Panetta, Kevin; Ganucheau, Savanna (2019) Bloom. New York: First Second.
Opening Lines: “What are you doing here? Everyone is dancing now.”
“I’m listening to music. Why did you hit me on the head?”
Short Summary: Ari doesn’t know what he is going to do with his life, but he knows he wants to get far away from his parents and their little family bakery and go somewhere else. He also knows he wants to stay connected to his friends, and he hpes their band can make it big. He even wants to say connected to Cameron, who can be a big jerk to everyone. Ari convinces his parent to hire someone to help with the bakery for when he is gone. Hector applies for the job. Hector turns out to be perfect. Baking seems to be the thing that gives him joy, and he does it very well. He is also kind to Ari and a lot of fun to be with. But Hector has his friends and Ari has his own. They grow closer and just when things seem to be going really well, they cause an accidental fire which burns the bakery to the ground. Hector takes all the blame to save Ari’s relationship with his parents. Ari’s dad fires Hector and Ari’s life seems empty again. He knows he shouldn’t have allowed Hector to take the blame, but now, their relationship is over. Or is it?
Why should I read this book? Ganucheau’s drawing style is perfect for this story. It has a lightness to it that really gives life to the story. Neither of the two protagonists is perfect. They both make mistakes, but it is clear that they care deeply for each other, and are willing to forgive mistakes. Panetta’s story and scripting includes enough sub-plots that this is not just an inward story about romance, but the story of Ari coming to value his family and learn to participate in the community of people who love him. He also learns not to take Hector’s presence and caring for granted. This is a graphic novel of a same-sex relationship – but it is also a graphic novel about two people growing to love each other and it works quite well in that universal sense. I also really appreciated the way the book focused on two people getting to know each other, rather than moving swiftly to sex, as many contemporary YA book do. In fact, this book shows a kiss or two, but that is all. Not because it is being prudish – but because the focus of the relationship is more than just physical.
Who is this book best for? This is a book for high school and older. It would be a good choice for a classroom library and a school library, depending on the context of the school. There is enough going on thematically that it would make a good choice for literature groups. In light of possible challenges to the book, it might also work for an opt-in after school book club.
Is this book likely to be challenged? Yes, on the grounds that it is about a same-sex relationship. The pity about that is that the way this romance story is told is very much in line with the sort of values that those likely to object to it hold close. It depicts a love between two people based on knowing each other, caring for each other, taking things slowly, and working out relationship issues from a position of concern for the other person. There is also some mild vulgarity, but far less than most contemporary YA.
Uzaku, Ngozi (2018) Check Please; Book 1: Hockey. New York: First Second.
Opening Lines: “I’m in my freshman dorm at Samwell! It’s a dream come true. Oh my goodness and the campus is so gorgeous.”
Short Summary: In this graphic novels, Eric “Bitty” Bittle has a scholarship to Samwell University. The thing is, it is a hockey scholarship. Bitty is good on skates (he should be, he made it to finals in high school figure skating.) But the thing is, he is scared of getting hit – and that makes him a liability in hockey. Also, he has a crush on Jack, the team captain. All this causes him stress, and when Bitty feels stress, he bakes pies. Lots of pies. Will he be thrown off the team? Will he make any friends? And what about Jack?
Why should I read this?
Uzaku’s art is easy to follow and entertaining (she has an interesting style that is part cartoon (around the faces) part realism (the backgrounds and bodies), and part manga (really just in Biddy’s eyes.) The story is entertaining *though it is a little hard to follow the characters at first, but it gets easier. This graphic novel is meant to be fun, and it is. Uzaku says in the foreword that, “I don’t consider this comic Very Serious Art at all, but I do consider it something even better: fun” It is that, and there is not a lot of thematic depth here, but there are some things here students might want to do some thinking about. This book raises some interesting questions about stereotypes, with characters who seem to live up to the stereotypes and others that seem to go against them. Ransom and Holster are best friends who seem like typical interchangeable fraternity row beer-obsessed womanizers, excpt that one of them is black and the other white. Another character, known only by his questionable nickname, seems to be a burn-out, but is hyper-intelligent and remarkably loyal. Jack seems like a typical athletic hunky male, though later we find he may not be the alcohol-soaked girl-crazed jock we might imagine. And Biddy himself seems manufactured from stereotypes. He is a former figure-skater who likes to bake and fears any type of violence. This seems like a stereotype of a gay character. As the book goes on and we get to know him better, he becomes more three-dimensional, but the stereotyped elements remain.
