This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki: A gorgeous graphic novel, which I appreciated very much in terms of artistry, storytelling, and thoughtfulness, but which never entirely grabbed me emotionally. I’m not sure how much of this is due to reading experience (I read it in two chunks) and how much is due to the fact that it was much more of a window book for me than a mirror one. That is, I experienced that age very differently and while I liked how true it seemed to a certain experience of teenage girl life, it didn’t quite resonate with me in the way I imagine it might for other readers. I did love the wordlessness of some of the panels, how the authors relied on these beats of silence to evoke the languid feeling of summer and the tense moments of a struggling family. (Kelly Jensen also has a really nice review of this one, which is worth checking out.)
The Unstoppable Octobia May by Sharon Flake: I’ve been looking forward to this one for a few months, ever since I saw the awesome cover art and premise on Edelweiss. Octobia May is a stubborn, curious girl, who believes that one of the lodgers at her aunt’s house is a vampire. When she attempts to prove this, she uncovers a far different, but equally sinister, state of affairs. I liked this one, although I find it a bit hard to grapple with in a certain way. There’s a lot about being black, being a black woman and therefore unable to get a loan from a bank, and Octobia May’s desire to circumvent all of these rules. In the end, I think, she comes to understand that it’s more complicated than that. And yet, I struggle with how to characterize the book’s larger message, which I only say because I felt that there was one and I didn’t quite get it. Maybe that’s just fine and it’s not a book that in that sense is meant for me (I still loved the mystery and Octobia May herself, so it worked for me on that level). I also want to know more about Octobia May’s family and her somewhat mysterious illness. Hopefully there will be more from Flake about these characters.
The Crossover by Kwame Alexander: I’m not normally a big fan of basketball books, and this is a book “about” basketball. I’m not normally a fan of books in free verse–too often I just don’t see the form justified. But I can’t imagine The Crossover as anything but poetry. Alexander writing as Josh is by turns thoughtful, lyrical, hilarious, and heartbreaking. Some of the poems are bubbling over with effervescence, some are somber and quiet. All of them feel like a teenage boy, grappling with some of the biggest changes he will ever face. Basketball is Josh’s love, and that shows in several of the poems, but it’s not really what the book is about: it’s about family and love and forgiveness and growing up. And it’s the first book in quite some time that made me just full-on cry. I can’t recommend it enough.
El Deafo by Cece Bell: A graphic memoir by Cece Bell, showing her childhood after she suddenly went deaf following an illness. I really liked it, especially the way it showed how she navigates the world with the help of lip reading and other artificial aids, but never let that be the only point of the story. It’s clear and funny, and I think a lot of kids will get Cece’s desire to find a best friend, and the journey that desire takes her on. There are also some fun interludes as she imagines herself as a superhero (the titular El Deafo). I also really appreciated the afterword, which goes a bit more into the deaf/Deaf culture and how her experience was perhaps a bit different than many others.
The Magic Thief: Home by Sarah Prineas: Fourth book in the Magic Thief series, and a Cybils nominee. Conn and his friends are faced with a new issue as someone is stealing the locus stones of all the magicians in the city. Meanwhile, Rowan as the duchess has named Conn the ducal magister, which he is not happy about at all. (Nor are most of the other magisters, to be fair.) This one is perhaps best for readers who have finished the other books in the series, but it’s just as delightful. Conn is of the plucky slightly-amoral type of character, but at the same time he has a good heart and part of his journey is learning to trust others. A great one for the kid who will love The Thief in a few years.