Click here to see all of the current Great Graphic Novels nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
Flamer by Mike Curato
Henry Holt & Co. / Macmillan
Publication Date: September 1, 2020
Aiden spends a last summer at scout camp before high school, which he dreads. He had a terrible middle school experience. He’s bi-racial and gay (though he can’t admit it yet) and doesn’t know where he fits in or how to be himself in a world that actively mocks both of those things. He is religious, confused, crushing on his tent-mate, and desperate to figure himself out while also enjoying the only place he has friends and can occasionally be himself.
This is a beautifully written and illustrated, heartbreaking, fictionalized memoir of Curato’s ‘90s childhood. It doesn’t shy away from the harsh language and bigotry faced by Aiden, nor does it offer glib or trite solutions to bullying and the realities of being gay and biracial at that time. While (trigger warning) Aiden does contemplate suicide, he does not go through with it, and the book offers some hope and guidance relevant to all teens about valuing yourself and identifying real friends.
Share this title with fans of Kiss Number 8, Shannon Hale’s Best Friends, and readers interested in ‘90s coming out stories like The Miseducation of Cameron Post.
Topside by J.N. Monk and Harry Bagosian
Graphic Universe / Lerner Publishing Group
Publication Date: October 1, 2019
Technician Jo heads “topside” after accidentally destabilizing her planet’s core. As she attempts to fix her mistake, she picks up new friends and finds new adventures along the way. But catching up to her are bureaucrats from the core, intent on catching Jo and making her fill out her missing paperwork!
Topside is a quiet sci-fi adventure that’s not mired in loud, rambunctious battles but rather finds softer beats in small actions and connections that run like currents beneath the surface. Jo’s steady determination and clear inner life will appeal to teens looking for heroes with more substance than flash. The striking and fantastical landscapes will satisfy dedicated sci-fi fans of all ages.
Readers that enjoy Topside’s mix of humor, heart, and adventure may also enjoy similar sci-fi fare like Cosmoknightsby Hannah Templer, Paper Girls by Brian K. Vaughan and Cliff Chiang, Magnificent Ms. Marvel, vol. 1: Destined by Saladin Ahmed and Minkyu Jung, and the animated CBS show Star Trek: Lower Decks.
One Year at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks
First Second / Macmillan
Publication Date: July 14, 2020
In this updated and full color story that was originally released in 2008, readers meet Juniper, who is having a hard time adjusting to life on scholarship at Ellsmere Academy. At first, she was excited to travel to this private school and really put her brain to the test, but after being bullied almost immediately because of her scholarship status, Juniper feels like this might not be the place for her. The thing is, Juniper is the ONLY student who is here on scholarship; all the other students are affluent and connected enough to attend as legacy students. Juniper is just about to throw in the towel when she meets Cassie, who is also ostracized by the school bully because of her family tragedies. After a rough first impression, they soon become fast friends and support systems for each other. The two friends not only have to deal with Emily’s cruel nature, but also the idea that there’s something mysterious living in the forest next to Ellsmere. They must work together to solve the mystery next door as well as show Emily that kindness is king.
The redrawn illustrations and beautiful colors by Shelli Paroline really bring this story to a new level. As compared to the original black-and-white-toned illustrations, the color really shows the reader who these characters are; they come to life with Hick’s re-inking and Paroline’s tones. Recommend it to fans of Hick’s previous works (Friends with Boys, Pumpkinheads) as well as fans of Hope Larson (All Summer Long) and Noelle Stevenson (Nimona).