Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2025) Featured Review: Aya: Claws Come Out by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie

  • Aya: Claws Come Out
  • by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
  • Drawn and Quarterly
  • Publication Date: February 6, 2024
  • ISBN-13: 9781770467019

It’s been more than a decade since the first volumes of Marguerite Abouet and Clément

Oubrerie’s sprawling historical novels centered the extended families of the famously independent title character and her two best friends in Yop City, a working class area of Abidjan, the largest city in the Ivory Coast. As this volume opens with the election of Mitterand, Aya, “the most sensible one in the neighborhood,” is at college for law. After the disco and neighborhood dramas of the 1970s incarnations, Claws Come Out has Reagan-era energy, maintained with the throughline of workplace farce as Aya seeks a corporate internship and Bonaventure takes Gregoire under his wing at his conglomerate, Solibra. A parallel storyline 3700 miles away, in Paris, finds Inno arrested after intervening in police harassment. He negotiates whether to push his asylum claim or return home with his French partner Seb, and his experiences are contrasted with those of his former flame Albert, as they are both forced into relationships of convenience.

Darker than the original series, but nonetheless maintaining an overt soap opera sensibility, Claws Come Out has an emphasis on mass media that provides timely commentary on fame and empathy as Bintou’s notoriety, found through role as a homewrecker, is her undoing. In the climactic sequence, Bintou’s televised interview is interrupted by breaking news from the University where the blameless Aya is arrested at a campus protest, a scene that could be ripped from the headlines today.

While earlier volumes were lighter in tone, with appeal to shojo and Austen readers alike, the cast of characters from Yopougon are now older, more serious, and more political, and as result it reads more like the work of Marjane Sartrapi or Zeina Abirachad. Characters negotiate arrest, deportation and systemic barriers to documentation in France, and the disenfranchisement of Cambodian students in the Ivory Coast is also emphasized, evoking gems like Hostage by Guy Delisle or Anthony Del Cole and Fahmida Azim’s I Survived a Chinese Internment Camp. This is a thoughtful series for teens with interest in global history and culture.

–Wendy Stephens

Other Nominated Titles

Release Date: May 7, 2024
Release Date: October 24, 2023 

Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2025) Featured Review: Mall Goth by Kate Leth

  • Mall Goth
  • by Kate Leth
  • Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers
  • Publication Date: September 26, 2023
  • ISBN-13: 9781534476943

Malls make a comeback in this early 2000s-inspired book about a teen looking for community and a place to be herself. Liv Holme is a high school student who moves to a new town while her parents struggle in their marriage, and she discovers the mall as solace. Trying to find her place at school, Liv slowly befriends two classmates who share similar interests and aesthetics and captures the attention of one of her teachers. Little does she know that the new-found validation from an authority figure at school may devolve into something sinister. 

Mall Goth explores the intricacies of being a teen in a new school and trying to find one’s place. The book presents common scenarios teens struggle with, particularly the possibility of falling victim to predators. The characters are authentic, relatable and likable. They are representative of different body sizes, and even if there isn’t much cultural diversity present, it feels like it channels a small town’s energy. The art is compelling, and the color palette fits the story’s mood and the characters’ quirkiness. 

People interested in Mariko Tamaki will find it enjoyable, as it has similar vibes to I Am Not Starfire and Skim, as well as those that loved Netflix’s Wednesday. As a bonus, for those who loved or enjoyed the 2000’s rock music scene, a recommended playlist for the book would definitely include Linkin Park, Evanescence, Korn and Deftones.

–Verónica Muñiz-Soto

Other Nominated Titles

Release Date: September 5, 2023
Release Date: November 4, 2022

Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2025) Featured Review: Cooking with Monsters: The Beginner’s Guide to Culinary Combat by Jordan Alsaqa and Vivian Truong

  • Cooking with Monsters: The Beginner’s Guide to Culinary Combat
  • by Jordan Alsaqa and Vivian Truong
  • IDW Publishing
  • Publication Date: September 5, 2023
  • ISBN-13: 9781684059836

Cooking with Monsters takes place in a world filled with food-based monsters. Hana Ozawa and her friends are first year students at the Gourmand Academy of Culinary Combat, training to become warrior chefs. Hana faces self-doubt as her rival and love interest, Olivia, seems to be a step ahead of her, and she feels her mentor Chef Graham isn’t teaching her enough to succeed. But with the support of her friends, as well as her desire to be like the warrior chef who saved her as a child, Hana is determined to get through this first year.

