The first time you visit New York City is a rite of passage. It’s a magical metropolis, full of famous museums and people and shops, with people from all over the world making the pilgrimage every single day. Jillian Tamaki and Mariko Tamaki’s incredible new adult graphic novel Roaming lets readers spend time with three friends as they spend five days in the city, finding themselves somewhere on the path to adulthood.
It’s spring break 2009. Dani has dreamt of New York City; she was that girl who was reenacting songs from Rent in high school. Now a freshman in college, she’s apart from her best friend Zoe for the first time. The two friends are reuniting in the city for their getaway, with Dani bringing along her new friend Fiona, a fellow art school student. Dani’s been planning for this trip for years and she is ready for the three of them to see the sights of the Big Apple. Fiona will help them navigate; she has American parents and her brother lives in Brooklyn, so she’s very familiar with the city (and she won’t let you forget it).
But, even though it’s only been a few months away at school, Zoe is different. She’s shaved her head and only wears black. She isn’t as excited by Dani’s meticulously planned binder full of maps and activities as Dani hoped she’d be. Zoe finds herself increasingly intrigued by Fiona. Sure, she can be a bit of a know-it-all at times but, unlike Dani, she’s not acting like a typical Canadian tourist. She’s magnetic and new. The trio quickly finds they all are seeking much different New York experiences on this trip.
Roaming is a beautiful look at early adulthood and the intricacies of relationships during that time. The characters spend time essentially playing what it’s like to be an adult around the city, even as Dani resists it and tries to stick to plan. There’s worth in fulfilling the dreams you’ve had for yourself, even if it’s as simple as visiting all the museums and tourist sites. The story is simultaneously very simple and very intense. Dani, Zoe, and Fiona all experience and navigate situations both familiar and brand new.
The book is aimed at an adult audience and includes scenes with nudity, sex, and substance use. It is recommended for older teen and adult readers. With its 2009 setting, it is both incredibly nostalgic for millennials (the thrill of visiting a Uniqlo for the first time!) and just retro-tinged enough for readers currently in college (what life was like before most people had smartphones).
Mariko Tamaki writes characters who speak like your own friends, ones you can relate to and understand. Readers will find themselves wanting to be friends with every character and also annoyed by every character. Jillian Tamaki’s art is expressive with a simple, warm color palette. There are multiple conversations about art throughout the book. Tamaki mirrors this art in the captivating double page spreads throughout the book, including as day/chapter breaks. The art and the words fit beside each other perfectly, it is a true collaboration between the cousins.
Another graphic novel by the duo, This One Summer, was a smash hit and a Caldecott Award winner. Many of the readers of that graphic novel are older now and will find themselves just as drawn to Roaming. You may not find yourself understanding or knowing everything about these characters, the story is truly a moment in time, but you will find yourself engrossed and enchanted by this story of three friends and their 2009 spring break trip to New York City.
Roaming Vol. By Mariko Tamaki Art by Jillian Tamaki Drawn & Quarterly, 2023 ISBN: 9781770464339
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Japanese-Canadian, Gay, Character Representation: Canadian, Canadian-American, Gay, Queer,
Soothe your spirit with Melanie Gillman’s (they/them) lovingly rendered Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales. I first became acquainted with artist and author Gillman with their webcomic-turned-print series As the Crow Flies. I was enchanted by their colored pencil artwork and queer-themed storytelling. They channeled those same elements into this collection of seven original fairy tales, complete with table of contents, introduction, and conclusion.
The stories spotlight LGBTQIA+ characters with a total emphasis on women and nonbinary/transgender protagonists (frequently not specified). Main characters are people of color in 4 of the 7 stories. Instead of tired fantasy tropes, Gillman offers themes such as agency, community, acceptance, romance, and self-reflection, all wrapped up with queerness. The tales still have all the furnishings of the fantasy genre—knights, princesses, magical creatures, quests—with a new, refreshing flavor. The stories are all so strong that I can’t pick a favorite. Maybe “Goose Girl,” in which a princess learns important lessons from the titular peasant and does the unexpected; or possibly “Sweet Rock,” in which we find out what happens to the girls who are annually sacrificed to the giantess. Another contender for favorite story is “The Fish Wife,” where a mermaid and a plain, lonely woman fall in love and make sacrifices for each other.
