The Legend of Auntie Po

Borrowing from the world of an invented lumber camp hero and his blue ox*,the author re-frames the familiar narratives of Paul Bunyan as a Chinese tale, told by the thirteen-year-old protagonist to the appreciative children in the lumber camp. Mei’s concocted Auntie Po is a Chinese giantess guardian who, aided by her blue water buffalo, Pei Pei, protects them from giant mosquitoes as well as outside devious enterprises. The children, both white and black, find these tales soothing as well as amusing. Alas, there are no Chinese children allowed in the camp other than Mei herself. The young protagonist, Mei, lives with her father in a Sierra Nevada lumber camp in 1885. Her father is the camp cook and Mei helps out by baking the most fantastic pies. Ah Hao, a Chinese immigrant, cooks for the white workers who have board as part of their salary and the Chinese workers who live outside of the camp itself and are not provided with board or part of the camp life.

The power of the tales’ characters and the telling of the stories become the backbone of this moving graphic novel. Within the storytelling and outside, in the historical recreation of the lumber camp itself, Shing Yin Khor delves into weighty and relevant matters such as identity, grief, loyalty, gender issues, privilege, racism, and family in an uplifting and honest manner for young readers. This is a tale where the telling of stories and the power of storytelling shine!

Mei and her father’s life are filled with hard work, but there is joy and friendship within the camp until they experience severe repercussions from the passage of the Chinese Exclusion Act. This piece of legislation renders their quiet life style amuck.  Not even the famous pies seem to calm matters down, but the stories of the adventures of Auntie Po and her blue water buffalo, Pei Pei, help both Mei and her listeners navigate the muddy waters that are the result of decreed prejudice. During this time of introspection Mei realizes that her close friendship with Bee, the white daughter of the camp manager, is not quite as she hoped since Mei looks to Bee as a romantic partner, but Bee has a different future in mind. The honest and nuanced portrayals of friendships between both Mei and Bee and their two fathers highlights the distinct levels of privilege afforded the two families.

Khor’s digital pencil and hand-painted watercolor illustrations are as straightforward as her text. The illustrations of the camp scenes are factually accurate and those of the fantastical characters in the stories of Auntie Po intermingle with the historical world, alluding to their possible existence for Mei in times of stress. The backgrounds of the frames are predominantly white, while the bulk of the illustrations are infused with colour and emotion. The efficient use of diverse sized frames embodies the emotional pressure of the main characters when dealing with various degrees of grief, death, anger, discrimination, anxiety, and joy. The fresh, dramatic line work and muted watercolors depict both the perilous realities of logging and the occasional moments of serenity successfully. The openings to the individual chapters are illuminated with the thematic collections of tools of the logging camp and of their kitchens, offering the young reader further knowledge about the activities of loggers and cooks.

The back matter includes a brief bibliography and an author’s note where Khor acknowledges the Indigenous peoples on whose traditional lands this work of historical fiction takes place. “If history failed us, fiction will have to restore us.” – Shing Yin Khor, Afterword (286)

Highly recommended for all library collections.

*Although the story of Paul Bunyan mostly originated as advertising for logging companies, it eventually entered oral tradition in America.

The Legend of Auntie Po
By Shing Yin Khor
Penguin Random House, 2021
ISBN: 9780525554882

Publisher Age Rating: 9-13

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Middle Grade (7-11), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Chinese-American
Character Representation: Chinese-American, Lesbian, Genderqueer

Squad

In her new home of Piedmont, Becca yearns for what every high schooler desires: a place to fit in and a squad to call her own. Much to her surprise, the most popular clique in school immediately accepts her into their fold, bonding over shopping trips, gossip, and… bloodlust? On a full moon’s night, Arianna, Amanda, and Marley reveal their secret: they are werewolves, preying on skeevy boys who target unsuspecting girls at parties, and they want her to join the pack. Filled with a need for acceptance, Becca embraces the transformation, feeling a kind of strength she never had before. But with this power comes a dangerous hunger that rattles her to her core and tests her morals. Tensions only flare higher as longstanding rules are broken, authority in the pack is questioned, and one wrong kill threatens to expose them all. In this fast-paced, strikingly illustrated graphic novel, Squad perfectly balances its elements of drama and horror, though unfortunately does not live up to the full potential of its story.