Alsaqa incorporates action, adventure, and romance to provide a fast-paced and fun read. The colorful palette and anime-style art complement the action-packed storyline. Truong’s art style, mixed with Alsaqa’s descriptions, emphasizes the flavor and spices of the food. A well-developed and diverse set of characters will appeal to a wide range of readers.

Fans of Delicious in Dungeon will enjoy Alsaqa’s monster fighting and cooking graphic novel with a similar style of humor. This is also a perfect book for fans who like action-packed storylines and colorful illustrations such as The Witch’s Throne. If you are a foodie fan of such books as Food Wars!: Shokugeki no Soma then you will enjoy the food displayed in this book. If you are a fan of My Hero Academia then you may enjoy Cooking With Monsters as they share similar heroes’ journeys.

-Kyler Wesner

Other Nominated Titles

Release Date: December 12, 2023
Release Date: February 13, 2024

Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2025) Featured Review: Ink Girls by Marieke Nijkamp and Sylvia Bi

  • Ink Girls
  • by Marieke Nijkamp and Sylvia Bi
  • Greenwillow Books 
  • Publication Date: November 21, 2023
  • ISBN-13: 9780063027107

Maestra Aronne is already 11-year-old Printer Apprentice Cinzia’s hero when she gets imprisoned for publishing a story about corruption their city’s government doesn’t want told. Cinzia’s determination to free her maestra is bolstered by the companionship of the other young folks she meets while trying to evade the authorities. Together they hunt down the citizens who can clear Aronne’s name and bring the city towards the justice it deserves.

The color palette is vivid and the illustration style is expressive; both add immensely to the feel of the adventure and intrigue that unfold through the book. Nijkamp and Bi both have a firm grip on the necessity of a fictional world still offering an accurate reflection of the real world in terms of representation. Visible and invisible disabilities play a part in the narrative, variation in gender expression and sexuality are normal parts of life, all sorts of bodies are present, and a variety of ways to feel and build family are depicted throughout the suspenseful twists and turns. Ink Girls will appeal to a wide breadth of readers—intrigue and mystery abound, harrowing escapes are frequent and sometimes hilarious, making it a lovely offering for folks that enjoy a serious plot accompanied by some levity. Fans of Dog Knight and Cardboard Kingdom are sure to enjoy this cross of adventure, friendship, and the power of stories to bend the world towards justice.

-M’issa Fleming

Other Nominated Titles

Release Date: October 10, 2023
Release Date: November 14, 2023

Suggested Read: The Bodygaurd Unit: The Bodyguard Unit: Edith Garrud, Women’s Suffrage, and Jujitsu by Clément Xavier

  • The Bodygaurd Unit: Edith Gurrud, Women’s Suffrage, and Jujitsu
  • by Clément Xavier
  • Graphics Universe
  • Publication Date: August 1, 2023
  • ISBN: 9798765607473

This graphic novel illustrates the women’s suffrage movement in the UK telling a story you may not have learned before. Edith Garrud was a Jujitsu instructor who used her practice to protest for women’s rights and teach other women self-defense. 

One of the outstanding aspects of this book is the use of historical images alongside illustrations. This graphic novel brings new life to these historic events! 

If you would like to learn more about women’s rights, early 20th century England, Jujitsu, or just enjoy graphic novels, you are sure to enjoy this book!

-Erin Soutar

Thank you to our guest blogger, for more reviews find her on Instagram and Facebook!

Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers (#QP2024) Feature Review: Hungry Ghost by Victoria Ying

  • Hungry Ghost
  • By Victoria Ying  
  • Publisher: Roaring Brook Press
  • Imprint: First Second
  • Release date: April 25, 2023 
  • ISBN: 9781250766991

Valerie Chu is the perfect daughter: obedient, quiet, studious, and thin. When tragic circumstances cause her to lose her carefully controlled grip on her life, she must question her relationship with her mother and what future she really wants for herself. Content warning for eating disorders and death of a loved one.

