The Compulsive Reader: Four Great MG & YA Graphic Novels

Monday, October 12, 2015

Four Great MG & YA Graphic Novels

This almost feels like a cop-out post, highlighting four graphic novels instead of giving them each their own post. But I'm woefully behind on covering my reading, and hey, graphic novels are like potatoes chips. You can never have just one. You should always have at least four ready to go, right? Right.

So here are four graphic novels I've read recently (ish).

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

I love, love, love this book. It's about twelve-year-old Astrid who, after seeing a roller derby match, decides that she and her best friend Nicole need to enroll in roller derby summer camp. But Nicole isn't as into roller derby as Astrid, and she decides to go to dance camp instead. Astrid feels betrayed, but she's stuck with roller derby--and roller derby is hard. And unfortunately, Astrid isn't anywhere near as good as she hoped she would be. But she hangs in there, with some encouragement from a new friend and her roller derby hero, Rainbow Bite, and learns a few things about honesty and being a good friend.

What makes this story really stand out for me is that it's about a girl who has to learn to deal with the consequences of reality not living up to her expectations, and how to face disappointment. Astrid has a lot of obstacles--her friend "abandoning" her, roller derby is much more difficult than she thought it'd be, and other people succeed much more quickly than she does. There are times when she wants to give up, but she has to learn the hard way that the only way to achieve her dreams is through a lot of hard work--and that failure isn't the end of the journey. Plus, the roller derby came setting is SO MUCH FUN. Overall, this is a really charming and funny story with strong characters and an even stronger voice.

Sunny Side Up by Jennifer and Matthew Holm

When Sunny is sent to live with her grandpa in Florida for the summer, she's excited--Florida is where Disney World is! But Grandpa lives in a retirement community, where Sunny is the only kid. Until she meets Buzz, and they stumble into a lucrative business finding missing cats and golf balls and spending their reward money on comic books. But the whole summer, everyone is avoiding talking about the real reason Sunny is in Florida for the summer.

Sunny Side Up is a funny and mostly upbeat graphic novel that dances around the troubles Sunny has at home, before the start of the novel. The characters are what make this book compelling--Sunny, her grandfather, Buzz, the eclectic older ladies in the retirement community, and Sunny's troubled older brother. Because the major thrust of the story comes through flashbacks to the previous year, the present story is pretty light and the action feels a bit distant, but the message about dealing with secrets and uncertainty is something that younger readers will definitely be able to relate to.

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona, longlisted for the National Book Award, has certainly gotten lots of great attention. I'm not sure what else I can add to the discussion, except to say that I enjoyed it a great deal. It's about a villain, Lord Ballister Blackheart who has a vendetta against Sir Ambrosias Goldenloin and is committed to proving that Ambrosia and the kingdom are not heroic and perfect. When a shapeshifter named Nimona comes to town, determined to help Ballister, Ballister finds his hands full diffusing the tension caused by Nimona's mischief--especially when it escalates dramatically. Who is she, really? And what does she want?

The best part about Nimona is perhaps the world that Stevenson very skillfully creates, a fun mash-up of medieval fantasy and mad science. The characters and the situations are delightfully over the top, but not without compelling emotional stories. This is an excellent story about friendship and learning to trust, with epic stakes and confrontations. The story genuinely surprised and excited me with its twists, and it manages to be laugh-outloud funny and unexpectedly touching at the same time. Definitely a winner.

Mercury by Hope Larson

Set in Nova Scotia, this graphic novel offers a compelling split narrative united by setting and family. In 1859, Josey's family welcomes a stranger into their home who shows them that their homestead contains gold and promises them riches. In present day, Tara's old house has burned down and her family has split up. Rumors of gold will spell out tragedy for one girl, and perhaps offer salvation for another.

The contrasts between the stories, and the question of gold, gives Mercury a good amount of tension. The historical story is taut with hints of supernatural and tinged with superstition--ghosts, visions, curses. Josey is hopeful and willfully ignores the subtle warnings. Meanwhile, Tara's story plays out against a very normal, almost banal modern backdrop. She's already lost a lot of hope for the future, but she is continually drawn to the rumors of her family's past and what happened in 1859, and the necklace that unites the two stories. Larson doesn't answer all of the readers' questions about the story, but the climax certainly delivers on all that it promises. Mercury is subtly creepy and memorable.

1 comment:

LinWash said...

Ooo. Love me a good graphic novel. Will search these out. When I saw the National Book Award finalists, I noticed Nimona. Sadly, I'd never heard of it. So I'm glad you featured it.