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,
Translated from French by Aleshia Jensen, Camille Jourdy’s novel follows Juliette’s trip home from Paris to visit her more provincial family. She is also on a journey to revisit her roots and to handle her own growing, crippling anxiety and fears. While her family is delighted to see her, they do not actually pay any attention to her and her increasing vulnerability because they are busy with their own lives, issues, and family ties. Her family is complicated and entirely relatable and authentic to readers of this gentle slice-of-life graphic novel.
While the graphic novel is filled with people of all sizes and backgrounds the main characters are members of Juliette’s immediate family. Juliette’s older sister Marylou, a married mother of two children, has a lover, a man who works in a costume shop and visits her dressed as a bear, a wolf, a white rabbit, and as a ghost. They have lustful and joyful sex on Thursdays in the greenhouse in her backyard.
Marylou is happy with having an illicit affair, but nameless Lover Boy wants more of a permanent relationship. The sisters’ parents have been divorced for a long time but still torment each other each time they meet. Their mother dresses and behaves as a free spirit, taking on a series of younger lovers as well as painting large abstracts that are displayed in a local gallery. Their father, who Juliette is staying with during her visit, is the opposite, he is filled with self-doubts and convinced that he is developing dementia. Juliette’s grandmother no longer recognizes family members or has a reliable memory except when she reveals a long-kept family secret to Juliette.
The only non-family main character is Georges, the current tenant of the apartment where Juliette and Marylou lived as children. He is also a lost soul and someone seeking restoration and love in the local bar. His encounters with Juliette offer the possibility of a romantic closure for the two of them and the duckling they adopted but, sorry for the spoiler, this is not the direction the author takes the reader.
This is a novel of close encounters and careful observation of the setting, the people, and their relationships. It is done without judgment and the reader glides along with Juliette as she maneuvers through emotional and timeless passages of disappointment, mortality, and fading dreams to a place Juliette and Georges refer to, the “tragic dimension.” At the same time, it is also a novel filled with wonder, humor, and enjoyment for the reader.
Jensen’s translation from the original French presents, with sharpness and amusement, a natural cadence of family discussions. We can see, hear, and feel each of the individual characters in the town and they look and sound like members of a close-knit community anywhere. The point of view often shifts without warning from small encounters to larger ones but the shifts do not feel disjointed as the details in each of the panels slow the reader into a meditative state where moving from one situation to another seems natural and organic. This is a novel to be savored and not rushed in the least.
First published in French in 2016, Juliette is Jourdy’s eighth book, and her expertise is immediately recognizable as she is effective in control of the pacing, the panels, the color, the storyline, and her characters. Her illustrations are precise and filled with minute details of family and small-town life. These details are even more pronounced because of the simplicity of the background and the shortage of borders. Most pages are filled with simple vignettes, snapshots of the characters, their relationships, and environment. These busy pages are interspersed with full page drawings that are filled with deeper color tones that often indicate a change of tone or staging. A caveat for public library collections: there are numerous pages filled with Marylou and Lover Boy’s sexual encounters in the garden. These are tastefully done but I think some North American communities may not be as open as the French may be in their depictions of humanity in all their encounters.
The subtitle, ‘or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring’ is evocative and revealing by the end of the novel. It may refer to the rather humorous adventures of the ‘ghost’ hiding from disclosure or, more possibly, the ghosts of memory, family relationships, and our own selves.
Juliette or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring By Camille Jourdy Drawn & Quarterly, 2023 ISBN: 9781770466647
Publisher Age Rating: adult
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: French, Character Representation: French, Anxiety, Depression
Dr. Songsakdina “Bun” Bunnakit is a respected coroner. He is 31 and a closeted gay man who has kept his orientation a secret since his first and only attempt at romance with a man ended badly. Apart from some token attempts at retaining a girlfriend for appearances sake, Bun Is largely devoted to his work, with no real friends apart from the prosecutor Pued.