This is a very short, issue-oriented graphic novel that will appeal to many teens. Even if readers have not struggled with an eating disorder, they will likely relate to the pressure that Valerie feels to fit in to other’s expectations of her. Some of the characters could have benefited from deeper development, but the relationship between Valerie and her best friend, Jordan, seemed very real and relatable.

 For more body dysmorphia books consider titles like Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green or The Impossible Light by Lily Myers.

-Julianne Novetsky

Other Nominated Titles

January 3, 2023
Release Date: March 7, 2023

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.

Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2024) Featured Review: Blue Box, Vol. 1, by Kouji Miura

  • Blue Box, vol. 1
  • by Kouji Miura
  • VIZ Media
  • Publication Date: November 1, 2022
  • ISBN-13: 9781974734627

Blue Box, vol. 1 is the first volume in a new series written and drawn by Kouji Miura. Taiki is on the school badminton team, and practices in the school gym at the same time as Chinatsu, an upperclassman. Chinatsu is a star on the girls’ basketball team and very popular. When Taiki first sees her, he instantly falls in love. During their days in the gym, the two get to know each other. Unaware of Taiki’s feelings, Chinatsu offers to help him improve at badminton and qualify for nationals. To complicate matters more, Chinatsu’s parents move away, and Taiki’s mother offers to let her stay at their house for the remainder of the school year. Now Taiki has to face his embarrassment and agony of having his sempai and crush living with him!

Blue Box combines the themes of sports, humor, friendship and romance in a new manga series with big teen appeal. The art fits the mold of realistic high school manga, and readers will jump right into the familiar feel. Supporting characters have their own storylines and are used for more than just comic relief. The anxiety and doubts that both Chinatsu and Taiki face about their sports careers mirror what real life teen athletes often go through. Miura manages to balance both Taiki’s crush on Chinatsu and the importance of their respective disciplines. Much of the story focuses on the bond the two main characters create through their love of sports, and how their friendship helps each other become better at them.

Recommend Blue Box to teens who enjoy sports manga such as Blue Lock by Muneyuki Kaneshiro and Haikyu! by Haruichi Furudate. Teen readers who like sports combined with romance should also read the Wandance series by Coffee and Cheeky Brat by Miyuki Mitsubachi.

Jacqueline Bush

Other Nominated Titles

Release Date: March 14, 2023
Release Date: July 18, 2023
Release Date: August 8, 2023
Release Date: August 29, 2023

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.

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

Release Date: January 24, 2023
Release Date: March 7, 2023
Release: April 4, 2023
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.

Graphic Novels Overview, Part One: Format Guide

What is a Graphic Novel

The graphic novel is a distinct literary format that employs sequential art in the form of comic-strip-style illustrations throughout a book-length work to tell a complete narrative. Unlike traditional written books, graphic novels use shorter sentences and rely heavily on images to communicate the story. The sequential art in graphic novels is not just a complement to the written text; it is the driving force behind the story. The artwork is essential to the graphic novel format, much like the importance of visuals in a children’s picture book. The artwork in graphic novels collaborates with the text to create a cohesive storytelling experience. Unlike illustrated children’s picture books that often embellish the written text, the artwork in graphic novels collaborates with the text to create a cohesive storytelling experience. Graphic novels are longer than comic books and provide a cohesive storyline within a single volume.

Graphic novels, like comics and manga, use panels to organize the narratives. These panels are often presented as boxed segments that contain scenes or parts of scenes in the story and are divided by blank space known as the “gutter.” Graphic novels also use speech and thought bubbles, emanata, and captions to tell a story to readers. Unlike most comic books and manga series, graphic novels are usually published as regular bound books. They are more likely to be standalone works, but like other novels, they can be turned into a series.

Definitions by The Graphic Library

Comic books: are serialized stories featuring comic drawings, generally following the adventures of superheroes, villains, etc. These are usually presented in a single-issue, paperback format.

