Grief is a heavy burden for anyone to bear, but for children, it can be especially overwhelming. In their new graphic novel, Missing You, Brazilian creators Phellip Willian and Melissa Garabeli explore the complex emotions of grief and loss through the eyes of two bereaved children and their father.
In the aftermath of their mother’s death, Lara, Thomas, and their father welcome an injured baby deer into their home and name him Lion. But when their maternal grandmother comes to stay with the family, she has other ideas about how things should be done, including Lion’s caretaking.
One of the things that makes Missing You so special is its nuanced portrayal of grief. Willian and Garabeli convey the children’s emotions with great sensitivity and raw honesty. In one scene, Thomas asks Lara if she misses their mom, and though Lara never answers, we see her carrying on what might have once been her mother’s role: making sure Thomas is clean, fed, and comforted when he is scared or sad. Scenes of the children and Lion playing pretend together are particularly heartwarming, providing a welcome respite from the heavier aspects of the story.
Lion offers the family a sense of comfort and companionship, and he helps them to learn how to trust again. It is through their woodland friend that the family begins to come back together and heal. A soft, watercolor palette of browns and greens captures the warmth of the story. Realistic dialogue includes believable sibling interactions and a late-night conversation between Lara and Thomas’s visiting grandmother and their distraught father.
The story is short and much of the action unfolds slowly, conveyed through facial expressions and the silence between words. It’s an easy read; although it deals with heavy topics like grief, loss, and learning to communicate big feelings, it does so in a gentle and ultimately comforting way.
The publisher’s age range of 8-12 years old feels accurate, although a curious and mature 7-year-old could probably also grasp and enjoy the material easily. Fans of animal stories like Pax or The Fox and The Hound will find this story engrossing. Among graphic novels I have read about similar topics, the closest read-alike was Mai K. Nguyen’s Pilu of the Woods. Missing You could become a go-to for grieving children as well as adults who might seek something to help their children cope with loss.
Missing You Vol. By Phellip Willian Art by Melissa Garabeli Oni Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781637152072
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12 NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)
Communications technology has created a world where the concept of privacy has changed. There’s a distinct possibility that someone is looking at us right now. Our selfies and photographed memories are on social media for everyone to peruse. Sites like Youtube and Tiktok can capture snippets or whole moments, perhaps even the entirety of our lives. If there’s an anxiety that stems from our ever-changing society, then there’s bound to be a horror story inspired by it. Blink, by Christopher Sebela and Hayden Sherman, is a descent into an underground world where an all-seeing camera is both god and devil.
Our Virgil in this digital underworld is Wren Booker, a journalist who spent her career chronicling the stories of others while knowing next to nothing about her own. Discovered at three years old covered in blood on New York’s streets, she only remembers fragments and nightmares that she can’t make sense of. Then she discovers the website showing several live feeds from an abandoned building, and she remembers a little more. Searching for answers, she breaks into the building to discover the bizarre social experiment known as Blink and the impact it’s had on her life.
Sebela’s story has the claustrophobic tension of looking over a rat’s shoulder as it navigates a maze while the promise of escape gets farther and farther away. Once Wren and her urban spelunker guide go beyond where sunlight can touch them, they enter a whole other world, one where creatures that can barely be called human thrive in the shadows, while all their actions are recorded by an all-seeing yet unfeeling eye. The book’s main theme, as well as the source of most of its terror, is the constant question of who is watching.
Sherman’s artwork really hammers this feeling home. Blink is found footage horror told through a print medium. Sherman relies on dizzying camera angles and distorted perspectives to give the entire project a funhouse feel. Not only is the reader watching Wren try to make it to daylight, they’re watching the underground world she is in unravel and mutate in ways that would make Escher dizzy. Sherman’s art, in fact, does the lionshare of moving the plot forward, or at least generating unease in the reader as they join in her descent.
