What to Do When I’m Gone: A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daughter by Suzy Hopkins and Hallie Bateman

While looking back over what I read in 2022, I realized that I only read one nonfiction title. This year, I decided that I’m going to read more nonfiction. The perfect way to ease myself into nonfiction? Graphic novels! My first nonfiction read of 2023, What to Do When I’m Gone: A Mother’s Wisdom to Her Daughter by Suzy Hopkins and Hallie Bateman, is a beautifully writter, yet incredibly sad graphic memoir written and illustrated by a mother/daughter duo.

Hallie Bateman is an illustrator/writer, while her mother Suzy Hopkins is also a writer. When Hallie was in her early twenties, she was kept up late one night after realizing that one day her mom would die. Devastated and wanting a way to gather all the motherly advice that she would miss, Hallie came up with a plan. She asked her mom Suzy to write down step-by-step instructions for her to follow after her death. Her mother laughed, but then said yes and began writing.

Suzy started by saying that Hallie needed to walk away from her phone after her death, then ‘pour yourself a stiff glass of whiskey and make some fajitas’. Suzy’s advice walks Hallie through the days, weeks, months, and years after her loss. The advice, guidance, and support she supplies throughout is at times funny, but also heart-wrenching. She talks about issues of all sizes, from how to cook certain recipes to how to choose a life partner. As they worked together making this grpahic novel, they discussed a wide variety of everyday issues with open minds and open hearts.

While I enjoyed the juxtapoisiton of Suzy’s advice with Hallie’s colorful art style, the topics discussed had me tearing up. The format of this book was a unique take on processing grief. It’s essentially a years-long instruction manual for getting through life without your mom. It was a quick read, but one that had me laughing and crying at various points throughout. As soon as I finished, I started my own list of questions that I wanted to talk to my family and friends about while they’re still living.

New Year, New Genre: Graphic Novels

I know far too many people who are skeptical about comics and graphic novels, either because they don’t like the narrative form or because they are under the impression that they are a “lesser” literature. Thus, I have made it my personal and professional mission to combat the general disdain towards graphics. 

Listed below are five graphic novels that are new to the library’s shelves, each of which I think will appeal to readers with a hankering for the perfect book to shake up their reading slumps. 

Queen of Snails: A Graphic Memoir by Maureen Burdock

The aphorism “family is complicated” has never felt more apt than in the context of this graphic memoir, which compellingly grapples with intergenerational trauma, abuse, and displacement. Starting with her childhood in Germany, Burdock shares the pain of her parents’ failed marriage, her own isolation and abuse after moving to the U.S., and the unhealthy coping mechanisms she developed to assert control over her own body. She also wrestles with the fact that while her mother and other Germans suffered during the occupation at the end of WWII, members of her mother’s family were ardent supporters of the Nazis, with some espousing anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial for decades afterwards. The art, with its intricate scientific details of snails, ears, and other bodily workings lends a surreal air, as though an episode of The Magic School Bus used entering the human body as a metaphor for coping with grief. A complicated and honest narrative that ends with hope that healing is possible and that we can create a better world.  – Booklist, November 2022

Who Will Make the Pancakes: Five Stories by Megan Kelso

This collection finds Kelso (Queen of the Black Black) exploring the dynamic between interpersonal relationships and interior experience with skill and insight equal to or greater than anyone currently creating works of short fiction in any format or genre. “Watergate Sue” concerns a woman who feels her mother’s obsession with the Watergate scandal overshadowed her early childhood, and her mother’s inability to see the problem with that. “Cats in Service” opens whimsically, with a woman inheriting her deceased sister’s staff of highly trained, impeccably uniformed cat servants, but when the woman’s young daughter shows a strong preference for her feline nanny over her actual family, the story transforms into a melancholy examination of generational trauma and personal responsibility. Kelso crafts a nuanced portrait of a single mother forced to confront her romantic notions about herself against a backdrop of post-World War II prosperity in “Korin Voss.” She saves the collection’s best and most affecting story for last: “The Golden Lasso” is a heartbreaking coming-of-age tale about a pre-teen girl and the adults who shape her understanding of the world. VERDICT A treasury of impactful stories from a virtuosic artist with a distinctively empathetic point of view.  – Library Journal, October 2022

Movements and Moments by Gantala Press, et al.

