Belle of the Ball

Inside every mascot, there’s a person. Belle Hawkins (you can call her Hawkins) doesn’t mind that she’s the one stuck behind the tiger mask at her high school. A true wallflower, she prefers the anonymity of hiding her face in front of the whole school. It doesn’t hurt that there’s the added advantage of getting to spend more time near her crush, Regina Moreno, head cheerleader and Hawkins’ total dream girl. Belle of the Ball by Mari Costa is the story of Hawkins’ senior year and what happens when she peers out from behind her mascot head. 

Throughout school, Hawkins kept to herself, content with her own interests like manga and very girly things, all while keeping up her grades and not thinking much about what comes next. Feeling particularly brave after practice, she finally decides to go for it and ask out Regina. Regina isn’t just the head cheerleader; she’s one of the most popular girls at school, successful and motivated too. Who doesn’t have their whole life planned out in twelfth grade? There’s just one not-so-little problem in the shape of a massive jock named Chloe Kitagawa, who happens to be Regina’s longtime girlfriend. Hawkins’ attempt at bravery goes awry when Chloe catches her in the act and immediately puts a stop to it. 

But the three aren’t out of each other’s lives yet. In order for Regina to have the next ten years go exactly as she’s planned them, Chloe needs to bring up her English grade and it seems that Hawkins is the perfect English tutor. The teens’ lives begin to encircle each other as they navigate this final year of high school while rediscovering friendships, evaluating expectations, and even getting some kissing in too. 

Belle of the Ball is an engaging graphic novel for teen readers that deals with the realities of growing up and discovering who you are. The graphic novel is recommended for high school age readers but also has crossover appeal for adult readers too. Costa’s storytelling highlights the growth of the characters and makes the reader feel connected to each of the main characters individually. The plot flows at a reasonable pace, giving readers a chance to settle in with these girls. Plus, it is just a delightfully sapphic story!

Costa’s art is animated and enchanting. The color palette of the graphic novel is very pink, with only a few other colors, and it fits the story absolutely perfectly. The varying hues of pink complement the charm of the characters and their individual stories. The manga influence in some of the panels, reflecting Hawkins’ own interests in the story, is another great touch. There are also diverse body types so many readers can see themselves on the pages. 

Readers who enjoy young adult romance or the Heartstopper series will dive right into Belle of the Ball. It is just as sweet as its pink color pages and will fit nicely in any Valentine’s Day or romantic comedy display. 

Belle of the Ball
By Mari Costa
Macmillan First Second, 2023
ISBN: 9781250784124

Publisher Age Rating: 14-18

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation:  Brazilian-American,  Lesbian
Character Representation: Lesbian, Jewish

Staff Picks: Top Comics of 2022

Introduction

 Another year has come and gone, and the Features Team is proud to share our favorite titles from 2022. We hope you have a chance to revisit some favorites and discover new ones! 

Across a Field of Starlight

Blue Delliquanti

Fassen--a soldier in an intergalactic war-- and Lu--a member of a secret commune with a passion for research--become friends after a chance encounter. They use a special channel to communicate and develop their friendship. When they are finally reunited, trouble soon follows, threatening all they care about.

Appeals to

Across a Field of Starlight is a fantastic sci-fi story exploring how systematic factors shape us and how to break away. Delliquanti's rich artwork expertly captures the setting and characters, and I loved the diversity of characters and viewpoints. Fans of queer science fiction and fantasy and readers who enjoy stories that question systems will find much to enjoy here.

Creator Identities:

Nonbinary |

Main Character Identities:
Nonbinary |

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands

Kate Beaton

Unable to find work in her home province, Kate Beaton worked two years in the Alberta oil sands in order to pay off her student loans. In this engaging memoir, she recounts the highs and lows of her experience—specifically the struggles of working as a woman in a male-dominated industry where isolation and grueling work are a key part of the workplace environment.

Appeals to

Beaton's nuanced portrait of working in a male-dominated field should not be missed; her discussion captures her and her co-workers' humanity while still exploring the bigger social forces at work. Her artwork captures the varied landscape and co-workers equally well and works to emphasize the humanizing message. Pick this up if you are interested in nonfiction about labor issues, gender, and inequality

Content Notes

Sexual assault; mental health (including a brief mention of suicide)

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Forest Hills Bootleg Society

Nicole Geaux

The year is 2005 and the location is a small town in California primarily known for its Christian boarding school; the situation is four friends trying to figure out all the big questions by selling bootleg anime to boys at their schools. Understandably, this goes poorly and things get out of hand. This is a story of how bleak life can be, and that maybe it's okay that things don't turn out well. It's complicated and dark, with gorgeous art in a limited teal color palette.

Appeals to

For readers who grew up encountering anime in the early 00s, this can be a solid pick for the nostalgia of it. Also readers of Squad who like a darker story of friendship, or readers of Slip that appreciated the way the story dealt with processing a changing friendship.