Personal tidbit about me, I love werewolves, they’re my favorite monster, star in my favorite horror films, and can be abundantly diverse in terms of storytelling and design. I also love the girl gang trope found in films like Heathers and The Craft, which this comic utilizes perfectly, as I found so many parallels between this comic and the latter film. Naturally, I was excited to dive into a story about a pack of female werewolves taking a bite out of the patriarchy in a way only werewolves can, but was ultimately disappointed once I reached the final page.

Most of my issues with this comic comes from its story and how certain elements do not receive any development that would have made it more memorable. The themes of Squad, such as finding community, reclaiming agency and control from potential aggressors, and challenging oppression towards women are all there, but become muddled due to its fast pace and short page length. Standing at around two hundred pages, this does not give Squad the time it deserves to properly flesh out its message, characters, or lore and, as a result, its impact is compromised significantly. Though the comic strives to highlight female empowerment, the internalized misogyny shown by the main characters, exhibited through fatphobic remarks and moments of victim blaming, is seldom addressed or even combated. There are also several microaggressions committed against Becca, who is Asian, that receive the same treatment, which is odd considering they mainly come from her eventual love interest. Seeing this, I was waiting to see how the climax would handle these moments, if they were to serve some purpose for a more nuanced message about feminism or the effects of, as Ms. Norbury so eloquently put it in Mean Girls, “girl on girl crime.” Unfortunately, those scenes just sit within the story, unanswered for.

Some of the characters and their dynamics almost exist as afterthoughts, appearing through the uneven character development of our main cast, or the tacked-on romantic relationship between Becca and Marley that begins nearly fifty pages before the end of the comic. While it is always wonderful to see more LGBTQ+ representation in young adult graphic novels, it still needs to be quality representation that has enough time and focus devoted to make it truly resonating. What is truly disappointing about Squad is that its lacking elements could have worked, if only given a little more time to breathe, develop, and not feel so constrained by its own page length.

The saving grace of the comic would definitely be Lisa Sterle’s illustrations, which evoke an engaging atmosphere that revels in the story’s horror aspects. In the more suburban scenes, the colors are flatter, more evenly toned to match the domestic setting, but, in moments of high emotion or violence, Sterle incorporates a startling scarlet red, making these scenes stand out in a perfectly visceral way. The character designs are memorable, giving off a more modern Archie Comics vibe while having their own identity. Sterle deciding to give the squad’s wolf forms a leaner, more emaciated look is a good touch, tying in nicely with their insatiable appetites, though having them all mostly be different shades of brown makes it difficult to tell who is who at times.

Fans of series like Riverdale, Teen Wolf, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will appreciate the dramatic and horror elements of the story, and for teen readers there is the additional appeal of connecting with a high school setting and the social issues brought up in the story. As Squad has multiple instances of gore and violence, along with one moment of near sexual assault, I would agree with the publisher-given age rating of 14 and up. While I would not recommend this comic as a must have for a collection, it may interest librarians and educators looking to include titles that share the appeal of the previously mentioned series or have a high circulation of female-centered, character-driven stories.

Squad
By Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Art by  Lisa Sterle
Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2021
ISBN: 9780062943149

Publisher Age Rating: 14+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Japanese-American, Bisexual, Jewish
Character Representation: Black, Japanese-American, Lesbian

Sunstone, Book One

Sunstone may be one of the few comics that can boast that most of its readers first read a few pages at a time on social media. It is also a comic many fans will deny having read. This is because Sunstone is a work of erotica. It is also, in equal parts, a coming-of-age story, a rom-com, and a slice of life sitcom.

Sunstone is, by the admission of author and artist Stjepan Sejic, largely plotless. This is because the story that became Sunstone started out as a side project Sejic posted on DeviantArt to amuse himself and to keep from burning out on other projects. Sejic relates the full story in this volume in the afterword, but the short version is that he started out drawing short, funny comic strips about a pair of women in a consensual BDSM relationship and then started wondering how these two nerdy, funny women wound up meeting.

