Belle of the Ball

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

We Ride Titans

“It’s going to come at you fast, and you’re going to freeze.” For Kit Hobbs, fighting monsters is the family business. But facing unexpected responsibilities she didn’t want is only the beginning. It’s salvaging her family that’s truly going to be the challenge.

In a world where monstrous kaiju regularly attack cities, Nexus Command oversees a network of city defenders known as Titans, gigantic robots with human pilots who serve as the only line of defense between the kaiju and human civilization. When Kit’s father lost the use of his legs piloting a Titan, the job fell to his son—leaving Kit feeling discarded as second best and estranged from her family. However, when addiction and depression make Kit’s brother more of a liability than an asset, she is called back home, both to look after her brother and take his seat in the Titan for as long as she’s needed.

Remembering her training and fighting kaiju is hard enough, but there’s an unidentified Titan making appearances in Kit’s city, picking fights and disappearing without a trace, a Titan with no pilot. It’s one more problem to solve even as Kit fights for her life every time she climbs into the pilot’s seat. And that’s not even the biggest issue facing her. Family legacy is a heavy thing. The demands of the job haunt her parents, causing rifts between them and their children. The pressure and never-ending expectations drove Kit’s brother to the bottle and kept Kit from her family for years. And now, returning home and reopening old wounds is straining Kit’s relationship with her partner. Hoping for redemption is easy. Finding it is hard. And if Kit manages to survive the threats encroaching on her city, there are still years of trauma left to confront on the way to something resembling a happy ending.

Written by Tres Dan, We Ride Titans from Vault Comics searches for a balance between kaiju vs. mecha action and emotionally grounded family drama. The limited series delivers on its promise in the opening pages as Kit’s brother teeters on the edge of success and calamity in a fight against the newest monster. As the story continues, the action is intriguing, but it is the family moments which carry the most weight. The comic’s examination of family trauma and healing is strikingly relatable and delivered with empathy and nuance from all the various members of the family. With only 5 issues, the story does end up feeling rushed in places, especially the drama of the larger kaiju/Titan conflict. However, given the amount of space these creators have to work with, they do serve up some bold mecha action alongside strikingly tender family moments grounded in flawed characters who are worth spending time with.

Bringing the action and emotion to life, Sebastian Piriz captures the epic scale of the physical conflicts as well as the intimate moments of conversation, hurt, and beauty that continue to shape the lives of the characters. The action sequences are occasionally difficult to follow, but the range of gross monsters is fun to watch as they rampage across the page, and Piriz conveys the very human lives of these characters in engaging detail. In facial expressions and dynamic paneling, Piriz and the other artists work to convey the depth of the story with each new twist of the plot.

Vault does not provide a specific age rating for this title, but with sci-fi violence, strong language, and thematic elements, it’s a story aimed at older teens and adults. The creators organically include a good range of diversity in terms of race, sexuality, and disability, and the main setup of Titans fighting kaiju across cities is sure to have appeal to fans of anime and science fiction. With everything else this title does well, its greatest strength really is the character relationships and examination of family at the story’s center. For We Ride Titans, its greatest flaw is its brevity, but as it delivers on its epic premise and grounds everything in its characters and their complicated lives, there’s plenty here to enjoy for a wide range of readers.

We Ride Titans
By Tres Dean
Art by Sebastian Piriz
Vault, 2022
ISBN: 9781638491187

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation:  Argentinian
Character Representation: Black, Lesbian, Mobility Impairment,  Addiction