Gillman’s art is soft, rich, and colorful. They convey emotion and detail beautifully without overwhelming the reader with minutiae. The large, clear lettering is easy to read. The immersive nature scenes are exactly what you’d imagine a fantasy setting to look like. The artwork and story mesh together perfectly. Aspiring artists, take note.
This gentle and cozy collection fits in with the current boom of queer-centered modern fantasy books (think The Prince and the Dressmaker;The Deep & DarkBlue;The Princess and the Grilled Cheese Sandwich;Magical Boy). Add it to your library’s young adult comics collection. This book definitely deserves a spot on your shelf.
Other Ever Afters New Queer Fairy Tales By Melanie Gillman Penguin Random House Graphic, 2022 ISBN: 9780593303184
Publisher Age Rating: 12-17 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Queer, Nonbinary Character Representation: Lesbian, Queer, Nonbinary, Trans
The Color of Always: An LGBTQIA+ Love Anthology, edited by Brent Fisher and Michele Abounader, contains 13 short stories by a host of different writers and artists. As a whole, it’s a solid collection that portrays different sexual and gender identities, though it lacks significant representation of characters of color. Some stories stand out more than others. Letting It Fall, Long Away, All That Glitters, and Ever More Myself were my favorite stories of the bunch.
The first of those, by Priya Saxena and Jenny Fleming, pairs an expressive art style with a simple yet effective story of self-discovery. It’s beautifully summarized by a couple panels on pages 41 and 42. We see Padma, our POC protagonist, with a sad, crestfallen expression after sleeping with a presumably cisgender heterosexual man she meets at a party. Contrast this with her look of hopeful excitement on the following page when she locks eyes with Anne on campus.
Long Away, by Tilly Bridges, Susan Bridges, and Richard Fairgray, successfully blends genres as it uses time travel to allow transgender protagonist Victoria to speak with her father. Victoria’s dad passed away before she realized her true self. The shifting color palette separates past from present, the art style is really cool, and it has a positive, heartfelt message of acceptance. Another story in the collection, Sea Change by Lillian Hochwender and Gabe Martini, uses a science fiction premise but doesn’t achieve the smooth, clear narrative that I appreciated about Long Away.
All That Glitters and Ever More Myself focus on the nuances of gender expression. The former, by Michele Abounader and Tench (Aleksandra Orekhova) features a drag queen acting as fairy godmother to Dane as they (no pronouns are used so I’m going with they/them for Dane) chafe against the gender expectations and perceptions of others. Ever More Myself, by Kaj E Kunstmann, tells the story of androgynous Kaj who is still developing their gender expression. While remaining PG-13, it also briefly discusses safe and joyful sexual exploration between two queer people (boyfriend John is bisexual).
Finally, I’d like to mention that Both Sides is the only other story besides Letting It Fall that has a main character who is obviously a person of color, and that person, Zara, is the only Black main character in the entire anthology. It dismayed me that Zara’s was a depressing cautionary tale about a break-up, particularly the risks of being in a romantic relationship without working through past trauma. I would have liked to see more stories celebrating Black queer joy, even though I know queer break-up stories are just as important to tell as sappy/sexy romances are.
The Color of Always belongs on library shelves because it adds to the growing body of work by and about LGBTQIA+ people. It primarily portrays gay, lesbian, nonbinary, and transgender characters although it falls short on POC representation. It is suitable for teenage and adult readers and it was a quick read that people without a lot of graphic novel reading experience can get into.