The two women in question are Ally and Lisa. Ally is a computer programmer and something of a loner, with no friends apart from her ex-boyfriend Alan. (The relationship ended after they both realized they were Dominants after several years of experimenting in college.) Lisa is an aspiring erotica writer who has yet to act on her submissive fantasies in real life. As Sunstone opens, the two women agree to meet in person after a long flirtation online and what they intend to be something fun and light quickly becomes more serious, to the surprise of both women, neither of whom has ever had a female lover or a dominant/submissive relationship before.

This could have become sleazy or exploitive quite easily, but Sejic’s sense of humor shines throughout, even in the parts of Sunstone that are meant to be purely erotic. As Lisa notes in the book’s introduction, Sunstone is a love story, first and foremost. The fact that it is also full of “hot lesbian bondage sex” is incidental to the fact that the story is all about who Lisa and Ally are as people and why they fall head over heels in love, despite their mutual reluctance to get involved in something serious. For those who aren’t into romance, Sunstone is also a hilarious comedy which mocks those people who think the BDSM in Fifty Shades of Grey was at all accurate to how the subculture truly works.

Sejic’s artwork is as strong as his scripting and dialogue, with each character having a memorable and unique appearance. This is rather important as most of the characters, male and female, are redheads. (A fact which Ally jokes about as she looks around at her friends at one point.) There are a variety of body types on display—literally so, in some pages. Despite the many splash pages and pin-ups, Sejic has a tremendous gift for story flow and guiding the reader’s eye to where it needs to go on pages without clear panel structures.

Sunstone is rated for audiences 18+ and rightly so. This Is not a graphic novel for the prudish, which should not be surprising given the subject matter. However, while this is an erotic comic with men and women in various states of undress throughout and frank discussions of sex, sexuality, and kinks, it is still a story about people and love.

Sunstone: Book One 
By Stjepan Sejic
Image Top Cow, 2017
ISBN: 9781534301504

Publisher Age Rating: 18+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Representation: Bisexual, Lesbian,

Graveneye

GraveneyeThe sentient mansion of Graveneye is more introspective than haunted. It feels protective, fond, proud, and curious. But it tells us it does not feel remorse. The house tells the story of its beloved owner Isla. Even though Isla’s lifetime is only a quarter of its own, you get the impression that the house loves her best. No one understands Isla the way the house does. No one else hears her red voice and embraces her hunter nature. A new maid, Marie, is hired to care for the house and her timid presence pricks the interest of Isla and her home. We see her before we see Isla, a keyhole filled with bright red leads to the front door opening on its own. Marie’s entrance is marked by a bite from the house, the door’s strike plate cutting her hand open and spilling bright red drops across the greyscale panels. The relationship between Isla and Marie blooms slowly, keeping pace with Marie’s transformation from a woman curled inward by domestic abuse to one open to warmth and comfort. It’s impossible to resist being enchanted by the story, to feel the love of the house.

Even though the house is showing you Isla’s history. Even though you know Isla is foremost a hunter. Even though you know it’s a horror story, not a romance. 

The writing is spellbinding. While the subject matter is very different from Leong’s award-winning YA sports story A Map to the Sun (to label it too broadly), there’s a similar sense of the story taking just as much time as it needs to be told. With a languorous pace and gothic flourishes, it meanders through the story, showing flashbacks of Isla’s life, her hunting trips in the surrounding woods, and even speculates at Marie’s terrible home life. The house uses imagery of trees and buildings in its narration: Isla has “skin that looked not unlike the lightning struck oak in the courtyard. She was as regal as a maple” and Marie is a “young spruce-white wisp of a girl”. It reads like a fairytale. Isla is a powerful, darkly flawed character. Leong doesn’t pull any punches, we see some of the most horrifying parts of Isla’s past early on, but she remains fascinating. Marie seems to believe she’s in a different kind of story. The contrast is jarring and almost as violent as the action. 

