By Kristina Naftzger
Teenagers, what took me so long to write to you about YA graphic novels? A question that you must surely ask yourself daily. The wait is finally over. Grab your cape, take my hand, and let’s not waste another second diving into the immersive world of YA graphic novels.
Of course, you must have guessed that I’m kidding about requiring a cape. The YA graphic novel genre transcends superhero comics — though those definitely have a permanent place in the library — and features all sorts of wildly varying subject matter, from flesh-eating ghouls to outings. I probably don’t have to convince you, but graphic novels do what regular novels can’t… like little movies on paper, they add layers of texture and depth to a story, pushing us to discover landscapes, characters and emotions with an extra cinematic punch.
The library has plenty of addictive YA manga series, like Sui Ishida’s “Tokyo Ghoul” (where you’ll find the aforementioned flesh-eating ghouls), Masahi Kishimoto’s “Naruto”, Kohei Horikoshi’s “My Hero Academia” and “Attack on Titan,” just to name a few, but today I want to write to you about a few standalone YA graphic novels that really moved me.
While reading Jarrett Krosoczka’s autobiographical “Hey Kiddo,” I was annoyed every time life forced me to put it down. Chores? I run away from them. Having dinner? Eat without me. Late for work? How unfortunate (just kidding, if my boss is reading this). Krosoczka’s illustrations are sophisticated and detailed, but great illustrations alone wouldn’t hook me…that was the story.
Krosoczka’s growth was pretty typical, which is if you don’t count the repeated trauma of his mother’s heroin addiction, his father’s absence, and his grandparents’ unwavering weirdness. . Krosoczka is a survival story, but not one stranded on a desert island. It’s also a love story, but don’t expect anything runny. While that sounds pretty heavy-handed, it’s not – give it a try if you’re in the mood for a sensitive coming-of-age graphic novel that leaves you inexplicably hopeful.
May I invite you to discuss Alice Oseman’s “Heartstopper” series? When British high school students Charlie and Nick meet in class, they aren’t exactly each other’s type on paper. Charlie is a twiggy 10th grader (a ninth grader by American standards) who was just released last year, and Nick is a sweet but seemingly very straight, very athletic, and very handsome rugby player. But they get on well, and it’s not long before Charlie earns a spot on the rugby team (he’s small but fast), and Nick finds himself increasingly drawn to Charlie – and questioning things he thought he knew about himself. The cute British banter will have you hooked, the irresistible characters and cliffhanger ending will leave you wanting more (which you can get from ‘Heartstopper’ Volumes 2, 3 and 4 – and a recently released Netflix series).
In Mike Curato’s “Flamer,” it’s summer and Aiden is obsessed with starting his freshman year in high school after a pretty miserable (very relatable) college experience. Oh, and he’s also at Boy Scout Camp, assigned to the Flaming Arrow Patrol. And he’s also in the midst of an identity crisis, struggling to understand how the biracial (Filipino and white), overweight, outdoorsy, Catholic and queer parts of himself can coexist. Friendship, crush, bullying, confusion, rage and shame reach a boiling point for Aiden. Read the book to find out if he’ll be able to muster the self-acceptance necessary to keep everything from going up in smoke.
One more! I can not stop ! If you’ve ever lost a loved one and then been swallowed up by the resulting heartache, consider reading Tyler Feder’s “Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir.” As the title suggests, the book recounts Tyler’s own experiences following the death of his amazing, creative, lovable, and outgoing mother – from clumsy attempts at condolences by benefactors to moments of utter despair. Believe it or not, some parts are genuinely funny, but those parts are offset by devastating, vulnerable, and honest parts, much like heartbreak itself. This book would also be a great guide if you are trying to support a grieving friend.
We did it. Now feel free to take your cape to the dry cleaners and head to Teen Underground at the AK Smiley Public Library, where all of these graphic novels and more await a fearless, compassionate reader just like you.
Kristina Naftzger is the Youth Services Librarian at the AK Smiley Public Library, 125 W. Vine St., Redlands.