The Color of Always An LGBTQIA+ Love Anthology Vol. By Brent Fisher, Michele Abounader Art by Elyse Malnekoff A Wave Blue World, 2023 ISBN: 9781949518245
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Gay, Lesbian, Queer, Gender Nonconforming, Genderqueer, Nonbinary, Trans,
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
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
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 ,
Gender Queer: A Memoir begins with an arresting image. As a student, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, taped over two pages of eir sketchbook with blank pieces of paper. The pages concealed an autobiographical comic about gender created for a school assignment, a topic that filled Kobabe with discomfort. In the opening of Gender Queer, we’re shown the censored pages—then, with an immensely satisfying “RIPPP!”, Kobabe tears away the paper, revealing the title page of Gender Queer itself.
Gender Queer is the self-portrait of a queer artist developing the confidence to tell eir story, in eir own words and on eir own terms. Narrating Kobabe’s gender journey from early childhood to the present,this graphic memoir chronicles eir efforts to build a life that affirms every piece of eir identity. There isn’t a single pivotal coming-out scene; instead, Kobabe embarks on a slow, continuous project of self-expression and self-knowledge, with results as precise and dazzling as the constellations that decorate the cover of this deluxe edition.
Maia Kobabe’s story begins with a California childhood spent catching snakes, making art, and feeling completely out of step with eir peers. A series of early crushes helps Maia to realize e’s bisexual, but this doesn’t explain the deeper discomfort e feels with eir body and assigned gender. Confused and discouraged, Maia catches hold of a pair of lifelines—coming to books as a late reader, and joining a Queer Straight Alliance at eir high school. Discovering stories that reflect eir own experiences, e begins to feel less alone.
Entering adulthood, Maia finds a word—genderqueer—that reflects the complexity of eir experiences. Just as important, e continues to collect touchstones that affirm eir sense of self instead of eroding it. There’s the first time e listens to David Bowie; the male figure skating costume that fills em with gender euphoria; the queer fan fiction that sparks eir sense of the erotic, yet ultimately makes em realize that e prefers reading about romance to experiencing it firsthand. Kobabe’s sophisticated artwork explodes to life in these moments, expressive full-color panels featuring inventive imagery such as Maia’s gender leafing out like a young seedling, or Bowie’s music as a full-body, cosmic experience (complete with rocketship).
Yet as Maia pieces together identity labels—nonbinary, mostly asexual, queer—and builds a network of supportive friends and family, the obstacles grow. Maia knows that as long as e minimizes eir gender, eir relationships and sense of self will suffer. But loved ones offer pushback when e tries to explain nonbinary identities; Pap smears are a source of trauma that medical professionals rarely take seriously; and everyday interactions come with a cost: Maia must stand up for emself, over and over, just to feel comfortable in eir own skin. This is the Maia who censored eir own sketchbook, and at the close of the memoir, this self-effacement is still palpable. Now a working artist, e hesitates over whether to share eir pronouns with students. “I think I’m carrying more fear than I need,” e realizes.
If Gender Queer is an act of bravery, it’s also a funny, sophisticated, deeply relatable coming-of-age story about charting your way alongside books and best friends into adulthood. Accessible but never didactic, Kobabe’s deft storytelling and polished, appealing artwork excels at communicating with a broad readership. For a queer and trans audience that has rarely encountered nonfiction centering nonbinary experiences, Kobabe’s memoir delivers affirmation, while for readers who are new to learning about queer identities, it educates and invites empathy. Gender Queer is also smart about the way it presents sexual material; this book doesn’t shy from frank discussions of sexuality, masturbation, and sexual health, but the content is contextualized in a way that is sensitive to the needs of younger readers, and Kobabe takes care to avoid explicit sexual depictions of underage characters.
The 2022 deluxe edition collects process pieces and select issues of the original Genderqueer comic strips, providing a snapshot of Kobabe’s creative process. An introduction by She-Ra and the Princesses of Power creator ND Stevenson reflects on the impact of Gender Queer since its initial publication in 2019. Stevenson writes about the book’s significance to himself and queer loved ones, as well as, briefly, those who have sought to remove it from public schools and libraries in “a last, desperate attempt to hammer an infinitely complex world into a small, unthreatening shape.”
