What’s it about: 17-year-old Kiko Himura spends her days struggling with her social anxiety and feeling like her half-Japanese identity means she’ll never fit in anywhere – especially not with her mother. She lives for the day she’ll escape to art school, but first, she has to get in.
What made me pick it up: It was a finalist for the Morris Award given to the best YA debut novel.
My favorite things: Bowman includes the most magical descriptions of Kiko’s art. They make her paintings and drawings come to life and reflect and inspire real emotion. There’s a strong romantic element to the story that is perfectly complicated.
Who it’s great for: Teens interested in a complicated romance with lots of family drama.
Originally published in: 2017 (English translation in 2018)
What’s it about: A collection of brief biographies of a variety of extraordinary women whose lives have left lasting impact on history – all in graphic novel form.
What made me pick it up: I couldn’t not pick it up.
My favorite things: Bagieu profiles a wide variety of women from artists to activists, doctors to astronauts. Each woman gets several pages for her story to paint a more full picture of her life and impact
What’s it about: A collection of short stories featuring queer and trans teens by queer and trans writers. The stories span the gamut from fantasy to historical fiction, folklore to realistic stories.
What made me pick it up: I put this on hold as soon as I saw that Malinda Lo contributed a story to this collection.
My favorite things: I love that this collection celebrates a variety of LGBTQ experiences and that in these stories a queer identity doesn’t necessarily mean pain or struggle in the way that common in many books. The stories are short but the emotions are intense! There is enough wildly varying content that there is something for everyone in this collection.
Who it’s great for: Teens and adults looking for engaging stories with well-developed characters.
What’s it about: A graphic novel adaptation of Laurie Halse Anderson’s 1999 young adult novel of surviving and struggling with the trauma of sexual assault.
What made me pick it up: I almost didn’t pick this up because the original novel was so devastating, but when I realized Emily Carroll (creator of Through the Woods) was the illustrator it I knew I couldn’t pass on it.
My favorite things: I appreciate that the story has been updated to be current and relatable to today’s readers. The graphic novel format centers and celebrates the importance of art in Melinda’s survival and recovery. For me, it was a relief that even though it is difficult to get through this was less devastating than the original novel.
Who it’s great for: Adults and teens grappling with understanding the continuing emotional and psychological toll sexual assault can take on survivors.
What it’s about: Why you should follow your dream even if you can’t be sure of achieving it.
What made me pick it up: I adore Jason Reynolds and all he does for teens and readers. I enjoy his work so of course I’d like a pep talk from him.
My favorite parts: It’s short and powerful. He packs a big punch with his story of continuing to try to make art and live the creative life despite detractors telling him it was not a viable option. I liked that he was a not yet successful writer writing that it’s not success you’re after. It’s following your path and all the joy and struggle that brings. Like he says repeatedly: jump anyway.
Who it’s great for: Everyone. May be especially useful for new grads.
What’s it about: A graphic novel about a black teenage boy who is shot and killed by a police officer who mistook the hanger in his hand for a gun. The story follows his friends and family in the aftermath of his death and his own journey as those who have previously lost their lives to police violence lead him through the process of understanding and accepting his death.
What made me pick it up: A colleague put this on hold for me because she thought I was probably going to read it anyway.
My favorite things: Alfonso Jones is shot on the first page, but his story doesn’t end there. I love that we still get insight into his life and that the authors take the time to remember the details of the lives lost to police violence like Amadou Diallo and Anthony Baez. There’s an interesting juxtaposition I haven’t seen in fiction before between police treatment of black and brown men who haven’t committed violent crimes and that of typically white school shooters.
Who it’s great for: A good read for teens and adults looking to understand the motive for the Movement for Black Lives. Good for fans of The Hate U Give, Dear Martin, and March.
What’s it about: A personal memoir of surviving and recovering from an eating disorder and abuse.
What made me pick it up: I love graphic memoirs and find they are a great medium for exploring personal traumas
My favorite things: Green is achingly honest and relatable. Her art is both lovely and despondent. She sheds light on the reality that eating disorders are about more than food and that not all are textbook cases.
Who it’s great for: Readers struggling to understand mental illness in someone they love.
What’s it about: Brooklyn teen Sierra Santiago’s summer vacation is interrupted by weeping street murals, family secrets, and a kind of magic that links the world of the living with that of the dead.
What made me pick it up: I remember seeing good buzz about this when it came out a couple of years ago, so I checked it out when I saw that the audiobook was available.
My favorite things: Once I started this book I didn’t want to stop. The story is engaging and moves quickly with a sense of urgency that will make it hard to put down after “one more chapter.” Woven throughout the story are critiques of a sort of neocolonialist anthropology, gentrification, and erasure of cultural traditions – all of which come together to create a complex portrait of a changing Brooklyn.
Who it’s great for: Teens interested in urban fantasy.
What it’s about: A teen sees his older brother shot to death on the basketball court and how he deals with his grief.
What made me pick it up: I’ve read two of Reynolds’ other books and this one was getting really good reviews.
My favorite parts: This novel is in verse, which always amazes me that as much story can be told in few words and some authors need many. The best part for me was the beautiful language the author uses — describing the sidewalk as “the pavement galaxy of bubble gum stars” and so many other great turns of phrase. I also liked the dilemma he gave his character. On the one hand he’d like to avenge his brother’s death, but on the other that would dramatically change his life. I can’t say too much about the premise without giving away the wonderful structure Reynolds used to tell his story, but it invokes the best of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol but with a delectably ambiguous ending.
Who it’s great for: Teens, especially urban ones who may have to deal with gangs, violence, and less than stable living conditions in their daily lives. Anyone who has wondered if revenge was worth it.
What it’s about: A sixteen-year-old girl who has extreme anxiety which leads to thought spirals that can only be controlled through compulsive, self-harming actions and how she deals with her mental illness while she continues to also be just a normal teen with crushes on boys, a best friend, and straight As in school.
What made me pick it up: John Green is a phenomenal writer who structures his stories so the blows come at you hard and fast at the end and leave you happy/sad and bawling. He just gets teens and how to write them and when I found out he had incorporated aspects of his struggle with mental health into this book I admired him all the more.
My favorite things: My favorite thing is also the thing I hated the most and what made me keep getting exasperated and putting the book down and walking away. Green writes so honestly and in such a raw way about this character’s experience of thought spirals and the compulsive behaviors they lead to which she feels will help that it was hard to read about her suffering. I needed frequent breaks because staying in the fictional situation for too long made me uncomfortable for her and sad for her and in pain for her. It is masterful, but it may be a trigger to some individuals, and it is certainly overwhelming to read if you have any amount of empathy at all. I like how he portrayed it as a struggle by a normal person who has a normal life and only ever aspires to be her authentic, balanced self able to do normal things. Most of all I was brought to tears by the honest depiction of the process of treating and managing a mental illness and the very hard-earned hope that can come from continuing to try.
Who it’s great for: Anyone who has struggled with or known someone who struggled with mental illness. Readers who need hope.
Pick this up in your local library or get a copy online somewhere like Amazon (affiliate link).