Zoe Thorogood received multiple award nominations for It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth, including 2023 Eisner Awards in the Best Graphic Memoir and Best Writer/Artist categories, Forbes’ “The Best Graphic Novels of 2022” list, and she won the 2023 Russ Manning Most Promising Newcomer Award at the Eisner’s. Her art is evocative, engrossing and layered, grabbing readers immediately.
Zoe herself, however, is an entirely different story. She is certainly layered and complex, but she’s also self-conscious, shy, self-described as pathetic and suicidal. It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth is her attempt to record a six month span of her life and try to make sense of how and why she is mental and emotionally in the place she finds herself. A large portion of the story takes place during the Covid-19 lockdown period of 2021 and the sense of isolation many of us experience then is personified by Zoe, who was lonely long before then.
There is a lot of fourth wall breaking as Zoe directly addresses the reader in this book. Very early on she admits that she’s recently had suicidal thoughts, but she’s had them since she was 14 so it is nothing new for her. She is also quick to admit that this book may be an exercise in narcissism or it might help someone else, but it certainly is a selfish act. She’s hoping to bring us along on her journey to America for her first big comic convention she’s been invited to and her hope is the trip itself might be a journey of self-discovery. During the course of the story we’ll meet 14 year old Zoe back in 2013 and see what it was like for her to try and survive in school, watch Zoe meet her best friend in college and have her heart broken in America.
We see Zoe struggle with personal interactions in public with strangers, fans of her work, her parents and at time her friends. She illustrates her depression as a monster that follows her, a giant looming specter waiting just behind her. She illustrates multiple versions of herself and her personality in varying styles so that we can better see how she transitions in and out of comfort and confidence to stress and fear. I’ll point out here that the art in this book is phenomenal and truly aids every facet of the storytelling. There are times it is told in just black and white, other times with splashes of color and some pages are collage with photocopy and photographic elements. I was completely captivated throughout the book.
It is bold for a 22 year old to write a memoir as there is usually not much life experience to draw from, but this book didn’t suffer from a lack of self-awareness there. Zoe explores themes of isolation, self-worth and perception while pointing out to herself how wildly indulgent and vain it is. While it may not have provided a neat, tidy ending where all ends ‘happily-ever-after’, we did see a lot of personal growth from Zoe even as she simply engages with the idea that her younger self would see her current art as successful and fulfilling. She ends the story in a better place than we found her at the beginning saying, “Loneliness makes it hard to see the bigger picture. It makes you self-obsessed; not out of narcissism but because your own self is all you have. Your flaws, quirks, regrets, and mistakes begin to engulf you. Your own self begins to overshadow that bigger picture, but there is always a bigger picture.”
Image Comics rates this book as Mature and I would agree for the sake of placement inside a library. Suicide is already a tough subject to tackle with younger readers, but Zoe depicts (and comments on) her casual drug use and there is profane language sprinkled throughout. I wouldn’t tell older teens not to pick this up, it’s clear why it was nominated for so many awards, but for them especially I would point out Zoe’s disclaimer inside the cover about talk of suicide and her confrontations with it. I hope for her sake it was as cathartic to write as it is to read. Her frankness and honesty was compelling and I found myself rooting for her.
It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth By Zoe Thorogood Image, 2022 ISBN: 9781534323865
Publisher Age Rating: Mature
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: Anxiety, Depression
Translated from French by Aleshia Jensen, Camille Jourdy’s novel follows Juliette’s trip home from Paris to visit her more provincial family. She is also on a journey to revisit her roots and to handle her own growing, crippling anxiety and fears. While her family is delighted to see her, they do not actually pay any attention to her and her increasing vulnerability because they are busy with their own lives, issues, and family ties. Her family is complicated and entirely relatable and authentic to readers of this gentle slice-of-life graphic novel.
While the graphic novel is filled with people of all sizes and backgrounds the main characters are members of Juliette’s immediate family. Juliette’s older sister Marylou, a married mother of two children, has a lover, a man who works in a costume shop and visits her dressed as a bear, a wolf, a white rabbit, and as a ghost. They have lustful and joyful sex on Thursdays in the greenhouse in her backyard.
