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 former hockey player struggling to keep it together find his life interrupted when his younger sister comes home years after disappearing. The siblings wrestle with violence and addiction, family and identity, and a constant sense of alienation.
What made me pick it up: I love Jeff Lemire.
My favorite things: I can’t remember where I read it, but someone described this as Fargo but in Canada and I can’t think of a better way to describe the cold, bleak tone. As always, Lemire’s art is stunning and perfectly fits the mood of the dark story and complex characters.
Who it’s great for: Fans of Lemire’s other work, particularly Essex County. Graphic novel readers looking for a family drama.
What’s it about: A quick guide to avoiding implicating yourself in criminal activity while talking to the police. Tl;dr don’t talk to the police. No really, don’t.
What made me pick it up: It is very short and the title intrigued me.
My favorite things: Duane tries to balance every critique of police interrogation techniques with positive words about their work. He doesn’t identify the police as a problem, but rather insists that they are very good at finding evidence – even when it implicates innocent people. Duane also offers very specific advice on what you do have to tell the police and when and how to effectively demand to speak with a lawyer.
Who it’s great for: Anyone curious about what you actually have to tell the police. A good primer for anyone worried about dealing with the police
What’s it about: In a near-future dystopian United States, Hannah has been subjected to chroming – her skin genetically altered to bright red – to publicly indicate her guilt as a violent felon in a society that has moved quickly toward a theocracy.
What made me pick it up: I’d heard that this was a modern-day Scarlet Letter with a strong Handmaid’s Tale feel, which was impossible to resist.
My favorite things: While the latter part of the book didn’t wow me, the opening and the premise are nearly perfect. Jordan creates a complex main character who wrestles with her own values as she moves away from a total acceptance of the righteous and utterly restrictive laws that rule much of the country. Though she is in a world where religious moralism reigns supreme and bodily autonomy doesn’t exist, her struggle to find peace with herself and her actions gives hope in a time of what feels like insurmountable tension and divisiveness.
Who it’s great for: Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale, Naomi Alderman’s The Power, and other dystopian stories with a strong feminist bent.
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 child’s account of surviving and escaping the ongoing war in Syria.
What made me pick it up: Bana Alabed’s pleas for peace and assistance reached the world through Twitter, but I knew her book would tell a more complete story.
My favorite things: Bana’s clear voice is heartwrenching, a reminder to care for refugees. Her mother, Fatemah, includes essays written for Bana, explaining her point of view and her experiences. Their words in concert with each other serve to humanize the numbers and news reports and give a personal story to the images of Syrian children that have circulated widely.
Who it’s great for: Adults and teens trying to understand the war in Syria. Readers who to understand what the day to day struggle is like in the Syrian Civil War, and those wanting to build empathy for refugees.
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’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: Horatia offers to take the place of her reluctant sister as a wife to the Earl of Rule, who accepts with little convincing. Each agreeing not to interfere with the other, theirs truly is a marriage of convenience – he marries into the family he desired while she marries into wealth and access to all the best parties.
What made me pick it up: I set a few reading resolutions this year. One was to read in a few genres I don’t tend to prefer, including romance. A colleague suggested Georgette Heyer because she thought I’d like her spunky heroines.
My favorite things: Spunky indeed! I loved Horatia’s character. She is fearless, outgoing, and very clever – though not quite as clever as she thinks. Her charming stubbornness is softened by her willingness to admit and learn from her mistakes. She is well aware of and completely unbothered by the fact that she doesn’t meet anybody’s beauty standards – cursed by straight eyebrows.
Who it’s great for: Fans of historical romances with more focus on a strong female lead than on the romance itself.