I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

After May’s best friend, Libby, dies in a car accident, May is lost. The girls used to do everything together, including creating a comic series called “Princess X”. The comic features a strong female character (Princess X) who must take back her kingdom from usurpers. A few years after Libby’s death, May begins to see pictures of Princess X plastered around town. At first, May thinks the stickers and posters must be some sort of weird coincidence — someone must have copied Libby’s drawings. But, as the clues keep piling up, May isn’t so sure. Is Libby really dead? If not, where is she, and why does everyone think she’s dead?

Wow! I LOVED this book. I really like that it features strong, smart female characters who are obviously super talented. I also loved that we get to read the Princess X comments along with May’s story. While this book has a large “tech-thriller” aspect, don’t worry if you’re not tech-savvy; the book is still very easy to understand. I can’t lie, I read this book in almost one sitting because I just HAD to know what happened next. If you’re looking for a new mystery/thriller to read or if you love web comics/graphic novels, definitely try this book out. I just hope there are more!

*Lonestar, 2016

Rating: 4.5/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Tomboy by Liz Prince

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Labeled as a “tomboy” from a young age, Liz struggles to find a place in a hyper-gendered world. In this unique graphic novel memoir, Prince chronicles her battle with mainstream society in all its awkward glory. With each humiliating, painfully real episode, Liz sheds much needed insight into the consequences of forcing gender on individuals, as well as highlights the need for each person to determine his/her gender identity independently.

I LOVED this book! It’s a graphic novel, so that automatically catches my attention, and it’s a memoir. I love hearing people tell their stories! Liz’s book was particularly good because she talks about what it’s like to not fit in because of the way others perceive you. Because of her looks, people call Liz a boy. Liz doesn’t see anything wrong with being a boy (in fact she likes doing “boy” things), but she’s still made fun of because of it. In short, Liz isn’t allowed to be herself because the way she is isn’t “normal”. It was sad to read some of the parts of her story, but I feel like this is also an important book. Through Liz’s story, readers can really see what it’s like for someone who doesn’t fit into a predetermine role — whether gender or otherwise. This book really got me thinking about how I look at and treat other people, as well as the ridiculous standards society/the media places on gender.

Rating: 5/5 

*Maverick, 2014

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here. 

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks; Illustrated by Caanan White

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Using stark black and white illustrations, Brooks presents the story of the little-known unit, “The Harlem Hellfighters”. The first African-American unit to be sent to the front lines in WWI, the men also spent the longest number of days in combat and were heavily decorated. However, as Brooks illustrates, their success on the battlefield did little to ease race relations in the United States. Though the men fought bravely for their freedom, they were continued to be denied Civil Rights upon returning home. The graphic novel format of this piece brings the story to life and depicts very clearly the effects of racism in the U.S.

This one was great! I’m sad to say that I don’t know much about WWI (WWII gets most of the coverage in school), so I didn’t even know about the Harlem Hellfighters. I found it especially cruel that this brave unit was treated so poorly both abroad and at home after they risked their lives for their country. What’s more, their bravery did little to quell the racial tensions after the war. As civil rights continues to remain a relevant topic for the U.S., this graphic novel is an excellent piece to explore. The story is engaging and well-researched, and it sheds light on a lesser-known early civil rights battle. There’s action, adventure, some pretty heavy battle scenes, and the best part is that it’s a true story (with some fictionalized events/characters). I recommend this book to anyone who loves history, graphic novels, or adventure stories (just be warned that there are some graphic war images).

*Rating: 4.5/5

*Maverick, 2014

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown

Using beautiful illustrations, Brown tells the story of the formation of and devastation caused by the Dust Bowl. After the plains formed in the shadow of the Rocky Mountains, the Dust Bowl was the result of settlers’ continual tearing up of soil and poor farming techniques. The result was a ten-year long drought, and a storm of “dusters” (dust storms) which killed perhaps thousands and swept across the country. With Brown’s skillful artistry and and storytelling, the bleak world of the Dust Bowl comes alive in this historical piece accessible to all readers.

