Click here to see all of the current Great Graphic Novels nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
Heartstopper, vol. 1 by Alice Oseman
Graphix / Scholastic
Publication Date: May 5, 2020
Charlie Spring is halfway through Year 10 (British equivalent to 9th grade) when he is placed into a new vertical class group and is seated next to Year 11 student Nick Nelson. Shy, openly gay Charlie is worried that rugby player Nick will end up being a bully, but the two strike up a friendship. As they grow closer, Charlie struggles with what he assumes is an unrequited crush, and Nick starts to question if his feelings for Charlie are romantic. And if they are, what does that mean in regards to his identity?
Heartstopper is a slow-paced and charming love story that could provide necessary mirrors for LGBTQ+ teens. Charlie has been bullied in the past and is in an emotionally unhealthy relationship at the start of the narrative, and Nick furtively Googling “am i gay?” is a moment many will relate to. Heartstopper was originally posted as a webcomic, and the physical edition has updated artwork. Oseman redrew many of the original panels and added shades of teal to the black & white palette.
Fans of Alice Oseman’s prose works are a natural audience for Heartstopper, especially since her debut novel, Solitaire (2015), included Charlie and Nick as secondary characters. Other readalikes are m/m romance comics like Check, Please! by Ngozi Ukazi and Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau. And Charlie and Nick’s physical similarities to Billy Kaplan and Teddy Altman could be a boon for Young Avengers fans, if they don’t mind thinking of it as an alternate universe where no one has superpowers.
The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers / Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: January 7, 2020
When Jane Beckles narrowly escapes a bombing, her parents move the family out of the city and into a suburban community. When Jane arrives at her new school, she unknowingly sits at a table with three other Janes. After seeing a blank canvas in a new construction site of a strip mall, Jane convinces the others to create political art. They build pyramids and post a sign that reads “The pyramids lasted 1000s of years, do you think this strip mall will?” The local police are not thrilled with what they think of as trespassing and defacing property, and the Janes have to fight for the art’s existence and even apply for a grant to place their installations in a local park. Throughout their three final years of high school, the girls work on installation art, grow closer together and at times further apart, but ultimately the art and the message behind the art is the key that keeps them together.
The Plain Janes is divided into three parts—two having been previously released. This new completed edition also features each part (which is the Janes’ sophomore through senior years of high school) in a different color—blue, pink, and green—so readers will get the feeling of progress as they make their way through each section. Each of the four Janes’ stories is enjoyable and filled with the growing pains of young adulthood, although Jane Beckles’s story is definitively the most developed. Overall, this book contains the message that art can be healing while equally expressing resistance and activism.
Readers that enjoy subverting the status quo will also enjoy the graphic novel Go With The Flow by Lily Williams and Karen Schneemann.