The Girl That Can’t Get a Girlfriend is a semi-autobiographical manga about self-loathing, self-discovery, and ultimately, thankfully, a story of self-acceptance and love. Mieri introduces herself to us as a Japanese office worker living in the U.S., setting up the narration she will provide to catch us up to the present. In middle school she found herself attracted to anime women, but didn’t realize until she was in college that she was gay. She takes us through her journey from repressed tomboy to self-actualized adult, but that journey is anything but easy. The line that summarizes the experience of this book best happens late in part two: “Little did I know that Ash would become my first girlfriend and that we would break up after a month of dating and that I would spend 4 years in hell trying to get over her.”
Mieri is a sophomore in college when she has her first relationship and while it is very short lived it winds up dominating the next four years of her life. It’s immediately apparently that Mieri has very little self-confidence. In the early chapters she is repeatedly putting people on pedestals. This is as equally unfair to herself as it is to these people in her life. She feels she hasn’t earned the love and consideration she’s shown. This causes an imbalance between them which, in her mind, seems impossible to overcome. The trend for most of this book is Mieri experiencing so many firsts in life and trying to reconcile what they might mean, while not loving herself enough to take care of herself. She tries to work hard enough to earn the love of others or to keep a relationship working even when it’s not.
The central character to Mieri’s journey of discovery is her first girlfriend Ash, who she meets on summer vacation when she visits her grandparents in Japan. After the early, tentative days of dating, they say they love one another and promise to stay together even after Mieri has to fly back to the U.S. for school. Things fall apart when Ash learns that Mieri isn’t graduating as soon as she thought she was. It’s basically a semester later, but Ash has had several long distance relationships with boyfriends that didn’t work out and she won’t wait a year for anyone again. Mieri is initially heartbroken, but decides she will get an internship in Japan so she can try to win Ash back. What she thinks is a grand romantic gesture ultimately falls flat when she learns Ash is seeing someone new. From here she spirals into depression and loneliness as she has no friends in Japan. She could have wallowed forever, but she slowly comes to embrace the life she actually has. She becomes a better friend, gets back to drawing manga, and carving out an identity for herself. There isn’t a clean resolution at the end of this book, but only in service of setting up the next installment.
The redeeming part of this book is that Mieri never gives up on herself and even when things are dark, she doesn’t engage in self-destructive behavior. The style of this book and it’s incredibly frank honesty reminded me at times of Nagata Kabi’s work in books like My Lesbian Experience With Loneliness and My Alcoholic Escape from Reality. The difference between these is that Mieri does not spiral into such dark places. She’s depressed, she’s sad, she’s lonely, but she’s never actively self-harming. I think that’s important because it makes this story accessible to more people, especially teen readers. There is one kiss in the entire book and you only see the back of someone’s head, so it’s not prurient in any way. Viz has this rated Teen and I agree with the assessment for placement in a library collection. As someone who has had a first infatuation, a first love, and first heartbreak, I was able to identify and empathize with this story. It left me wanting to tell her to hold on and keep trying. I felt parental in that moment. For readers who haven’t lived these things I imagine it only makes you read faster to see how she resolves these feelings and if she will find a happy ending. I enjoyed this book and have already purchased it for our library. Autobiographical (or semi-autobiographical in this case) manga and graphic novels have a huge reach and wide audience appeal, this book is no exception.
The Girl That Can’t Get a Girlfriend By Mieri Hiranishi VIZ, 2023 ISBN: 9781974736591
Publisher Age Rating: Teen
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Lesbian Character Representation: Lesbian
As I Enfold You in Petals begins with several pages of wordless panels and near wordless panels depicting people in a huge line waiting to enter, one family at a time, the home of Benny the Bank, a notorious bootlegger first met in the first volume. The people are waiting to impress Benny on his birthday with promises and gifts. The winner will receive a substantial amount of cash, but it is an almost impossible task.
Curtis joins the line. He has just returned to Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, after fighting forest fires and six weeks in rehab for alcoholism. His gift is definitely a surprise for Benny: his lost watch, found when Curtis was fighting fires. Curtis does not want the cash; he wants title to his grandfather’s home which is now owned by Benny. Curtis is interested in helping others in Fort Smith in the struggle with alcoholism and wishes to connect with Louis, his grandfather. Louis’ legacy is as a healer who received his gifts from the Little People and Spirit Helpers.
Curtis’s invitation to the Little People is through a song which is witnessed by Benny and Crow, a mysterious female friend of Benny’s. Benny tells her “As I Enfold You in Petals,” a poetic phrase borrowed from letters he read from Curtis’s father to his wife. The reader also discovers Benny’s secret wishes and his illness in his conversations with his sons. All is dependent on Curtis regaining the trust and support of the Little People.
Written byRichard Van Camp (he/him/his) a proud member of the Tlicho Nation from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, Donovan Yaciuk and Nickolej Villiger. The first volume, originally published in black and white, has been completely revised by the four creators to provide a fresh and colorful rendition of the story. The newly released volume (2022) includes a precise essay regarding the background of this story as well as an essay on the interactions between the Japanese and the Dene.
It is a delight to have such a positive depiction of Dene spirituality and the people in this superb story of hope, strength of spirit, and redemption. The story celebrates family connections, memories, and stories through the text and the stunningly illustrated and colored illustrations. The pacing created by the panels, along with the rich and diverse coloring scheme, enfold readers into this story of cultural awakening and knowledge, leaving them satiated and complete. The characters and setting are vivid and authentically brought to life while the revisiting of memories is clearly delineated by sepia tones providing an accessible and seamless reading experience. Materials in the back provide information and cultural context about traditional Inuit tattoos that appear in the graphic novel.
The Spirit of Denendeh: As I Enfold You in Petals Vol. 2 By Richard van Camp Art by Scott B. Henderson, Donovan Vaciuk, Nickolej Villiger, Highwater Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781774920411
Publisher Age Rating: 15+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Indian American, Dogrib Dene, Character Representation: Indian American, Dene, First Nations or Indigenous, Addiction
Love comes in all shapes and sizes, whether it’s between adventurous pirates, burgeoning demon hunters, smooth spies, or even your average couple trying to make it all work. Young Men in Love, edited by Joe Glass and Matt Miner, showcases all these relationships and more, containing twenty stories from queer creators devoted to exploring the romantic hurdles and queer joy of male/masculine couples. This graphic novel boasts a variety of genres: fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal romance, contemporary slice of life, etc., ensuring that each reader will be able to find at least a story or two to enjoy.
Typical of most anthologies, not every story is going to be as hard hitting as the next one. With an average length of four to eight pages, there are some that struggle to break beyond their concept, leaving the reader more with an idea rather than a fleshed out narrative. The majority of contributors, however, manage to pace their stories so that, though we may not spend much time with these characters, they still leave a great amount of impact. Despite the varying appeal of each story, there is an admirable amount of honesty, vulnerability, and love interwoven within them all. An immense sense of pride lives in these pages that comes from an unwavering self-acceptance and the ability to love openly without shame or fear. Moments of loneliness, depression, and doubt play roles in multiple stories, but they always come around to love in the end, whether it comes from a partner or within themselves.
Given the graphic novel’s notable range in terms of content and themes, there are several stories that display aspects of queerness that are rarely discussed in the community. Ned Barnett and Ian Bisbal’s “Another Name” deals with a trans man realizing his identity and coming out to his partner in what was once a heterosexual relationship, highlighting the fears and anxiety that may come with such a discovery. “Act of Grace,” written by Anthony Oliveira and illustrated by Nick Robles, follows a teen expressing religious guilt to his priest, afraid of how his feelings for a boy may conflict with his Catholic upbringing. Editor Joe Glass, along with Auguste Kanakis, throw in a moving inclusion in “Love Yourself,” which has a character experience the fetishization of plus sized men in the community and how validation and love for someone comes from appreciating and celebrating the whole of them rather than a singular aspect. These are all facets to the queer experience that I have seen firsthand, but seldom are they reflected in media tailored to those they are meant to represent. Seeing these conflicts approached and resolved with such depth and respect allows the reader a touch of hope and comfort, even if they may not entirely relate to it.
