There are plenty of media-related graphic novels, but Harper Alley seems to have cornered the market on unique properties, mostly YouTube related. This graphic novel combines a popular toy, slime, with a media personality, Karina Garcia, to create a fluffy but fun story.
Sophie, her big sister Bailey, and their best friend Jayden run their own slime business, BSJ Slime, and they’re very successful. Except that Bailey and Jayden have been butting heads and they’re not the only ones who aren’t getting along! When the three leave their workshop after creating a special slime for a contest put on by Aymee’s Slime Emporium, the slimes come to life!
Each slime has a name and a distinct personality. They’re shown as fist-sized blobs with enough definition and detail, as well as distinct colors, to tell them apart. Each falls into a male or female binary, with a certain amount of stereotyping—for example, Polly, the popular, glittery pink slime is “female” and Boris, the old, grumpy green slime who becomes the villain, is “male”.
Polly is all set for another fun day of play when Boris warns them all that the disappearing slimes are being destroyed. Polly investigates and sees Boris eat Skip, a crunchy yellow slime! But when Skip shows back up, even though he’s acting strange, Polly gets downvoted in favor of listening to Boris’ warnings and threats. When it becomes clear the BSJ slime shop—and all the slimes—are in danger, Polly and her friends sneak out to find help and go on a wild adventure through the neighborhood, meeting new friends and learning valuable lessons along the way.
Happily, all ends well and not only the slimes but the three human friends work through their differences and learn to respect each other and value each person’s contribution. The story ends with a slime party, lots of unique slime recipes and bases, and an illustrated cast of the slime and human characters.
The color palette is mostly pastels, with a few darker pinks and turquoise slimes splashing extra color across the pages. There’s not a lot of plot, but the cute slimes stretching, bouncing, and squeezing across the pages make for an amusing narrative. Sophia and Bailey appear to be half-siblings from a casual mention of different dads and both have brown skin and hair. Bailey has a full figure and comfortably wears shorts and tank tops while Sophia is skinnier and sports tattered, rolled up jeans and a t-shirt. Jayden is Black, with short hair and glasses and wears long shorts and a maroon hoodie. There is one typo on page 50.
There is an underlying message of working together and building friendships, but Bailey and Jayden’s arguments are resolved off-screen and they simply apologize and get back to work when they see each other after the slimes’ adventures. Polly has a lot of toxic views of popularity and friendship, but even when she lashes out at her friends near the end, they all still help her and she apologizes and learns to work with them. However, the message is really secondary to the wish-fulfillment of all the slime you could ever want! Plus, tons of cute slimes, silly jokes, and a lighthearted, amusing adventure. If you have young readers who are still deeply invested in making and playing with slimes, or if you have fans of Karina Garcia (who appears in the book thinly disguised as the Aymee of the Slime Emporium), this is sure to fly off your shelves.
Slime Shop By Kevin Panetta Art by Niki Smith Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2023 ISBN: 9780358446453
Publisher Age Rating: grade 3-7 NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)
Cade is a shy, horror-movie-obsessed teen living in rural Texas. Surrounded by homophobia, he figures he’ll never be able to come out as gay, let alone find a boyfriend. Anyway, he has other things to worry about. His family is low on money, so his parents insist that Cade get a summer job at a ranch, which pays better than the more comfortable indoor jobs he would prefer. It’s hard labor, but on the plus side he gets to work with Henry, the teenaged son of the ranch owner. Henry is attractive, mysterious, and possibly interested in Cade. But there are rumors swirling around the ranch. People have died. In fact, the whole situation reminds Cade of a horror movie. Will he be the next victim?
This is a retelling of Jane Austen’s novel Northanger Abbey, in which a young woman allows her love of Gothic novels to color her perception of the real world. Like the heroine of that novel, Cade sees and hears a few strange things and lets his imagination fill in the gaps with terrifying theories. Changing the Gothic novels to horror movies and the setting to a lonely ranch in modern-day Texas makes for a creative update. Cade’s unease and sense of being in danger are supported by encounters with racist and homophobic locals—a situation based on the author’s own experience growing up queer, closeted, and Latine in rural Texas.