Anna Bowles provides the art to Leong’s script. Unlike Leong’s kaleidoscope-hued A Map to the Sun, the grayscale pages of Graveneye are filled with the shades of a stormy sky. In flashes of blood and the copious gore, bright red pierces the gray. It also appears as an accent to intense emotional moments. The lines are sketchy and the backgrounds lush. The house’s finery and architecture looms large. At times the character faces can be indistinct and lacking the polish of other moments, though the various anatomical sections show a lot of skill.  The art carries a heavy load, fleshing out the characters. Seeing the emotion flit across the faces of the women makes broad changes to the house’s words. Isla is first shown in a full page splash, standing bold and strong, her clothing lining every muscled curve and angle of her body, juxtaposed with Marie’s tense body broken up by jagged panels, in a messy sweater and sneakers. There are no dialog bubbles, the house rarely feels the need to tell us what the characters are saying. Its narration comes in neat boxes or floating freely on the page. Every visual element serves the mood and motion of the story, it joins the writing perfectly. For a story told entirely in voice over narration there is a delicately balanced ratio of text to page. This is an incredible graphic novel debut for Bowles and I can’t wait to see what she does next. 

Any adult library collection where horror comics circulate well should pick this up immediately. Its closest graphic novel relative is Emily Carroll’s When I Arrived at the Castle, but horror classics like The Shining, The Haunting of Hill House, and We Have Always Lived in the Castle also share a lot of DNA with it. In case the blood red cover and the woman with blood coating her chin and neck didn’t tell you, there’s a lot of gore and violence in Graveneye. There’s a scientific context surrounding it in the book that makes it feel less gratuitous, but it should still be noted for content and to keep this in the adult category. There is also a lot of female nudity, but no sex. 

Open the cover to Graveneye, step into its welcoming halls, but be warned that this is a story that will linger in your mind long after the last page.

Graveneye 
By Sloane Leong
Art by Anna Bowles
TKO Studios, 2021
ISBN: 9781952203176

Publisher Age Rating: 15 and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Chinese, Mexican,  Native Hawaiian
Character Representation: Lesbian

The Goddamned, vols 1-2

“A stick of dynamite.” I remember, at a conference, a librarian using this metaphor to describe graphic novels that were sure to cause controversy, whether with their visual depictions of sex and/or violence, or tackling situations that were sure to offend at least a few patrons. Her words, even after all these years, stuck with me because she described how many graphic novels gather reputations of being too taboo for a library to even consider purchasing them. The stick-of-dynamite metaphor sprang into my mind as I read Jason Aaron and r.m. Guéra’s series of stories drenched in blood and religion, The Goddamned, which includes Vol. 1: Before the Flood and Vol. 2: The Virgin Brides.

Many are familiar with the story of Noah and the Ark, but Aaron’s story shows why God decided to flood the land: basically, it was a brutal world full of viscerally depicted depravity and violence. Navigating this land in Before the Flood, is Cain, brother of Abel and the first murderer. He wanders this barbaric landscape searching for a way to die, and there are plenty of marauders and zealots with axes and swords who will happily oblige him. What Cain ends up finding among the carnage in this world is a reason to live. The Virgin Brides depicts a seemingly more idyllic place where there are only women, an order of holy sisters who prepare young girls to accept their place as being Brides of the Sons of God. But two girls, rebellious Jael and obedient Shaari, soon suspect that the nuns are keeping secrets, including what happens to the girls once they are married, and what lies beyond the mountain.

These tales seem to be at least a few sticks of dynamite, beginning with the setting, a reimagining of Biblical times that’s dialed up the Old Testament savagery. The celestial beings in this story, though not shown, are depicted as more monstrous than the humans who serve them, even connecting them with this realm’s monsters. The graphic depiction of these times may offend many of your more religious patrons, but these stories are also very solid. The first looks at how even a man whose existence is inexorably tied to violence can find redemption. The second looks at the dangers of groupthink, as well as presenting a coming-of-age narrative that, although present in a book full of very adult situations, is no less meaningful. Aaron shows an aptitude in creating villains who are truly despicable. Vol. 1’s villain, Noah, the architect of the Ark, is portrayed as a controlling zealot, and the nunnery that keep Jael and Shaari prisoner feel their actions, no matter how heinous, are not only justified but noble. Aaron shows he can create both heroes and antiheroes as Cain and the two girls fleeing captivity are ones the reader can root for no matter how bloody their hands get.