Blink is an interesting take on found footage horror. It’s even an original one. That said, Blink might not be for everyone. Readers who might enjoy Wren’s trip into the digital underworld, captured in multiple angles, will be readers who don’t mind mind-bending, psychedelic visuals. Some readers will like how Blink explores our degradation of privacy along with our rigid views of reality as revealed through our senses. Others might get a headache.
Blink By Christopher Sebela Art by Hayden Sherman Oni Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781637152010
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Readers familiar with the mishaps and misadventures of animal friends as written and illustrated by Andrew Cangelose and Josh Shipley will no doubt be excited to dive into this fourth installment in the series that started with This is a Taco! Part informational picture book, part comic, this hilarious hybrid tells the tale of forest baker Shelly the turtle’s attempts to teach baking apprentice Bucky the rabbit how to make a birthday cake. But of course, anyone who noticed the crossed-out “disaster” right on the front cover of the book knows this baking lesson is going to be anything but ordinary!
And that disaster ensues almost from the get-go, with main characters Bucky the rabbit and Shelly the turtle instantly at odds in their approaches to baking. As Bucky the rabbit speeds ahead without following proper baking instructions, and experienced baker Shelly the turtle taking it at a slower pace, adults and older kids reading aloud to younger readers may soon recognize why something about this feels familiar: it’s a clever reimagining of the classic fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare.”
As in the timeless tale, Bucky the rabbit’s belief that speed is equal to skill ends up being his biggest error. When he serves his cake at the party, the exaggerated expressions of disgust on the faces of his forest friends are proof that mistakes were definitely made. After all, it’s got to be quite a shock when you bite into a slice of dirt frosted with mud and sprinkled with acorns when you’re expecting tasty chocolate cake! But Shelly the turtle shows young readers that taking things slow and steady and following the recipe step by step will win the race save the party for all!
Kids will enjoy following along with the goofy antics sprinkled amongst real information, like brief references to the history of birthday cakes, and will likely want to give baking a try with their grown ups using the actual recipe outlined in the story.
Shipley’s illustrations are lively and sweet with a vibrant color palette. The pages and panels depicting the situations Bucky finds himself in have a whirlwind feel to them, full of speed and action, while Shelly’s quiet baking scenes have a gentle softness evocative of her character. Though it is technically the fourth in a series, This is a Birthday Cake works just as well as a standalone book for readers unfamiliar with the previous three books. It likely will entice those new to the series to go back and find the first three, though. Recommended for young readers who are making their first jump from picture books to beginner graphic novels, or who might still be reading together with an adult, this delightfully silly tale could be cataloged in either a graphic novel or a picture book collection.
This is a Birthday Cake (This is a …! bk 4) By Andrew Cangelose Art by Josh Shipley Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781637150450
Publisher Age Rating: 4-8 NFNT Age Recommendation: Picture Books (3-8)
People around the Appalachian area of the United States are familiar with the Mothman, but as the supernatural linchpin in a horror story, he can seem rather one-dimensional: red eyes, flapping wings, might have something to do with UFOs. It takes a brave soul to tackle the Mothman, but Heath Amodio and Cullen Bunn have added more to the Mothman mythos by taking it out of the mountains and closer to natural and man-made disasters in Hustle & Heart: Foretold.
The story, created by Bunn and written by Amodio, follows recently widowed history professor Derek Flynn, who has a habit of disappearing for days at a time only to appear at the sight of natural disasters. This has naturally vexed his daughter Casey while also making him a person of interest to the US government who want to know why he is at the scene of all these disasters. Derek himself would like some answers and, with only his daughter and therapist wanting to help him, he must stay one step ahead of the FBI and a cult that believes that Derek is somehow a chosen one. Also, there’s a weird flying creature to which Derek is strangely connected and he might not like the answers he receives.
A lot of this book is about laying down the foundation of this universe. Why is Derek waking up next to these disasters? What is his relationship with his still living daughter who he has basically abandoned? What happened to his wife? And what happened between him and his therapist? These questions are subtly answered, but readers might finish this particular book with more questions than when they went in, which could be both good and bad. It’s good if a story with few details revealed tantalizes readers so they read the next issue, but bad if it ultimately frustrates them and they simply move on to another story in their TBR pile.
