to tell this story to the best of their ability, while still staying true to the memories of John Lewis.
While the March trilogy focused on the extensive organizational needs of the powerful civil rights movement. Run tells the next part of the story. Under the shadow of the Watt’s rebellion and turmoil about the Vietnam war, the activists in the Civil Rights movement, struggle to find consensus among diverging philosophies. Voting rights have been secured by federal law, but the fight for equal rights is far from over. And to complicate matters, America has instituted the draft to fight for “freedoms” in Vietnam. A move that feels hypocritical and disingenuous to the civil rights activists who are still desperately fighting for freedoms at home. John Lewis and Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) connect the struggle in Vietnam to a larger struggle of oppressed people across the world. Their stance about the war is denounced by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Urban League.
Ideologies and philosophies start to collide behind the scenes. Rifts that began before Selma and the Voting Right Act, start to take center stage, especially between Lewis and Stokey Carmichael, who follows Lewis as the chairman for SNCC. Black activists angry with the lack of progress, start to question the dedication to nonviolent action. Lewis struggles to find his place in the evolving movement.
Run is still honest about the hard work of organizers, giving credit to many individuals behind the scenes making change. The back matter also includes an extensive list with brief biographies of the many activists mentioned in the story.
The story is just as compelling as their work in March, in part thanks to the illustrations of Fury and Powell. In the “From the Artists” note in the back matter, they discuss the difficult path of navigating emotion, horror, and historic truths through illustration. They used many photos from the events as reference for their illustrations. They also researched fashion of different generations in the mid-60s, the cars made in the 50s and 60s that might be on the roads, and even studied the shape and style of road signs. This extensive focus on accuracy paired with deep shadows and explosions of ink in moments of great emotion and violence, adjusting text and font based on the message and form of speech or song, and creative use of panes made for a compelling read.
Run, Book One is essentially a story about the inner workings of civil rights organizations and the ways outside events and movements sent ripples through the activists. It tells an incredibly important story that is often forgotten or overlooked. I highly recommend the book for any young adult or adult graphic novel collection, and look forward to the rest of the series.
Run, Book One Vol. 1 By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin Art by L. Fury, Nate Powell Abrams, 2021 ISBN: 9781419730696
Publisher Age Rating: 13 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Black, Character Representation: Black,