Cade comes from a class background that is underrepresented in teen fiction: his blended, multiracial family is struggling financially, living in a rural area where military service and religion play a large part in many people’s lives. This adds to Cade’s isolation, as there is a lot of homophobia in the local culture. Even his generally well-meaning stepdad casually uses homophobic language. Henry, too, has struggled to reconcile his identity with his church’s condemnation of queer people.
A content note at the beginning advises that the book contains “moments of homophobia, misogyny, racism, domestic violence, animal cruelty, and confronting death.” There is a character whose past includes becoming suicidal and spending time in a mental health facility, and another character uses stigmatizing language about it. And although he is seeing a therapist and working on his anger issues, Henry can be violent, which is an alarming quality in a love interest. There are also a handful of swear words, up to and including the f-bomb. Despite all that, though, this story is not grim throughout. It is, after all, a romance, with plenty of sweet moments and—eventually—a hopeful ending.
The art is cute and expressive, with a simplified realistic style reminiscent of Faith Erin Hicks. The book is two-color, with shades of red and pink punctuated by bold black and lots of deep shadows, especially in the creepy parts. Horror movie fans may notice a few classic film posters in some of the panels.
This is a creative retelling that stands alone. Sometimes sweet and sometimes gripping, it addresses tough topics but also brings humor and smooches. Hand it to fans of Kevin Panetta’s Bloom and Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper.
Northranger By Rey Terciero Art by Bre Indigo Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2023 ISBN: 9780063007383
Publisher Age Rating: 13+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Smith, the creator of the pun-filled Pea Bee and Jay and Giarrusso, artist of the Mini Marvels, team up for a Dog Man/Sponge Bob mash-up, complete with underwater hijinks, supervillains, and flavorful kelp cakes.
It’s a peaceful day under the sea in Caper Cove, when a crime is committed! To catch up with the culprit, the police call in Clawsome, a lobster, and his sidekick Stariana. Together, the two save the day and set out to Kelpy’s for their favorite kelp cakes. But something is going on behind the scenes… something big. When people and even buildings start disappearing, Clawsome and Stariana will have to solve their biggest case yet, going up against all manner of undersea villains, secret plots, and even some pro-wrestling drama. When the claws hit the mat, who can they depend on? And will they be able to save their friends—and themselves?
Colorful cartoons pop from the pages of this silly story, with the bright red Clawsome shooting through the air, spinning yellow, grinning Stariana like a weapon, and zooming through the streets in submarine autos. There’s a giant claw machine, Lucha Libre style wrestlers (mussels of course), and gangs of pufferfish popping their spikes during bank heists. The action is non-stop and the underwater backgrounds, shown by occasional streams of bubbles and streams of water, don’t stop Giarrusso from going all out with helicopters, blimps, and bouncing back and forth between creatures swimming and floating through the atmosphere and then being threatened with being dropped from great heights. Crabs, seahorses, a goldfish in Sherlock Holmes’ style tweeds and cap, and a myriad of underwater creatures fight, commute, plot, and run retail establishments throughout the story and the bright colors complement the endless stream of puns.
This is definitely in the vein of Dog Man, but is most likely to appeal to fans of John Patrick Green’s InvestiGators or Mo O’Hara’s Agent Moose. There’s no attempt at realism; it’s more a superhero story than a police mystery and the goofy antics of the characters, like stopping in the middle of an investigation for a wrestling bout, will keep kids giggling all the way through. This genre is extremely popular right now and this will fly off the shelves in both schools and public libraries, giving young readers plenty of harmless fun and enjoyment.
Officer Clawsome, vol. 1: Lobster Cop By Brian Smitty Smith Art by Chris Giarrusso Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2023 ISBN: 9780063136366
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 years NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)