This colorful, impassioned collection focuses on Indigenous women rebelling against colonialism and capitalism. Selected from an open call made by the Goethe-Institut Indonesien in Jakarta, eight comics short stories highlight the power and resiliency of Native women, from Bolivians forming a trade union against great odds in “The Anarchist Cholas” by Vanessa Peñuela and César Vargas to villagers in the Philippines fighting to keep ruthless industrialists from building a dam on their sacred river in “Let the River Flow Free” by Gantala Press and Nina Martinez. Other narratives highlight individuals who have dedicated their lives to empowering others, such as “Shanti: Beyond the Veil” by Bandana Tulachan and the autobiographical “Times Will Pass…” by trans artist Chandri Narayanan, drawn by Sadhna Prasad. The artwork throughout is excellent, presenting a panoply of approaches ranging from the cartoony stylings of Cecilia Larrea and Citlalli Andrango’s “Mama Dulu” to Vietnamese artist Phạ m Thu Trà’s lush lyrical drawings in “Tracing Between Colors of the Highlands.” Taken together, these shorts carry a cumulative power, offering a heartening reminder of the strength and spirituality within resistance and a potent call to arms against injustice.   –  Publishers Weekly, October 2022

It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth by Zoe Thorogood

In It’s Lonely At The Centre Of The Earth cartoonist Zoe Thorogood records six months of her own life as it falls apart in a desperate attempt to put it back together again in the only way she knows how. This fresh and thought provoking auto-bio-graphic is an intimate and metanarrative look into the life of a selfish artist who must create for her own survival.

“This book has served as a creative sanctuary for me from the day it was conceived—an experimental playground that I hope will inspire, disturb, and comfort in equal measure,” said Thorogood.

Eric Stephenson, Publisher at Image Comics, added: “Zoe’s debut graphic novel, The Impending Blindness of Billie Scott, was one of the highlights of 2020, and we were thrilled when she approached us about publishing her next project… which as it turns out, will be the project after this one! But one of the great things about exciting new talent is that the creative process often takes on a life of its own and It’s Lonely at the Centre of the Earth was a project that had to happen, very much to everyone’s delight. This is excellent work by one of comics’ best new voices!” Image Comics, 2022

Wash Day Diaries by Jamila Rowser & Robyn Smith

Wash Day Diaries started out as a successfully crowd-funded mini comic,and this release expands on the original with four additional short stories, giving readers a window into the lives of four best friends and each of their respective wash days. The stories are interconnected and happen within a small time frame, revealing glimpses into the lives of these four Black girls from different backgrounds and with different struggles and situations. Each short story has a different predominant color, representing the mood and the person it focuses on. Color is also used to flip back and forth between past and present. Besides being a window into the lives of these women, it’s a window into the lives of young Black women, specifically, and all the work and care that goes into maintaining their hair. The multilayered stories reflect how hair is cultural and affects not just appearance but their work lives and interpersonal relationships. This inviting and illuminating slice-of-life comic shows how the friends, all in different stages of life, can support and show up for each other. – Booklist Reviews, July 2022

Winners of the 2022 Goodreads Choice Awards

The winners of the 2022 Goodreads Choice Awards have been announced! We’ve gathered up the winners and listed them below. We would love to hear your thoughts on the winners in the comments! Summaries of the books have been provided by the publishers and authors.

Best Fiction: Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

On a bitter-cold day, in the December of his junior year at Harvard, Sam Masur exits a subway car and sees, amid the hordes of people waiting on the platform, Sadie Green. He calls her name. For a moment, she pretends she hasn’t heard him, but then, she turns, and a game begins: a legendary collaboration that will launch them to stardom. These friends, intimates since childhood, borrow money, beg favors, and, before even graduating college, they have created their first blockbuster, Ichigo. Overnight, the world is theirs. Not even twenty-five years old, Sam and Sadie are brilliant, successful, and rich, but these qualities won’t protect them from their own creative ambitions or the betrayals of their hearts.

Spanning thirty years, from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Venice Beach, California, and lands in between and far beyond, Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow is a dazzling and intricately imagined novel that examines the multifarious nature of identity, disability, failure, the redemptive possibilities in play, and above all, our need to connect: to be loved and to love. Yes, it is a love story, but it is not one you have read before.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Mystery & Thriller: The Maid by Nita Prose

Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.

Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.

But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?

