Dive into Diversity: YA Graphic Novels

In 2021, my Dive into Diversity posts about young adult books will focus on a different genre each month. I’ll highlight books with characters that represent a range of experiences and identities. I’ll also feature #ownvoices authors, or authors who share an aspect of their characters’ identity, as much as possible. In honor of Free Comic Book Day on May 1, this month’s column is all graphic novels. If you love graphic novels, stay tuned for more information about our upcoming summer graphic novel book club for grades 4-8.

This month, I read a new Project LIT pick, Flamer by Mike Curato. The story follows rising 9th grader Aiden Navarro over the course of one summer at Boy Scout camp. Aiden’s not looking forward to starting the long haul of high school, and struggles when he’s picked on for his Asian heritage or for putting a Valley Girl spin on a campfire song. Aiden wrestles with his identity throughout the summer, depicted in scenes both painful and funny. The sense of place is strong; I have never been to summer camp, but this book made me want to learn basket weaving and paddle a canoe out onto a still lake on a starry night. The illustrations are mostly done in shades of gray, with bright red or orange appearing occasionally. The sparing use of color highlights the contrast when a bright color does appear, making intense scenes especially powerful. A very quick and very moving read. Flamer is available in our print collection as well as in eBook format through OverDrive/Libby.

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang
Grades 8 and up
Library Catalog/OverDrive
“The Dragons, Bishop O'Dowd High School's basketball team, have a promising lineup of players united by the same goal. Backed by Coach Lou Richie, an alumnus himself, this could be the season the Oakland, California, private Catholic school breaks their record. While Yang (Team Avatar Tales, 2019, etc.), a math teacher and former National Ambassador for Young People's Literature, is not particularly sporty, he is intrigued by the potential of this story and decides to focus his next graphic novel on the team's ninth bid for the state championship. Yang seamlessly blends a portrait of the Dragons with the international history of basketball while also tying in his own career arc as a graphic novelist as he tries to balance family, teaching, and comics.” –Kirkus Reviews

Displacement by Kiku Hughes
Grades 6 and up
Library Catalog
“On a visit to San Francisco in 2016, Kiku, a biracial teen from Seattle, gains a better understanding of her heritage and the power of memory when she is thrust back in time to the 1940s and, alongside her grandmother and many other Japanese people and Japanese Americans, imprisoned in incarceration camps. Kiku uses the slight knowledge she possesses about the future to navigate life at Tanforan Assembly Center in California and, later, Topaz Relocation Center in Utah. Hughes has crafted a compelling look at this moment in history, relying on a blend of research and family memory.” –School Library Journal

I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina
Grades 9 and up
Library Catalog
“From the afterlife, black teenager Alfonso Jones, a 15-year-old victim of police brutality, watches the effect his murder has on his loved ones and community.The first page is dedicated to the image of a sole speeding bullet, which catches up to fleeing Alfonso on Page 2 in a powerful, heart-rending image. The next few chapters flash back to Alfonso's life: biking around Harlem, spending time with his mom, and joyfully learning his wrongfully convicted father will be released from prison. Narrator Alfonso chronicles his fondness for playing trumpet, acting, and his fellow thespian Danetta. As the pair shop for a suit for Alfonso to wear to his father's release, Alfonso is murdered by a white off-duty police officer. Afterward, Alfonso finds himself on a subway with strangers who turn out to be ancestors: all are unable to find peace when there is no justice.” –Kirkus Reviews

March by John Lewis
Grades 8 and up
Library Catalog/OverDrive
“In this first of a projected trilogy, Lewis, one of the original Freedom Riders and currently in his 13th term as a U.S. Representative, recalls his early years–from raising (and preaching to) chickens on an Alabama farm to meeting Martin Luther King Jr. and joining lunch-counter sit-ins in Nashville in 1960. The account flashes back and forth between a conversation with two young visitors in Lewis' congressional office just prior to Barack Obama's 2009 inauguration and events five or more decades ago. His education in nonviolence forms the central theme, and both in his frank, self-effacing accounts of rising tides of protest being met with increasingly violent responses and in Powell's dark, cinematically angled and sequenced panels, the heroism of those who sat and marched and bore the abuse comes through with vivid, inspiring clarity.” –Kirkus Reviews

