More graphic novels! I swear, this year, I’ve read more graphic novels than I ever have before. For one, there are just more out there; they’re getting more and more popular, which I love. For two, I’m wandering over by the graphic novel section more, at least the middle grade section, thanks to my daughter. I love how quick they are to read, but how fully they tell a story. I’ll never stop being in awe of all the work that goes into creating them! (Seriously, one drawing takes me hours upon hours to do. I would die if I tried to create a graphic novel.)
First up is Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob (One World, 2019). Ms. Jacobs is Indian (born here to immigrant parents); her husband is Jewish; their son, Z, is mixed-race and is full of a lot of questions about what’s going on in the world during the time period where this book takes place, which is the rise and election of Donald Trump. He’s struggling to understand why people are so fearful of and angry at people who look like him and his mother, and how his beloved grandparents can support a man who says such awful things but still profess to love Z. The book also delves into Ms. Jacobs’ experiences with racism throughout her life.
This is a really wonderful graphic novel; the art blends drawings, cut-outs, and photographs, and they all blend together in a way that looks really fresh and fits the story well. Her son is introspective and hilarious in the random way that small children are, interjecting their weird little kid thoughts about superheroes and other non-sequiturs into the middle of important conversations. The book provides an excellent perspective that shouldn’t be missed, especially if you’re white. It’s so important to understand what our privilege looks like for those who don’t have it, and what it looks like to exist in this society without it and how those parents explain it to their kids. If you’re unable to get that from friends in real life (whether that’s because you lack a diverse friend group or you don’t know where to start asking those friends), this book is a thoughtful explanation of it all. I’d love to read more graphic novels from Ms. Jacobs and know how things are going with her in-laws these days…
Button Pusher by Tyler Page (First Second, 2022) is a graphic novel I picked up off the new shelves in the children’s section of the library. The title called out to me immediately, and I barely had to glance at the back to know that I needed to read this. Button Pusher is a graphic memoir, describing Mr. Page’s experiences growing up with ADHD, a subject that has turned really important to me with my own daughter’s diagnosis (which, believe me, explained SO MUCH). He details his impulsivity, his inability to focus in class, his hyperfocus on areas that interested him, and the behavioral problems that ensued. He also goes into detail about the problems in his family: his father’s anger problems, his parents’ turbulent marriage.
It really helps me to read accounts of ADHD like this so I can get a little bit of an understanding about what it’s like being in my daughter’s head. It doesn’t explain all her behavior – we’re still working on dealing with her anger and her tendency to lash out at me – but it helps to hear, again and again, that so much of this behavior isn’t controllable, at least not at first, and not at this age. That her brain works a little differently, and that she will eventually learn how to work with her unique brain, instead of it working against her. There are some heavy parts of this; Tyler’s dad gets physically abusive multiple times throughout the book, so I’d recommend this one for the mature middle grade reader, and all parents who are looking to gain an understanding of what growing up with ADHD looks and feels like.
And then we have Heretics!: The Wondrous (and Dangerous) Beginnings of Modern Philosophy by Steven Nadler and Ben Nadler (Princeton University Press, 2017). This was a cool little graphic nonfiction book about, obviously, some of the European philosophers who got modern Western philosophy off the ground. SO much of it was over my head – I don’t know that I’ll ever be able to really get into philosophy – but I enjoyed the quick journey into the past, the history, and trying to bend my mind around the deep thoughts of the historical figures portrayed in the book (I especially enjoyed the section on Baruch Spinoza, whom I’ve read about in several other books).
And finally, Flamer by Mike Curato (Henry Holt and Co, 2020), which tells the story of Aiden, a teenager at Boy Scout camp, worrying about starting high school in the fall, his parents (who fight all the time), and who he is. A lot of the other boys have sensed there’s something different about him; Aiden’s been the victim of bullying for years in school, but he’s trying to figure it all out. Is he gay? What does that mean for his life, his Catholic faith? Who is he, really?
I checked this out because it made a few lists of idiot people trying to get it banned from libraries, and…yeah, it’s just bigoted idiots. There’s absolutely nothing controversial here, just a teenage boy trying to figure out who he is. It’s a really well-done graphic novel, with great art and a sympathetic hero whose journey I think most kids will be able to identify with (the message, if not the exact content, and that’s likely the issue. The people who want books with gay characters banned don’t want us to be able to emphasize with them. All the more reason to pick these books up!).
And that’s it for now! Have you read any great graphic novels lately?