When Dr. Bun is brought in to investigate a young woman’s death, he is quick to dismiss the police theory of suicide. Bun is also suspicious of the young woman’s boyfriend, a teacher named Tan, who hardly seems upset at his girlfriend’s passing. However, as Dr. Bun is writing up his report, he is attacked in his home by a masked man, who says everyone around Dr. Bun will suffer if he doesn’t declare the death a case of suicide.
When Pued disappears shortly after Dr. Bun confides in him about the threats, he once again becomes suspicious of Tan, who is one of the few who knew of his involvement with the investigation. To Dr. Bun’s surprise, Tan comes to him with a solid alibi and wants to help find his girlfriend’s killer. Yet, there is still evidence Tan is involved in the case. More worrying, however, is the growing attraction that seems to be forming between Bun and Tan.
A graphic novel adaptation of a novel by Thai author, Sammon (which has also been adapted into a successful Thai TV drama), Manner of Death, Vol. 1 proves an exciting start to what promises to be an interesting thriller series. I hesitate to call it an erotic thriller, however, as this opening chapter is more focused on the logistics of Bun’s work as a coroner and his amateur detective work with Tan than it is the sexual tension between them. There are sex scenes, but they are tame things compared to the lion’s share of modern yaoi.
Manner of Death, Vol. 1 works equally well as a police procedural story or a romance, depending on which aspect a reader might be more interested in. The opening chapters lean more heavily upon Bun’s work, showcasing his analytic mind as he instructs a medical student in his charge on how a dead body can tell a story as vivid as one by a living person regarding how they died. The focus shifts more toward romance as the story progresses, with Bun battling his feelings for Tan, his own paranoia regarding loving a man, and his logical reasons to take anything Tan says at face value.
The artwork by Yukari Umemoto is good and matches the story. Umemoto utilizes varied character designs to keep the characters from being confused for one another. They are also very good at blocking the book’s many fight scenes.
This volume is rated for ages 16 and up. I feel this is an appropriate rating, given the mature subject matter. There is no outright nudity, and the sexual elements of the romance are relatively tame for this sort of comic. Yet with a storyline centered around violent deaths and flashbacks dealing with suicide and child abuse, this is not a comic for the weak of heart or of stomach.
Manner of Death Vol. 1 By Sammon Art by Yukari Umemoto Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975352080
Publisher Age Rating: 16+ Related media: Book to Comic
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Thai Character Representation: Gay
Fifteen-year-old Anne is traveling to the capital to participate in the annual Royal Candy Fair to become a Silver Sugar Master like her recently departed mother. However, the quickest way to get there is on the Bloody Highway, so she’ll need an escort. Unable to secure human guards, Anne visits the fairy slave market to find a warrior fairy. She doesn’t like the practice of fairy slaves, but she’s desperate. On her way to the market, Anne ends up freeing a small worker fairy whose owner was making a spectacle in the street and almost killed the fairy. At the fairy market, there’s only one available warrior fairy and his tongue might be sharper than his blade.
Anne tries to become friends with her new fairy companion, Challe, but the power dichotomy prevents this and he tells her that as long as she is in possession of his wing (humans rip off one of the fairy’s wings when captured to control them since their wings act like their life force) he will have to obey her, but nothing more, and that she’s a fool for expecting anything else. On their journey, Anne discovers that the freed fairy, Mithril Lid Pod, has stowed away in her wagon. The three of them face bandits and a massive crow attack before making it to a waystation that’s safe.
This first volume excels at balancing story progression and world building. There’s still a lot more to learn, but I felt like I understood each character’s motivation and the basics of how the world functions and the characters’ places in it. Having already watched the first season of anime (and eagerly awaiting season two this July on Crunchroll), I knew where the story was going. But that didn’t lessen my enjoyment at all. (One interesting note, the English translation of the manga refers to fancy or pretty fairies as “pet fairies” while the anime subtitles called them “companion fairies.”)