A minimalist approach works best with the Mothman in this story. Angelo Razzano’s illustrations of the Mothman, mostly indistinct, winged shapes and large red eyes, serve to add the appropriate level of mystique to the character and makes sense for how he actually plays into the tale’s events. This especially works as the realism in Razzano’s faces, not only looking distinct from one another but showing a wide range of emotions, creates a more solid reality of which the Mothman is not a part.
Foretold is a good beginning to a story, with emphasis on the word “beginning.” The way it ends might make readers want to read more, but it also might leave them far from being satisfied. Yes, it’s a different and interesting take on the Mothman that veers into the superheroic as well as the supernatural, but librarians might want to wait for an omnibus or more volumes to the story before diving into the weirdness.
Hustle and Heart: Foretold By Heath Amodio Art by Angelo Razzano Oni Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781637150993
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
In Season of the Bruja, Aaron Durán depicts the conflict of surviving cultural practices vs. rampant colonialism, while also delivering a touching story of grief and self-discovery.
Being the last bruja, Althalia carries a tremendous weight on her shoulders. Immense powers dwell inside her, and she needs to ensure that the history and ways of her ancestors live on. Her beloved abuela teaches Althalia all she can about her growing magical skills and the traditions of their people, but, after a chance encounter with a fanatic priest, the young bruja’s world is thrown into chaos. Facing a centuries-old and deadly prejudice, Althalia must fully realize her role as a bruja before everything she has worked hard to protect becomes lost to time forever.
Durán, over the course of the comic, presents readers with an intriguing, yet somewhat cryptic world. At many points, it feels as if one would need a basic understanding of Mexican folklore going in, as certain creatures, concepts, and figures go unnamed and unexplained, which may confuse some readers as to their significance in the story and to the characters. It is not enough to bring down the story as a whole, but may lead one to backtrack their reading several times to make sure they did not miss anything. I especially felt the shakiness of this world going into the third act, with characters moving from place to place so quickly, mythologies intertwining, and new, mysterious adversaries cropping up in the last thirty pages with little to no explanation. I didn’t even realize where much of the climax was taking place until I had finished and was reflecting on what I had read.
Overall, the world Durán has created is not an unrealized one, but one that could have used some more definition. At several points, it feels more like the second volume of a series rather than the first as the story expects the reader to take several plot threads at face value. From the very first page, readers are thrust immediately into action as we see Althalia taking on a possessed child with her friends Dana and Chuey, a werecoyote and chupacabra, respectively. The dynamics of their relationships have already been fully developed, which makes the scene almost feel like an intrusion rather than an introduction. The reader may struggle to engage with the conflict as these characters are still strangers to them, and the reason as to why these specific characters are here is a mystery. While the rash Althalia, passionate Dana and kind, paternal Chuey become endearing characters as the story goes on, the beginning paints a disorienting view of them.
All issues aside, Season of the Bruja is essential reading when it comes to its message of the importance of preserving traditional customs and the destructive impact of colonialism. Durán does not shy away from depicting the historical and enduring prejudices of the Christian church against Indigenous practices, making Althalia and her abuela’s commitment to the survival of their heritage all the more empowering and inspiring. Though Althalia struggles to find her place in her identity, her pride and dedication to those who came before her ultimately shine through. This is a comic that celebrates its culture and the love for it is shown on every page.
Sara Soler’s illustrations only add to the magic of Durán’s story, with eye-catching, lively colors and atmospheric lighting. The designs of the supernatural characters are a real treat, especially the otherworldly palettes of Althalia and abuela’s alebrijes, as well as the sinister, imposing forms of multiple demons. Full page spreads accompany significant moments in the story, each one beautiful and impactful as Althalia’s emotions start to run high and her magic takes center stage. Unfortunately, there are several moments in which it is difficult to track the action of the main characters, whether due to the lack of a panel showing transitions between movements or a hasty layout. Characters will suddenly appear in different places than shown before without explanation or have an interaction off panel that could have contextualized the scene better. In its calmer moments, the flow is more natural and easier to grasp, though there is still the odd messy transition here and there. Still, it is a style that matches the heart and soul of Althalia’s journey, giving it a standout look that is familiar and resonating.