Intent on including as many voices and experiences as possible, Young Men in Love also gives a tremendous amount of diverse representation in terms of ethnicity and body type. It shies away from solely depicting the stereotypical skinny, white, gay man, as there are several stories with black, brown, and plus-sized protagonists. What’s so refreshing about these depictions is that, aside from “Another Name” and “Love Yourself,” none of the stories make the characters’ backgrounds the focal point of their conflict. They exist as people foremost, without their identities being a source of added trauma.
As there is a separate artist accompanying each installment, there is a vast variety in art styles, ranging from charmingly cartoonish to engagingly realistic. I will forever throw praise onto Nick Robles, who puts so much life into his textures and instills a healthy dose of emotion and drama into “Act of Grace” through his use of lighting and character expressions. There is something Leyendecker-esque about his style where he captures the male form exceptionally well, making it the perfect fit for this collection. I also really appreciated the yellow tinge given to the palette and borders of Paul Allor and Lane Lloyd’s “The Way Home,” producing a nostalgic effect reminiscent of those old comics that had probably been left in the basement for too long. Overall, there is a vibrant rainbow of color throughout the graphic novel, as the reader is treated to vibrant pastels to moody, atmospheric shadows. Each story, as a result, becomes visually distinct and memorable, even if its content may not have lived up to the one that preceded it. None of the art in this graphic novel disappoints, which brings a certain coherence to all the differing perspectives within.
For fans of uplifting romantic stories with happy endings or layered depictions of queer experiences, Young Men in Love will hit that emotional, sappy spot in spades. As a romance comic, the content is fairly clean, with nothing going further than the occasional cuddle or kiss. The featured protagonists range from being young teens to full adults, so it may appeal most to readers fourteen and up. Librarians and educators looking to obtain graphic novels with positive and varied queer representation from queer creators should consider purchasing this title.
Young Men in Love Vol. By Joe Glass, Matt Miner A Wave Blue World, 2022 ISBN: 9781949518207
Publisher Age Rating: 13+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Black, Brazilian, British, Canadian, Greek, Latinx, Malaysian, Mexican-American, Bisexual, Gay, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans Character Representation: Black, British, East Asian, Latinx, Gay, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans, Catholic
The cover of this graphic novel makes one assume that it’s about the author’s marriage to his long-time partner, but by the end of the 112 pages, you will change your assumption. This witty, humane, honestly perceptive story about two men in a relationship and where they are right now in their lives in this country is more of a snapshot in time, with all the attendant Woody Allen-New York-neurotic angst one would expect from a working artist.
That’s not to say this isn’t an enjoyable read. It is. It’s like sitting down with your best friend to trade personal anecdotes, hurts, and love stories, with all the warmth that connects you to them. Honestly, Kirby is so perceptive and intuitive about himself and his partner and their families and friends, you feel like you’ve known them forever. I imagined us sitting with coffee while he admits in one page that he’s sometimes “micro-aggressive” in his select use of the word “husband” to other people.
As the graphic novel advances, Kirby uses red and blue colored pencils on a monochromatic background to draw attention to main parts of the story, express emotion, and communicate extra little funny comments on the side. There are extra comments squished in everywhere! Don’t miss the “Earthlink” comment on page 34 or the “Young Rob” on page 48.
The thing is, Kirby starts the story admitting that “he doesn’t have a sentimental bone in his body” and feels apathetic about getting married to partner John. He’s also nervous about getting older, and while he’s “adept at putting off scary stuff,” after Minnesota legalizes gay marriage, they decide to do it, just for the legalistic freedom it will give them.
Despite how much he tries to convince himself that marriage is just dotting an i or crossing a t, both men look positively scared but happy at the moment they hear, “I now pronounce you married.” So, maybe it was kind of a big thing after all? This moment is repeated on eleven other pages as the author places it against the background of what was happening politically in this country and how that affected people that don’t toe the WASP-traditional-nuclear-family-choice line.
Despite how happy they are as a couple, as time passes and they get on with their lives, with all the happiness and sadness that entails, Kirby compares their familial bliss with what’s going on in the country at large, and here is where the graphic novel changes to a very different theme. Part two is more of a recounting of the Trump years, the abolition of Roe v. Wade, the killing of George Floyd, mass shootings, and how the couple navigates the constantly changing landscape of the recent United States decisions.
At one point Kirby muses, “it sure would be nice to just not think about it anymore…but that’s not the world we live in.”
