Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2023) Featured Review of The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere by James Spooner

The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere by James Spooner
Mariner Books / HarperCollins
Publication Date: May 17, 2022
ISBN-13: 9780358659112

“Punk rock is Black music.”

James Spooner’s coming-of-age graphic memoir shows him navigating life as a biracial teen in 1990’s rural California. Here he grapples with figuring out who he is, not who people — his clueless white mother, his absent Black father, and his mostly prejudiced classmates, teachers, and community members — think he should be. Finding punk music and other Black punks helps him get closer to his true self. Set against a backdrop of an isolated desert community, The High Desert shows a Black teen wrestling with identity, racism, young love, and finding your voice through an alternative community.

The High Desert takes readers into the world of punk rock and DIY, teaching us about the roots of the movement as teenage James learns them. The sheer number of song references would make an amazing playlist*. The art is simple and expressive; it has the same vibrancy and rawness of ‘90s punk. Though there are a lot of racist (and some homophobic, sexist, and ableist) slurs used, they are authentic to the story, and Spooner both calls the terms out and puts them in context with present-day perspective footnotes throughout the book.

Teens who enjoyed Riot Baby by Tochi Onyebuchi and the Shadowrun Trilogy by Harebrained Schemes and Paradox Interactive will find a lot to love in this graphic novel, and it is a must-read for fans of punk music.  

*One of our committee members actually made such a playlist: High Desert Playlist

—Ness Shortley

Other Nominated Titles:

  • The Walking Cat, vol. 1-3: A Cat’s-Eye View of the Zombie Apocalypse by Tomo Kitaoka (October 26, 2021)
  • Messy Roots: A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American by Laura Gao (March 8, 2022)
  • Mashle: Magic and Muscles, vol. 5 by Hajime Komoto (March 1, 2022)
  • Mao, vol. 2 by Rumiko Takahashi (November 9, 2021)
  • The Awakening Storm: City of Dragons by Jaimal Yogis and Vivian Truong (September 21, 2021)
  • Kageki Shojo!!, vol. 2 by Kumiko Saiki (October 5, 2021)

The Selected Lists teams read throughout the year in search of the best titles published in their respective categories. Once a book is suggested (either internally or through the title suggestion form), it must pass through a review process to be designated an official nomination. 

Each week, the teams feature a review of one of the officially nominated titles. Additional titles to receive this designation are listed as well. At year’s end, the team will curate a final list from all nominated titles and select a Top Ten.

Published by

Great Graphic Novels for Teens

Great Graphic Novels for Teens Blogging Team @ YALSA's The Hub.