1. Taproot by Keezy Young
Blue is having a hard time moving on. He’s in love with his best friend. He’s also dead. Luckily, Hamal can see ghosts, leaving Blue free to haunt him to his heart’s content. But something eerie is happening in town, leaving the local afterlife unsettled, and when Blue realizes Hamal’s strange ability may be putting him in danger, Blue has to find a way to protect him, even if it means… leaving him.
Taproot manages to combine several of my favorite things into one graphic novel: necromancy, plants, and a very sweet romance. Taproot is about Hamal, who works in a nursery and can see ghost, including Blue. . . who is in love with Hamal and wondering if his affections are returned across the divide between the living and the dead. There’s some adventure as Hamal has to do the bidding of a reaper because of his ability to see ghosts, but the main story is the relationship between Blue and Hamal and how it develops. All in all, I thought Taproot was a very sweet read. I loved the story itself, but the art style wasn’t my favorite. The cover is very indicative of the art style throughout the book and I tend to prefer a crisp, simplistic art style in my graphic novels, but I did enjoy this one anyway and I think it’s a shame it’s flying under the radar. I highly recommend picking it up! 4/5 stars.
2. Spinning by Tillie Walden
Poignant and captivating, Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden’s powerful graphic memoir, Spinning, captures what it’s like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.
It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.
Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.
She was good. She won. And she hated it.
For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. It was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But over time, as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the figure skating team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. It all led to one question: What was the point?The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she’d outgrown her passion–and she finally needed to find her own voice.
It’s no secret that I love graphic memoirs, so I was very eager to pick up Spinning, and it did not disappoint. Tillie Walden’s art style is not one that I’m typically drawn to, but it worked well for this book that was meant to feel cold and isolating. I thought both the art and the narrative style was very emotionally engaging; I really felt for the journey the book took me on. I’m also impressed by the art just because I can’t imagine figure skating is the easiest thing to draw; part of the appeal of the sport is there’s so much movement and fluidity, which can be hard to capture in still pictures. I also really connected with the idea of falling out of love with a particular sport or important aspect of yourself, and what that means for your identity and how anti-climatic that can feel. I had a similar experience in my adolescent years, so reading this graphic memoir really took me back to that time and made me remember how I felt about everything happening when I was seventeen. Even though I’ve mostly seen this graphic memoir classified as YA, there’s a yearning I think will connect best with older readers. 4/5 stars.
3. Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
A gripping and hilarious middle-grade summer camp memoir from the author of Anya’s Ghost.
All Vera wants to do is fit in—but that’s not easy for a Russian girl in the suburbs. Her friends live in fancy houses and their parents can afford to send them to the best summer camps. Vera’s single mother can’t afford that sort of luxury, but there’s one summer camp in her price range—Russian summer camp.
Vera is sure she’s found the one place she can fit in, but camp is far from what she imagined. And nothing could prepare her for all the “cool girl” drama, endless Russian history lessons, and outhouses straight out of nightmares!
Perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier, Cece Bell, and Victoria Jamieson, Vera Brosgol’s Be Prepared is a funny and relatable middle-grade graphic novel about navigating your own culture, struggling to belong, and the value of true friendship.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol is a graphic novel I’ve been recommended several times, but I’ve never gotten around to picking it up. I ordered this book for the library, though, and I was so intrigued when it came in I decided to check it out myself. I think Be Prepared will easily find a home among middle grade graphic novel readers: It’s an excellent read-a-like for Raina Telgemeier’s books and the Sunny Side Up/Swing it Sunny graphic novel duology. Be Prepared follows Vera as she goes to summer camp for the first time, something she’s always wanted after seeing her upper middle-class friends ship away to various camps for the summer. Vera’s mother lets Vera and her brother go to a Russian Orthodox camp once she learns the church will pay for half, but camp is not quite the idyllic place Vera dreamed. There’s a lot of tough outdoors stuff Vera is not prepared for, much less the fact she feels she’s caught between the younger campers and the teenage campers who want nothing to do with her. Be Prepared follows Vera’s adventures (and misadventures) for four weeks one summer, and it hits on a lot of emotional points: humor, but also fear and isolation. I flew through Be Prepared and I’m mentally adding it to my list for when upper elementary and middle school patrons ask for Raina Telgemeier readalikes (and they always do!). 4/5 stars.