This is a very quick, very well-illustrated read. If you’re not a fan of history textbook reading (who is?), this might be a great pick for you when you are studying this era. Brown really does seem to make the time period come alive, and the graphic novel format helps readers to better understand just how miserable life in the Dust Bowl was. Though this isn’t an incredibly detailed piece (I really would have like more specifics about the Dust Bowl today), it’s a great place to start and there is further reading included in the back. Give it a shot — especially if you’re a fan of graphic novels!

*Rating: 4/5

*Maverick List, 2014
For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

March: Book One

In this graphic novel memoir, John Lewis recounts his humble beginnings as a sharecropper’s son, to his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s. Originally aspiring to be a preacher, Lewis found inspiration in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s nonviolent resistance movement, and soon turned his life’s mission from ministry to racial equality. Now a United States congressman continuing the battle for civil rights, Lewis’ story demonstrates that, with perseverance, anything is possible.

Though Lewis’ story takes place in the 1960’s, it is still highly relevant today. Civil rights have once again come to the forefront of our nation’s political climate, and many similarities can be made regarding the events Lewis describes to today. Written as a graphic novel, March does not read like a history lesson, and is a powerful read. Much discussion can be had regarding both the Civil Rights Movement and about the choices Lewis makes to become the leader he is today. If you are interested in this time period in U.S. history or enjoy graphic novels, give this one a read! My only negative comment is that the pace of the story seemed weird at times. If you’re not familiar with the Civil Rights Movement, you will want to do some background research to fill in some holes the story creates.

Rating: 4/5

*YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens, 2014

*Coretta Scott King Book Award Author Honor, 2014

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

Yang delivers another beautifully illustrated and entertaining novel in two parts, each addressing differing sides of the Chinese Boxer Rebellion of the late 19th century. In Boxers, Little Bao leaves his small village to lead forces against the “foreign devils” – troops and missionaries from other countries sent to westernize China. During his quest, Little Bao and his followers learn to transform into gods during battle, and soon begin targeting not only the “foreign devils”, but the “secondary devils” as well – Chinese citizens who follow the Christian faith. In Saints, Yang tells the story of “Four-Girl”, one of the “secondary devils”, who believes God chose her to be a maiden warrior for Christ.

I really enjoyed Yang’s Printz winning American Born Chinese, so I was excited to get my hands on another of his works. The new book didn’t disappoint! As I was unfamiliar with the Boxer Rebellion, Yang’s novel was a good way for me to learn about that time in history. The plot is entertaining, the illustrations amazing as always, and I appreciated how Yang’s characters, though they lived over a century ago, still face modern problems. Little Bao struggles to find a place in his family, and then must battle his own beliefs to determine how far he will go with the rebellion. Four-Girl finds herself labeled as useless and is intent on proving herself in a man-centered world. You can easily compare these characters to your own life, which makes the novel easy to read — it doesn’t feel like a history book!
As good as the novel set is, I will say the Saints is definitely the weaker companion. I enjoyed it because it showed events from a different character’s point of view, but I don’t think I would have liked it on its own. So, if you find a copy of Saints without Boxers at your library, don’t read it first! It’s worth the wait.
Rating: 4/5
*National Book Award Finalist
This one has a book trailer! Click here to see it.
For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.

Salem Brownstone by John Harris Dunning

 

When Salem Brownstone learns he’s inherited his absent father’s estate, he gets much more than he expects. Not far from his new mansion is a troupe of circus performers who used to work with his dad. After being attacked by the mysterious Shadow Boys, Salem learns from the circus people that his father was attempting to protect the world from evil – a task that has now fallen to Salem.

I have to say that the only aspect of this book I enjoyed was the art. Done exclusively in black ink, the illustrations are stunning and captivating — even when they’re a little weird. I will say that the layout is slightly off-putting sometimes. It can be easy to get disoriented when reading this graphic novel, though I appreciated the originality. Aside from the art, the storyline was extremely underdeveloped. I really didn’t care about any of the characters, and Salem’s mystery was put forward so early in the story that it didn’t make much sense. With plot holes of this caliber, I expected a series (or at least a sequel!), but there wasn’t one. Definitely a disappointment given its placement on YA lists, and praise from other authors. Check it out if you love graphic novels, though. The art is really worth a look.

Rating: 2/5

For full analysis (including flags and SPOILERS) click here.