The world may need some settling into, but Season of the Bruja remains a graphic novel with a captivating, strong identity, and heartfelt representation of Mexican culture. Those looking for a supernatural, emotional story with a heavy mythical and familial aspects will find an engaging read here. Due to its heavier themes underlaid with a lighter tone, this title may resonate the most with teens and adults. Librarians and educators in search of materials that give meaningful representation as well as cover rarely explored topics in graphic novels, such as systemic cultural erasure and preservation of Indigenous history, should consider purchasing this title.
Season of the Bruja, Vol. 1 By Aaron Durán Art by Sara Soler Oni Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781549308161
Publisher Age Rating: grade 7-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Latinx, Spanish, Bisexual Character Representation: Latinx, First Nations or Indigenous,
Do you remember what it was like to be in elementary and middle school? I do. It’s frustrating! Trying to make friends, worrying about schoolwork, being called on by the teacher, worrying about whether you’re cool enough and if anyone is looking at you while you need to scratch “that place”. It’s one of the reasons I loved the original Invader Zim cartoon on Nickelodeon, created by Jhonen Vasquez which aired from 2001-2006. The Invader Zim comic was released as individual issues from July 8, 2015 – August 4, 2021. Zim is sent from his authoritarian home world to ours, to start his prison sentence with only a robot named Gir, disguised as the pet dog, to keep him company. Elementary school will not stop his plans for world domination, though, because, like most kids that age, it’s all about him. This series compiles the Invader Zim comic issues #15, 32, 37 and 45 by Oni Press into a Best of Skool trade paperback, released in November 2021.
Have I mentioned that I love creator Vasquez? He managed to capture perfectly my scary bitter 5th grade teacher, Mrs. Collins. (Though, to be fair, my mom said Mrs. Collins had a lot on her plate, so maybe that’s why she was so scary and mean.) I also loved art and English and hated PE and was the smart misfit. This Zim compilation has the two-level pop culture references that I remember, one level for the kids and one level for the adults. So, if you grew up in 2001-2006, you’ll enjoy reading this to your kids. If you get some of the other references, you’ll enjoy reading it with your grandkids! (“That’s a metaphor kids; Don’t think too much about it.”—HA!) The Skool is every bit as zany as Zim, with spontaneous moose, beavers, ham, and LOTS of slime! Zim has to figure out how to beat his archenemy Dib in the fitness challenge, give his presentation in front of an uncaring and insulting Mrs. Bitters, and care for an inanimate “baby” who turns out to be a lump of meat. But a bigger challenge is coming for Zim! (No, it’s not the chickens who don’t want Zim and the meat baby in their town). How will he deal with the big feelings of “squintz”?
This title is four complete story arcs, together in one trade paperback. You don’t need to have watched or read any other Invader Zim, but it might help to know the background. The title should go wherever you put comics for middle readers, about 7-13 years of age. There is nothing violent or of adult nature. There is a small amount of “cartoon violence” (like Looney Toons). The art mostly resembles the style of the animated cartoon, and even though there are five credited artists for the four compiled issues, the issues resemble each other in style. The panels vary in size, shape, and place on the page, with dark wide gutters, no gutters, or just manga-style speed lines, which keeps the action moving! There are lots of silly things crammed into each frame, and lots to look at. For instance, in the first chapter, the kids are making up stories to explain why Mrs. Bitters is late. One kid explains that she’s actually a “Queen Bug” that has invaded a bug home and taught the bugs how to take over the planet. The next frame is a living room with child bugs – one is sipping a fast food soda, one is doing math on a chalkboard, a couple are reading books and writing, and several are watching two sock puppets on TV. “And they also learned how to order Greezy’s Double Slammer Pizza with extra olives!” 😀
Even though I loved the comic, I would rate it an “optional” purchase for middle school libraries and public libraries.