Marylou is happy with having an illicit affair, but nameless Lover Boy wants more of a permanent relationship. The sisters’ parents have been divorced for a long time but still torment each other each time they meet. Their mother dresses and behaves as a free spirit, taking on a series of younger lovers as well as painting large abstracts that are displayed in a local gallery. Their father, who Juliette is staying with during her visit, is the opposite, he is filled with self-doubts and convinced that he is developing dementia. Juliette’s grandmother no longer recognizes family members or has a reliable memory except when she reveals a long-kept family secret to Juliette.
The only non-family main character is Georges, the current tenant of the apartment where Juliette and Marylou lived as children. He is also a lost soul and someone seeking restoration and love in the local bar. His encounters with Juliette offer the possibility of a romantic closure for the two of them and the duckling they adopted but, sorry for the spoiler, this is not the direction the author takes the reader.
This is a novel of close encounters and careful observation of the setting, the people, and their relationships. It is done without judgment and the reader glides along with Juliette as she maneuvers through emotional and timeless passages of disappointment, mortality, and fading dreams to a place Juliette and Georges refer to, the “tragic dimension.” At the same time, it is also a novel filled with wonder, humor, and enjoyment for the reader.
Jensen’s translation from the original French presents, with sharpness and amusement, a natural cadence of family discussions. We can see, hear, and feel each of the individual characters in the town and they look and sound like members of a close-knit community anywhere. The point of view often shifts without warning from small encounters to larger ones but the shifts do not feel disjointed as the details in each of the panels slow the reader into a meditative state where moving from one situation to another seems natural and organic. This is a novel to be savored and not rushed in the least.
First published in French in 2016, Juliette is Jourdy’s eighth book, and her expertise is immediately recognizable as she is effective in control of the pacing, the panels, the color, the storyline, and her characters. Her illustrations are precise and filled with minute details of family and small-town life. These details are even more pronounced because of the simplicity of the background and the shortage of borders. Most pages are filled with simple vignettes, snapshots of the characters, their relationships, and environment. These busy pages are interspersed with full page drawings that are filled with deeper color tones that often indicate a change of tone or staging. A caveat for public library collections: there are numerous pages filled with Marylou and Lover Boy’s sexual encounters in the garden. These are tastefully done but I think some North American communities may not be as open as the French may be in their depictions of humanity in all their encounters.
The subtitle, ‘or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring’ is evocative and revealing by the end of the novel. It may refer to the rather humorous adventures of the ‘ghost’ hiding from disclosure or, more possibly, the ghosts of memory, family relationships, and our own selves.
Juliette or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring By Camille Jourdy Drawn & Quarterly, 2023 ISBN: 9781770466647
Publisher Age Rating: adult
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: French, Character Representation: French, Anxiety, Depression
Gorou Amamiya is an obstetrician-gynecologist is a small hospital. He develops an interest in idol star Ai Hoshino after a former patient shared her obsession. One night, he comes face-to-face with Ai, who is pregnant with twins but doesn’t want her fans to know because that would kill her career as an idol. He is murdered before Ai gives birth and is reincarnated as one of the twins named Aquamarine.
The other twin, named Ruby, is also a reincarnation, the same former patient who introduced Gorou to Ai. Neither of them knows who the other was before their incarnation as Ai’s twins, but they work together to help Ai achieve her goals. Several chapters are spent on slice-of-life activities to build relationships and character development.
Unfortunately, Ai is murdered by a fan who then commits suicide when the twins are only four years old. The twins are adopted by Ai’s manager, whose wife had been taking care of them publicly, and Aqua decides that the only way the fan could have known their address was from their biological father, who has always been a secret. The story then jumps forward twelve years.
I enjoyed the coupling of the glitz and darkness of the entertainment industry. I have no personal experience, so I don’t know how accurately it is portrayed; however, it does seem to match what actors and industry people in the United States have revealed in interviews and biographies. It was especially fun to look closer at idol groups, which are very popular both overseas and here in the US. Even if the premise is not based in fact, the storytelling is excellent and crafts a good balance between drama and character growth. This story would benefit from color art, but the illustrator does a good job setting the tone for scenes with the appropriate glitz or darkness.