The fights in these stories take place in a primitive world gorgeously illustrated by Guéra, full of casual nudity, scarred flesh, and blood-soaked spears. Battles are bloody, wounds will induce wincing, and readers with sensitive stomachs may find them flip-flopping. Guéra’s skill with depicting expressions also helps the reader develop empathy with the characters, especially considering the physical and emotional wringers Aaron puts them through.

The Goddamned can seem like a book ready to explode into a selector’s face, but this series is also a great example of graphic novel storytelling. Aaron shows his understanding of a redemption arc as Cain finds something to fight for in this savage era. The writer also evokes many elements of the best high fantasy as Shaari and Jael trek away from a life they’ve always known. Guéra’s art depicts epic, foreboding landscapes and the anguish in the faces of these characters. I’m thinking that perhaps a more apt metaphor for this series might be a jalapeno pepper, or perhaps a ghost pepper. It’s guaranteed to have a spicy kick, there could even be a little bit of pain, but there’s also a good chance that people who try this book will end up greatly enjoying it.


The Goddamned, Volumes 1 & 2
By Jason Aaron
Art by R. M. Guéra
Image, 2017-2021
Vol. 1 ISBN: 9781632157003
Vol. 2 ISBN: 9781534317208
Publisher Age Rating: Mature

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Character Representation: Lesbian

The Greatest Thing

The Greatest ThingWinifred is alone and lost. It is the first day of her sophomore year of high school, and her two best friends (well, only friends) transferred to a private school. Hidden under baggy clothes and behind her shyness, Winifred starts the year alone and friendless. 

Sarah Winifred Searle wrote and illustrated The Greatest Thing, a graphic novel based on her own high school experiences that explores mental health and the importance of relationships.

Searle uses beautiful and lyrical text through Winifred’s inner dialogue as she explores her depression, eating disorder, and sexuality. A pattern of wavy lines flows like water over Winifred when she is at her lowest and most lonely throughout the book, but through genuine friendships and the help of a mental health professional, Winifred finds her way back to the surface. 

Second to Winifred’s own self-exploration, the relationships between Winifred, Oscar, and April is central to the story. Each one is struggling to find themselves and their place. Oscar is bi and love-sick over a recent ex, and despite his intelligence, he struggles in school when teachers often dismiss what he has to offer. April has parents who are often absent but also controlling. Together they help Winifred accept her body and herself. She still feels alone and struggles with her depression, but the encouragement from her friends gives Winifred the courage to find the support she needs. 

The three decide to collaborate on a set of zines. Oscar writes the story through poetry and Winifred illustrates. April then publishes the zine with the help of a photocopier. The zines explore the book’s themes of depression and isolation through the story of a cursed prince who is locked in a tall tower with no means of escape. 

The zines look exactly as they are supposed to, something done with heart by talented high school students. Searle also includes a 3-page spread that describes, step by step, April’s process for making a zine.

Winifred is fat and ashamed of her body. She often avoids eating in front of other people, and at one point has a panic attack because someone gifts her sweets and is paralyzed in how to respond. She doesn’t want to be the fat girl excited about sweets. She regularly eats dairy despite being lactose intolerant and gets horribly sick each time: “A dark feeling inside me told me that if I was going to act gross and fat, might as well eat something that would punish me later.” It is not until later in the book that she recognizes these patterns as part of an eating disorder. 

Searle has a simplistic illustration style with distinct but soft lines and colors. She uses purple for many of the outlines and shadows, a choice that mirrors her writing. Few things are spoken directly, or drawn with harsh contrast, but instead handled with a light touch. I think the purple lines might also help remind us that things are not as bleak as they feel to Winifred. 

This book includes depictions of eating disorders, self-harm, depression, and suicidal ideation. While this book is a story of fiction, Winifred’s pain and experiences are based on Searle’s own high school experience. I am not qualified to speak specifically to the ways these issues are handled, but from my point of view, it felt authentic.

Many of our students and teens struggle with depression, their identity, feelings of isolation, eating disorders, and much more. They might find comfort in Winifred’s story. These stories are important to include in our collections, but it is also important that these stories are told authentically and with hope. I recommend this for high school and teen graphic novel collections. 