A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Historical Fiction: Carrie Soto is Back by Taylor Jenkins Reid

Carrie Soto is fierce, and her determination to win at any cost has not made her popular. But by the time she retires from tennis, she is the best player the world has ever seen. She has shattered every record and claimed twenty Grand Slam titles. And if you ask Carrie, she is entitled to every one. She sacrificed nearly everything to become the best, with her father, Javier, as her coach. A former champion himself, Javier has trained her since the age of two.

But six years after her retirement, Carrie finds herself sitting in the stands of the 1994 US Open, watching her record be taken from her by a brutal, stunning player named Nicki Chan.

At thirty-seven years old, Carrie makes the monumental decision to come out of retirement and be coached by her father for one last year in an attempt to reclaim her record. Even if the sports media says that they never liked “the Battle-Axe” anyway. Even if her body doesn’t move as fast as it did. And even if it means swallowing her pride to train with a man she once almost opened her heart to: Bowe Huntley. Like her, he has something to prove before he gives up the game forever.

In spite of it all, Carrie Soto is back, for one epic final season. In this riveting and unforgettable novel, Taylor Jenkins Reid tells her most vulnerable, emotional story yet.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Fantasy: House of Sky and Breath by Sarah J. Maas

Sarah J. Maas’s sexy, groundbreaking CRESCENT CITY series continues with the second installment.

Bryce Quinlan and Hunt Athalar are trying to get back to normal-they may have saved Crescent City, but with so much upheaval in their lives lately, they mostly want a chance to relax. Slow down. Figure out what the future holds.

The Asteri have kept their word so far, leaving Bryce and Hunt alone. But with the rebels chipping away at the Asteri’s power, the threat the rulers pose is growing. As Bryce, Hunt, and their friends get pulled into the rebels’ plans, the choice becomes clear: stay silent while others are oppressed, or fight for what’s right. And they’ve never been very good at staying silent.

In this sexy, action-packed sequel to the #1 bestseller House of Earth and Blood, Sarah J. Maas weaves a captivating story of a world about to explode-and the people who will do anything to save it.

This title is also available in the following format:

Best Romance: Book Lovers by Emily Henry

One summer. Two rivals. A plot twist they didn’t see coming…

Nora Stephens’ life is books—she’s read them all—and she is not that type of heroine. Not the plucky one, not the laidback dream girl, and especially not the sweetheart. In fact, the only people Nora is a heroine for are her clients, for whom she lands enormous deals as a cutthroat literary agent, and her beloved little sister Libby.

Which is why she agrees to go to Sunshine Falls, North Carolina for the month of August when Libby begs her for a sisters’ trip away—with visions of a small town transformation for Nora, who she’s convinced needs to become the heroine in her own story. But instead of picnics in meadows, or run-ins with a handsome country doctor or bulging-forearmed bartender, Nora keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, a bookish brooding editor from back in the city. It would be a meet-cute if not for the fact that they’ve met many times and it’s never been cute.

If Nora knows she’s not an ideal heroine, Charlie knows he’s nobody’s hero, but as they are thrown together again and again—in a series of coincidences no editor worth their salt would allow—what they discover might just unravel the carefully crafted stories they’ve written about themselves.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Science Fiction: Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

Edwin St. Andrew is eighteen years old when he crosses the Atlantic by steamship, exiled from polite society following an ill-conceived diatribe at a dinner party. He enters the forest, spellbound by the beauty of the Canadian wilderness, and suddenly hears the notes of a violin echoing in an airship terminal—an experience that shocks him to his core.

Two centuries later a famous writer named Olive Llewellyn is on a book tour. She’s traveling all over Earth, but her home is the second moon colony, a place of white stone, spired towers, and artificial beauty. Within the text of Olive’s best-selling pandemic novel lies a strange passage: a man plays his violin for change in the echoing corridor of an airship terminal as the trees of a forest rise around him.

When Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a detective in the black-skied Night City, is hired to investigate an anomaly in the North American wilderness, he uncovers a series of lives upended: The exiled son of an earl driven to madness, a writer trapped far from home as a pandemic ravages Earth, and a childhood friend from the Night City who, like Gaspery himself, has glimpsed the chance to do something extraordinary that will disrupt the timeline of the universe.

A virtuoso performance that is as human and tender as it is intellectually playful, Sea of Tranquility is a novel of time travel and metaphysics that precisely captures the reality of our current moment.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Horror: Hidden Pictures by Jason Rekulak

Mallory Quinn is fresh out of rehab when she takes a job as a babysitter for Ted and Caroline Maxwell. She is to look after their five-year-old son, Teddy.