Invader Zim: Best of Skool By Eric Trueheart and Aaron Alexovich Art by Warren Wucinich, Kate Sherron, and K.C. Green Oni Press Lion Forge, 2021 ISBN: 9781620109168
Syv is the youngest of seven snowcat princes and the most popular with the people of the realm. Since the people’s support determines the next king, his older brothers are worried. So they decide to send Syv on a quest: find the magical crown of the legendary snowcat Eldking that allows its wearer to defeat the wicked sandfoxes, who have used magic to warp and twist the natural world. Many snowcat princes have sought the crown, but none have returned. Still, armed with a map that his brothers claim shows the way to the crown, Syv is willing to try.
For all his bravery and good intentions, Syv is sheltered and inexperienced. Luckily, he soon stumbles upon a well-traveled companion: a rough-around-the-edges girl named Kit. As they follow the map, Syv discovers how badly the world has been corrupted by the foxes’ magic, which causes everything from extreme seasons to twisted wildlife. If he can just get the crown, he can fix it all.
Then Syv learns the devastating truth about Eldking. He can’t trust the legend, the map his brothers gave him, or maybe even his new friend Kit, who has been hiding a big secret. Can Syv still find a way to save the world?
Syv and Kit are both well-intentioned, but both naïve in their own ways. At first, Syv finds Kit obnoxiously uncouth and Kit finds him laughably ignorant of the world. But as they face warped wild animals and treacherous shape-shifters, the two grow to trust and value each other. Being the protagonist, Syv undergoes more personal growth and encounters more challenges, including deciding how to react when Kit’s secret comes to light. The young snowcat is devastated, but his good heart leads him to do the right thing when it matters most.
The setting draws inspiration from the author’s native Norway. The three lands Syv and Kit visit are depicted in a map at the back of the book. In the north, the snowcats lounge in their Halls of Gold; in the south, the sandfoxes have their Temple of Thorns. Humans occupy the middle, though they also make up most of the population of the north, supporting the snowcat princes with offerings. Both snowcats and sandfoxes have innate magical abilities, which are connected to aura, the magic of the land. Notes at the end of the book elaborate on this, as well as on the life cycles of snowcats and sandfoxes.
The art is vivid and appealing. The bright, saturated colors and Syv’s plush, cuddly character design could be at home on a Lisa Frank binder, while the sneering foxes and the sickly sludge of corrupted magic add an edge. In the book’s opening, when Syv’s father tells him the legend of the Eldking, the art supports the mythic tone with dramatic two-page spreads, larger than life characters, and geometric page borders framing the action. The style changes slightly once the main story begins, dropping the borders and splitting the pages into a variety of dynamic panel configurations for a more immediate, active feel. The bonus material at the end includes character sketches and alternate covers.
There is some danger and creepiness in this book: Syv uses his snowcat magic to fight, an aura-corrupted bear threatens a village and is shot by archers, and some sandfoxes menace Syv and Kit. These scenes are over fairly quickly, though, and there is no gory violence.
This lavishly-illustrated story has action, creative worldbuilding, and lots of heart. Hand it to fans of the Warriors series and other animal-centric fantasy.
The Snowcat Prince By Dina Norlund Oni Press Lion Forge, 2023 ISBN: 9781637151983
My Life Among Humans by Jed McGowan follows a lonely and misguided invading alien who tries to navigate a life hidden among humans. McGowan twists the typical alien invasion story and instead focuses on the perspective of the alien, a one-eyed bio-engineered creature with no body and 6 legs who also happens to be desperately lonely.
