Had to break this up into another post because I’ve come across so many awesome illustrated YA books lately, so let’s carry on, shall we?
Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe – Sadie moves and has to go to a new school, which means navigating social groups, watching her old friends move on, and feeling ignored. She’s anxious about the move so she decides to make herself noticeable by coming out about her deadly allergy to peanuts…which she doesn’t actually have. While at times this might be a little unbelievable, I could see it happening (hi, does no one remember the lengths kids will go to to be popular?), and I honestly feel for Sadie. There’s a great build of tension throughout the book which was nice. Sometimes the situations and characters feel a little bit like what a cliche of middle school should be like (divorced, burnt-out mom? check. Mean girls? check. Attractive but slightly offbeat boyfriend? Check), but I generally liked it. I cringed through the inevitable moment when she was found out, and I like that some people didn’t immediately forgive her after everything came to light. I don’t necessarily like that the main focus seemed to be her keeping her relationship intact with her boyfriend, but of all the characters his reactions do seem believable. I will say sometimes it reads as being young high school and not middle school – but review concerns on amazon about “adult” references (cursing, some sex slang, etc) make me wonder if people have forgotten what kids are like in jr. high. I hate to tell you, but yes, yes they are talking like that behind your back All. The. Time. Beyond that, it’s easy to read, easy to look at, a fairly likable title that reminds me of a lot of the light tween/teen movies of the nineties.
Drama by Raina Telgemeier – I heavily connected with the author’s previous book Smile because of my own massive adventure into oral surgery. Having also been a theatre geek most of my life, I immediately grabbed this title when I saw it on the shelf. While I don’t like it quite as much as her autobiographical work, it’s a good story. Callie struggles to find her place socially while her school’s musical production moves forward. Different relationships are explored, sexual orientation discussed, friendships and personal comfort zones…it really covers a lot of ground in a light way. A standing ovation for the various gay characters who have either come out or are in process of it. I love that Callie isn’t an actress but wants to be a set designer – her love for design is palpable through the book. There’s the average teen drama – she’s lovesick over a few people and there’s a breakup mid-show, and of course a big moment happens at a dance. It seems a little unrealistic that this would all happen at a Jr. High to me – seriously, middle schools must be AMAZINKG since I went to have a full scale production crew for a show…But it honestly reads true. I mean I know I pined after everyone more than a tree at that age, and I was obsessed with what I was interested in. What I REALLY love is that the end game isn’t for Callie to end up with anyone – I feel like she went through a true personal journey and matured in a way at the end of the book that a lot of YA characters don’t, so a huge standing ovation there, too.
Sisters by Raina Telgemeier – Yes, I love this author. This book is back to autobiographical territory during a road trip to a reunion where Raina and her younger sister deal with how different they are. Bouncing between flashbacks and the trip, it hints at their parents’ impending split and does a great job of showing their shifting relationship, personal identities, and mixed feelings toward their younger brother. As an older sibling, a lot of this hit home with me, so it kept me engaged all the way through. From Mango the snake to Raina struggling to be close to a family member whose personality is much different than hers, it will keep you flipping the pages.It also does a good job of continuing the theme of Smile where Raina felt like a social misfit, while adding in a lot of humor via her younger sister to balance it out.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol -Anya feels out of place as a Russian student in a private school, and like so many other kids is struggling with popularity, self consciousness, and boy issues. (I’d be irritable about this but I know full well I ate this stuff up as a teen – gave me hope and made me feel less crazy about my own social anxiety).When she falls down a well and comes across Emily’s ghost, they strike up a tentative friendship after she accidentally takes a bone from the girl’s skeleton home. This hits a slightly older age bracket with themes about partying, but I thought it was really interesting, especially because Anya isn’t the most likable character and doesn’t really strive to be. When you find out the secret behind Emily things really get interesting, as Anya has to stand up for her family, friends, and life choices as a whole if she wants to make it through the night. This book is full of humor and there’s a definite creepiness as Emily becomes more helpful. It kept me reading – I didn’t want to put it down – and I can’t help but think it would have hooked me fast in my younger years. I also like that Anya wasn’t the typical teen heroine. You’re probably not going to like her right away, you may not agree with her choices, and that’s okay. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to like anyone in life, but that doesn’t decrease the value of their experience or their story, either. Plus, so often more average, snarky girls are used as comic relief in titles for this age group….it’s pretty refreshing to see one leading it.
Briony Hatch by Ginny and Penelope Skinner – Briony is obsessed with The Starling Black Adventures book series – to the point of ignoring everything else for it and mourning it when it ends. She’s in love with the heroine’s love interest, longs to be badass like Starling Black, and feels ill at ease in her everyday life where her parents are divorced, her teachers don’t get her, and her best friend is horrible (notice a theme?). When the ghost of a relative makes herself known and won’t go away, Briony taps into the book series she loves so much (as well as her inner tenacity) to help her relatives (both alive and dead) out. As she gains confidence she gains new revelations about her friend, her place in the world, and love. I like that it really takes care not to over-glamorize anything. The love interest is seen as a goofball as much as he is someone for her to crush on, she’s not seen as magical or super special because she can talk to a ghost, and she’s not lauded for hating reality or made to look idiotic for being a fangirl. Briony is her own entity, as are those around her, which is really refreshing. I liked seeing her become her own person at the end of the book..I love the characters, have mixed feelings on the art, but overall I was definitely enamored by this title the more I read, which I didn’t think was gonna happen..I kinda wish it didn’t involve her copying the look of the book character she loved, but it’s a believable step that’s hopefully one of many. As the book even says, “This isn’t the end of the story…this is just where you have to stop reading.”
Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks – I’ve gotten obsessed with her work after reading the Superhero Girl book, and I absolutely love this story. Maggie is starting high school after being home schooled her whole life, and her mom has recently left her family. Her relationship with her brothers is believable, as is her developing friendship with Lucy and her brother. A lot of high school tropes are present without being cliche, and the addition of a ghostly mystery is also a nice touch – as is the resolution. It’s a fun read, decently paced, and the art is nice and accessible. There are a lot of lovely little moments between the characters, and I love the backstory behind Lucy’s brother’s sudden transformation. Love.
The War at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks – While I like this one, too, I don’t like it as much as Friends with Boys or Superhero Girl. It’s got a good plot, a lot of the same tropes turned on their heads as Friends with Boys, though it takes place at a girls school. Juniper is a new scholarship student and Ellsmere is run by those with money. She finds a friend and an enemy, and there’s plenty of plotting and intrigue, as well as a paranormal element. I didn’t feel that the paranormal aspect was as well developed as it could be, honestly, or that it provided the necessary pivotal moment…I almost wish the book had continued because it seemed like there was more to tell. Being left wanting is the mark of a good book, however, and this is a great intro to other titles like The Dreaming or things that are designed for slightly older readers.
Wanna talk books with me and see some of my own work? I’ll be at the Oldham County Comic Con Saturday! Come see me at table 116!