1. The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag
In thirteen-year-old Aster’s family, all the girls are raised to be witches, while boys grow up to be shapeshifters. Anyone who dares cross those lines is exiled. Unfortunately for Aster, he still hasn’t shifted . . . and he’s still fascinated by witchery, no matter how forbidden it might be.
When a mysterious danger threatens the other boys, Aster knows he can help — as a witch. It will take the encouragement of a new friend, the non-magical and non-conforming Charlie, to convince Aster to try practicing his skills. And it will require even more courage to save his family . . . and be truly himself.
I was so excited to read The Witch Boy, and it completely lived up to my expectations. Asher comes from a large family in which all the girls are raised to be witches, and the boys are expected to become shapeshifters. However, Asher has always wanted to become a witch instead, and he takes to it much more naturally than shapeshifting. He normally indulges this interest by spying on the girls’ lesson and quietly practicing, but when one of the other boys goes missing, Asher can no longer remain in the background of his family.
The Witch Boy is fast-paced and action packed with a plot that is heavy with tension, but the highlight of this graphic novel is the themes. Gender and the roles created by gender expectation are discussed heavily, though of course it’s in the context of witches and shapeshifters rather than reality. The relationships present in the book are also very interesting: Asher makes a new friend, a girl who accidentally catches him doing magic and who’s not afraid of much, and the relationship Asher has with his parents (that are heavily influenced by their expectations for him). The art is vivid and colorful and I wouldn’t say the book ever gets spooky, but it does get tense at times. I really enjoyed reading this book and would love to read more by Ostertag in the future. 4/5 stars.
2. Real Friends by Shannon Hale
When best friends are not forever . . .
Shannon and Adrienne have been best friends ever since they were little. But one day, Adrienne starts hanging out with Jen, the most popular girl in class and the leader of a circle of friends called The Group. Everyone in The Group wants to be Jen’s #1, and some girls would do anything to stay on top . . . even if it means bullying others.
Now every day is like a roller coaster for Shannon. Will she and Adrienne stay friends? Can she stand up for herself? And is she in The Group—or out?
Newbery Honor author Shannon Hale and New York Times bestselling illustrator LeUyen Pham join forces in this graphic memoir about how hard it is to find your real friends—and why it’s worth the journey.
I still cannot believe that I waited until 2017 to read Shannon Hale, but I’m glad I got into her writing shortly after the release of this graphic memoir! Real Friends follows Shannon over several years, documenting the ins and outs of friendship for a glasses-wearing, story-obsessed girl. I wouldn’t say this theme is new territory for children’s novels or even children’s graphic memoirs, but it is one of the best ones that I’ve read. One, I appreciated that this book followed the characters for several years, and the ups and downs of the emotional arc definitely kept me engaged. I think readers who like El Deafo will really like this, since they share some similarities–following the main characters for several years, perfectly hitting the awkwardness of pre-teen and teen years, and a focus on relationships. 4/5 stars.
3. All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson
The author of Roller Girl is back with a graphic novel about starting middle school, surviving your embarrassing family, and the Renaissance Faire.
Eleven-year-old Imogene (Impy) has grown up with two parents working at the Renaissance Faire, and she’s eager to begin her own training as a squire. First, though, she’ll need to prove her bravery. Luckily Impy has just the quest in mind–she’ll go to public school after a life of being homeschooled! But it’s not easy to act like a noble knight-in-training in middle school. Impy falls in with a group of girls who seem really nice (until they don’t) and starts to be embarrassed of her thrift shop apparel, her family’s unusual lifestyle, and their small, messy apartment. Impy has always thought of herself as a heroic knight, but when she does something really mean in order to fit in, she begins to wonder whether she might be more of a dragon after all.
I have spent the last year and a half introducing pre-teens who are sad to learn that all of Raina Telgemeier’s graphic novels are checked out of the library to Victoria Jamieson’s Roller Girl, so as soon as I learned she was releasing a new graphic novel I picked it up as soon as I could. There is just something about Victoria Jamieson’s work that resonates so strongly with me, and I loved this graphic novel. The premise sounds like so much fun: following an eleven-year-old girl who is used to the world of the Ren Faire as she goes to public school for the first time. And it is a very fun book, but there’s also a level of depth I don’t think one would necessarily expect. This book is at times funny, at times angsty, but always full of heart. Imogene makes a lot of mistakes during her transition into middle school: she gets in with the cool crowd, out with the cool crowd. She messes up at the Faire, she starts to make a true friendship. . . and then messes this up too. A lot of this book follows Imogene as she tries to fixes her mistakes, and it’s nice to read a book in which a young character has to really struggle to right her wrongs. And even though Imogene is a very flawed, but lovable character, her perseverance is what kept me reading. I don’t often re-read graphic novels, but I would not be surprised if I came back to this one in the future. 5/5 stars.