YALSA (the Young Adult Library Services Association) has put out its latest annual Great Graphic Novels for Teens list, a huge compilation of amazing comics. The list is an indispensable reference for parents, teachers, and librarians alike, as well as a nice tribute to the great wealth of different quality comics out there. In addition to the full list of Great Graphic Novels for Teens, the committee selected the following titles for its annual Top Ten list:
Aristophane. The Zabime Sisters. Trans. by Matt Madden. Aristophane was a French writer and artist who produced only a handful of comics works before his untimely death in 2007. The first of these to make it to the U.S. is the story of three sisters who live on the Caribbean Island of Guadalupe. We follow them on the way to see a fight between two local boys, one a notorious bully, while they engage in universal childhood pursuits that Tom Sawyer himself would have recognized: exploring the dangerous parts of the forest, stealing mangoes from the wrong orchard, sneaking a taste of rum to their own detriment. The writer proves deft at revealing the politics of childhood—the negotiations, cruelties, and kindnesses that exist between friends and especially between sisters—and the white expanses and thick, inky lines of his art readily evoke not only the proper emotions but also the sun-drenched environment. Lyrical, even literary in its tone, The Zabime Sisters is for developed readers looking for something off the beaten path. Includes suggested discussion questions
Dayton, Brandon. Green Monk. Self-published, – Green Monk follows the adventures of a Monk cast out of his order, wandering a mythical Russian countryside. His only companion is a magical blade of grass that draws him into a brutal struggle against a terrifying foe. «Imaginative ideas abound in this book, like a blade of grass that can cut mountains and a witch’s head held at bay by gripping its braided lock. Every single paneled page of this book is a simply lined work of art. This is the type of indie book I long for: filled with creativity and surprise, and most importantly, fun to read!» — Ain’t It Cool News
Iwaoka, Hisae. Saturn Apartments V. 1. As fans of Japanese comics know, character development is king in manga, and Saturn Apartments is a series that proves the rule. Humans have moved to an immense apartment complex in the sky after earth was declared a nature preserve, with those able to afford better views living on the top floors. After his father plunges to his death, middle-school graduate Mitsu takes over his dad’s job as a window washer, allowing him a view of all levels of both the structure and society. The detailed artwork, particularly the carefully rendered backgrounds, offers insight into the characters and their place in society that the narrative leaves out. There are no car chases, no high drama, and no explosions, yet the gentle stories are compelling, as are the characters and their palpable yearning for light, for love, and, most of all, for a glimpse of home. This story of a young teen struggling to live alone will appeal to YAs, and the introspective nature of the narrative will have plenty of crossover appeal for adult readers as well
Kim, Susan, et. al. Brain Camp. From its shock opening right out of a horror movie, this graphic novel sets the scene for an old-fashioned scare story. A throwback to the sort of paranoia that Rosemary’s Baby and The Stepford Wives capitalized on so well, the tale follows Lucas, a tough kid from the wrong side of the tracks, and Jenna, an Asian girl who isn’t measuring up to her siblings’ grade averages, as they are bundled off to Camp Fielding, where they’re guaranteed to become high-performance go-getters. But something very strange is going on there: counselors sneak into the cabins at night with hypodermic needles, and kids start acting like supersmart zombies. Kim and Klavan, who balanced adventure and kid’s social issues so well in City of Spies (2010), do the same in another well-rounded adventure here, as the far-out (and kind of gross) climax mixes with genuine insight into dealing with parents, fitting into a new crowd, and handling the pressures of performance. Hicks’ line work is cool enough to assuage older readers who might be suspicious of the summer-camp setting
Layman, John and Rob Guillory. Chew V. 1: Taster’s Choice. Tony Chu is a detective with a secret. A weird secret. Tony Chu is Cibopathic, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats. It also means he’s a hell of a detective, as long as he doesn’t mind nibbling on the corpse of a murder victim to figure out whodunit, and why. He’s been brought on by the Special Crimes Division of the FDA, the most powerful law enforcement agency on the planet, to investigate their strangest, sickest, and most bizarre cases.
