Wednesday, June 15, 2022

Between Shades of Gray: The Graphic Novel

Written by: Ruta Sepetys (adapted by Andrew Donkin and Dave Kopka)

First line: They took me in my nightgown.

Why you should read this book: This brutal and heart-rending story tells of the treatment of Lithuanian people by Russian invaders before and during World War II. I just grabbed it off the shelf without realizing it was a graphic novelization of a traditional novel, and such books often have to leave out a lot of details, but this work was terrifying enough to make me cry dozens of times in the brief span it took me to consume. Lina, her mother, and her younger brother are packed into livestock cars and shipped to Siberia, where they spend years being abused and nearly worked to death.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It is very, very hard to read: the bad things that happen are so awful, and the good things are so small and infrequent and don't seem to compensate for what Lina and her family and friends go through.


Written by: Elisa Amado and Abraham Urias

First line: This story just happened to me earlier this year.

Why you should read this book: A realistic (but apparently fictional) account of a child traveling to America to seek refuge from violence in his home country. Manuelito's parents are afraid he will be kidnapped and forcibly inducted into a violent gang in Guatemala, they send him, along with his best friend, to his aunt in America, accompanied by an unscrupulous coyote, or human trafficker. The journey is difficult, the coyote is useless, Manuelito's experience at the American border is inhumane, and this is a story that needs to be understood by any fools railing against immigrants.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're one of those assholes who decided to buy a gun and patrol the Mexican border.

The Wild Party

Written by: Joseph Moncure March (drawings by Art Spiegelman)

First line: Queenie was a blonde, and her age stood still,/And she danced twice a day in Vaudeville.

Why you should read this book: As far as I am concerned, this is the best poem anyone's ever written about anything; it just happens to be about love, lust, jealousy, booze, the jazz age, theater people, and the human condition, and also it rhymes. Like, imagine if The Great Gatsby and the musical Chicago got drunk and had a one-night-stand and their baby was more beautiful than either of them had ever aspired to be and also depicted people as they actually are and actually behave, that's The Wild Party. It's a relentless, fast-paced journey into the psyche of the artistic temperament and the passions that keep it ebbing and flowing like the moon's pull on the ocean. occasionally sweeping the not-so-innocent bystander out to sea.

Why you shouldn't read this book: With frank discussions of sex and sexuality and even a few words about race, this nearly 100-year-old book was once considered too controversial to see print.


Written by: Jason Reynolds

First line: Check this out.

Why you should read this book: It's been three years since Castle Crenshaw's father "lost it," and since then, Castle, who wishes people would call him Ghost, has been sliding into his own anger and giving his impulse control free rein, until the day he randomly decides to prove that he's faster than the fastest kid on an extra-curricular track team. Suddenly, he's a member of the team and being asked to uphold a higher standard of behavior than his mother, who works full time and goes to nursing school, can enforce. As running takes on greater and greater importance in his life, Ghost finds that he wants to hold himself to a higher standard as well; he just doesn't know if he can.

Why you shouldn't read this book: What his father does is PTSD-inducing; might not be appropriate for younger or more sensitive readers.

New Kid

Written by: Jerry Craft

First line: This is how I feel every single day of my life, like I'm falling without a parachute.

Why you should read this book: What Jordan wants to is to go to a school that offers an enhanced art education, or at least to stay in the local school where he knows everyone; what Jordan is getting, at his mother's insistence, and despite his own and his father's misgivings, is to go to a private prep school where he's one of three Black kids in his grade. As the year unfolds, he begins to make friends with all different kinds of other kids while navigating microaggressions from students and teachers alike, trying to maintain his credibility in his own neighborhood, and learning how to handle bullies and weirdos and his own insecurity. A fast-paced year later, Jordan really is a new kid, one who can stand up for himself and others and still be kind, even when that kindness hasn't necessarily been earned.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You already have a closet full of salmon-colored polo shirts and shorts. 

Sunday, May 29, 2022

My Wicked Stepmother

Written by: Norman Leach and Jane Browne

First line: My name is Tom.