Who is this book best for?
This one is probably best for high school or college. It would certainly be a good choice for a classroom library or school library, depending, however, on the community context of the school. Though it could be an excellent part of a unit on stereotyping, the content may prove problematic for some school systems.
Is this book likely to be challenged?
This could be a fine book for discussing stereotypes, but the same-sex attraction that is in the midst of the book may be problematic for some school systems. Because much of the story is set in a frat house, there is plenty of vulgar language, objectifying of women, and alcohol use.
Venable, Colleen Af; Crenshaw, Ellen T. (2019) Kiss Number 8. New York: First Second.
Opening Lines: 2004. I have never understood the world’s obsession with kissing. And “swapping spit?” That’s supposed to make me want to do it? I guess my first wasn’t so bad.
Short Summary: In this graphic novel, Amanda has two friends, Laura, who is straight-laced and careful; and Cat who is wild and up for anything. She also has an excellent relationship with her dad, who takes her to ball games and watches movies with her. Cat thinks she should go after Laura’s brother Adam. Her dad thinks so too. When letters come to the house from someone named Dina, Amanda begins to think that her dad is having an affair. But when she find a cashier’s check for $30,000 made out to her and a note from her grandfather telling her not to tell her parents about it, she has another mystery to solve. Eventually (after a fair amount of friend drama and a whole lot of dodging from her dad) Amanda finds out that her dad’s mom was transgender, that Dina is her step-grandmother, and that her dad’s dad (who remarried) is deeply intolerant. Because Amanda herself has been feeling pulled toward a same-sex relationship, this is very important to her. When she confronts her grandpa about it, Amanda realizes that her quest for truth and honesty may destroy her relationship with her dad, and his relationship with his dad.
Why should I read this? With a topic as potentially divisive as this one, there is always a danger of depicting one side or the other as foolish, self-centered, or intolerant. And though Amanda’s grandpa comes across as a villain, most other characters in the story are three-dimensional. Amanda’s dad, for example, seems initially unreasonably unwilling to consider Amanda’s preferences and feelings, we later learn how much he has been hurt, and that, as a child, his anger was deliberately misdirected toward Grandpa Sam and Dina. Amanda’s mom seems like a distracted and out-of-touch parent at first, but later shows that she loves and connects with Amanda deeply. Laura seems dorky and unexciting, but she also proves a better friend, at least initially, than Cat. And Cat’s wild promiscuous nature, which is so attractive to Amanda at first, later turns to uncaring rejection. Not everything works out in the end. Some relationships remain unmended. But the final pages show forgiveness and acceptance and a family that is back together again.
Who is this graphic novel best for? This is best for a high school audience. This might be a good classroom library book, where the classroom teacher might be able to offer guidance and judge whether the student is ready to consider the story of this book. It could work for a school library, though it might be more likely to be challenged there. There is enough thematically here to at least consider it as an option for literature circles, but the complicated plot and content that will challenge some students a great deal might mean that teachers should be very strategic in using it.
Is it likely to be challenged? Yes. This book has frank discussions not only of transsexual characters and same-sex attraction, but also of kissing, drinking, and disobeying parents. It has multiple uses of vulgarities. Having said that, it is a graphic novel that strives for realism, and Amanda’s story I am sur e runs true to some high school experiences.
Tamaki, Mariko; Valero-O’Connell, Rosemary (2019) Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me. New York: First Second.
Opening Lines: Dear Anna Vice, My name is Freddy Riley. I’ve been reading your column for four years. My mom reads it too. I’m not sure what you need to know aobut a person to give them advice.