The illustrations have a wonderful fairy tale feel to them to match the story, with enough detail to convey emotion and setting without overwhelming the reader with too much extraneous information. The delicate detail work on the sugar creations is particularly exquisite and showcases the fragile quality with only black and white illustrations.
Sometimes the first volume in a manga series is entirely setup without a lot of space for character growth, but this series does not fit that norm. Anne, Challe, and even Mithril Lid Pod all show growth by the end of the volume with Anne showing the most growth as she learns to take responsibility and assert herself. This is clearly a series to watch and I imagine the light novels are as well. I highly recommend this series for any library that collects manga and would hand it to any preteen or early teen reader interested in personal growth, journeys, or the fae.
Sugar Apple Fairy Tale Vol. 01 By Miri Mikawa Art by YozoranoUdon Hollendonner Yen Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781975367329
Publisher Age Rating: 13+ Related media: Anime
NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Japanese
When it comes to renowned texts within the Eastern literary canon, Journey to the West towers over its fellows, often being cited as one of the four great classical works of Chinese literature. There is something enduring about the story of Sun Wukong, a powerful monkey king turned Buddhist disciple that must use his immense strength, durability, and supernatural abilities to protect the monk Sanzang on his quest to obtain sacred texts, all the while facing many rigorous trials and demonic threats along the way.
For centuries, it has entertained and enlightened readers with its rich allegories, political commentary, and overall engaging, adventurous plot. It has also been the source of inspiration for countless plays, novels, movies, TV shows, comics, and manga, most notably Dragonball and Naruto. Here, as a visually captivating graphic novel, Chaiko’s The Monkey King: The Complete Odyssey revitalizes the classic tale for an audience that, while most likely familiar with the fruits of its influence, have yet to witness this perilous, strange, yet somewhat comical journey.
While Sanzang technically holds the status of main character in the original story, the refocusing of Wukong as the central character makes the most narrative sense. He displays more character development than anyone in the cast, going from a prideful, violent instigator aiming to topple the Heavens themselves to a loyal protector and disciple of Sanzang capable of showing mercy. His frequent moments of mischief and playfulness make him quite endearing to the reader, playing into a multifaceted nature that can be intimidating yet also charismatic. Wukong is a classic trickster character, similar to Loki and Hermes from Norse and Greek myth respectively, though he is more likely to fight his way out of a situation than through wit or cleverness.
No matter how one chooses to adapt Journey to the West, the main draw and appeal will be its memorable characters and how the creator interprets them for the audience. Along with the chaotic Wukong and devout Sanzang, the other figures that guard the monk during the long trek are the disciples Zhu Bajie, a greedy pig-like being, and Sha Wujing, a quiet, though obedient river ogre. With these varying and certainly clashing personality types, it makes for some standout character moments that give readers an insight into the inner dynamics of the group. At times, there appears to be a familial aspect to how the characters interact with each other: Sanzang as the authority figure,
Wukong the responsible eldest, Bajie the antagonistic foil to Wukong, and Wujing as the peacemaker. Wukong and Bajie’s arguments play off as sibling rivalry at times, making for some hilarious banter and a great deal of tension. It gives another layer to their interactions, as well as establishing another humanizing connection to the reader. In the process of bringing the story into a new medium, Chaiko keeps these relationships intact and maintains the characters as incredibly faithful interpretations, which helps to capture the spirit of the primary text.
What really sets this adaptation apart is Chaiko’s masterful artwork, especially when it comes to ambiance. The art style has a rougher, more traditional appearance, which perfectly puts the reader in the mood for a mythic epic. There is a recurring focus given to grand, natural elements such as cascading waterfalls, lofty mountains, and immersive open landscapes. Chaiko’s use of watercolors gives them a simple, yet elegant appearance, making each part of the journey visually distinct. Color is what ultimately enhances the storytelling, especially in terms of setting and tone. When in the earthly realm, the colors are fairly muted.