Neri, G. and Randy Duburke. Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty. Gr 7 Up–In 1994, an incident of Southside Chicago gang-related violence captured national headlines. Eleven-year-old Robert «Yummy» Sandifer shot and killed his 14-year-old neighbor Shavon Dean. Neri’s retelling is based on public records as well as personal and media accounts from the period. Framing the story through the eyes and voice of a fictional character, 11-year-old Roger, offers a bittersweet sense of authenticity while upholding an objective point of view. Yummy, so named because of his love of sweets, was the child of parents who were continually in prison. While living legally under the care of a grandmother who was overburdened with the custody of numerous grandchildren, Yummy sought out the closest thing he could find to a family: BDN or Black Disciples Nation. In the aftermath and turmoil of Shavon’s tragic death, he went into hiding with assistance from the BDN. Eventually the gang turned on him and arranged for his execution. The author frames the story with this central question: Was Yummy a cold-blooded killer or a victim of his environment? While parts of the message focusing on the consequences of choice become a little heavy-handed, the exploration of «both sides of the story» is unflinchingly offered. In one of the final panels, narrator Roger states, «I don’t know which was worse, the way Yummy lived or the way he died.» Realistic black-and-white art further intensifies the story’s emotion. A significant portion of the panels feature close-up faces
Shiga, Jason. Meanwhile: Pick Any Path. 3,856 Story Possibilities.In this graphic-novel mind boggler, Shiga blows the choose-your-own-adventure concept out of the water. Readers play the role of little Jimmy and on the first page make the seemingly innocuous decision of ordering a vanilla or chocolate ice-cream cone. Tubes connect panels in all directions and veer off into tabs to other pages, creating a head-spinningly tangled web of a story (well, stories; the book claims to have 3,856 different possibilities). The crux is that Jimmy stumbles into the lab of an affable mad scientist and is allowed to tinker with three inventions: a mind reader, a time machine, and the Killitron, which obliterates all life on earth aside from the user’s. Jimmy’s carefree fiddling with the three devices isn’t merely a way to lead readers through the subsequent head trip of an adventure; it’s also just about the perfect kid-friendly initiation to the many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (no, really), in which each decision and action split reality into distinct parallel universes. It’s unfathomably, almost unreasonably complex. Given this book and a distraction-free hour or two, readers will either end up looking like Jimmy on the cover—clutching their skulls in googly-eyed exasperation—or will arrive at a nifty new way of looking at reality. It’s maddening and challenging, all right, but that’s precisely what makes it so crazy fun.
Telgemeier, Raina. Smile. Graphix, 2010. The dental case that Telgemeier documents in this graphic memoir was extreme: a random accident led to front tooth loss when she was 12, and over the next several years, she suffered through surgery, implants, headgear, false teeth, and a rearrangement of her remaining incisors. Accompanying the physical treatment came social rough spots with friends, while puberty delivered another set of curveballs with crushes, maturing bodies, and changing family expectations and judgments. Both adults and kids—including various dental professionals and younger siblings—are vividly and rapidly portrayed, giving quick access to the memoirist’s world. Telgemeier’s storytelling and full-color cartoony images form a story that will cheer and inspire any middle-schooler dealing with orthodontia. At the same time, she shows how her early career choice as an animator took root during this difficult period—offering yet another gentle reminder that things have turned out fine for the author and can for her reader as well.
TenNapel, Doug. Ghostopolis. Graphix, Frank Gallows, a weary officer from the Supernatural Immigration Task Force, and Garth Hale, a young boy with an unspecified incurable disease, are the dual heroes in this ghost-driven graphic novel. When Frank sends a troublesome horse skeleton back over to the afterlife, he accidentally zaps the boy along as well. The sinister ruler of Ghostopolis feels threatened by the boy (who, naturally, has all sorts of off-the-charts latent powers) and sends his buggy minions after him. Frank enlists the help of an ex-flame (who’s also a ghost) to cross over to the other side and rescue the boy. Sure, there’s a lot of characters with not a lot of characterization and a few too many good-for-you messages poking out from all the madcap antics, juvenile jokes, and overblown dramatics, but all in all, the story is a good blend of creepy, grotesque, and wacky. He’s got a few lumps to work out as a storyteller, but TenNapel—best known as the creator of the cross-platform character, Earthworm Jim—is a terrific cartoonist and in fine form here
Weing, Drew. Set to Sea. Fantagraphics, Who knew that the big galoot who can’t pay his tab and gets kicked out of a tavern is a poet at heart, gazing longingly into library windows on dark, abandoned streets? Certainly not the scurvy seadogs who kidnap him and send him to sea as a replacement for their lost crew, where he learns that the waters are possessed of a much different poetry than he ever suspected. With elegant simplicity, this comic-book fable unfurls the tale of a life cast on an unexpected course and the melancholy wisdom accrued upon the waves. First-time graphic-novelist Weing has produced a beautiful gem here, with minimal dialogue, one jolting battle scene, and each small page owned by a single panel filled with art whose figures have a comfortable roundness dredged up from the cartoon landscapes of our childhood unconscious, even as the intensely crosshatched shadings suggest the darkness that sometimes traces the edges of our lives.