Mallory immediately loves it. She has her own living space, goes out for nightly runs, and has the stability she craves. And she sincerely bonds with Teddy, a sweet, shy boy who is never without his sketchbook and pencil. His drawings are the usual fare: trees, rabbits, balloons. But one day, he draws something different: a man in a forest, dragging a woman’s lifeless body.

Then, Teddy’s artwork becomes increasingly sinister, and his stick figures quickly evolve into lifelike sketches well beyond the ability of any five-year-old. Mallory begins to wonder if these are glimpses of a long-unsolved murder, perhaps relayed by a supernatural force.

Knowing just how crazy it all sounds, Mallory nevertheless sets out to decipher the images and save Teddy before it’s too late.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Humor: The Office BFFs by Jenna Fischer and Angela Kinsey

An intimate, behind-the-scenes, richly illustrated celebration of beloved The Office co-stars Jenna Fischer & Angela Kinsey’s friendship, & an insiders’ view of Pam Beesly, Angela Martin, & the unforgettable iconic TV show. Featuring Jenna and Angela’s many personal photos.

Receptionist Pam Beesly and accountant Angela Martin had very little in common when they toiled together at Scranton’s Dunder Mifflin Paper Company. But, in reality, the two bonded in their very first days on set and, over the nine seasons of the series’ run, built a friendship that transcended the show and continues to this day. Sharing everything from what it was like in the early days as the show struggled to gain traction, to walking their first red carpet—plus exclusive stories on the making of milestone episodes and how their lives changed when they became moms — The Office BFFs is full of the same warm and friendly tone Jenna and Angela have brought to their Office Ladies podcast.

This title is also available in the following format:

Best Nonfiction: Atlas of the Heart by Brené Brown

In Atlas of the Heart, Brown takes us on a journey through eighty-seven of the emotions and experiences that define what it means to be human. As she maps the necessary skills and an actionable framework for meaningful connection, she gives us the language and tools to access a universe of new choices and second chances—a universe where we can share and steward the stories of our bravest and most heartbreaking moments with one another in a way that builds connection.

Over the past two decades, Brown’s extensive research into the experiences that make us who we are has shaped the cultural conversation and helped define what it means to be courageous with our lives. Atlas of the Heart draws on this research, as well as on Brown’s singular skills as a storyteller, to show us how accurately naming an experience doesn’t give the experience more power—it gives us the power of understanding, meaning, and choice.

Brown shares, “I want this book to be an atlas for all of us, because I believe that, with an adventurous heart and the right maps, we can travel anywhere and never fear losing ourselves.”

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Memoir & Autobiography: I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy

A heartbreaking and hilarious memoir by iCarly and Sam & Cat star Jennette McCurdy about her struggles as a former child actor—including eating disorders, addiction, and a complicated relationship with her overbearing mother—and how she retook control of her life.

Jennette McCurdy was six years old when she had her first acting audition. Her mother’s dream was for her only daughter to become a star, and Jennette would do anything to make her mother happy. So she went along with what Mom called “calorie restriction,” eating little and weighing herself five times a day. She endured extensive at-home makeovers while Mom chided, “Your eyelashes are invisible, okay? You think Dakota Fanning doesn’t tint hers?” She was even showered by Mom until age sixteen while sharing her diaries, email, and all her income.

In I’m Glad My Mom Died, Jennette recounts all this in unflinching detail—just as she chronicles what happens when the dream finally comes true. Cast in a new Nickelodeon series called iCarly, she is thrust into fame. Though Mom is ecstatic, emailing fan club moderators and getting on a first-name basis with the paparazzi (“Hi Gale!”), Jennette is riddled with anxiety, shame, and self-loathing, which manifest into eating disorders, addiction, and a series of unhealthy relationships. These issues only get worse when, soon after taking the lead in the iCarly spinoff Sam & Cat alongside Ariana Grande, her mother dies of cancer. Finally, after discovering therapy and quitting acting, Jennette embarks on recovery and decides for the first time in her life what she really wants.

Told with refreshing candor and dark humor, I’m Glad My Mom Died is an inspiring story of resilience, independence, and the joy of shampooing your own hair.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best History & Biography: Bad Guys by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller

We all remember Oscar Wilde, but who speaks for Bosie? What about those ‘bad gays’ whose unexemplary lives reveal more than we might expect? Many popular histories seek to establish homosexual heroes, pioneers, and martyrs but, as Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller argue, the past is filled with queer people whose sexualities and dastardly deeds have been overlooked despite their being informative and instructive.