Maia Kobabe’s introspective, joyful memoir is an important contribution to comics literature. It is highly recommended for any library collection serving adult and older teen readers.
Gender Queer: A Memoir, Deluxe Edition By Maia Kobabe Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781637150726
Publisher Age Rating: 18+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Asexual, Bisexual, Queer, Genderqueer, Nonbinary
Shaken from the accidental death of her sister Maura, the grief-stricken Doctor Frances Ai vows to bring her back to life with all the scientific and magical power at her disposal. And it works. . . supposedly. The being that rises from the slab has no memory of Maura’s life, nor does she share any of her interests or quirks. This is someone entirely new, though Frances is willing to do anything to bring her sister fully back, even if that means taking the new being apart and trying again.
Fearing her own unmaking, the creation, who deems herself M, attempts to slip into Maura’s old life, aided by Maura’s spirit still wandering among the house’s mirrors, visible only to M. However, that life comes with Frances’ high expectations, ones that M has no interest in pursuing as she discovers her own passions and desires. Once masquerading as Maura starts taking its toll, M must decide who she wants to be, her own person or the pale shadow of someone else. Talia Dutton’s Frankenstein-inspired debut, M is for Monster, expertly navigates through the topics of grief, self-discovery, and the importance of self-expression, as M strives to become the most comfortable and authentic version of herself.
M’s journey with forging her identity, Frances’s struggle with her grief and guilt, and Maura’s frustration of having to live vicariously through M give the story a resonating and relatable weight. Each character receives just enough focus for their arcs to develop and conclude satisfyingly, while also having their own moments to shine and make their mark on readers. M, with her hiccups of having to adjust to life in general, Frances’s overexuberance towards science, and Maura’s wit and dry attitude all add a lighter side to the story, allowing it to breathe in its more relaxed moments. Personally, I found myself invested the most in M’s progression, which naturally lends itself to a queer allegory. While not explicitly queer herself, M goes through many experiences that one does when first discovering that part of themselves: the uncomfortable nature of having to put on a persona to conform to others’ expectations, of trying to distance oneself from a past version of themselves, and finding oneself growing beyond the vision other people have of them. In the end, it becomes a lesson in allowing one to be themselves for their own benefit, something M tries to come to terms with over the course of the comic.
Along with this allegory, there is some LGBTQ+ representation in the form of Frances’s partner, Gin, who goes by they/them pronouns, and their neighbors who are in a sapphic relationship, all of which are normalized.
With a calm, cool palette of white and teal, the comic exudes a sense of thoughtfulness and reflection that distinguishes it from the more horror-based aspects of its story. It reminded me somewhat of Bloom, a comic that, while completely different in terms of plot, utilizes a similar coloring motif to enhance the mood and atmosphere of each panel. In Dutton’s work it serves as an emotional hook for the reader, pairing well with the paneling that becomes an additional storytelling device. There are multiple instances in which the layout of a scene provides subtle indications of developing character dynamics or adds subtext to the overall plot and character motivations. A spread that particularly stands out is a page of Frances and M conversing, with Maura appearing in a bubble to the side, slowing inching closer and closer with each panel as a result of her speaking through M, until she is completely between them with M uncomfortably pushed to the side as Maura’s influence becomes more prevalent. In a scene with no dialogue, it speaks volumes to M’s plight, perfectly summarizing the overall conflict of the story.
M is for Monster will no doubt please readers who enjoy engaging, emotional stories with an evocative art style and a smidge of the grotesque. Due to its more mature handling of these themes, this title is most suitable for audiences 14 and up. Librarians and educators who have a high circulation of character-driven and low sci-fi titles and aim to include more representative and diverse materials should consider purchasing this title.
M is for Monster By Talia Dutton Abrams, 2022 ISBN: 9781419762208
Publisher Age Rating: ages 13-17
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Chinese-American, Bisexual Character Representation: Assumed Asian, Lesbian, Queer, Nonbinary