If you have patrons who are enjoying the anime (available to stream on Hidive), the manga is an excellent complement to have in your collection. The first volume is featured in the extended first episode of the anime, but the manga includes one-page interviews between each chapter that give additional insight into the main story. I would recommend this series for teens or adults since there are some sensitive themes explored.
Oshi No Ko Vol. 01 By Aka Akasaka Art by Mengo Yokoyari Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975363178
Publisher Age Rating: Older Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Japanese,
Yuna feels too Korean in America and too American in Korea. So, she folds 1,000 paper stars and wishes for a world where she fits. The problem is something terrible happens after she makes the wish, and another thousand stars might not be enough to fix it.
Yuna is a Korean American girl who feels out of place at her middle school, including with her own friends. Even the other Korean American kids, like her friend Esther, are more American and accepted at school than Yuna. Esther is a “cool Asian” who speaks to her parents in English and eats school lunches rather than a Korean boxed lunch. Yuna is embarrassed by her mom’s boxed lunches and wants to buy lunch at school like everyone else.
If Yuna can’t fit in as an American, maybe she could be someone else who belongs in Korea. So, she wishes for this change after folding 1,000 paper stars and collecting them in a big jar to make a wish. Yuna and her family return to Korea, but things don’t unfold as she had hoped. They go to Korea because her halmoni (grandmother) passes away, and Yuna thinks she made it happen because of her wishing stars. She blames herself and is full of guilt. Now, Yuna needs to fold another 1,000 paper stars by midnight to wish Halmoni back to life before her soul is gone forever. She lashes out at her parents and younger sister, especially when her sister gets some of the star paper wet. With less than four hours left until midnight, Yuna is desperate to finish enough stars to wish Halmoni back.
A Sky of Papers Stars is clear and organized in its art style. There is a regular font for the parts in Korean, a bolded font for English lines, and italics for the characters’ thoughts. The present-day artwork is bright and colorful with outlined panels. Several scenes set in the past are lighter and resemble pastels or sepia tones. Some have lined panels, and some fade out or blur around the edges. These distinctions make it clear between the past and present. The colors help you feel Yuna’s mood and what she’s thinking about. For instance, there’s a burst of red and orange in the background when Yuna yells at her mom about the homemade lunches, or there are cool, pale shades of blue when Halmoni is on her mind. Jen Wang’s Stargazing is an example of a middle grade graphic novel with a similar writing and art style.
A Sky of Papers Stars includes two central themes: wanting to belong or feeling out of place and grief after the death of a family member. The story and writing style are clear and straightforward, even with the flashbacks to Yuna’s distant memories of Halmoni or Mom reminiscing about her own school lunches. These themes may not be new, but they’re still a much-needed aspect of coming-of-age narratives, especially for marginalized youth who feel separation or alienation from other kids.
If you’re interested in expanding your library’s collection of middle grade graphic novels, this one is definitely worth considering. The Korean and Korean American characters are well-represented, and the book explores significant coming-of-age topics like identity, loss, and grief. If you believe a reader would benefit from When You Trap A Tiger by Tae Keller, they would probably benefit from A Sky of Paper Stars too.
A Sky of Paper Stars Vol. By Susie Yi Macmillan Roaring Brook, 2023 ISBN: 9781250843890
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Korean-American, Character Representation: Korean-American,
Indigo can’t sleep. Or rather, something has been haunting her in the waking hours of the night. Is she trapped in a dream, or might something more sinister be lurking in the shadows of her subconscious? A supernatural mystery dripping with eerie undertones invades her angst-ridden life in Seth Christian Martel’s The Mare, a story that blends psychological drama with supernatural realism.
The opening pages of this young adult graphic novel features a teenager named Indigo, caught in the midst of a relentless nightmare, spiraling into a dark, empty void. She then awakens and fixes breakfast for her divorced alcoholic father. In zombie-like fashion, she heads out to work at a diner where she buses tables as a server, striving to make ends meet while her life shutters from one problem to the next. Kasia, her closest friend, serves as an anchor for Indigo. After describing the shadowy figures (sleep demons) tormenting her at night, she learns from Kasia that she may be victim to a “Mare”—a supernatural entity seeking solace having been wronged while alive, yet failing to attain peace. The Mare materializes as an electrifying blue light that latches onto Indigo during the wee hours of the night, upturning her room in poltergeist fashion, leaving a chaotic mess. Kasia hatches a series of folk remedies to help Indigo overcome this supernatural force—drinking coffee grounds before bed, placing a broom by the door, sleeping upside down—to no success. One night, after taking sleeping pills, Indigo sleepwalks and awakens to find herself across town in front of her stepmother’s house. Indigo and Kasia strive to uncover the mysterious paranormal incidents that seem to intensify with each encounter.
