Verona Comics: A Review

Verona Comics by Jennifer DuganJubilee is an elite cellist. She has incredible talent and, according to her instructors, no emotion as she gets lost in the technical details of playing. With her biggest audition yet coming up for a summer conservatory program, Jubilee has a simple task: take a break. Which is how Jubilee finds herself selling comics with her mom and step-mom at their indie booth at a comic convention and, later, cosplaying as a peacock superhero at the con’s annual prom event.

Ridley doesn’t know who he is yet. All he really knows is that he’s a chronic disappointment to his parents and a barely tolerated presence in his own family. Which is why, despite his out-of-control anxiety, Ridley finds himself at comic con and representing his father’s company, The Geekery, while dressed as Office Batman at prom.

Neither Jubilee nor Ridley are looking for anything long-term, but their connection is immediately obvious. Unfortunately it’s also immediately inconvenient due to their parents’ intense dislike of each other and their rivalry.

With Jubilee’s audition approaching, Ridley’s anxiety spiraling out of control, and circumstances conspiring against them, Jubilee and Ridley will have to figure out if love can conquer all or if some romances are destined for tragedy in Verona Comics (2020) by Jennifer Dugan.

Find it on Bookshop.

Don’t let the cover of this one fool you, Dugan’s latest standalone novel tackles some heavy stuff wrapped in a light romance. Which is, perhaps, to be expected with a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Lesbrary has a really thoughtful review talking about all the ways that this does in fact nod back to Romeo and Juliet and it makes a lot of sense for exactly why this story is so heavy.

The story alternates between Jubilee and Ridley’s first person narration. In addition to preparing for her audition, Jubilee also has her best friend Jayla–an accomplished Black cosplayer with her eye on FIT for college, and her mom and step-mom to keep her grounded. Jubilee has always been attracted to people of different genders but isn’t sure if that makes her bisexual or something else. And she isn’t sure if any of that “counts” when she’s only ever dated her ex-boyfriend and, now, Ridley.

Ridley, on the other hand, has no support system. He feels isolated and like even more of a failure to his parents after his failed suicide attempt and the betrayal of his last boyfriend. Worst of all, his sister Gray (the only relative Ridley likes) is across the country most of the time. In a desperate bid to stay near Gray and the family home, Ridley tells his father he has a way to get close to The Geekery’s biggest rival. Which, of course, leads to Ridley being in the very bad position of potentially spying on his new girlfriend’s family.

As much as that is to deal with, Ridley is also struggling with crippling social anxiety and chronic stress from his father’s abusive behaviors and his mother’s neglect. Ridley’s unhappiness and his anxiety are palpable in every chapter. Readers should also be warned that there is suicide ideation as well. Later, when Jubilee and Ridley’s relationship seems to have reached a breaking point, both teens also have to confront the fact they might be dealing with co-dependence issues.

While no one dies in Verona Comics, don’t expect a traditional happy ending here either as both Jubilee and Ridley take time to regroup in the wake of a relationship that often brought out the worst in them. Dugan is a great writer and brings all of the fun (and less fun) elements of the comics world to life in this inventive take on Shakespeare’s classic play.

Possible Pairings: Starry Eyes by Jennifer Bennett, Dramacon by Svetlana Chmakova, Comics Will Break Your Heart by Faith Erin Hicks, Somewhere Between Bitter and Sweet by Laekan Zea Kemp, When We Collided by Emery Lord, Tweet Cute by Emma Lord, Eliza and Her Monsters by Francesca Zappia

Don’t Go Without Me: A Graphic Novel Review

Don't Go Without Me by Rosemary Valero-O'ConnellDon’t Go Without Me (2020) by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell is a triptych collection of three comic stories.

In “Don’t Go Without Me” there is a rumor that when you stand in a certain place at a certain time, you can be transported to a different realm–one that exists next to ours in secret. When two lovers cross over, they find themselves separated and forced to barter stories in exchange for clues that might bring them back to each other. But when every trade costs something, how much do either of them have to lose?

“What Is Left” starts when a ship crashes. The ship runs on memories, but when the engine malfunctions the lone surviving engineer finds herself awash in memories of someone else’s life.

For years in “Con Temor, Con Ternura” (With Fear, With Tenderness), a small ocean-side town has watched the sleeping giant at the edge of their town. While they wait for the predicted date when the giant is supposed to wake, the town decides to greet their future head on with a party. But they soon learn that preparing for an expected outcome is not the same as meeting it.

Don’t Go Without Me is an excellent collection of speculative fiction graphic novels exploring human relationships stretched outside of typical norms. Unique restricted color palettes differentiate between each story here and allow Valero-O’Connell’s distinct style to shine in each panel.

