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The YA Graphic Novel

The graphic novel continues to see growth in readership and availability. Once relegated to comic book stores and "struggling" readers, graphic novels now serve a community of readers appreciative of the beauty of art combined with carefully sparse storytelling and can be found at mainstream bookstores, libraries and schools. What is a graphic novel? Definitions abound on the internet. For example:

1. A graphic novel is a narrative work in which the story is conveyed to the reader using comic form. The term is employed in a broad manner, encompassing non-fiction works and thematically linked short stories as well as fictional stories across a number of genres.

2. A comic book that is longer in format than the usual “pamphlet,” and typically contains a complete story unto itself. Graphic novels usually have higher production values than the typical stapled comic; ie hardcover volumes, squarebound, or dust-jacketed.

3. A square bound comic with a long, complete story. Sometimes it is a reprint of several comic books.

4. Quite simply, a novel with graphics or images. Graphic novels are much like comic books with a panel presentation and text within the image panels. Several pieces of classic literature are available as graphic novels.

Yes, Japanese manga are graphic novels, as are compilations of shorter comic books a la super hero stories. But graphic novels are more than that: they are non-fiction, they are humorous, they are gritty, they are light, they will cause a smile to break out, they will break your heart. Here are three reviews of three very different graphic novels:


review by kristin miller

Based on the life and death of Robert "Yummy" Sandifer, YUMMY: THE LAST DAYS OF A SOUTHSIDE SHORTY chronicles and questions the environment that turned the 11-year old Chicago boy into a killer. The main character, eleven year old Roger, wants to make sense of the death of Yummy and the 14-year old girl he killed. But before he can figure out the whys of Yummy's death, he has to sort through the murk of Yummy's life; of the life of his own brother, Black Disciples gang member Gary; and of the multiple tentacles of the social community and state reaching in to attempt to make things better for Yummy - and failing. The artwork is as gritty and well-done as warrants a story like this, with a fantastic noir vibe, but it's the sparse and effective text that truly broke my heart. The brilliant two page spread of "professional" opinions about Yummy, including pieces from President Clinton's speech about the murder, contrasted poignantly with the close community of friends and family trying to come to terms with how and why an 11-year old boy ends up accused of murder. And Roger's honest and oft-times confused thoughts mirrored my own. Roger doesn't come up with an easy answer because there isn't one. But readers will appreciate the various ways he questions the life and death of a boy who was both bully and victim. YUMMY is one of the most difficult and beautiful graphic novels I've seen and will linger with me for a long time.

SERENITY: THOSE LEFT BEHIND written by Joss Whedon and Brett Matthews, ill. by Will Conrad and Laura Martin

review by amanda hannah

It’s 2517 and the plant Earth, no longer able to sustain the heavy population, is but one of many different planets that have undergone terraformation to become inhabitable. Malcom Reynolds, a staunch Independent and veteran Brown Coat, defies the Alliance’s forced unification. Instead of settling onto one of the new planets and abiding by their rules, he assembles a crew aboard his ship Firefly. Somewhat directionless after the war, their only goal is to keep flying and stay out of the Alliance’s view. Their main work? Smuggling.
The novel opens with the crew in the middle of a job gone bad, and steadily getting worse. Narrowly making it back to the ship alive, Malcom is contacted by Badger. He claims the bloody Battle of Sturgis had all been started over a crate of cash—cash that’s still hidden among the wreckage. And he’s got the exact coordinates of its location. Against protests from some of his crew, Malcom calls for the coordinates to be set.
THOSE LEFT BEHIND was written to serve as a bridge between the short-lived television series, “Firefly”, and the movie, “Serenity”, that would later be released. The graphic novel perfectly captures the show’s Western flair of gun slinging and the futuristic battle of the stars. People familiar with the show will see the characters brought to life on the page with their quick, well-timed dialogue and spot on drawings.

Happyface by Stephen Emond

review by emilia plater

When awkward high school sophomore Happyface (that's his alias) has to change schools in the wake of his parents' divorce, he decides to reinvent himself as the popular, outgoing happy kid - even though he's grieving inside. What follows is a roller-coaster ride of unrequited crushes, hardball emotions, and thought-provoking themes. The story is doled out with a deft hand, accompanied by some really gorgeous drawings, hilarious doodles and comics, and IM chat sessions that reminded me like crazy of conversations I've had with my own friends. I could see this book in the hands of any guy, but even as a girl I felt like I was in Happyface's shoes. The character of Happyface is beyond endearing, someone we've all met before or have been ourselves. He's sarcastic, funny, insightful, and most importantly, real. This is a graphic novel that leaves you with a story to consider, some great art to marvel at, and a protagonist fall in love with.
Kristin Halbrook

Kristin Halbrook is the author of the critically-acclaimed young adult novels Nobody But Us (HarperTeen, 2013) and Every Last Promise (HarperTeen, 2015). She likes many things.

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  1. I've never read a graphic novel. Maybe I should change that. :)

  2. I love graphic novels. They are really a good mix of art and storytelling. Scott Pilgrim is one of my newest favorite novels, but I haven't read any non-fiction based graphic novels.

  3. This was a killer post idea, and so well done. I love seeing your three different reviews. Awesome!

  4. I'd recommend the GN Blankets to any and all. Some of the best writing you'll find, and the artwork is beautiful!

  5. Thanks for the reviews. Graphic novels are one of those formats I like a lot, but I haven't read a lot. The first GN I read was The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and I loved it.

    I've never seen a GN based on actual events, so definitely checking that one out.

  6. Zot by Scott McCoud is nothing short of amazing.

    Box Office Poison is a little bit more mature than YA book a good story.

    Sandman got me through some of my hardest times as a teenager.

    I hate it when people ignore comics as not a legit way of storytelling or as art.

    After 9-11 there were a lot of books done about real life events. Mostly since lots of comic book writers live in New York, there were a lot of personal accounts of it.

  7. Laika- this book is nothing short of amazing. it's about the first dog to go up in space.

  8. Thanks for the comments and doubly thanks for all the GN recommendations! I'm not an old hand with GNs myself, so I'm glad to hear about which GNs you all love so I can check them out. They are such a great genre of writing and art. :)

  9. great post glad to see other bloggrs writng about graphic novels i'm a huge manga, and graphic novel lover :)


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Item Reviewed: The YA Graphic Novel Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Kristin Halbrook