The plot unfolds through dialogue-driven panels occupied by emotionally charged characters who reinforce the narrative action. Muted, shaded grays punctuated by shimmering streaks and saturated oceanic blues accentuate moments of intensity and conflict with dramatic flair. The rapidly paced story speeds to a climax that leaves room for further questions, though the mounting tension and unraveling of events steering toward the resolution persistently intrigues and tantalizes.
A coming-of-age story infused with themes surrounding finding one’s purpose, child abuse, and self-doubt—undergirded by paranormal activities—The Mare delivers a story where text and images grounded in reality converge with the supernatural to offer a compelling read for young adult collections.
The Mare By Seth C. Martel Graphic Mundi, 2023 ISBN: 9781637790465
Publisher Age Rating: 13+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)
Garvey’s Choice joins a long line of books adapted as a graphic novel. The original Garvey’s Choice is a novel in verse by Nikki Grimes. Garvey struggles to connect with his dad, who expects him to be someone who he is not. It is told in a series of poems in the Japanese Tanka style. The book which came out in 2016 has been popular with middle grade readers, for good reason. It’s a heartwarming story about finding your voice, and the poetry of Nikki Grimes is poignant and deep while using few words.. I am a huge fan of her writing, and was excited to read this book.
Garvey is a young black boy in a larger body. He loves science fiction, space, and reading, however, his father wants him to play sports. The relationship between father and son is strained. They have a difficult time relating to each other, and in general Garvey struggles with feelings of isolation and loneliness. Over the course of the book, Garvey finds his voice through music, with his friends, and eventually with his family.
The Tanka style is discussed in an author note at the end of both the original book and the graphic novel. It is a format that originated in Japan. Each poem is five lines long, with specific syllable patterns, however, Grimes does not follow the syllable counts exactly. The poetry style which focuses on mood and emotion, fits Garvey’s character arc on his journey to find himself.
Theodore Taylor III illustrates the graphic novel in a bright cartoonish style, similar to that of Jerry Craft’s New Kid. The graphic novel illustrates the characters, plot, and poetic metaphors from the original book, but doesn’t necessarily add much depth to the mood or themes. The best parts of the graphic novel are from the poetry text. And while, I do not think the illustrated format adds much to the story, I do think it is a great purchase for elementary collections, because of the illustrations. Poetry can be an intimidating format for some readers. In condensing text to verse, some context must be implied rather than stated, which can be confusing for some. By illustrating the entire text through the graphic novel format, that context is no longer implied but clearly shown, which can provide a strong scaffold for some readers.
The graphic novel text is fairly similar to Grime’s original verse. There are times that the wording of the poems is adjusted, and they switch up the order of some poems, but for the most part, the text of the graphic novel is very consistent with the book. Lines from the poems are turned into speech bubbles or as narration on the page. Some of the poems are told over the course of a two-page spread, sometimes multiple poems share the spread, but most are confined to one page. The illustrated metaphors add weight to Garvey’s emotional journey.
Notably, a large part of the novel explores Garvey’s relationship with his weight, which is also a source of contention with his dad. But Garvey isn’t illustrated with a body size that is noticeably larger than other characters. He is round, but so is everyone else. I think this is a missed opportunity for body representation.
While not perfect, I think the graphic novel Garvey’s Choice is a strong purchase for elementary collections, especially if novels in verse or books by Grimes are used in the curriculum. In such cases, this graphic novel adaptation could be a good supplement. Either way, Garvey’s Choice is an excellent book and story, whether you read it in the original format or as a graphic novel.