Alien invasions are a ubiquitous plot in popular media. These stories with strong themes of fear and suspicion are common in books, television, and film. The majority of these focus on “the other,” a manifestation of societal fears of the unknown. Even in stories where the aliens are redeemed by the end, there are usually strong undercurrents of fear and suspicion before the final resolution. That exists in My Life Among Humans, however, it is not central to the story. Instead, rather than breaking down fear, McGowan’s plot builds empathy.
I’m a sucker for redemptive arcs and misguided innocence, and well, any story that flips conventional stories. I just really loved this book. The unnamed alien has been sent to earth and assigned to study humans. It begins by sending a spore into the mind of Will, a high school boy, to observe and record his every thought, movement and emotion. Then its daily observations are sent to “the manager” who merely states, “report received.” Every day follows the same pattern until the alien is eventually asked to observe more humans, and things begin to swerve from its established plan and mission.
The alien is lonely, desperate to please (or at least not upset) its manager, and tries hard to follow its instructions – to stay hidden and merely observe. But it is curious, and lonely, and is eventually caught by Will. Desperate to fix the situation, the alien, in a panic, discovers its ability to control Will, and by extension other humans. This leads to a cascading series of unfortunate events, where the alien is left trying to pick up the pieces and cover its tracks.
McGowan’s illustrations add emotional depth to this story. At first appearance, McGowan’s visual style doesn’t match my personal preferences. His hand-drawn illustrations are reminiscent of both vintage science fiction and early computer animation, appropriately connected to the visual style of many other alien stories. The real beauty in the illustrations is his ability to capture emotion. Illustrators rely heavily on facial expressions and body language to express emotion, however, this story has unique challenges. The alien has essentially no body or face, just one eye, and tentacle-like legs. Yet, the alien’s character is developed through its emotional responses. Its loneliness, fear, innocence, and curiosity are clearly evident in every panel.
McGowan also expertly illustrates the moments his human characters lose control of their bodies. Their emotions aren’t lacking, they have been lost, a loss that is felt in the illustrations.
Upon my reread of My Life Among Humans to write this review, I fell in love again. It has emotional weight, and after each read, I walked away with a warmed heart. I recommend it for adult and teen graphic novel collections. However, I also think this could be popular with middle-grade and younger teens. The story would be appropriate for younger audiences, and the illustration style would not feel overwhelming for those who are newly introduced to the format. I will purchase (and heavily recommend) it for my high school collection. I think the initial interest will be from younger high school readers but the story has heart and poses a number of interesting philosophical questions, which will appeal to older readers as well.
My Life Among Humans By Jed McGowan Oni Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781637151990
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
When Talli’s adoptive family finds themselves under attack, her father, Lord Borin, makes Talli leave with a faithful knight in order to keep her safe. Barely able to stay ahead of their pursuers, the two make their way to a small town with a market. In the market, they find an old man and his grandson selling allegedly magic items. The old man recognizes Talli for who she is and offers to get her out of town and somewhere safe. They must fight their pursuers, Lord Ulric’s forces led by Captain Nina, but eventually get free and make their way to safety, which is when Talli begins to learn of her origins as a Summoner.
The line art is well done and shows a lot of little details and backgrounds. I had a personal issue in that the protagonist’s hair color is particularly important and it is white, but since all the art is black and white, this can only be picked up on by closely following the dialog. It seems like this was meant to be in full color but either never got colored or the publisher’s budget didn’t allow for a colorist. Either way I think that younger readers may have trouble with this important detail.
It is interesting that one of the character development and plot points is that the female protagonist has a monthly period. Normally, this natural bodily function is ignored or only mentioned to invoke fear or disdain. Blood letting is part of the (not well described) magic system that Talli starts to learn about on her journey. Unfortunately, because of this, although Talli is viewed as powerful, people are also immediately scared of her as well.
This book would be best suited for a collection aimed at younger teens (13-15). It isn’t a necessity but would help fill out a collection.
Talli, Daughter of the Moon, Vol. 1 By Sourya Hollendonner Oni Press, 2022 ISBN: 9781637150825
Publisher Age Rating: grades 7-9
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: French, Laotian
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