Intricate backgrounds and lush artwork offset characters dealing, in each story, with themes of isolation and connection as best they can. Although Don’t Go Without Me can be grim, it is also beautiful and meditative. Valero-O’Connell continues to demonstrate that she is an artist and author to watch.

Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board: A Graphic Novel Review

Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board by Kristen GudsnukDany finally feels like she’s getting the hang of middle school. Her best friend Madison has found her own place in town after her confusing start as a drawing in Dany’s magical sketchbook.

With their school opening again after being destroyed in no small part by Dany’s shenanigans at the start of the school year, it’s a busy time. So busy, in fact, that Dany decides it might be time to duplicate herself so she will have someone to help her with mounting homework and figure out how to navigate the still confusing waters of middle school social climbing.

When Dany and … Dany accidentally let a magical dog loose in town, chaos unsurprisingly ensues before Dany, Madison, their other friends, (and the other Dany) work together to try and stop the dog and save the school dance in Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board (2019) by Kristen Gudsnuk.

Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board is the second installment in Gudsnuk’s wacky graphic novel series.

Gudsnuk takes the humor, friendships, and zaniness from book one and turns it up to twelve in this flashy, full color, graphic novel.

Things you’ll find in these pages: five Solar Scouts, one Pikkiball, one mean girl, several magic flying rings, a dog genie. Do I even need to say more?

Making Friends: Back to the Drawing Board positions Gudsnuk as a must-read for anyone who enjoys their graphic novels tempered with great humor, good friends, and a whole lot of silly pop culture references.

Possible Pairings: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson, All Summer Long by Hope Larson, Invisible Emmie by Terri Libenson, Lumberjanes by Noelle Stephenson, Sailor Moon by Naoko Takeuchi, Audrey’s Magic Nine by Michelle Wright, illustrated by Courtney Huddleston and Tracy Bailey

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations: A Nonfiction Review

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira JacobThe trouble starts when Z is six. He has a lot of questions about everything from who taught Michael Jackson to dance, if moonwalking has anything to do with how to actually walk on the moon, to if it’s bad to be brown.

Artist and author, Mira Jacob tries to answer all of his questions–but it isn’t always easy to explain to a half-Jewish, half-Indian boy that not everyone is going to understand him or want to make space for him.

Using Z’s questions as a spring board, this graphic novel memoir explores the tensions leading up to the 2016 US election, the author’s own history growing up the daughter of Indian immigrants in small town American, and more to get at what we really talk about when we talk about race, sexuality, belonging, and love in Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations (2019) by Mira Jacob.

Good Talk was both heavier and lighter than I expected. Jacob combines photographic backgrounds with realistic black and white drawings of characters to create high contrasts pages. Although the pages are often static with speech bubbles doing most of the work to move the book along, the story remains dynamic and engrossing.

Good Talk is an excellent introduction to graphic novels for readers looking to try that format for the first time. Jacob’s frank exploration of identity and racism in her own life and in the larger context of the 2016 US election also makes Good Talk a great entry point for difficult conversations about race, politics, and what it means to be an ally.

In addition to providing a thoughtful window into a very painful moment in US politics and the hard conversations we all need to have in the wake of that moment, Good Talk is a laugh out loud funny memoir about growing up and speaking up. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui; Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates; I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib; The Last Black Unicorn by Tiffany Haddish; How We Fight For Our Lives by Saeed Jones ; March Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell; So You Want to Talk About Race by Ijeoma Oluo; We’re Going to Need More Wine by Gabrielle Union

The Tea Dragon Festival: A Graphic Novel Review

The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O'NeillRinn knows all about Tea Dragons–the sometimes nuisances that are all over the village–but it turns out real dragons are a very different thing. When Aedhan wakes up from an eighty year sleep, Rinn quickly befriends him.

Aedhan appreciates Rinn’s welcome and their help in reintroducing Aedhan to the village he was once charged with protecting. But no matter how at home the dragon feels, he can’t forget all of the time he lost.

When Rinn’s uncle Erik and his new partner Hesekiel come to visit, they hope that the two adventurers will be able to help unravel the mystery of Aedhan’s magical slumber. But it will take more than investigating to help the dragon accept his changed circumstances in The Tea Dragon Festival (2019) by Katie O’Neill.

The Tea Dragon Festival is a prequel to O’Neill’s previous graphic novel, The Tea Dragon Society. Both stories are self-contained and can be read on their own. Although set in different times and different locations, the stories both feature Erik and Hesekiel.