Short Summary: In this graphic novel, Freddy Riley needs some advice. She loves being with her girlfriend, Laura Dean, but Laura is not reliable, sometimes ignores her in social settings, and keeps breaking up with her. Every time it happens, her friends suggest that maybe she should find someone else. Then Laura shows up and they next thing Freddy knows they are making out and all she wants is for them to be together again. Meanwhile, Freddy’s friend Doodle really needs her help with something that is the hardest thing Doodle has ever had to go through. Unfortunately, Freddy is still too wrapped up in getting Laura Dean’s attention. Soon she must decide between a good friend who needs her and a girlfriend who half the time doesn’t seem to notice she is there.
Why should I read this book?: Tamaki’s art is beautiful, with fine lines that are this beauriful combination of angles and curves. She draws people very realisitically, and draws their facial expressions so well that you can usually tell what they are thinking before you even read the word balloons.
In terms of the story, this is kind of an anti-romance novel. It is about Freddy’s journey to get enough self-confidence to break up with Laura for good, and also to realize that sometimes being true to your friends is more important than anything else. So while this story involves a same-sex relationship, it is less about leaping into relationships and more aobut thinking before you leap – an interesting message for students to consider.
Who would this book be best for? It is hard to tell the age of the characters. They seem to be either 8th or 9th graders – so the book is intended for middle school or high school. I hav ha hard time imagining this book in a middle school library or classroom library. It seems like more of a high school book. I could imagine using this in connection with a unit on self-esteem or abuse, but there are some better books for serving that purpose. This seems like a book that might best be discovered by the reader outside of class.
Is it likely to be challenged? Yes. While there is no depiction of or direct discussion of sex, the book centers on a same-sex relationship. There are multiple uses of vulgar language. And that is too bad, because this book could lead to some really excellent discussion. My guess is that most teachers will be afraid to use it though.
Konigsberg, Bill (2017) Honestly Ben. New York: Arthur A. Levine.
Opening Lines: “According to the swim instructor at the Gilford gym, I had the worst buoyancy of any human he’d ever seen.”
Short Summary: Ben is dating Hannah, but then begins noticing that he is attracted to his best friend, a guy named Rafe. He doesn’t think he is gay, but cannot deny the attraction. He needs to figure out what that means. He also has to write a acceptance speech for an amazing scholarship he has been awarded, and he has to deal with bullies and keeping his grades up and all the other things that any high school student has to deal with. About 200 pages into the book, he makes his choice, breaks up with Hannah, and goes out with Rafe. The relationship progresses and Ben realizes he is not ready to be public aobut dating Rafe. They break up. Ben discovers some things about being true to himself. Then there is a chance for him to see Rafe again. Is that what he wants?
Why should I read this book? That is a fair question. I struggled with this book a lot. It is true that I am a heterosexual, cis-gendered male who is over fifty years old, so there may be all sorts of bias I am not fully aware of here, but my main issue with the book had more to do with the fact that I am a nerd. Hannah, Ben’s initial love interest is clever, highly intelligent, and has a wonderfully strong personality. She stands up for herself and others. When Ben falls for Rafe, he breaks up with Hannah with little regard for her feelings. In short, he acts like a jerk. Well, to be fair, there are lots of protagonists who are jerky. If it were a book about a guy who likes two girls, and picks one of them, would I have the same reaction? Honestly, I think I would, because Hannah seems thoughtful and interesting and kind of a nerd. And while Rafe is clever, he also seems flighty and self-centered. So does Ben. It is always frustrating when you are rooting for one relationship and the book goes the other way. Because of that, it was hard for me to like Ben. And because of that, it was hard for me to care about the book.
Ben did have some moments. I liked the scene where he spoke up against the bully who was telling rape jokes. In spite of my not connecting with this book much, I have to acknowledge that Konigsberg is an excellent writer, especially with dialogue. This book might connect better with someone who is not me.
Who is this book best for? This might be a good book for high school students and probably deserves a place in a high school library and a classroom library as well. Having said that, it very much depends upon your school’s context.
Is this book likely to be challenged? Probably. In addition to a central focus on a same-sex relationship (and a pan-sexual protagonist), there is a fair amount of vulgar language in it (interestingly, it is mostly Rafe’s parents who are the ones to use that language the most.)