Rarely does the reader see anything brighter than the light blue of the sky, or orange of the setting sun. The hues are more reserved and modest, contrasting the bright pinks, purples, and golds that are constantly seen in the heavenly realm or in the presence of divinity. It gives the perfect sense of otherworldliness and reverence to the home of the immortals, inferring that a certain sort of beauty is only attainable when reaching a higher plane. In terms of tone, Chaiko utilizes color to instill certain emotions in a scene. During battles with foes, the panels turn ominous with dark greys and blues, highlighting the intensity and dynamic posing of characters, whereas lighter colors follow more emotional or light-hearted moments. As a result, each scenario gets its desired effect, whether that be raised tensions as a fierce face-off in a dark sky rages on, or a cold feeling of sorrow during a parting of ways in a bright and bare snowy forest.
As to its status as an adaptation, Chaiko does an admirable job of adapting and condensing 100 chapters worth of material into a graphic novel accessible to a modern, international audience. If I were to have one gripe, it would be that the marketing and synopsis describes it as being the complete story of Sun Wukong, When really it does not follow his journey with Sanzang, Bajie, and Sha to its conclusion. The story ends quite suddenly after a climactic moment, only hinting at the rest of the journey they still must undergo. It was somewhat frustrating not to be able to see them to their journey’s end, but it did not bring down the story as a whole.
Though cutting off a bit short, the graphic novel still holds all the intrigue, charm, and feel of the original that has been drawing people in for centuries. If anything, it leaves readers with the chance to discover more of the story themselves, whether that is through consulting with the text or seeking out another adaptation. For those wanting a more complete graphic novel version, I would recommend checking out Adventures from China: Monkey King by Wei Dong Chen, which takes a similar abridged approach in the span of twenty volumes.
The Monkey King: The Complete Odyssey will entertain readers partial to stories of mythic quests, legendary heroes, and beloved folk tales with a thrilling action element. Manga readers especially may be drawn to its art style, as well as through its ties to popular titles they may have already read. Due to its wonderful ability to balance drama, action, and humor with deeper themes and allegories, this title can be enjoyed by a wide age range, though publishers have given a specific recommended age of 13 and up. Librarians and educators looking for titles that may connect readers more easily to classical literature or see a high circulation of titles tied to myths and legends should consider purchasing this title.
The Monkey King: The Complete Odyssey By Chaiko Tsai Magnetic Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781951719760
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Chinese, , Character Representation: Chinese, Buddhist ,
For some immigrant families, the American dream may seem like a fairy tale where things somehow work out neatly in the end, their arrival to the United States marking the culmination of a long awaited destination. For others, the struggle persists as immigrants strive to make sense of their identity in a strange world, trapped between the old and the new. The Lin family, undocumented immigrants from Taiwan, falls into the latter category in their goal to negotiate the multiple roles they play in American culture in Betty C. Tang’s Parachute Kids.
The year is 1981, the Lins have just arrived to the US after an overseas flight from Taiwan, and they meet up with some relatives shortly upon landing in Los Angeles. The heart of the story centers on a trio of children that includes Feng-Li (her American name is Ann), her older brother Ke-Gng (Jason), and older sister Jia-Xi (Jessie). No sooner than they start adjusting to their newfound lives than their parents announce they must return to Taiwan.
Their father must maintain his overseas business while their mother’s visa has expired, thereby leaving the kids to fend for themselves. Feng-Li wrestles with learning the English language, Ke-Gng is pressured into fitting in with a clique of Hong Kong boys at school, and Jia-Xi crams for SAT exams for college and must find a job to make ends meet. The lives of each character crystalize into focus as they tackle intense situations that drag them into the throes of smoking, shoplifting, and even being swindled into a deportation scam.