The Greatest Thing  
By Sarah Winifred Searle
First Second, 2022
ISBN: 9781250297235

Publisher Age Rating: 14-18

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Character Representation: Lesbian,  Eating Disorder

The Grande Odalisque

The Grande Odalisque opens with Carole and Alex mid-heist, busy stealing a painting from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris under the cover of night. What seems like a familiar story of elegant thieves takes a turn right away when Alex loses focus as her boyfriend breaks up with her via text message, missing her cue, and Carole has to fight off security guards and a guard dog. Still, after they pull it off, the women are offered a bigger job from their armless underworld contact Durieux, stealing a painting from the Louvre. Thus begins the  adventure that will consume the rest of the book as it bounces around the globe.

Carole brings more talent on to the team in the way of Sam, a motorcycle-driving “ChessBoxing” champion (it’s exactly what it sounds like, a combination of chess and boxing) who lost her girlfriend in a car crash the year before. The last fact is really just mentioned to soften Alex up to Sam joining the team, as Alex doesn’t think they need help. The group also enlists the aid of Clarence, son of the French ambassador to Mexico who is an arms dealer and drug smuggler. He will ultimately help them with their plan to steal “The Grande Odalisque” by Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, but not before he gets himself kidnapped in Mexico by drug cartel that has a price on his head and the women having to save him.

Award winning French author/illustrator duo Jérôme Mulot and Florent Ruppert team up with Bastien Vivès (an Angouleme prize winner himself) for this book, splitting writing and illustrating credit equally between them. The artistic style in this book is one that relies on disjointed pencil lines and a watercolor softened approach. It’s sparse in details, and faces are very loosely constructed; so while it is clearly an artistic choice, it doesn’t always aid the storytelling. There are some reality-bending moments that you’d expect from something like a Fast and Furious movie where suddenly the laws of physics don’t matter and logic is tossed out the window. This book aspires to be a sexy, fast-paced thrilling adventure, but it doesn’t always stick the landing.

The storytelling comes in waves as some pages are wordless and others drive exposition right at you. For as light and witty as parts of this book try to be, there is plenty of violence from start to finish and some rather somber moments throughout. This isn’t a realistic book by any stretch, but there are some absolute leaps in logic that pulled me out of the story. If the art was more detailed, I think the authors may have had an easier time convincing me to follow the story. This book felt like it was straddling a line poorly as it aspired to be a high-impact, blockbuster crime story, but wrapped in the trappings of a low budget, independent art project about relationships. Those two things felt completely at odds throughout the reading.

Fantagraphics has previously published work by Mulot and Ruppert and has a back catalog of translated foreign titles. They aren’t afraid to take a big swing when it comes to publishing books that are underground or risqué. This book isn’t necessarily pushing the boundaries of taste (even if there is mild nudity and some coarse language), but has an unsettled feeling to it. The women feel like they are being written by men and without much nuance. Characters’ motivations are convenient for the story if they exist at all.

Libraries considering adding this title should keep it with their adult graphic novels or 18+ section. If you don’t have a big community of readers asking for European comics, it is okay to pass on this one.

The Grande Odalisque
By Jérôme Mulot, Florent Ruppert, Bastien Vivès
Fantagraphics, 2020
ISBN: 9781683964025

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  French
Character Representation: Bisexual, Lesbian,

Girl Haven

It has been three years since Ash’s mother, Kristin, vanished without a trace. Now Ash lives in her childhood home, where old clothes and possessions still linger, but none more precious than her old studio, which houses the secrets of a special place: Koretis. Koretis, born from Kristin’s childhood imagination, is a female-only fantastical land, filled with magic, fanciful creatures, and anthropomorphic animals. One day, after a Pride Club meeting at school, Ash invites a few friends over to explore the studio, eventually coming across a spell to transport them to Koretis. Naturally, they attempt the spell in jest, but are amazed when they find themselves on a lush hillside, discovering that there may be more truth to the stories than they realized.