I remember as a child learning about the Civil Rights Act, which was voted into law the year before I was born. My childlike brain said, “Okay, that’s solved—they passed a law. So, like, that’s fixed, right?” It took me years to learn that it’s not that easy. So…me too, Rob. Me too.
Even when Rob and John are discussing these events with their friends, they’re sensitive and considerate to possible different opinions, and the story has such a good use of framing and flow to echo the previous pages in the story. This ties the first half of the story into the second half’s discussion.
I feel like the four pages of wedding-themed music and six pages of wedding-themed movies could have been less, and it slowed the story’s momentum. But that’s a small quibble for such an enjoyable read.
This graphic novel has no depictions of sexual acts but does portray two men kissing. There is no violence. There are many, many depictions of typical day to day adult family life, like grocery shopping, dog walking, working on the computer, and dinners out with friends. It should be shelved in the adult section and is recommended for any library.
Marry Me a Little: A Graphic Memoir By Rob Kirby Graphic Mundi, 2023 ISBN: 9781637790397
Publisher Age Rating: 16+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Vi was supposed to enter Arden High with her twin brother, but then he decided to go off to boarding school. Now Vi is starting high school alone and she is not happy about it. Plus, at Arden High, humans like Vi attend alongside fairies, ghosts, and other magical creatures, so it’s disorienting, to say the least.
But it’s not all bad. Since she doesn’t have to wear a uniform, Vi can finally dress how she wants, in beanies and baggy clothes. She quickly makes friends with a group of quirky outsiders and even meets a cute poet-slash-influencer named Orsino. The only problem is, all of Vi’s new friends assume she’s not interested in guys. So even though she spends lots of time with Orsino, he only seems to think of her as a friend . . . and he wants her help to ask his crush, Olivia, to the Twelfth Grade Night dance. Which is extra awkward, because Olivia? Is into Vi.
Modern high school shenanigans (complete with mistaken identities on Instagram), supernatural creatures, tons of Shakespeare references, and a diverse cast combine in this sweet, spirited romantic comedy. Vi is struggling to figure things out while feeling abandoned by her twin, and it’s fun to watch her make friends and find a place for herself at Arden High. Meanwhile, the romantic misunderstandings and the antics of her new friends and the supporting cast—like the fairy royalty who semi-literally rule the school—make for a light-hearted romp with plenty of winks at anyone familiar with Shakespeare’s comedies.
Vi doesn’t quite know whether or not she likes girls, but she does like guys, regardless of the assumptions people might make based on her androgynous outfits. Olivia definitely likes girls, and plenty of people, male and female, are crushing on her. Vi’s twin is bisexual, as is one of her new friends. The nonchalance and playfulness around gender and orientation are refreshing and mesh well with the Shakespeare-inspired romantic mix-ups.
The art is colorful and active, with detailed and expressive characters taking the spotlight over the more minimal backgrounds. The lineart is relaxed, with a pencil-sketch look, but not rough or unfinished-looking. The colors vary with the scene and setting, and are often used to reinforce a mood (e.g. dappled greens and earth tones in the woods, stormy grays during a flashback to Vi’s father’s funeral, saturated pinks and purples at the Twelfth Grade Night dance). We also get plenty of manga-style sparkle effects, especially when someone interacts with their crush—which, given the plot of this book, happens a lot.
Despite the focus on romance, this book contains nothing steamier than a quick kiss. There is some deceit and pranking, but the pranksters end up feeling guilty and apologizing by the end. Vi is carrying sadness about being separated from her twin, and also about losing her father, but works through some of those feelings on the way to the sparkly happy ending.
This is an upbeat romp full of mischief and mix-ups but also friendship, family, and finding happiness. Hand it to fans of the Heartstopper series, books by ND Stevenson, and to any young reader looking for a sweet, inclusive rom-com.
Twelfth Grade Night, Vol. 1 By Molly Horton Booth, Stephanie Kate Strohm Art by Jamie Green Hyperion, 2022 ISBN: 9781368064651
Publisher Age Rating: 12-18 NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Nonbinary, Chronic Illness
Best friends Grace and Lola talk about everything together—and lately, they’re talking a lot about love. Relationships and boys are a mystery to both girls, but they are curious,. They decide to launch a project together to find out more: the Love Report.
