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’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 fictionalized account of a 1979 murder that took place in the author’s hometown while he was in high school. Told through 6 different narrators – including the killer.
What made me pick it up: I was intrigued by the plot, but when I realized it was based on a real murder from my hometown’s past I knew I had to read it.
My favorite things: Wolf changed the name of the town and the people involved, but he kept the names of streets, events, and local businesses. For a native of the town where the murder occurred, reading this was a bizarre experience but still engaging. I love the variety of voices, used to paint a more complete picture of the events that took place, with each of the narrators trying to discover ways they could have prevented the senseless murder.
Who it’s great for: Older teens and adults who crave mysteries or suspense. The short chapters and rotating narration make this a great choice for reluctant readers.
What it’s about: A teen girl watches her oldest friend as he is murdered by the police. She contemplates Tupac’s concept of THUG LIFE (The Hate U Give Little Infants F***s Everyone) while struggling to stand up for her community.
What made me pick it up: This has been getting crazy good press so I scooped it up as soon as I could.
My favorite things: Starr’s voice is genuine and her heartbreak palpable. Thomas captures the essence and urgency of the Black Lives Matter movement without exploiting or forgetting the real lives that have been lost. The current movement is tied to the past through more than Tupac’s words; reminiscent of the response by Bloods and Crips to the Rodney King verdict, local opposing gangs band together to protect their communities and join in protest against the violence they face at the hands of the state. The overall effect is both breathtaking and devastating.
Who it’s great for: Teens and adults looking to understand and process the violence faced by communities of color in our society.
What it’s about: A collection of short horror stories told in a graphic novel format.
What made me pick it up: This is one of my favorite graphic novels from the past few years, so I picked up back up to help me out of a reading slump.
My favorite things: The stories are short and simple but absolutely haunting. Each time I read them I end up with goosebumps and a distinct feeling of unease. The art is beautiful and bleak, using color only sparingly and to great effect. Reading this is like experiencing some of your creepiest nightmares on the page.
Who it’s great for: Adults and teens that enjoy graphic novels and want creepy horror stories. Fans of Audrey Niffineggar’s illustrated works.