Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2024) Featured Review: Firebird by Sunmi

  • Firebird
  • by Sunmi
  • Publisher: HarperAlley / HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication Date: July 18, 2023
  • ISBN-13: 9780062981516

Caroline Kim is just trying to survive sophomore year; the “whatever” year of high school. But when she signs up for a peer tutoring program and meets beautiful, charismatic senior Kimberly Park-Ocampo, sophomore year becomes a little more exciting. As the relationship between Caroline and Kim deepens, Caroline finds herself questioning her sexuality, gender identity, relationship with her parents, and what exactly she wants from her future in this sensitive slice-of-life tale. 

Firebird presents a sapphic twist on high school romance tropes as the shy and studious Caroline falls for the popular Kim, in a story that evokes both classic American rom-coms and shojo manga. Unlike traditional romances, however, the story feels open-ended and allows Caroline’s gender identity and sexuality to remain realistically uncertain avenues for future exploration. The art is mostly black and white with occasional dramatic splashes of red, and the loose and expressive linework gives a sense of intimacy that suits the introspective themes of the book.

As a complex coming-of-age story with a sketchy, black and white art style, Firebird feels like a descendant of Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki’s Skim. Hand Firebird to readers who love slice-of-life manga with LGBTQ+ themes and traditional shōjo artistic devices like Yuhki Kamatani’s Our Dreams at Dusk. Readers who appreciated the diversity of Asian experiences and inclusion of Korean language dialog in Harmony Becker’s Himawari House will also find similar themes here. Pair Firebird with Deb JJ Lee’s In Limbo for teens interested in explorations of the Korean-American experience and complicated parent-child relationships. 

-Meg Bowie

Other Nominated Titles

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Release: April 18, 2024

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.