O’Neill once again delivers an adorable and thoughtful graphic novel, this time centered on gender fluid Rinn as they try to figure out their place in a village where it feels like everyone else has already found their special role. Rinn’s friend Lesa is deaf–something that is portrayed well in the comic panels with special speech bubbles to represent that sign language is being spoken. The contrast between dragon Aedhan and the tiny Tea Dragons adds another element of humor.

A mostly pastel color palette and the book’s larger trim size make this story as beautiful as it is entertaining. The Tea Dragon Festival builds well on the foundation of O’Neill’s previous world building while giving readers a slightly more complex plot.

The Tea Dragon Festival is a delightful and cheerful graphic novel about finding your place and your people. Highly recommended.

Possible Pairings: Giants, Beware! by Jorge Aguirre,Rafael Rosado, John Novak, Matthew Schenk; Cucumber Quest by Gigi D. G.; The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag; Hildafolk by Luke Pearson; The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

Pandora’s Legacy: A Graphic Novel Review

The Panagakos family are descendants of Pandora. For generations the family has worked to protect Pandora’s box and guard against the dangerous monsters it contains.

Except no one ever told younger siblings Charlie, Janet, or Trevor about that. When the three of them find (and break) a mysterious jar in the wood near their grandparents’ house, they have no idea what they’ve unleashed.

Lacking their older siblings’ training, not to mention their weapons, Charlie, Janet, and Trevor will have to band together and think fast if they want save their family and stop the freed monsters from destroying everything in their path in Pandora’s Legacy (2018) by Kara Leopard, illustrated by Kelly Matthews and Nichole Matthews.

Pandora’s Legacy is a high action graphic novel. Although the story focuses on twins Janet and Trevor, their older sister Charlie also plays a large role as the three of them become unwitting heroes and the last defense against the monsters found within Pandora’s box.

The high action of Leopard’s fast-paced plot contrasts well with the Matthews’ finely detailed illustrations that seamlessly blend evocative backdrops and horrifying monsters.

Pandora’s Legacy is an adventurous ode to siblings and underdogs everywhere. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Estranged by Ethan M. Aldridge, Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi, Cucumber Quest by Gigi D. G., Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke, The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

*A copy of this title was provided for review consideration by the publisher at BookExpo 2019*

The Midwinter Witch: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Graphic Novel) Review

Aster looks forward to the Midwinter Festival every year. The festival is a yearly gathering of the entire Vanissen family and filled with competitions in the annual Jolrun tournament for both shapeshifting and witchery.

After earning his hard-won right to study witchery with the Vanissen girls, Aster is eager to compete and prove his skill as a witch.

But challenging generations of tradition isn’t easy. Especially when Aster’s new friend and fellow witch Ariel is still trying to prove to herself and the Vanissen family that she belongs. As competition between them grows and outside forces threaten the festival, Aster and Ariel will have to put aside their differences and remember the things that brought them together to stop dark magic from tearing them apart in The Midwinter Witch (2019) by Molly Knox Ostertag.

The Midwinter Witch is the conclusion of Ostertag’s Witch Boy trilogy which begins with The Witch Boy and The Hidden Witch.

The Midwinter Witch is the most character driven installment in this series as readers see more of Aster and Ariel working to come into their powers while Sedge joins Charlie at her human school.

High action competitions contrast well with in-depth conversations as both Aster and Ariel try to figure out how best to make space for themselves as witches in a family that often feels foreign to them. Ostertag’s full color illustrations are vibrant and bring this magical world to life.

The Midwinter Witch is a satisfying conclusion to a thoughtful and exciting graphic novel series. A must read for fans of previous installments.

Possible Pairings: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman, The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, Frogkisser! by Garth Nix, The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill, The Okay Witch by Emma Steinkellner, Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow by Jessica Townsend, Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Okay Witch: A Graphic Novel Review

Moth Hush has never felt like she fits in among the other kids in Founder’s Bluff. On her thirteenth birthday she finds out that might not be entirely her fault.

It turns out Moth comes from a long line of witches.

Moth thinks that having magic powers will make things easier, or at least make her cooler. But even with support from her new friend Charlie and her old friend Mr. Lazlo (now a cat and sort of Moth’s familiar), making sense of her new powers isn’t easy.

Moth will have to confront old secrets and her hometown’s legacy before she can truly embrace her powers or her family’s past in The Okay Witch (2019) by Emma Steinkellner.

Find it on Bookshop.

The Okay Witch is Steinkellner’s graphic novel debut.

Steinkellner blends witchcraft and magic with a classic story of friendship, family and all of the complications therein. Full color illustrations with expressive characters and detailed backdrops bring Moth’s world and Founder’s Bluff to life. A careful use of color also accentuates the different light in scenes as the story shifts between day and night and, later, between Moth’s present and flashbacks about her family.