Yet, somehow, Ash, assigned male at birth, is there as well. What does this mean? Everyone has always referred to Ash as a boy. Shouldn’t the spell have kept Ash out?  Or does Ash’s entry into Koretis reveal something a little deeper, a story that has yet to be told?

The world and presentation of Girl Haven is admittedly simple, yet surprisingly accessible. Though I was not met with sweeping, detailed landscapes or a striking color palette, the illustrations still hold an almost nostalgic charm through their expressive qualities and designs. To give a comparison, Meaghan Carter’s style appears as a satisfying mixture of Molly Ostertag’s The Witch Boy and Gale Galligan’s work on The Baby-Sitter’s Club. The individual looks of the characters never come off as overbearing, although there are some instances of wonky proportions in particular panels. Adding to the overall readability of the comic, the layout and size of the panels make the images easily digestible and convey action and emotion in a way that is eye-catching and gripping. However, some scenes could have used a few transitional panels, as characters tend to sporadically appear from one location to another almost instantly, without the use of magical spells this time, of course.

What ultimately sets Girl Haven apart from other portal fantasies is its focus on gender exploration and acceptance. To see a story marketed towards children that deals with transgender identities in such a supportive and genuine way is nothing short of heartwarming. While Ash’s journey in questioning their gender is somewhat surface level, it serves as a worthy introduction to these issues. The comic showcases self-doubt and uncertainty as valid parts of this experience, while also stressing, in the preface, that this story is only one version of it, as not all transgender people share the same experiences. Since Ash’s arc is the focal point along with the journey to Koretis, this does not leave much time in this 160-page comic to develop the other characters, mainly Ash’s friends Eleanor, Junebug, and Chloe, who have the potential to be as fully developed if given the chance. Still, each of them have enough of their own stand-out moments to ingratiate them to a variety of readers.

The publisher and other sites recommend this title for the 10 and up crowd, though I believe that, due to the accessibility of its art style and layout, its simple plot structure and characterizations, and lack of serious violence or any other potentially harmful material, it is also suitable for 9-year-olds and perhaps 8-year-olds at the youngest. Positive transgender representation in fantasy materials, especially for younger readers, is still somewhat scarce, and those curious or wanting to see themselves in such stories deserve to have them readily available should they be appropriate for them. Girl Haven can appeal to children facing similar experiences to Ash or to those wondering how to be supportive to those on their own gender journeys.

Giving further context to Ash’s story, the back matter of the comic includes definitions on gender, gender identities, gender expression, and sexuality as it pertains to gender. There is also a portion highlighting the significance of pronouns and how to respectfully use them. Librarians that are interested in strengthening and diversifying their youth LGBTQ+ comic collections and have a good circulation of character-centered fantasy stories should consider acquiring this title.

Girl Haven Vol.
By Lilah Sturges
Art by  Meaghan Carter
Oni Press, 2021
ISBN: 9781620108659

Publisher Age Rating: 10-99

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  Trans
Character Representation: African-American, Lesbian, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans,

Blade Runner 2029 Vol. 1: Reunion

The year is 2029. Twelve years ago, Aahna “Ash” Ashina was the LAPD’s greatest Blade Runner – one of the elite police detectives tasked with hunting down and killing any Replicant running loose on Earth. Yet Ash had a secret that would destroy her career were it discovered by her fellow cops; she was dependent on a rechargeable spinal implant to walk.

Ten years ago, Ash left the force and went on the run, acting as the protector and foster mother of a runaway girl, to honor the dying request of the Replicant clone of the girl’s biological mother.

Three years ago, Ash returned to a radically different Earth, where the manufacture of Replicants was outlawed after an attack on the Tyrell Corporation erased every record of every existing Replicant. Naturally this did nothing to stop the rich and powerful from ordering their own custom grown Replicant “servants” on the black market.

Two years ago, Ash rejoined the LAPD and the Blade Runners, joining the hunt for the last of the Nexus 8 Replicant models: the most human Replicants ever made. But Ash had a secret beyond her artificial spine. She had become part of the Replicant Underground, working to free the new Replicants who are born as both fugitives and slaves on Earth.

