Bountiful Garden

Bountiful GardenA group of teenagers, selected for a terraforming mission to deep space, suddenly awakens from cryostasis ten years too early to find themselves orbiting a strange planet that doesn’t appear on any of their charts. Faced with insufficient resources, half the team goes down to the planet’s surface to scavenge while the other half stays behind to diagnose and fix the ship. Strange things start to happen to both teams as they find more and more unexplainable clues about their situation. 

I found this story to be a little confusing. It felt like the middle of a story that was missing a beginning and an end. There was almost no space to give the cast distinct rounded personalities. Each one might have been shown with one major defining emotion or action in the face of an emergency, but none had backstory or much in the way of interpersonal connections. This is a horror story, and the pacing contributes to the tone as do the overly dark illustrations (which I personally thought were too dark to accurately portray background information important to the story). With the horror tone and some body horror, I would recommend this be placed in older teen or adult collections if added at all. 

Bountiful Garden 
By Ivy Noelle Weir
Art by  Kelly Williams, Giorgio Spalletta, Justin Birch
Mad Cave Studios, 2022
ISBN: 9781952303173

Publisher Age Rating: All

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)

Needle & Thread

Navigating senior year is hard enough already, but having to choose between living the life you want for yourself and living the life others think is right for you is a level up in difficulty. Nothing makes Noah feel more like himself than designing and sewing clothing, but his public servant parents are adamantly against him attending art school to pursue a career in costuming. Azarie has gotten very good at playing the part of the perfect mayor’s daughter, helping keep up the “traditional” family facade her father projects to the public as he runs for re-election, but deep down, she just wants to read comics and play video games. 

When the two teens from very different worlds accidentally run into each other at the mall, it turns out they’re not so different after all: they both just want to realize their dreams. But unfortunately for them, not everyone else supports them. As Noah and Azarie navigate their double lives and work together towards a common goal, will their new friendship and confidence in themselves hold strong? Or will the actions of those determined to maintain the status quo unravel it all?

Though teens struggling to find and be themselves while under the constraints and expectations of their parents is not a new concept in teen stories, it feels fresh in David Pinckney’s Needle & Thread. The narrative decision to have Noah and Azarie stay purely platonic friends is refreshing and important, and keeps it from falling back onto the star-crossed lovers trope that so easily can happen when characters are from different racial and socio-economic backgrounds (Noah is Afro-Latine and middle class, Azarie is White and wealthy). Their friendship and character development as they discover who they are together and apart is one of the strongest aspects of the story, and readers will root for them as their bond gets tested by outside influences.

Cosplay and the world of cons are starting to crop up more in teen stories and it’s nice to see it presented as just a thing that the friends are doing, and not something that is completely out there or niche. The many scenes of Noah, Azarie, and the Cosplay Squad working on Azarie’s costume for the contest (and Noah’s portfolio) will absolutely ring true to readers who are involved in fandoms and cosplay themselves.

But of course, there could be no Needle & Thread without artist Ennun Ana Iurov’s lovely illustrations. Her line work has a pen and ink style that gives the art a fashion sketch vibe—a perfect choice for this graphic novel’s themes. The muted pastel color palette is absolutely gorgeous, and has a softness which feels right for the introspective aspect of much of the story. And yet there is still such a liveliness to the characters as she depicts both the humor and drama of teenagers trying to just exist as they are. Additionally, an especially creative touch is the intro page for each new chapter: each one has a drawing of a character’s cell phone home screen, giving little context clues like time of year (to help move the story along) and additional story teasers via social media notifications complete with hashtags, or incoming message snippets.

Teens feel pressure from a myriad of sources telling them who to be and what paths to choose. Finding the confidence to assert yourself in a world full of adults who think they know what’s best for you in order to grab hold of at least a little piece of a dream is something both Noah and Azarie strive to do. Maybe, by adding Needle & Thread to your collection, a reader might feel seen or heard enough to try for a little of that confidence too.

Needle & Thread
By David Pinckney
Art by Ennun Ana Iurov
Mad Cave Studios, 2021
ISBN: 9781952303234

Publisher Age Rating: Grade 7-9

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Creator Representation:  African-American
Character Representation: African-American, Latine

Nottingham, vol. 1: Death and Taxes

Many people are familiar with the story of Robin Hood, the hero who, according to nearly every Robin Hood story, “robs from the rich and gives to the poor.” They no doubt also remember his daring fights with the dastardly Sheriff of Nottingham. People are also familiar with the term “reimagining,” a word that might elicit groans from some as being a sign that an entity is creatively bereft. However, there are reimaginings that get some mileage by turning the readers’ expectations on their heads. Such is the case of Nottingham, vol. 1: Death and Taxes, which retells the well-known story of Robin Hood as a medieval noir.

Written by David Hazan and illustrated by Shane Connery Volk, the story recasts the Sheriff as a principled investigator looking into a series of tax collector murders. He believes that these murders are the work of the Merry Men, terrorists who even wear masks with exaggerated grins. They are led by a man known only as the Hood. What the Sheriff eventually finds is a conspiracy that soon grows, or perhaps metastasizes, into the legend everyone knows.

Hazan’s story reads at times like a police procedural, complete with the crime scene investigations and interrogations of suspects. The Sheriff in this tale is also fleshed out beyond a one-dimensional villain; he’s a grizzled veteran of the Crusades who has grown cynical of human nature. He’s also smart enough to see the shades of gray implied in the Merry Men’s activities. Indeed, Hazan’s tale totally flip-flops the dynamic of the Sheriff and Robin Hood. In this story, the Sheriff attempts to maintain his moral center if not being downright heroic, while Robin Hood and his men, especially his companion Maid Marian, are villains who commit some very nefarious deeds.

Volk’s artwork reflects the gritty and violent tone of the story. A lot of people die by various medieval weapons and in very graphic ways. The amount of blood and bloody violence in this book is comparable to what one would find in a horror graphic novel. While the masks of the Merry Men are exaggerated grins, the expressions of many of the book’s characters, while never descending into bad caricature, are either stoic or sneering. That does, however, benefit the noir tone of the story, since the shades-of-gray morality of this world gives the characters very little to smile about.

Nottingham, vol 1 has some good moments, but it also feels unfinished, especially by the end of the volume. There is a clear progression to the story arc, and there is a definitive if not wholly satisfying ending, but it also feels like this story skims over a lot of its own established nuances, like the Sheriff’s own military history and how it’s affected him. Overall, while not being flat archetypes, the characters are painted with some broad, and violent, strokes. However, their distinct personalities and stories might be explored more in future volumes. Some stories simply take a while before really finding their footing after introducing the world in which the story takes place. It should be up to librarians with patrons who might be interested in graphic novel reimaginings and crime drama whether or not they want to take a chance and see if volume 2, should it come out, goes deeper into its characters.

Nottingham, vol. 1: Death and Taxes
By David Hazan
Art by Shane Connery Volk
Mad Cave, 2021
ISBN: 9781952303142
Publisher Age Rating: 16 years and up

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Australian