Garvey’s Choice Vol. By Nikki Grimes Art by Theodore Taylor III Wordsong, Astra Publishing House, 2023 ISBN: 9781662660085
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Black, Character Representation: Black,
Insomniacs After School is the most surprising, delightful, and charming book I have read in quite some time. It is a simple slice of life book that, thanks to its sincerity, at no point let me down. I wondered constantly if something exciting, paranormal or extraordinary might happen. It had all the hallmarks of a book that was about to toss a curveball at the reader, but it didn’t and yet I was never disappointed.
The books opens with a student at Kuyo High School telling another why they no longer have an astronomy club. It is a ghost story about a girl who supposedly threw herself off the top of the astronomy tower. Then other members of the club started dying mysteriously. It’s an interesting way to open the book, and it is what set me up to think something unusual might happen at any time. However, we learn in time that one of our protagonists made up the story to keep people away from the astronomy tower. Isaki Magari cannot sleep and as someone who had childhood illnesses, she doesn’t want people making a big deal about her sleep now and fussing over her. Ganta Nakami can’t sleep either and it makes him grumpy which keeps people at bay, so he doesn’t have many friends. He doesn’t want to go to the nurse because he’d be going all the time and he doesn’t want people to think there is something wrong with him. They both discover that the disused observatory is quiet, comfortable, and entirely theirs for the taking.
Magari and Nakami bond over their inability to sleep and the feeling of being an outsider because of it. There is a cat that befriends them and harasses one of their teachers, stealing lettuce from Kurashiki Sensei’s sandwich. They find they can actually sleep when together in the observatory and so they try to make time to be there together. Kurashiki Sensei one day chases the cat all the way up to the observatory trying to get her food back and stumbles upon their secret. She isn’t mad, she isn’t judgmental, but she is required to report it to the school. Fortunately, they work around this by reviving the astronomy club and Nakami and Magari become the first members.
The publisher has this tagged as a romance genre book, which may be true later, but in this volume I would say you only get a glimpse of attraction. Magari certainly seems to sense she has feelings for Nakami, but never speaks them out loud, even to herself. Nakami realizes he only wants to come to school to see Magari, but he can’t quite sort out if it’s more than to be able to sleep. This may develop into a relationship in further installments, but for now it’s entirely chaste as two high school students try to navigate making friends with someone very different from themselves. That said, the art certainly wants you to find Magari adorable and charming.
The strength of the art is how effectively it’s used to forward the plot with wonderful subtlety. Characters are framed in-panel to help shape our feelings about them, much like a movie director giving us cues wordlessly. Each character is distinct and the world is fully recognizable without any panel being overstuffed or too busy to enjoy. It feels like choices were made specifically for pace and atmosphere so that there is never a wasted moment; everything is about creating an almost ethereal world for our sleepy protagonists even in the middle of a school day.
This book is rated Teen and while I understand that rating, there is nothing here that would prohibit tweens/junior high readers from enjoying it. As an adult, the art and tone captivated me immediately and I have already preordered all available volumes for our library. For libraries considering this book, at the time of this writing there are 13 volumes available in Japanese. English translations may be slow to follow, but there will be a lot more to come. I am recommending this to readers at my library who are looking for books that are not heavy action or high emotion stakes. This is a gentle read that still satisfies, and I think will find a lot of different types of fans.
Insomniacs After School, Vol. 01 By Makoto Ojiro VIZ Signature, 2023 ISBN: 9781974736577
Publisher Age Rating: Teen NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Japanese Character Representation: Japanese
Asking for help isn’t always easy … and what do you do when that help causes you to develop superpowers overnight? Welcome to Hannah’s world, told in Side Effects, a graphic novel by Ted Anderson with art by Tara O’Connor.
Hannah’s in her first year of college and things just don’t feel right. She’s overwhelmed, her roommate walked in on her crying, and she feels like such a failure she’s not sure she’ll make it through the semester. She doesn’t want to disappoint her parents and the pressure is getting to be too much. Hannah meets with Dr. Jacobs, the on-campus doctor, who prescribes her medication for her mental health. Despite not being fully on board, as she believes those pills can change your personality, she decides to take them anyway, just to see if they offer any help in dealing with her anxiety and depression. Suddenly, she feels almost superhuman as she develops different superpowers with each new medication! Are the meds really causing her to read people’s minds? How will these powers affect her relationship with Iz, the cute girl she’s been seeing?