Why you should read this book: A little boy, who was satisfied living alone with his father, recounts how much he despised his new stepmother, who has clearly enchanted his father to believe she's young and beautiful when she's clearly an old and ugly witch. Although the stepmother is unfailingly sweet and loving even though the other people in Tom's life aren't as kind, he rejected her repeatedly until makes her cry, at which point he finally feels bad about his behavior. When Tom hugs and kisses his stepmother, he decides he must be a wizard with the power to transform an evil stepmother into a fairy godmother with a single kiss. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: I don't think kids actually flip their opinions about stepparents simply because they realize that they're being hurtful; most kids are more likely to double down on the meanness at the first sign of tears.

Buy My Wicked Stepmother Now

White Bird

Written by: RJ Palacio

First line: Julian, no more video games.

Why you should read this book: This is a graphic novelization of one of the sections of Palacio's Augie and Me: Three Wonder Stories, which stands alone as a one-off story (with a few additions), and is currently being made into a feature film. Julian's grandmother Sarah recounts the story of how she spent the latter days of World War II as a hidden child, confined to a barn and cared for by the family of an unpopular boy who had been universally bullied when they were in school together. Sarah recounts the terror and the tender moments, ending with an admonition to always stand up to injustice and remember to be kind.

Why you shouldn't read this book: There are plenty of nonfiction hidden child narratives that aren't actually publicity materials for upcoming films. 

Buy White Bird Now

Thursday, May 26, 2022

Friends Forever

Written by: Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham

First line: And this year...I was an eighth grader.

Why you should read this book: In a stunning conclusion to the powerhouse trilogy about childhood friendships and growing up as a girl, Shannon must navigate not only the convoluted world of friendship, but also boys, relationships, personal appearance, and what she eventually learns is an anxiety disorder. Often insecure and frequently feeling left out, even when she's in the midst of her companions, she sometimes missteps and pushes herself further from the center in her attempts to belong and reassure herself of her own goodness and self-worth. However, through breakups, depression, confusion, and disappointment, Shannon learns to love and accept herself, to see navigate her most complicated friendships, and even to see her parents in a whole new light.

Why you shouldn't read this book: It stands alone, but it also makes more sense if you've read the first two books.

Buy Friends Forever Now

Monday, May 16, 2022


Written by: Mike Curato

First line: Put that out before you burn the whole camp down!

Why you should read this book: Aiden is just trying to enjoy his summer at scout camp, far from his father's violence, his mother's depression, and his little twin siblings, but as the summer progresses, it's hard for him to hide two very important details from himself any longer: first, many of the guys in his patrol are ragingly homophobic, and second, Aiden is flamingly gay. Even though he's not quite ready to come out to himself, the other guys seem to know his secret no matter how hard he tries to act straight, and even that is increasingly difficult as he develops an intense relationship with the handsome and cool Elias, who seems to like him despite the other kids jokes. Set in the '90s, this book touches on the official anti-queer position of the Boy Scouts at the time, along with self-harm, the symbolism of Catholicism, and, of course, all the pleasure of summer camp including archery, basket weaving, and bears. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're ragingly homophobic.

Buy Flamer Here

Miss Quinces

Written by: Kat Fajardo

First line: "And they never saw him again."

Why you should read this book: Fifteen-year-old Suyapa wants to spend the summer drawing comics and camping with her friends, or at least, keeping up with them on WhatsApp, but unfortunately, she has to spend a month in Honduras with her mother's side of the family, far from civilization with no internet at all. And what's worse, her mother has decided that Suyapa is going to have a princess-pink quinceaƱera, even though Sue has indicated numerous times that she hates big poofy dresses, has zero interest in high heeled shoes, can't dance, and despises the color pink. But the ritual and celebration she's been refusing for so long turns out to have important cultural implications for her family, and as Suyapa comes to a better understanding of who she is in the context of the people who love her, the idea of a quinceaƱera takes on new meaning—especially if everyone can make a few little changes here and there in order to help her feel more comfortable with her big day. 

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're still traumatized by all the times they forced you into dress clothes that didn't suit you at all, and no one ever once appreciated your own personal style.

Buy Miss Quinces Here!