Friday, November 05, 2021

Guy Graphics

Greene, Jarad. A-Okay
November 2nd 2021 by HarperAlley
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this semi-autobiographical novel, the main character, Jay, is starting 8th grade and dealing with increasingly bad acne. Since this is a new development, and earlier in middle school classmates taunted him for his "porcelain skin", it is crushing. He seeks help from his sister, who struggled a bit with skin issues, but this only results in missteps, like using a medication with concealer in it that also has fellow students taunting him. He has a couple of good friends, but their relationships get rocky, especially with Brace, his best friend. Brace starts to distance himself from Jay, and his bandmates increasingly ostracize Jay. There are a few instances of potential crushes, including a boy who like Jay, but Jay realizes he doesn't have romantic feelings towards anyone and may be asexual. After going through a couple rounds of ineffectual acne medication, he changes doctors and begins an aggressive course of Accutane, which has some unpleasant side effects. Will Jay be able to either clear up his acne, or make peace with his problems?
Strengths: This felt very true to life in the way it addressed several common middle school issues. Jay's adventures in forming his own style and identity, changing his clothing styles as well as his hair, are similar to what I see every day with my students. This issue of acne, which is widespread at this age, sees very little coverage in the literature, aside from Greenwald's The Real Us (2017), Howse's Zitface (2011), and Burns' excellent but definitely Young Adult Smooth (2020). The friendship drama is always of interest to my readers, and Jay's love of art will speak to many as well. 
Weaknesses: This seemed set a few years in the past, but I couldn't quite pin down an exact year. I'm also just a little unsure of how interested middle school readers are in ace-identifying characters, just because many students this age don't feel any attraction to anyone, not having reached that developmental stage. Gino's Rick (2020) also addresses this identification. 
What I really think: Compared to memoirs such as Mercado's Chunky or Tattulli's Short and Skinny, this is a little slow moving and has a more serious tone. I prefer graphic novels to have more of a sense of humor to them, because I think it's valuable for tween readers to see this coping mechanism in action. I think this is probably an outdated view, and one with which younger teachers and librarians might violently disagree. This is well suited for middle school audiences and a good choice where Raina Telgemeier's graphic novel memoirs are popular.

Edwards, Samantha. A Tale as Tall as Jacob: Misadventures with My Brother
November 9th 2021 by Andrews McMeel Publishing
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

When her brother is born, Samantha is a bit wary but thinks he is cute. From an early age, he earns a variety of nicknames for his behavior. When he pushes Samantha's chair across the kitchen when he is barely crawling, they call him "Hercules" and soon variations of "tornado" are in play. He pulls televisions down on himself, has trouble in school, and causes her parents to pay a lot of attention to his behavior. While she loves her brother, it is difficult to deal with him. Eventually, he is diagnosed with ADHD, and put on medication that slows down his dervish like behavior. 
Strengths: This was a good look at how hard it is to have a sibling who is challenging and demands a lot of one's parents. Jacob's behavior is treated in a balanced way-- we see how hard it is for those around him, but there's a lot of understanding, too. I liked that the focus was on Samantha. 
Weaknesses: The illustrations reminded me of the questionable sort of picture books one found in the 1980s and appear frequently on Awful Library Books, but perhaps that was on purpose. 
What I really think: There seem to be fewer graphic novels with boys as main characters, so this is a good choice if you feel your collection is imbalanced, or if you want a perspective on dealing with ADHD. Reminds me a bit of Mericle's Bad Sister
Ms. Yingling

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