In a shared notebook, they record everything they learn as they interview people who might have a useful angle on love: the school gossip, a couple who just started dating, two female friends who are feuding over a boy, the pretty girl who all the boys like, and the tough girl with a bad reputation. Lola even gets up the nerve to talk to the boy she likes! But heartache is coming for both girls. Will their friendship get them through? And will they ever understand love?
This story features close friendships, school drama, and family issues. Grace is a little jaded and skeptical, with a string of short relationships behind her, while Lola is less experienced and more hopeful about romance. The rest of the cast—mostly their classmates, with occasional appearances by their family members—brings other backgrounds and personalities to the mix. The story is set mostly at school and at various character’s homes, with a few forays into other parts of the unnamed city where it takes place.
In all the talk about love and relationships, the story acknowledges, but does not thus far actually show, the existence of LGBTQ+ people. For instance, Grace suggests that the boy who keeps dodging Lola’s attention might already have a girlfriend, or “maybe a boyfriend.” Characters take it in stride when the possibility of same-sex dating is mentioned, but we don’t actually see any of it happen.
This book collects the first two volumes of The Love Report, which were originally published in French as Coeur Collège (BeKa is a two-person writing team based in France). The illustrator is Italian. There are a few traces of the original French, including characters whose names have changed: for example, whenever Lola’s name appears in the illustrations, and at least once in a speech bubble, she is called Linon. There are also a couple of places with possible missing words or other small editing slips, but nothing big enough to cause confusion.
The illustrations are rich with detail. The delicate line art and varied but low-intensity color palette give a sense of cozy softness that is underscored by a lot of the visuals: fluffy hair, puffy or slouchy jackets and sweaters, rumpled beds, even poofy autumn trees. The style is realistic, but with clear manga influences. The characters are lively and expressive.
While the book has zero nudity and doesn’t show anything more sexual than a few kisses, there is discussion of one girl having a reputation for being “easy.” The words “bimbo,” “slut,” and “bitch” appear once or twice each, though the latter two are used by unpleasant characters and clearly not meant to be viewed as acceptable. There are some tough family situations, including parents who fight and a verbally abusive stepmother. There is also one scene of mild danger when a man chases and threatens our protagonists before being scared away.
With sympathetic characters exploring a topic of near-universal interest, plus a cozy and colorful art style, this book will appeal to fans of realistic fiction and school stories. Hand it to older readers of Raina Telgemeier, Victoria Jamieson, and Shannon Hale’s graphic novels, especially if they are open to an art style with more of a manga feel.
The Love Report Vol. 1 By BeKa Art by Maya Hippo Park (an imprint of Astra Books for Young Readers), 2023 ISBN: 9781662640407
Publisher Age Rating: 10 and up
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: French, Italian Character Representation: Assumed Black
Inside every mascot, there’s a person. Belle Hawkins (you can call her Hawkins) doesn’t mind that she’s the one stuck behind the tiger mask at her high school. A true wallflower, she prefers the anonymity of hiding her face in front of the whole school. It doesn’t hurt that there’s the added advantage of getting to spend more time near her crush, Regina Moreno, head cheerleader and Hawkins’ total dream girl. Belle of the Ball by Mari Costa is the story of Hawkins’ senior year and what happens when she peers out from behind her mascot head.
Throughout school, Hawkins kept to herself, content with her own interests like manga and very girly things, all while keeping up her grades and not thinking much about what comes next. Feeling particularly brave after practice, she finally decides to go for it and ask out Regina. Regina isn’t just the head cheerleader; she’s one of the most popular girls at school, successful and motivated too. Who doesn’t have their whole life planned out in twelfth grade? There’s just one not-so-little problem in the shape of a massive jock named Chloe Kitagawa, who happens to be Regina’s longtime girlfriend. Hawkins’ attempt at bravery goes awry when Chloe catches her in the act and immediately puts a stop to it.
But the three aren’t out of each other’s lives yet. In order for Regina to have the next ten years go exactly as she’s planned them, Chloe needs to bring up her English grade and it seems that Hawkins is the perfect English tutor. The teens’ lives begin to encircle each other as they navigate this final year of high school while rediscovering friendships, evaluating expectations, and even getting some kissing in too.