Based on the hugely popular podcast series of the same name, Bad Gays asks what we can learn about LGBTQ+ history, sexuality and identity through its villains, failures, and baddies. With characters such as the Emperor Hadrian, anthropologist Margaret Mead and notorious gangster Ronnie Kray, the authors tell the story of how the figure of the white gay man was born, and how he failed. They examine a cast of kings, fascist thugs, artists and debauched bon viveurs. Imperial-era figures Lawrence of Arabia and Roger Casement get a look-in, as do FBI boss J. Edgar Hoover, lawyer Roy Cohn, and architect Philip Johnson.

Together these amazing life stories expand and challenge mainstream assumptions about sexual identity: showing that homosexuality itself was an idea that emerged in the nineteenth century, one central to major historical events.

Bad Gays is a passionate argument for rethinking gay politics beyond questions of identity, compelling readers to search for solidarity across boundaries.

Best Graphic Novels & Comics: Heartstopper by Alice Oseman

Charlie and Nick are at the same school, but they’ve never met … until one day when they’re made to sit together. They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance.

But love works in surprising ways, and Nick is more interested in Charlie than either of them realised.

By Alice Oseman, winner of the YA Book Prize, Heartstopper is about love, friendship, loyalty and mental illness. It encompasses all the small stories of Nick and Charlie’s lives that together make up something larger, which speaks to all of us.

Best Poetry: Call Us What We Carry by Amanda Gorman

The breakout poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman

Formerly titled The Hill We Climb and Other Poems, the luminous poetry collection by #1 New York Times bestselling author and presidential inaugural poet Amanda Gorman captures a shipwrecked moment in time and transforms it into a lyric of hope and healing. In Call Us What We Carry, Gorman explores history, language, identity, and erasure through an imaginative and intimate collage. Harnessing the collective grief of a global pandemic, this beautifully designed volume features poems in many inventive styles and structures and shines a light on a moment of reckoning. Call Us What We Carry reveals that Gorman has become our messenger from the past, our voice for the future.

This book is also available in the following formats:

Best Debut: Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

Chemist Elizabeth Zott is not your average woman. In fact, Elizabeth Zott would be the first to point out that there is no such thing as an average woman. But it’s the early 1960s and her all-male team at Hastings Research Institute takes a very unscientific view of equality. Except for one: Calvin Evans; the lonely, brilliant, Nobel–prize nominated grudge-holder who falls in love with—of all things—her mind. True chemistry results.

But like science, life is unpredictable. Which is why a few years later Elizabeth Zott finds herself not only a single mother, but the reluctant star of America’s most beloved cooking show Supper at Six. Elizabeth’s unusual approach to cooking (“combine one tablespoon acetic acid with a pinch of sodium chloride”) proves revolutionary. But as her following grows, not everyone is happy. Because as it turns out, Elizabeth Zott isn’t just teaching women to cook. She’s daring them to change the status quo.

Laugh-out-loud funny, shrewdly observant, and studded with a dazzling cast of supporting characters, Lessons in Chemistry is as original and vibrant as its protagonist.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Young Adult Fiction: The Final Gambit by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

Avery’s fortune, life, and loves are on the line in the game that everyone will be talking about.

To inherit billions, all Avery Kylie Grambs has to do is survive a few more weeks living in Hawthorne House. The paparazzi are dogging her every step. Financial pressures are building. Danger is a fact of life. And the only thing getting Avery through it all is the Hawthorne brothers. Her life is intertwined with theirs. She knows their secrets and they know her.

But as the clock ticks down to the moment when Avery will become the richest teenager on the planet, trouble arrives in the form of a visitor who needs her help—and whose presence in Hawthorne House could change everything. It soon becomes clear that there is one last puzzle to solve, and Avery and the Hawthorne brothers are drawn into a dangerous game against an unknown and powerful player.

Secrets upon secrets. Riddles upon riddles. In this game, there are hearts and lives at stake—and there is nothing more Hawthorne than winning.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Young Adult Fantasy: Gallant by V.E. Schwab

Olivia Prior has grown up in Merilance School for Girls, and all she has of her past is her mother’s journal—which seems to unravel into madness. Then, a letter invites Olivia to come home to Gallant. Yet when Olivia arrives, no one is expecting her. But Olivia is not about to leave the first place that feels like home; it doesn’t matter if her cousin Matthew is hostile, or if she sees half-formed ghouls haunting the hallways.