Content Notes

There are a lot of sad or difficult topics in this, either seen frequently or just briefly mentioned: Christian-based discrimination towards LGBTQ+ people, eating disorders, grief, depression, cheating in romantic relationships

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Frizzy

Claribel Ortega

Rose Bousamra

No matter what, it feels like everyone is always telling Marlene something about her isn't right: her skin's darker, she's not feminine enough, and her hair is the wrong texture. She dreads the weekly trips to the salon to have it straightened, and finally, with the help of her best friend Camila and her cool Tia Ruby, she starts to embrace her hair. Through it, she helps her mom let go of the past and embrace change as well.

Appeals to

While this is a great book to pick up for kids dealing with confidence issues around their hair, it's also a great story of a family learning to communicate better. This would be a great pick for readers of The Tryout or Miss Quinces, but also comics like the Berrybrook Middle School series.

Content Notes

Discussions of racism and colorism are kind of central to the book.

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Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Garlic and the Witch

Bree Paulsen

After conquering many of her anxieties and fears when she went to encounter the vampire who is now a friend of the farm, Garlic is faced with a new problem: she might be turning human. But Witch Agnes has been so busy, and Garlic doesn't want to bother her. So she does what Garlic does best: go on a quest. This is a perfect sequel to Garlic and the Vampire, with all the charm and sweetness as the first book.

Appeals to

The gentle nature and focus on the natural world in Garlic and the Witch is a great choice for readers of Nightlights and Pilu of the Woods, and the adventurous side of Garlic's story can appeal to fans of the Hilda series. I could see this appealing to fans of the Tea Dragon Society series, with its gentle lessons on life.

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Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

M is for Monster

Talia Dutton

In this Frankenstein re-telling, Dr. Frances Ai is determined to bring her sister back to life after an accident leads to her untimely death. When Maura's body rises she thinks she's done it. But is Maura the one who is in this reanimated corpse? And if it's not Maura, then who is it?

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Fans of the original story will appreciate this new way to look at the same themes, what is life, and what responsibility the creator has to its creation.

Content Notes

Death, ghosts

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Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Mamo

Sas Milledge

Jo goes looking for a witch to help with a situation in her home and finds instead Orla, granddaughter of the former village witch Mamo, who is adamant she's not the new witch for this village. As they work together to figure out why Mamo's death caused so much chaos, Jo and Orla learn more about their needs and the world around them. It's a beautiful comic full of vibrant landscapes and a realistic view of small village life.

Appeals to

Mamo is fantastic for readers of comics like The Well, Coming Back, or Tidesong that have small quiet magic and long moments of reflection, as well as dealing with the consequences of someone else's actions, and sometimes that turns out to be unprocessed grief.

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Messy Roots

Laura Gao

This graphic memoir, with the color pallet of the beach sunset postcard, is a heartfelt coming-of-age story about finding your place in the world when the country you were born in is vastly different than the country you grew up in. That journey becomes even more complicated for Gao when they start to realize they aren't straight. Then COVID-19 happens and suddenly the place Gao and her family are from becomes the center of the world's attention, most of it negative.

Appeals to

This timely graphic memoir will resonate with anyone who is struggling to find their place in the world, especially if part of that journey involves reconciling two or more cultural identities within oneself.

Content Notes

Discuss of the COVID-19 pandemic

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Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Other Ever Afters

Melanie Gillman

A princess falls for the goose girl but is stymied when her prestige and wealth do not influence her crush. A young woman enlists the help of a trickster to escape an unloving marriage. An individual's dead name starts to burn them when they are unable to tell everyone in their village their new name. These are just a sampling of the wonderful fairy tales you will find in Melanie Gilman's newest graphic novel.

Appeals to

These beautiful fairy tales filled my heart—they were warm and thoughtful, giving comfort and visibility and provoking thoughts about how things are. Gilman's amazing colored pencils bring the stories to life. Young and adult fairy tale lovers and misfits will find much to enjoy here.

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Our Not-So-Lonely Planet Travel Guide

Mone Sorai

Uptight Asahi and easygoing Mitsuki can seem like an odd couple, always at opposite ends of things, but one thing they agree on is taking a trip around the world as a test of their relationship. If they can make it, then the two will get married! But first, they have to find their hotel. And somewhere to eat. It's part explainer manga, with tidbits of info about each country they visit, part romance as we see Asahi and Mitsuki learn to work together and communicate their needs, and all gorgeous art. Of course, this is a new series with only two volumes so far, so who knows where it will go from here.

Appeals to

While this is billed as boys' love because it is a relationship between two men, readers expecting sex scenes will be disappointed; this series will appeal more to readers of slower stories like Restart After Coming Home or I Hear the Sunspot, especially as this focuses on adults rather than high school students. So pick this up for readers who want more grown-up relationships with less pining and quiet shared moments of happiness.

Content Notes

Some discussion of discrimination against LGTBTQ+ people, but generally this is more to look at how different countries treat the community

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Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Space Story

Fiona Ostby

In a story that skips between the past and present, Hannah and Leah fall in love and start a family. However, their present is a struggle; Hannah is on a space station while Leah and their child Bird are stuck on a rapidly dying Earth. Leah and Bird are not about to give up though. Will they be reunited?