Tang navigates themes of assimilation, racism, bullying, sacrifice, family secrets, and identity searching on the path towards achieving the American dream. Intense dilemmas are punctuated by hilarious moments of comic relief, reflecting the gamut of emotions ranging from arduous struggles to triumphant resilience. Vibrant colors accentuate the scenes in each panel, capturing the nuanced personas of each character as they juggle the ups and downs of daily life.
An enriching addition to graphic novel collections for juvenile and middle grade readers alike, Parachute Kids depicts the harsh realities of an Asian American experience balanced with warmth, humor, and dramatic flair. Most importantly, the Lin’s story debunks model minority stereotypes that continually perpetuate clichés, focusing instead on developing three-dimensional characters that portray a more holistic experience of growing up and adapting to American society.
Parachute Kids By Betty C. Tang Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2023 ISBN: 9781338832686
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13) Creator Representation: Taiwanese-American, Character Representation: Taiwanese-American,
Do we really need another odd-couple easy reader, even if it is a comic? If it’s Gnome and Rat, the answer is yes! Ever since the debut of Arnold Lobel’s classic couple, Frog and Toad, the contrasting friends and roommates has been a popular trope. Elephant and Piggie are the modern classic standard, but it’s an easy form to fit a simple plot and text. Authors and artists have been churning out books like these with varying results, especially along the lines of actually portraying healthy relationships and friendships, and this new offering is delightful and heart-warming.
In a stump in the woods, with snazzy red-and-white spotted mushroom decor, live Gnome and Rat. Together, they have many adventures, most of them centered around Gnome’s hat! Gnome tries to do magic, looks for a temporary replacement for his hat, and then a permanent replacement, all with the quiet, gently amused support of Rat. Along the way they meet other creatures, including a duck named Jerry, a possum known as the “Hat Man”, two magic pink rabbits, and other friends. The text is minimal, with many panels almost completely wordless, but it will need a reader fairly fluent in both textual and visual literacy to decode this story. There are several different fonts used and although the text is brief, there are subtle cues in the characters’ faces that need to be read along with the dialogue.
Gnome is a roly-poly little creature, with a snowy white beard that almost completely hides him and, of course, a bright red, pointed hat! Rat is sleek and elegant in gray, with darker gray patches, and a thin curl of a tail, donning a snazzy yellow scarf and stylish glasses when needed. Gnome bounces off the page with exuberance, while Rat quietly follows along, calming him down as necessary and always there when needed. But this isn’t a one-sided friendship; Rat clearly loves their goofy companion and enjoys Gnome’s antics, comforting him when he’s sad and helping him out when he encounters various hat-related disasters. Gnome’s face pops with larger-than-life emotions—sad, happy, inspired, and mischievous—while Rat’s straight-faced, more subtle humor shines through in their actions and words. The background is a brightly colored forest, with snow-capped mountains, green, flowering meadows, sparkling blue ponds, and lush forests.
This gently humorous offering is threaded with the soft, comforting feeling of a warm hug. Rat and Gnome both pay attention to each other’s needs and feelings, and exhibit a caring, sweet friendship between two very different personalities. Don’t be surprised if readers demand their own gnome-hat to try out some shenanigans on their own, or want to hear this comforting story over and over again.
Gnome and Rat By Lauren Stohler Knopf, 2023 ISBN: 9780593487822
Publisher Age Rating: 6-9 years NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9)
When Elle starts at a new school, she immediately makes friends with a group of four other students. Things are going well for a few weeks until Elle is confronted by a variety of stressful triggers and starts acting differently. Her friends think these might be different versions of Elle peeking through various emotions, but are confused and hurt but Elle’s actions. Maelys, one of Elle’s new friends, isn’t ready to give up on their friendship, though, and starts working with Elle to identify these other personalities and how to control them. As they start to put together clues, things about Elle’s past don’t add up and she has even more questions than before. Meanwhile, inside Elle’s head, a blue version of her wants to be in charge and is the one activating the other personalities to cause mischief.