Olivia knows that Gallant is hiding secrets, and she is determined to uncover them. When she crosses a ruined wall at just the right moment, Olivia finds herself in a place that is Gallant—but not. The manor is crumbling, the ghouls are solid, and a mysterious figure rules over all. Now Olivia sees what has unraveled generations of her family, and where her father may have come from.

Olivia has always wanted to belong somewhere, but will she take her place as a Prior, protecting our world against the Master of the House? Or will she take her place beside him?

New York Times–bestselling author V. E. Schwab crafts a vivid and lush novel that grapples with the demons that are often locked behind closed doors. An eerie, stand-alone saga about life, death, and the young woman beckoned by both. Readers of Neil Gaiman, Holly Black, Melissa Albert, and Garth Nix will quickly lose themselves in this novel with crossover appeal for all ages.

This title is also available in the following formats:

Best Middle Grade & Children’s: I Am Quiet by Andie Powers and Betsy Petersen

Emile is not shy—he is quiet.

Emile may seem timid and shy on the outside, but on the inside he is bustling with imagination. While grownups and even other kids may see Emile as the shy kid who doesn’t raise his hand in class, we know that Emile is actually a high-seas adventurer, a daring explorer, and a friend to wild beasts.

This story honors and encourages the beauty of knowing ourselves for exactly who we are. Emile’s world shows us that the mind of a quiet child can be as rich, expansive, and bold as that of any other (more extroverted) child.

Something New: Tales From a Makeshift Bride by Lucy Knisley

Lucy Knisley gives an honest take on the wedding planning process with her graphic novel, Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride. As a bride to be myself, I was intrigued to see how Knisley described the year leading up to her wedding. Planning a wedding can feel stressful, exciting, nerve racking, and sometimes impossible to do. Knisley uses her graphic novel skills to lay it all out for all of those who may be entering the whirlwind of wedding planning.

Knisley begins her novel with some background of how she and her husband, John met and ended  up engaged. They met while Knisley was completing art school and as their relationship developed, they realized they wanted different things in life. After being apart for a few years with meeting each other in between, John randomly popped the question and Knisley said yes.

Throughout her memoir, Knisley goes into detail about her wedding planning process. She emphasizes to the reader that a traditional wedding isn’t for everybody (and if you like traditional, that’s okay!) For example, Knisley’s mother lives in a rural area and built a barn for their ceremony and reception. Knisley also created her own decorations and table settings to express her creative side. She did the traditional things like shopping for the perfect dress with her friends and family, arguing with her mother about the type of music for the reception, and staying up late to finish guest lists with her fiancé. Alongside Knisley illustrations, she added photographs from her year of wedding planning.

At the end of the day, Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride lets the reader into her own private world of wedding planning. It made me feel a little less anxious about my own planning endeavors.

This was my first graphic novel by Knisley. I enjoyed her honest and confessional writing style. Her other graphic novels follow this style as well. Here are a few we own at the library worth taking a look at: Relish, Kid Gloves, and Displacement.

 

 

Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu

A light, quick read with small-town urban fantasy vibes, diverse representation, and a pacifist take on the good vs. evil struggle.

In Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu, we meet Nova, a young witch who lives with her grandmothers in her hometown, working at their bookshop. She’s hard-of-hearing, skilled in magic, and passes the time with her non-magical, scientific best friend. But then she’s sent to check out a sighting of strange lights and a white wolf in the nearby woods. When she arrives she discovers the white wolf is not only real, but her long-lost childhood friend Tam. Non-binary Tam is on the run, from their family and from a sinister cult that has a nefarious use for werewolves in its quest to raise a demon. Nova and her grandmothers give Tam a safe place to stay, and much-needed allies against their mysterious enemies – and as time passes Nova and Tam’s friendship turns to romance. But the demon and the cult have to be dealt with, forcing both Nova and Tam to learn about trust and teamwork.

The wholesome atmosphere of this short graphic novel is a welcome respite, and the ultimate message of family and harmony with nature triumphing over darkness is a pleasing and hopeful read in 2021. Good interludes include scenes of Nova’s cultural heritage and her growth toward independence, alongside Tam’s healing from trauma and feeling at home with Nova’s family — and any scenes with Nova’s grandmothers. I appreciated reading a healthy, imperfect family dynamic, as well as casual representation of a non-binary character who uses they/them pronouns.