Appeals to

Space Story was a bittersweet yet comforting story that I wanted to read again immediately after I finished. I love Ostby's storytelling decisions in the artwork, their character designs, and the fact that they include a variety of body types. Readers looking for a warm, ultimately hopeful queer story will find much to enjoy here

Content Notes

Brief nudity but in contexts where it makes sense to be naked

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Supper Club

Jackie Morrow

Senior year can be tough. Classes, prepping for college, and extracurriculars, it can be hard to find time to just...hang out. Nora, Lili, and Iris come up with a solution. A supper club for a select group of their friends, held once a month so that they can make sure that they see each other before they all go away to college. But when life's demands get louder for all three girls, will they put supper club on the back burner?

Appeals to

If "sharing food with friends" is your love language, this book is for you.

Content Notes

Family member with a serious illness.

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Swim Team

Johnnie Christmas

Bree was not excited about moving to Florida, but she was hopeful she'd be able to join the math extracurricular at her new school. Instead, she has to take a swimming class! Thanks to her kind neighbor's help, Bree discovers a new interest and joins her school team. With the team facing the potential loss of their pool, can Bree help them win a championship?

Appeals to

Swim Team is a heartwarming story about never giving up and discovering new passions. Readers who like the coming-of-age and realistic challenges of stories such as New Kid, Roller Girl, and Click will likely enjoy this one.

Creator Identities:

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Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Reynard’s Tale: A Story of Love and Mischief

There are probably few who have not yet heard of Reynard the fox. This roguish trickster has slunk his way through European folklore since the Middle Ages, stirring up trouble and defining the vulpine archetype with his cunning, charm, and mischievous nature. Wherever he goes, chicanery is soon to follow, whether by fate or his own design. In Reynard’s Tale, Ben Hatke pays homage to this mythic figure in a new story that sends Reynard to the clutches of Death and beyond, all the while trying to escape capture from his sworn enemy, the wolf Isengrim. Encountering mermaids, old flames, a mechanized sorcerer, and other wonders, the fox travels through a world that seems colder and more brutal than the one he once knew, one that may be ushering in his ultimate denouement.

With a combination of prose and illustrations to tell this tale, Hatke brings a lyrical, magical atmosphere to Reynard’s adventure that is reminiscent of the stories that made him a legend so long ago. The story itself is simple, its structure much like any fable you remember reading as a child, though the tone relishes in a vague complexity and periods of reflection. Its voice is one that, like Reynard himself, has been through a few scrapes, seeming weary at times but still managing to find the energy to keep going. Overall, it contributes to a feeling of winding down, of that one last hurrah before everything comes to its eventual end, mirroring Reynard’s journey. The landscapes he traverses only heighten this theme, as skulls and tombstones are recurring motifs in the background. Events go by incredibly quickly, though the plot never feels rushed as the clever fox hardly sticks around one place for long while trying to evade Isengrim. At times, the story manages to evoke the same trickiness as its protagonist, seemingly going down one narrative path only to take a sharp detour to a place less expected. It is truly a Reynard story told in a fresh, yet nostalgic way with Hatke encapsulating everything there is to enjoy about this perennial character.

Adding to that old world charm is the evocative art style that brings back memories of beloved fairy tales, with its rough textures and clean outlines. Though only giving snapshots of the story, as opposed to the usual flowing narrative illustrations of graphic novels, Hatke perfectly captures the emotions conveyed in the text. There is an undeniable warmth in its more jovial moments, as Reynard catches up with a former lover over a glass of wine. Stillness and depth are prevalent when he reflects on his past deeds and where his path is leading him. And there is urgency in his movements as he dashes away from those that pursue him. Even without the text, the reader can follow events from the illustrations alone, each one filled with a clear purpose and personality. Hatke’s combination of rich prose with an alluring, striking art style delivers an ambiance seldom seen, a sense of an earned weight and maturity from a character that has captivated readers for centuries, even as he is wrapped up in an entirely original adventure.

While the creator is best known for his middle grade Zita the Spacegirl and Mighty Jack series, Reynard’s Tale is for an adult audience that still enjoys the company of fables and their lasting intrigue. Along with the presence of alcohol and partial nudity, the maturity of Hatke’s writing style does not make the comic a great fit for younger readers, though it may hold some interest for older teens. Extensive knowledge of Reynard’s history as a character in the European literary canon is not a requirement for one to understand the story, but it helps to have a basic idea of what he represents for the full effect to sink in, as the book itself does not go into detail of his past. Technically existing as an adult picture book, the placement of this title in a specific collection may pose some confusion over whether to place it in general fiction or the graphic novel section. Due to its marketing as a graphic novel and First Second serving as its publisher, however, I personally recommend the latter. Librarians and educators in search of an engrossing, fast-paced fantasy graphic novel with a unique and beloved identity should consider purchasing this title.

Reynard’s Tale: A Story of Love and Mischief
By Ben Hatke
Macmillan First Second, 2023
ISBN: 9781250857910

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