Belle of the Ball is an engaging graphic novel for teen readers that deals with the realities of growing up and discovering who you are. The graphic novel is recommended for high school age readers but also has crossover appeal for adult readers too. Costa’s storytelling highlights the growth of the characters and makes the reader feel connected to each of the main characters individually. The plot flows at a reasonable pace, giving readers a chance to settle in with these girls. Plus, it is just a delightfully sapphic story!
Costa’s art is animated and enchanting. The color palette of the graphic novel is very pink, with only a few other colors, and it fits the story absolutely perfectly. The varying hues of pink complement the charm of the characters and their individual stories. The manga influence in some of the panels, reflecting Hawkins’ own interests in the story, is another great touch. There are also diverse body types so many readers can see themselves on the pages.
Readers who enjoy young adult romance or the Heartstopper series will dive right into Belle of the Ball. It is just as sweet as its pink color pages and will fit nicely in any Valentine’s Day or romantic comedy display.
Belle of the Ball By Mari Costa Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250784124
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Brazilian-American, Lesbian Character Representation: Lesbian, Jewish
Izzy Crane, Sleepy Hollow’s newest resident and paranormal cynic, is getting a little tired with the town’s obsession of its famous local legend, the Headless Horseman. Even with Halloween right around the corner, Izzy has no time to focus on ghosts when making new friends at a new school has its own challenges, like her developing crush on local teen icon Vicky Van Tassel. That all changes, however, when the Horseman himself chases her down one night, bringing with him a deadly mystery that’s been haunting the Van Tassel family for generations. To save her from a gruesome fate, Izzy must team up with Vicky and jock prankster, Croc Byun, and face the malevolent force stalking Sleepy Hollow.
The writing team of Shannon Watters, co-author and co-creator of Lumberjanes, and debut author Branden Boyer-White brings new life into this legendary tale, with Hollow standing as a fresh reimagining for a new generation. Each member of the core trio carries a great amount of charisma, sparking from Izzy’s skepticism and determination, Vicky’s need for identity beyond her family name, and Croc’s goofball good-naturedness. Their dynamic with each other easily makes them a group to root for as they face conflicts both supernatural and domestic. Izzy and Vicky’s relationship in particular serves as the heart of the story as the reader slowly sees them grow closer and navigate their feelings for each other, resulting in sweet scenes of queer teen romance, as well some comedic moments from a clueless Croc. Along with the sapphic representation, the comic holds a diverse cast, with Izzy being biracial and Latina, Croc Asian, and a side character/potential love interest named Marjorie using mobility aids.
One aspect that was somewhat disappointing was the villain, whose entire vibe just screams baddie from his first panel. Though his role is immediately obvious, I was hoping for something to make him stick out more, a hidden layer or an interesting motivation. And yet, from start to finish, everything about him comes off as surface level, which is a shame given the potential that comes from updating such an iconic story. I kept feeling like I was waiting for a reveal or explanation of his identity or actions, something to further his characterization, only for it to fizzle out at the end. While I was left wanting more in this regard, everything else about the story, from its characters to the reframing and revisioning of the Headless Horseman folklore, provided a good balance that left me satisfied in the end.
Artist Berenice Nelle captures the Halloween spirit with lovely crisp colors that ooze with autumn charm that matches the coziness of the small-town setting. While some panels have backgrounds that wonderfully utilize one or both of these aesthetics, there are several panels, especially as the story progresses, that only use a flat, solid color. The backgrounds in these panels typically succeed in getting emotions across, but may break immersion in the scene or cause it to be less visually interesting, especially if they take up the majority of the page. In this instance, the characters become the focal point of the panel and, for the most part, Nelle’s designs always manage to bring vitality to each scene. Facial expressions are emotive and carry a great deal of personality, and the character designs come together to form a distinct cast of characters. Vicky, in an act of self-expression, is constantly shown wearing different clothing styles leaning towards gothic, country, or preppy to name a few, and not a one looks out of place on her. Nelle’s illustrations hold an intrigue to them that makes readers excited to see what could be waiting for them on the next page.