The Okay Witch is a funny, sweet graphic novel perfect for the autumn season. Highly recommended for anyone who’s ever felt like a misfit and witchy types everywhere. Guaranteed to be a new favorite.

Possible Pairings: Little Witches by Leigh Dragoon; Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale, Nathan Hale, Dean Hale; The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson; The Power of Poppy Pendle by Natasha Lowe; The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag; Audrey’s Magic Nine  by Michelle Wright, illustrated by Courtney Huddleston and Tracy Bailey; Kiki’s Delivery Service

Be sure to also check out my interview with Emma!

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BookExpo 2019*

Pumpkinheads: A Chick Lit Wednesday (Graphic Novel) Review

Every autumn Deja and Josiah know they’ll be working at the best pumpkin patch in the world, right in their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. They know they’ll be making succotash at the Succotash Hut (it’s all about the stirring). And most importantly, they know that their friendship will pick up right where they left off at the end of last year’s pumpkin patch season.

Except this year is different because they’re seniors. While Deja knows they’ll always be able to come back, Josiah isn’t so sure that anything can stay the same once they leave for college.

After a stellar season (and another Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person star for Josiah), Josiah is fully prepared to spend their final shift ever moping. But Deja has bigger plans to help both of them say goodbye to the patch with a proper sendoff while also giving Josiah one last chance to talk to the Fudge Girl he’s spent three years pining after.

With snacks to eat, exes to run into, and hopefully at least one date to make Deja and Josie’s final shift is sure to be an adventure in Pumpkinheads (2019) by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks.

Find it on Bookshop.

This story is completely self-contained and as satisfying as the first pumpkin sighting of the season. Hicks’ full color illustrations bring the pumpkin patch to life in all of its zany glory with dynamic artwork filled with fun details and the motion inherent to a frenetic crowd.

Rowell’s dialog contrasts well with Deja and Josiah’s body language and things left unsaid as both friends try to figure out how to say goodbye to the patch and to each other–or if they even have to.

Pumpkinheads is a charming ode to fall filled with puns, pumpkins, and a really sweet romance. Recommended for readers looking for a bubbly, seasonal read and anyone hoping to try a graphic novel for the first time.

Possible Pairings: Hungry Hearts edited by Elsie Chapman and Caroline Tung; Snow in Love by Melissa de la Cruz, Aimee Friedman, Nic Stone, and Kasie West; 10 Blind Dates by Ashley Elston; The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo; There’s Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon; Foolish Hearts by Emma Mills; My True Love Gave to Me edited by Stephanie Perkins; This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura

Mooncakes: A Graphic Novel Review

Working at her grandmothers’ bookshop, Nova Huang is used to helping them investigate strange occurrences in their small New England town–it comes with the territory when you’re a witch-in-training.

Following reports of a strange white wolf in the woods leads Nova to an entirely unexpected reunion when she finds Tam Lang–her childhood friend and longtime crush. As a werewolf Tam has been wandering from town to town trying to find a place to land and, more importantly, trying to hunt down a strange horse demon with connections to their own troubled past.

Together Nova and Tam are determined to get to the bottom of the dark forces plaguing town as they try to find their way back to each other in Mooncakes (2019) by Suzanne Walker, illustrated by Wendy Xu.

Mooncakes is a full color, standalone graphic novel.

Xu’s artwork is brightly colored and filled with evocative depictions of Nova’s cozy bookshop, ethereal magic, and minute details reminiscent of the care and attention found in Miyazaki films.

Like Xu, Walker imbues this story with obvious affection for these characters and their world as well as deliberate attention to create a world that is as inclusive as it is authentic from Nova’s use of hearing aids to Tam’s request that Nova’s grandmothers refer to them with they/them pronouns.

With a sprawling plot that spans Nova and Tam’s backstory and hints at what their futures might hold Mooncakes is a delectable fantasy graphic novel that is equal parts spooky and sweet. Sure to be a satisfying read at any time of the year but especially when you’re ready to curl up under a blanket and enjoy the leaves turning.

Possible Pairings: Etiquette and Espionage by Gail Carriger; Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Cordova; Moonstruck by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, Kate Leth, Kim Reaper by Sarah Graley; Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks; The Witch Boy by Molly Knox Ostertag; Space Battle Lunchtime by Natalie Riess; Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks; The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang; Princess Decomposia and Count Spatula by Andi Watson

*An advance copy of this title was provided for review consideration by the publisher at BookExpo 2019*