Before the story even begins, Side Effects has a content warning, a helpful tool for readers to be aware of some of the more intense parts of the story. It is never graphic or explicit and no real medications are named. Hannah’s side effects, however, can be read as exaggerated versions of those found in real life medications. Her ability to shoot electricity from her hands? Similar to brain zaps. She experiences other realistic side effects, like dissociation and drowsiness. Readers who’ve dealt with the process of finding the right medication will find themselves understanding what Hannah is going through. Framing Hannah’s side effects as superpowers makes the book accessible for readers who might be tentative regarding their own mental health care. The focus on therapy, as well as medication, is appreciated.
O’Connor’s art is expressive; the character’s faces are excellent. The coloring, also done by O’Connor, matches the changing situations dynamically. The scenes of Hannah and her superpowers are very superhero comic like, just like she feels her life is turning into when she develops them.
Side Effects is appropriate for an older teen audience and up. The book deals with some very heavy topics, including attempted and implied sexual misconduct from a professor, hence the appreciation for the content warning before the story begins. Anderson’s storytelling is easily readable, but late high school and early college readers will find more relatability to Hannah’s experiences. While it takes place in modern time, adult readers long out of college can enjoy the graphic novel, too.
Side Effects is a book about mental health acceptance and not being afraid to ask for help when you need it. It wants to break the stigma of mental health medications and does a good job of showing them in a realistic but not irresponsible way. There’s always a need for stories about mental illness that still have happy endings and Side Effects is a welcome addition to that world of graphic novels.
Side Effects By Ted Anderson Art by Tara O’Connor Seismic Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781956731088
Publisher Age Rating: 13-17 years old NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Ambiguous Mental Illness Character Representation: Lesbian, Anxiety, Depression
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,
Tegan and Sara are twin sisters, living in Calgary, Canada, ready to face their first year of junior high together. They’ve been inseparable their whole lives but things aren’t so certain these days. Tegan and Sara: Junior High, by Tegan Quin and Sara Quin themselves, with art by Eisner Award winning artist Tillie Walden, tells the story of one year in the life of the twins as they discover who they are, both together and apart.
Their dad has a new girlfriend. Their best friend isn’t going to the same school as they are. People keep getting them confused and even calling them clones. The sisters have always been close, but maybe junior high is the time to start to explore who they are outside of being a duo and who they are as individuals. Their bodies are changing so quickly that it feels unexpected, like being caught off guard with a tampon on the very first day of your very first period. Drama happens within their new friend groups. There’s crushes on cute girls and the beginning of understanding their queerness. There’s a guitar in the garage and the growing desire to put all those feelings into a song.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High is the latest addition to the Tegan and Sara universe, which consists of not only their music, but their memoir about their high school years, aptly titled High School, and a subsequent television show based on it. Middle grade readers may not be as familiar with these previous outputs. However, no prior knowledge of the duo is needed to appreciate the story being told here; at its very core, this is a story about two sisters.
Unlike many other graphic novel memoirs for middle grade readers, the book does not reflect the time period when it actually happened, which was the early 1990s. Instead, it has been moved to the present day, potentially making it more relatable for its intended audience. These stories are timeless, there will always be certain aspects of the tween years that are inescapable, but making it modern may help some readers connect more with the story being told. It’s current but not too current. The characters have cell phones and watch streaming videos, but it never overtakes the story.
Readers seeking a realistic look at these in-between years will enjoy Junior High. It may not be as bright and fast paced as other graphic novels about similar years, but there is something reflective and honest about the combination of Walden’s art and the Quins’ story. The warm colors add a calming sense to the stress of tween years. The conversations between the sisters that begin and end each chapter are a highlight. Readers learn more about their individual inner thoughts and also their close connection to each other.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High will appeal to readers of Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham’s Friends series or Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm’s Sunny series. This graphic novel also has crossover appeal for some teens, especially those who have enjoyed Walden’s previous graphic novels. The book is a charming, optimistic look at seventh grade and all the possibilities it brings.
Tegan and Sara: Junior High By Tegan Quin, Sara Quin, Art by Tillie Walden Farrar Strous Giroux, 2023 ISBN: 9780374313029
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Canadian, Lesbian Character Representation: Canadian, Queer