Those that enjoy the supernatural shenanigans of Lumberjanes as well as the spooky style and characterization of Specter Inspectors will most likely enjoy Hollow, a story that leans more on the lighter, more comedic side of paranormal activity while still having its moments of danger and action. Teens and younger adults may gravitate towards this title for its sense of humor, moments of drama, and relatable issues, especially when it comes to living up to and trying to distance oneself from familial expectations, making it a good fit for the 13-17 demographic. Educators and librarians looking to fill their graphic novel collections with inclusive reimaginings in terms of story, characters, and tone should consider purchasing this title.
Hollow By Branden Boyer-White, Shannon Watters Art by Berenice Nelle BOOM! Box, 2022 ISBN: 9781684158522
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Lesbian, Character Representation: East Asian, Latine, Lesbian, Queer,
The witch Margot and aspiring rock musician Elena are each going through a rough patch in their lives, with the former failing yet another spell license exam, and the latter struggling to get her band off the ground. Tensions are already running high as the two meet at the local doughnut shop, culminating in Margot unknowingly cursing one of Elena’s pastries. After Elena experiences an onstage accident gone viral, Margot seeks to remedy her mistake, but will it be enough to stop a doom of her own making?
Balazs Lorinczi’s debut graphic novel, Doughnuts and Doom, is a sweet treat of a story as we see the growth of Margot and Elena’s relationship, going from initially hostile to stalwartly supportive. Though they get off to a rocky start, the two eventually bond close enough to help the other through their toughest moments, whether that be Elena getting Margot through her performance anxiety or Margot standing with Elena as she faces an almost debilitating fear of failure. The connection they share through their similar conflicts of striving for success and constantly being tested on their abilities allows them to empathize more deeply with each other, something Lorinczi manages to convey in the story’s subtler moments. However, the short page length and fast pace make it a challenge for the comic to leave a lasting impression. While Margot and Elena’s dynamic is a highlight, it feels like there could have been more exploration or depth to it, something to make it stand out among the other entries in the paranormal romance genre. Character motivations also stand as being somewhat surface level, while others tend to be more vague or unaddressed, making it a bit harder to fully connect with their struggles.
In terms of world building, Lorinczi takes a laxer approach as witches and other supernatural beings are accepted and regulated figures in society, though there is not much explanation on how they function within it. Still, bits of exposition are transmitted through everyday conversation, leaving readers with enough detail to understand the world without completely breaking immersion. This falls in line with Doughnuts and Doom’s simple, relaxed tone, choosing to spend more time with how the characters interact and develop rather than fleshing out the setting. Overall, the graphic novel is one that is easy to relax to, the witchy, rock n’ roll vibes only adding more to the chill, low key atmosphere.
The cool blue color palette also feeds into the laid-back nature of the comic, which incorporates a shock of pastel pink whenever Margot uses magic. Lorinczi’s choice in contrasting the two colors creates memorable and visually distinct scenes, as the extra bit of color never fails to pop right off the page. Character designs hold a charming, alternative quality that reminds me of posters for lesser known rock groups, which, of course, is apt. Lorinczi instills so much personality in the main characters’ looks alone that it doesn’t take long for them to become endearing, as Margot’s down-to-earth appearance pairs well with Elena’s wilder style and effectively contributes to the balance of the comic’s magical and musical sides.
Doughnuts and Doom will definitely call to readers who enjoy a soft, queer paranormal romance similar to Mooncakes and Moonstruck, while also displaying an engaging sense of humor à la Fangs. The book markets itself as a “enemies-to-lovers” romance, which may not be entirely accurate, as Margot and Elena’s antagonistic moments are regulated to mostly one scene, and even then do not come from a place of working against each other, so that’s something to be aware of when suggesting the title to readers looking for certain themes.
The book has a suggested audience of 13-17 year olds, which is appropriate as, aside from the odd swear word, there is no content that would be unsuitable for younger audiences and they would have the most to benefit from seeing a depiction of a healthy, close, and supportive friendship turned relationship. Librarians and educators looking to include diverse art styles and portrayals of romantic relationships into their graphic novel collections should consider purchasing this title.
Doughnuts and Doom Vol. By Balazs Lorinczi Top Shelf, 2022 ISBN: 9781603095136
Publisher Age Rating: 13-17
NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Character Representation: Lesbian, Queer,
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 ,