Now, Ash is relatively content, having found love with the Nexus 8 Replicant Freysa Sadeghpour. But a ghost from the past has thrown Ash’s new life into sharp relief; a ghost called Yotun, who is the only Replicant to ever escape Ash’s clutches in her old life and the leader of a Replicant terrorist cell out for revenge on the idle rich responsible for the creation of the latest Nexus 8 Replicants.

Fans of the Blade Runner franchise hoping for more of the same after Titan Comics’ excellent Blade Runner 2019 series will greatly enjoy this first volume of Blade Runner 2029. Michael Green, Mike Johnson and Andres Guinaldo, the creators on the first comic series centered around Ash’s adventures, have all returned for this second series and their respective contributions are as fine as ever. Green, who co-wrote the screenplay for Blade Runner 2049, continues to expand upon the setting of the original film, while slowly building up the elements he introduced in the sequel. Ana’s lover Freysa Sadeghpour, for instance, was a character in Blade Runner 2049.

Andres Guinaldo continues to capture the essence of the neo-Noir setting of Blade Runner. There is grit and grime aplenty, as befits the mean streets of Los Angeles. Yet there is also neon splendor and bright lights concealing the dark heart of the city’s underground, well rendered by colorist Marco Lesko. Suffice it to say the unique aesthetic of the movies is replicated perfectly throughout this book.

This volume is rated 15+ and I consider that to be a fair rating. There is nothing in Blade Runner 2029 that would be inappropriate for an older teen audience and nothing likely to upset fans of the original movies, which were rightly rated R for violence, nudity and sexual themes. There is nothing so overt in this collection, though there are some disturbing images of one body being impaled on rebar, a dissected corpse post-autopsy and some loose body parts in various Replicant labs.

Blade Runner 2029 Vol. 1: Reunion Vol. 01
By Michael Green, Mike Johnson,  ,
Art by  Andres Guinaldo
Titan Comics, 2021
ISBN: 9781787731943

Publisher Age Rating: 15+
Related media:  Movie to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Indian American, Japanese-American, Lesbian, Mobility Impairment, Prosthesis,

The Girl from the Sea

Molly Knox Ostertag, writer and artist of The Witch Boy graphic novel series, tackles the myth of the selkies in her latest middle grade graphic novel. In The Girl From the Sea, teenage Morgan finds herself enchanted with a mysterious beauty when she slips from the cliffs of her island home and into the sea.

Even though Keltie manages to save Morgan from drowning, she cannot rescue her from her problems. Morgan lives on a tiny island with her recently-divorced mom and little brother and feels trapped, unable to tell anyone, including her close-knit group of girlfriends, that she is gay.

Morgan’s plans include getting through high school and moving off the island so that she can be her true self. Her first kiss with the shape-shifting Keltie puts a giant kink in those plans. Her younger brother is still angry about the divorce and is difficult to deal with. Morgan feels increasingly isolated from her family and friends, and hiding among the cliffs with Keltie seems like the best she can manage. 

Keltie, who lives with her family of seals on the island, cannot quite understand the human she has fallen for. Morgan wants to keep her life compartmentalized and secret, out of fear and anxiety more than anything. But her secret, and Keltie’s, are on a collision course that could put people in danger.

As with The Witch Boy, Ostertag captures the fears and feelings of isolation in young teens. This graphic novel is a rich blend of fantasy and realism. The artwork is sweetly rendered. Although the review copy was mostly black and white, the initial pages feature deep, sea green colors on a black background, evoking Keltie’s underwater world. The line art is simple but detailed, with attractive characters and, what are sure to be gorgeous when inked in the final version, rocky shoreline backgrounds.

This coming of age tale is more sweet than bitter but its poignant conclusion leaves the readers with hope, for Morgan and Keltie, and also, a sequel.

The Girl from the Sea is rated for ages 12 and up by the publisher and its honest depictions of teens in love with chaste kissing and hand-holding are age appropriate for middle grade readers. This is a must-have for a library graphic novel collection. It is available as an audiobook as well as in paperback, hardcover print, and digital formats.


The Girl from the Sea
By Molly Knox Ostertag
Graphix, 2021
ISBN: 9781338540574
Publisher Age Rating: 12+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation: Gay
Character Representation: Canadian, Lesbian