Easily readable in one sitting, Mooncakes is recommended for lovers of magical realism, coming-of-age stories, and gentle reads.

Get Graphic Series: Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Have you always wanted to read a classic, but find yourself picking up the latest beach read instead? I have a solution for you! Classic adaptations is our final topic in the Get Graphic Series. I have read many classics in my life; mostly from high school and college. I find my self now that I am older, forgetting the details of them. That’s why I like classic adaptation graphic novels. They are great at refreshing my memory of the classic I read long ago- and they are much shorter!

One of my favorite classics, Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut, was made into a graphic novel in 2020. It follows the story of Billy Pilgrim who has come unstuck in time. Traveling from his POW camp in World War II Germany to his Lions Club Meeting years later, Billy Pilgrim has no control over where he ends up next. And then in 1967, Billy Pilgrim travels to the alien world Tralfamadore. This is where he learns about time and how time “simply is.”

Ryan North and Albert Monteys create a Slaughterhouse-Five universe. They give faces and backstories to Vonnegut’s characters. They add timelines and comic strip like panels to give life to the numerous settings. This classic adaptation is never boring with the way North and Monteys portray it.

Several classics have been made into graphic novels. Here are a few we own at the library if Slaughterhouse-Five isn’t your first choice: 1984 by George Orwell, Anne Frank’s Diary by Ari Folman, Kindred by Damian Duffy, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, or The Great Gatsby by Fred Fordham.

So it goes.

Popular Manga Explained: My Hero Academia by Kohei Horikoshi

Have you ever wondered what the heck people are talking about when they rave about a series of manga (Japanese comics read from right-to-left) or anime (Japanese animation)? So have I – and luckily for you I have made it my mission to educate myself about things I never seem to stop hearing about. My latest escapade was into the wildly popular My Hero Academia manga series, which is also a smash hit anime available on DVD. Here’s my breakdown of what it’s all about, my reading experience and why all lovers of superhero stories and high school dramas should give it a try.

My Hero Academia is like The Karate Kid meets The X-Men. It imagines a world where 80% of people are born with a unique superpower, or Quirk, that sets them up for a life of superhero stardom or villainy (depending on their preference). In a world where amazing superheroes are commonplace, a boy named Midoriya (also called Deku) is their biggest fan and a dedicated memorizer of superhero trivia. He wants nothing more than to be a hero himself one day, but unfortunately for his dreams he was born without a Quirk – a fact his bully Bakugo (also called Kacchan) never lets him forget. Then one day, a chance encounter with All Might, the most legendary superhero of all, changes his fate and plunges him into the cutthroat world of the city’s best superhero training academy. Deku finds himself making new friends and enemies, meeting unusual classroom demands, AND struggling to master his new abilities without revealing how he got them. Action, hilarity, and inspiring determination ensue.

Personally, my main struggle with manga is getting into the right headspace – as translated works they have an entirely different culture built in which takes some getting used to when you start reading. Most obviously, you start at the opposite end of the book from where Western books begin, and you read from the right side of the page to the left. If you can make that switch, there’s Japanese names to master and a very dramatic art style. However, once I get my brain in the right gear, I love manga’s big-scale action and even bigger-scale emotions, not to mention the wildly creative character design. My Hero Academia in particular is the ultimate underdog story, filled with a wildly diverse set of characters, each with a very unique superpower to set them apart. I quickly got hooked and wanted more of Deku’s unending perseverance. Bonus: if you’re not into the different reading style, you can watch the anime to get the same story in color.

If you like teen dramas, superheroes, mutants, and/or underdogs, this may be a story for you. And the library has all the manga volumes AND anime seasons, so it’s never too late to jump in and experience the phenomenon.

Bloom by Kevin Panetta

As the summer gets rolling, you may want to read something restful, sweet, and nice to look at. If so, you might want to check out Bloom, a graphic novel written by Kevin Panetta and illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau.

Bloom is the story of Ari, who’s been working in his family’s bakery in a small beach town since he was a kid. Now he’s graduated high school and is under pressure from his band to move to the city – and he’s desperate to go, if only to figure out who he is and what he really wants. Unfortunately, his family’s not on board, and shames him for his trying to leave when the bakery is struggling. At his wits’ end, he decides to hire a replacement, someone to do the work with his parents so he’ll be free to leave. Enter Hector, an easygoing guy in town for the summer to clean out his late grandmother’s house. He loves to bake as much as Ari wants to avoid it, and so Ari starts to train him in the rhythms of the bakery so he can take Ari’s place. But nothing’s as simple as it should be; things with the band are changing, putting his plans in jeopardy, and being with Hector is starting to remind Ari of the love that runs through his family’s business and joy that comes from baking. Before long it’s clear that his relationship with Hector could also bloom into love — if only Ari could get out of his own way.