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei
Grades 7 and up
Library Catalog/Hoopla/OverDrive
“Takei, best known for his role on Star Trek, relates the story of his family’s internment during WWII in this moving and layered graphic memoir. Japanese-Americans were classified as ‘Alien Enemy' after Japan attacked Pearl Harbor and were forced to relocate to camps when President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Takei, who was five years old, along with his father, mother, and young siblings, was held from 1942 through January 1946, first at Camp Rohwer, Arkansas, and then later at Tule Lake, Calif…. Using parallel scenes from Trump’s travel ban, in the closing pages, Takei challenges Americans to look to how past humanitarian injustices speak to current political debates. Giving a personal view into difficult history, Takei’s work is a testament to hope and tenacity in the face of adversity.” –Publisher's Weekly

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang
Grades 6 and up
Library Catalog/OverDrive
“Prince Sebastian's parents, like fleets of fairy-tale progenitors before, are myopically focused on getting their kid hitched. Rendezvous with potential brides rattle Sebastian, and not just because he's only 16 and averse to icky matrimony. It's because he dresses in couture gowns and is petrified of facing what a reveal would mean to his parents and potential wife. Weary of donning his mother's duds, he hires Frances, a seamstress with an avant-garde flair. Their friendship quickly evolves as she harnesses her talent and he becomes empowered to make public appearances as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia. When Lady Crystallia becomes a fashion plate du jour—and secrecy verges on revelation—Sebastian and Frances are at a crossroads: can they remain true to themselves, each other, and the world?” –Kirkus Reviews

Surviving the City by Tasha Spillett and Natasha Donovan
Grades 7 and up
OverDrive; Hoopla
“Miikwan and Dez are Indigenous Canadian teens. Miikwan, who is Anishinaabe, has lost her mother. Dez, who is Inninew, lives with her grandmother (or kokum). The girls are best friends—like sisters—who completed their yearlong Berry Fast together (which teaches girls entering womanhood patience)…. In this harrowing but hopeful tale, illustrator Donovan (The Sockeye Mother, 2017) and author Spillett spotlight the problem of ‘Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit People.'” –Kirkus Reviews

Trickster: Native American Tales, A Graphic Collection edited by Matt Dembicki
Grades 5 and up
OverDrive
“Vigorously rendered in striking graphic format, this robust anthology of 21 Native American folktales features a bevy of wily rascals in a veritable smorgasbord of trickster tales. Told in the words of Native American storytellers from many nations, these tales use the trickster to teach moral lessons and explain such natural events as how the rabbit got its puffy tail, why the buzzard has no feathers on its head, why the owl guards burial sites or why geese fly in a V formation.” –Kirkus Reviews

Bloom by Kevin Panetta
Grades 8 and up
Library Catalog/OverDrive
“Summer love rises between two boys in a bakery. High school may have ended, but Ari is stuck with sourdough starter at his family's bakery instead of summer gigs in the city with his band. As his family's money grows tighter, Ari feels tethered in place. His friends start to drift toward their own futures. But the future of their band—and their friendship—drifts toward uncertainty. Under the guise of recruiting another baker to take his place, Ari hires Hector. A culinary student in Birmingham, Hector has temporarily returned home to find closure after his Nana's passing. The two grow close in more than just the kitchen. Ari, who hates baking, even starts to enjoy himself. But will it all last?” –Kirkus Reviews

Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin
Grades 6 and up
Library Catalog/Hoopla/OverDrive
“Twelve-year-old Ebo's tale doesn't begin on the raft on his way to Europe. It doesn't begin as he works in the streets of Tripoli, Libya, to earn his fare. It doesn't begin with the journey across the Sahara or even in his home of Ghana. It starts when his brother, Kwame, leaves home to find their sister, Sisi, long departed for Europe. Not content with a life of poverty, Ebo, too, takes off, close on his brother's heels. Colfer and Donkin gloss over nothing in their portrayal of undocumented immigration, from illness and violence to poverty and corruption. Throughout the months of hard labor he must endure to pay for a ticket, sleeping outdoors and depending on the kindness of strangers, Ebo remains determined.” –School Library Journal

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