Graphic Novel: A story told with sequential, illustrated panels.

Original Graphic Novel (OGN): a story published in a full-length graphic novel without being published as single-issue floppies first.

Online Resources

Books to Learn More

Awards

-Stephanie Mahar

Stephanie’s Favorites

  • Huda F Are You?
  • by Huda Fahmy
  • Publisher: Dial Books
  • Release Date: November 23, 2021
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-9
  • ISBN: 9780593324318
  • The Legend of Auntie Po
  • by Shing Yin Khor
  • Publisher: Kokila
  • Release Date: June 15, 2021
  • Reading Level: Gr. 5-9
  • ISBN: 978-0525554899
  • Squad
  • By Maggie Tokuda-Hall & Lisa Sterle
  • Publisher: Greenwillow Books
  • Release Date: October 5, 2021
  • Reading Level: Gr. 9-12
  • ISBN: 978-0062943149
  • Other Ever Afters: New Queer Fairy Tales
  • by Melanie Gillman
  • Publisher: Random House Graphic
  • Release Date: September 20, 2022
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-9
  • ISBN: 978-0593303184
  • Almost American Girl 
  • By Robin Ha
  • Publisher: Balzer + Bray
  • Release Date: January 28, 2020
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-0062685094
  • The Magic Fish 
  • By Trung Le Nguyen
  • Publisher: Random House Graphic
  • Release Date: October 13, 2020
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-1984851598
  • Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me
  • By Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Release Date: May 7, 2019
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-1626722590
  • Mooncakes
  • By Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu
  • Publisher: Oni Press
  • Release Date: October 15, 2019
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-1549303043
  • Check, Please! Book 1: # Hockey 
  • By Ngozi Ukazu 
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Release Date: September 18, 2018
  • Reading Level: Gr. 8-12
  • ISBN: 978-1250177964
  • The Prince and the Dressmaker
  • By Jen Wang
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Release Date: February 13, 2018
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-1626723634
  • Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story 
  • By Debbie Tung
  • Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
  • Release Date: November 7, 2017
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-1449486068
  • Nimona 
  • By N.D. Stevenson
  • Publisher: Quill Tree Books
  • Release Date: May 12, 2015
  • Reading Level: Gr. 7-12
  • ISBN: 978-0062278227

Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2024) Featured Review: Space Trash by Jenn Woodall

  • Space Trash, vol. 1
  • by Jenn Woodall
  • Publisher: Oni Press
  • Publication Date: September 20, 2022
  • ISBN-13: 9781637150405

Circa 2115: Earth has been forcibly evacuated, and a reform school for wayward female-assigned humans is isolated on the moon. Students are educated and monitored by corporate robots with support from the stoolies of the student council, and they’re expected to dedicate their lives to Planet X. Co. Enter protagonists Stab, Yuki, and Una—friends who’ll tough it out through any amount of struggle even if they can’t agree on a good gang name. When that struggle takes the shape of a rival gang raiding their lockers (snack-theft! Precious Yuri manga-napping!), the ensuing confrontation leaves them with more questions than answers about what they have to accept and what they might be able to change.

Volume one of Space Trash offers a large amount of humor for such a vividly-depicted grim reality. The graffiti on every wall tells a story about the students’ discontent with a world that has clearly thrown them away, while the Earth memorabilia on the dorm walls anchors the friends in affinity with rebellions of eras past, and the Planet X Co. propaganda in the midst of it all gives things an especially creepy kick. Woodall’s use of saturated color schemes brings the feelings of these teens to the forefront, making it easy to stay with and root for these friends as they push all the limits.

Please hand this book to fans of dystopia, rock music, and general rebellion. It reads like Bitch Planet for a younger audience, and will appeal to readers who enjoyed the School for Extraterrestrial Girls, The Memory Librarian, and Paper Girls. Fans of sweet, queer-centered ruckus are also sure to enjoy it!

-M’issa Fleming

Other Nominated Titles

Release Date: November 8, 2022
Release Date: February 14, 2023
Release Date: March 14, 2023
Release Date: March 16, 2023

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.