It’s been a couple of weeks since YALSA’s 2013 book awards and media lists were announced, but we here at The Hub wanted to delve a little deeper into some of the more exceptional titles we saw last year. Despite the fact that graphic novels continue to increase in popularity, availability, and quality, there are still many people who simply don’t read them and, subsequently, have a difficult time figuring out which ones are good choices for teen readers. We intend to fix that by taking a closer look at the 2013 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Top 10 in a three-part series. Today’s post will tackle the three non-fiction titles that made the list.
First up is Derf Backderf’s My Friend Dahmer. I won’t lie: I’m not so good with true crime and I put off reading this as long as I could, but once I opened the cover I simply couldn’t put it down. Seamlessly blending true crime and memoir, the author recalls his relationship with high school classmate Jeffrey Dahmer. Why did this make the GGNFT Top 10? The unforgettable and honestly-told story is served remarkably well by the author’s use of the graphic format. Backderf’s drawing style perfectly evokes the time period, and he uses the black-and-white palette to its fullest effect, creating darkly emotional panels that brilliantly convey Dahmer’s internal struggles. It is a horrific and difficult story, but Backderf tells it with a surprising level of emotional complexity, depth, and even compassion. This one also made the 2013 Top Ten Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers list and was named a 2013 Alex Award winner, which means you had better go read it this instant.
Author Jonathan Fetter-Vorm accomplishes an impressive feat by making the science behind the atomic bomb both fascinating and easy to understand in Trinity: A Graphic History of the First Atomic Bomb. Chronicling the Manhattan Project from the first words of warning against making such a powerful weapon to the tragic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Fetter-Vorm examines the creation of the first nuclear device from personal, ethical, and political angles. This one earned its place on the Top 10 with storytelling that was as captivating as it was educational, an unbiased presentation of facts, and some of the most creative and effective use of paneling the committee saw all year.
In a subject already crowded with titles, Joseph Lambert not only brings a fresh take but does it in a most unexpected way in Annie Sullivan and the Trials of Helen Keller. Much of this book reveals the heartbreaking and brutal adolescence of Annie Sullivan, which will no doubt be new to many readers. More impressively, Lambert uses the graphic format to convey the innermost thoughts and emotions of Helen Keller as she develops her relationship with Sullivan and learns to communicate with the world around her. While the sequential paneling itself isn’t ground-breaking, his ability to convey the loneliness, confusion and isolation of Helen Keller’s internal world with just sketchy lines is impressive in both simplicity and emotional resonance. This is a great example of how powerful the format can be.
Join us next week as we take a look at a whole new Spider-Man, the challenges of moving from home school to high school, and what happens when magical forest creatures discover a fallen angel.
— Summer Hayes, currently reading the 2013 Alex Award winner Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt