Saturday, August 06, 2022

Invisible: A Graphic Novel

Gonzalez, Christina Diaz. Epstein, Gabriela (illus.) Invisible: A Graphic Novel
August 2nd 2022 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Jorge, who goes by George in school, is apprehensive when called to the principal's office in his middle school. His family has moved out of the district, but he's hoping this isn't brought to their attention until after the end of the year, so he can apply to a magnet high school. It turns out that he and four other students have not met the required 3.5 hours of community service needed for the principal, Mr. Powell, to keep his award for perfect participation. Because the five students all seem to have something in common, they are put together on a crew to help the irascible cafeteria managed, Ms. Grouser, clean up in the mornings. The only problem? Even though they are all Latinx, and the principal thinks they don't speak English, they are all very different. George is of Puerto Rican descent but doesn't speak much Spanish, Miguel (who plays baseball) is Dominican, Dayara is Cuban, Sara is Mexican, and Nico is Venezuelan. We meet all of them when they have been brought into the principal's office to be interviewed after an "incident" and the children clearly think they are being blamed for something. They recount their experiences working in the morning in the cafeteria. We learn more about each student, including the fact that Dayara has a learning disability but isn't getting the help she needs, and Sara misses her mother and brothers in Mexico. Nico seems like he's rich, but he's living with an elderly great aunt while his parents are struggling to escape a  bad political situation. The children meet a little girl outside of school, and learn that Lisa and her mother are living in their van near the school because the mother is having a hard time finding work. They bring the little girl toys and books, and try to bring food as well, either things that were going to be thrown away, or things that they bring from home. They are always afraid of being caught, because Ms. Grouser is horribly mean and racist to them. Nico especially wants to help, and manages to talk to someone at a local restaurant who needs a waitress. Of course, the group is caught just as they are starting to help the struggling family, and they fear they are going to get into big trouble in the principal's office. Is that why they are being interviewed, or does the book have a happier ending? (Spoiler: It does!)
Strengths: Even though Isla to Island has some Spanish in it, it's mainly wordless, so this is the first bilingual graphic  novel I've seen. I love Gonzalez's other work like The Red Umbrella and Concealed, and she can apparently write a wide variety of types of books with great success. Invisible definitely has more of a social justice theme, which is very timely. It's great to see the variety of Latinx students portrayed, and see a little bit about how their backgrounds play into their experiences at school. Nico, whose parents have sent him to live with his great aunt in order to keep him safe, is the most interesting to me, but all of the children have their talents and challenges. While Ms. Grouser is horrible, the other adults end up being more helpful than the students expect, which was good to see. I loved that the students wanted to help Lisa and her mom just because it was the right thing to do. 
Weaknesses: The graphic novel format left me wanting to know a lot more about each of the characters. 
What I really think: This is a great choice for readers who want to broaden their experiences with graphic novels that have cultural connections. I've been thinking a lot about the We Need Diverse Books movement that started in the early summer of 2014, and marvel that there such a growing number of all kinds of books that explore difference cultural identities. For other Latinx graphic novels, check out Farjado's Miss Quinces and Fern├índez's ¡¡Manu!!.

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