Click here to see all of the current Great Graphic Novels nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
My Riot by Rick Spears and Emmett Helen
Publication Date: September 8, 2020
Seventeen-year-old Valerie Simmons thinks her life’s dream is to be a ballerina until her first night at her new job at an ice cream parlor. Rioters throw a brick through the window, quickly smash the store, and move on. Val is left electrified. While her ballet instructor pressures her to develop an eating disorder and take up smoking, her new friend Kat takes her to a rock show that makes her feel alive. During a two-month grounding for going to the show, Val listens to mix tapes and begins to rethink her identity. She decides to learn the guitar so she can form a band. As music replaces dance as her passion, Valerie gets into the Riot Grrrl scene, culminating in a trip to a music festival in Olympia.
My Riot has engaging artwork colored in purples and blues. Emmett Helen’s art is fantastic at capturing expressions and body language throughout, particularly in scenes where Val is fighting with her mother. While the depiction of eating disorders could be more nuanced and may be triggering for some readers (characters mention specific weights and the art depicts binging and purging), overall, the book is a compelling story of a young woman finding her voice.
For other comic books about young women in bands, check out Suncatcher by Jose Pimienta and All Together Now by Hope Larson. Readers interested in Riot Grrrl feminism may also enjoy Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu.
Heartstopper, vol. 2 by Alice Oseman
Graphix / Scholastic
Publication Date: November 10, 2020
At the end of volume one of Heartstopper, Charlie kissed Nick, who had been confused by his burgeoning romantic feelings for another boy, and the overwhelmed Nick ran off. Volume two finds Nick reaching out to Charlie, and they manage to talk honestly with each other and begin their romantic relationship. Nick continues to figure out his sexuality, and they deal with spending time with each others’ friends and navigating how to act in public while Nick is not out.
Romance fans will be glad this volume has a lot more kissing than volume one, and that Nick and Charlie’s relationship is much cuter and healthier than Charlie and Ben’s was at the beginning of the series. Nick realistically takes time to make decisions about coming out and struggles with the fact that his old friends may not accept him once he does. Two of the minor characters from volume one, Tara and Tao, are given larger roles in this book, and the LGBTQ+ representation is increased by the inclusion of Tara’s girlfriend Darcy and Tao’s love interest Elle, who is a trans girl.
Fans of Our Dreams at Dusk may enjoy how this volume of Heartstopper focuses on Nick getting comfortable with his bisexual identity and the expanding cast of queer characters. Other read-alikes include That Blue Sky Feeling and Fence.
The Times I Knew I Was Gay by Eleanor Crewes
Scribner / Simon & Schuster
Publication Date: October 6, 2020
As Ellie tells her story in this autobiographical tale of growing up and becoming your true self, she regales readers with stories of loving all the cool and different things that not a lot of other teens she knew liked: Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Willow especially), Goths, Rock, and anything spooky and scary. Ellie always had boyfriends, but she didn’t connect with them on the level that she saw everyone else doing. She felt awkward and not sure what to do. She figured that as soon as she got to University, everything would be different. She was working at being cool, which also meant actively controlling her food intake, in what Eleanor describes as a way to redirect herself from the fact that she was gay. In 2014, Eleanor came out for the first time. After returning to “heteronormativity” for a bit longer, she came out another four times in 2015. Eleanor explains that although coming out is seen as a singular, seminal moment, in her story, it took some time to get to her final truth. Ellie gets there and takes readers on a wonderful journey through her life and adventures that will speak to anyone who loves a happy ending.
Crewe’s beautiful and delicate black-and-white line drawings bring her stories to life perfectly. The illustrations never overpower the story she’s telling, and the words and pictures flow together in a way that seems like you are talking with an old friend. Crewes is very open and honest about her journey which shows that coming out can happen in a variety of ways and even over years. This is a touching, funny, and heartwarming story of one woman’s journey to what she was meant to be.
Recommend this to readers who enjoyed Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up With Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder, and Bloom by Kevin Panetta and Savanna Ganucheau.