Volume two continues the story of Elle’s main personalities, Rose and Blue. Rose is now stuck in her subconscious looking for a way out while Blue is in control of Elle’s body. Rose finds herself traveling thorough each part of her subconscious, learning more about her other personalities while trying to find her way out. Maelys is sure that this Elle isn’t her friend and tries to talk to Blue about the changes she and their other friends have noticed. When Blue won’t listen, Maelys tries something drastic to help her friend.
The best part of these two volumes is the use of color. The artist did a brilliant job using color to show the reader the six distinct personalities of Elle across both volumes. Besides being integral to character development, the colors are bright and vibrant and create the perfect atmosphere for each part of the story, even the sad and tense moments. I also like the variation of panel layouts and how those affect the pacing of the story. There are lots of small, short panels to indicate faster pacing while full page panels have the reader slowing down to admire the details and think about the story.
I highly recommend this series to any reader over the age of ten. Although each volume is just under 100 pages, the subject of multiple personalities and exploring feelings and anxiety can get heavy. The main characters are young teenagers, so there is also plenty of regular teenage angst in the mix as well as the mystery of Elle’s personalities. It looks like there are only two volumes planned at this time, so I’d like to note that many of the story threads are wrapped up in volume two, but readers may want to spend longer in this world exploring Elle’s head space.
Elle(s), vol 1: The New Girl Elle(s), vol 2: The Elle-verse By Kid Toussaint Art by Aveline Stokart Ablaze, 2022 vol 1 ISBN: 9781684970933 vol 2 ISBN: 9781684971282
Publisher Age Rating: 12+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Memories and truth often lay buried in our distant past, waiting to be aroused and awakened. For award-winning children’s author and illustrator Dan Santat (The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend;Drawn Together) that time has come, and he conjures forth his magical creativity to reimagine a 13-year-old version of himself in the graphic memoir A First Time for Everything. What unfolds is an endearing character-building story that chronicles the adventures of a middle schooler on an overseas trip one summer before entering the throes of high school.
The story starts off in Camarillo, a small town located on the outskirts of Los Angeles where Santat grew up. He was a shy kid, preferring to be invisible, and when asked to recite an impromptu poem during an assembly in the school gym one day, gets jeered at by his classmates. During the summer of 1989, through the encouragement of his parents, he embarks on a three-week class trip to study abroad in Europe. Many “firsts” abound for him: Trying out a Fanta orange soda drink, dancing at a night club, having a beer, asking a girl out, and experiencing his first (albeit botched) kiss. A chance encounter later leads him to fall into love with a blonde named Amy Glucksbringer from Illinois. Together, they sneak in to watch a Wimbledon tennis tournament. At one point he even gets lost in the streets of Salzburg during the middle of the night and is chased by a gang of punks.
Santat narrates his travels and escapades with honesty, wonder, and charming humor, transporting his younger self across France, Germany, and England. Panels packed with lively action peppered with humorous moments—some wordless and filled with sound effects—drive the narrative scenes between characters. Flashbacks shaded in light somber blues capture moments in time that impact his present circumstances. Sightseeing excursions unfold through quarter to full-page panels featuring sketches of world landmarks such as the Arc de Triomphe, Palace of Versailles, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris, showcasing his burgeoning talent as an artist. The back matter features a collage of photographs and mementos marking key points in his travels along with insightful tidbits on the process of constructing a memoir from memory.
A First Time for Everything packs much love and heart into the zany and often awkward exploits of an adolescent encountering milestones of self-discovery. A coming-of-age story replete with themes on risk-taking, identity seeking, and reconciliation, this graphic memoir will make an enchantingly delightful addition to middle grade collections, demonstrating that it’s never too late to live life to the fullest.
A First Time for Everything By Dan Santat Macmillan First Second, 2023 ISBN: 9781250851048
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11) Creator Representation: Thai-American Character Representation: Thai-American
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