The good things about this graphic novel are many. Readers are immersed in the act of baking and in Ari’s Greek heritage, with the addition of Hector’s heritage later in the story. The art style is simple but charming, with a simple color palette highlighting beautifully rendered scenery with floral accents. The portrayal of family love and friendship love is starkly realistic and truly heartwarming, with both Hector and Ari finding comfort among their loved ones along with discomfort.

For me, being a graphic novel affected character development and plot too much; a lot seemed to be implied through brief scenes and imagery that I would rather have had spelled out and explained. I’m also never totally hooked by angsty characters with unsupportive parents and/or toxic friends. But overall it’s a sweet story and a quick read, and all the baking imagery gives off some definite Great British Baking Show vibes for me; if this sounds like your kind of coming-of-age summer romance, give it a try!

Bloom is available in print and on Overdrive.

The Backstagers by James Tynion IV, Rian Singh, and Andy Mientus

Today I’ve got something to recommend for lovers of both prose chapter books AND graphic novels! The Backstagers, by James Tynion IV and Rian Singh, started out as a young adult graphic novel series, but then was adapted into middle grade novels of the same name by Andy Mientus, and both give you an avenue into a tale of high school theater as a gateway into fantastical realms.

Here’s the basics: a boy named Jory transfers to an all-boys private high school, St. Genesius, and is pushed by his parents to join a club. First he considers joining drama club, only to discover that it’s much more exciting (and welcoming) being a backstager, the techs behind the scenes that make all the magic happen. Magic in this case is also meant literally: the backstage corridors lead into wild and unpredictable worlds of odd creatures, shifting passageways, and general mayhem. Jory jumps in feet-first and quickly bonds with the Backstagers crew: Hunter, Aziz, Sasha, Beckett, and two kindly senior stage managers. Together, it’s their job to keep the theater safe AND make sure the show goes on. It’s not an easy task, but the power of new friendship and budding romance is more than up to the challenge.

I started with the graphic novels, and I thought the art style was charming and the characters were diverse and full of personality. I’m very excited to read the prose novels and see this world fleshed out in more detail, with new adventures to experience. If you were a theater kid, have a devoted squad of friends, or loved either Stranger Things or Ouran High School Host Club, I recommend you try reading about The Backstagers (one way or another)!

Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazu

Have you ever unexpectedly read a book in a day? You sit down with it, figuring you’ll just start it, and before you know it, you’re done? That happens to me a lot, especially with fiction and graphic novels, so I wasn’t too surprised when I read Check, Please! Book 1 by Ngozi Ukazu from cover to cover in an afternoon. If you need a quick and lighthearted read, then I can’t recommend this book enough.

Originally published in 2018, this upbeat story follows Eric Bittle, dubbed “Bitty” by his teammates, as he starts school at Samwell University as part of the men’s hockey team. He navigates a much more challenging atmosphere than he’s accustomed to, including hockey that includes violent physical ‘checking’, of which he is deathly afraid. Luckily, his teammates are true friends – utterly supportive, relentlessly funny, and deeply appreciative of Bitty’s skill as a baker. Over the course of his freshman and sophomore years at Samwell, Bitty finds his place on the team and forges a strong bond (and an equally strong crush) on team captain Jack. But what happens when Jack and the others graduate?

I found this book completely adorable, with an endearing art style and lovable characters. The immersion into Canadian hockey culture was fascinating, and I appreciated that Ukazu didn’t overwhelm the reader with too many details, giving just enough information to keep you engaged. I also really liked that the story was told in the form of Bitty’s video blog entries; this was a clever narrative tactic that worked perfectly for the graphic novel medium. However, I wasn’t always satisfied with how the scenes were fleshed out: a lot of backstories and events had to be inferred from context or brief mentions, or understood only after multiple throwaway lines. Especially in the case of romantic storylines, I just wanted more. Luckily, there was a lot of additional material after the story – bonus comics and Bitty’s Twitter feed – which helped add some details and context.

If you’re a graphic novel lover, reluctant reader, hockey fan, or are looking for a fluffy read about friendship, falling in love, and LOTS of baking, this book may be for you.