Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2025) Featured Review: Duel by Jessixa Bagley and Aaron Bagley

Fantasy-loving Lucy starts sixth grade in the school where her popular eighth grade sister, GiGi, is a fencing champion. Lucy and GiGi have not always gotten along, but things have gotten worse between them since their fencing instructor father passed away. When GiGi purposefully trips Lucy in the cafeteria, Lucy pulls out GiGi’s foil and challenges her to a duel. Threatened with being pulled from the team, GiGi concocts a plan: she’ll tell the coach that Lucy, who hasn’t fenced since her father’s death, is trying out for the team and needs to compete against her. 

Duel explores the complexities of relationships with family and friends, bullying, and grief. GiGi struggles with perfection, while Lucy is dealing with her sister’s bullying, and both feel abandoned by their mother. Aaron Bagley’s illustrations are highly detailed and brightly colored. Duel is told in both sister’s perspectives: Lucy’s thought boxes are colored in yellow and GiGi’s in purple to help the reader distinguish between the two. Lucy and GiGi are presented as biracial and supporting characters are a variety of different skin tones and body types.

Readers who enjoy stories with sibling rivalries like Sisters by Raina Telgemeier or Twins by Varian Johnson will find much to love here. Action-filled fencing scenes will entice readers of sports comics like Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson and Swim Team by Johnny Christmas.

—Kim Keown Farnsworth

Other Nominated Titles

Release Date: 16, 2024
Release Date: February 13, 2024

Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2025) Featured Review: Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy by Faith Erin Hicks

  • Hockey Girl Loves Drama Boy
  • by Faith Erin Hicks
  • First Second
  • Publication Date: October 3, 2023
  • ISBN-13: 9781250838728

When hockey player Alix can no longer handle her team captain Lindsay’s constant insults, she loses her temper and punches Lindsay, at which point their coach threatens to pull her recommendation for Alix to attend a hockey camp over the summer. Realizing she needs help controlling her temper, she appeals to drama guy Ezra, who she notices is always cool in the face of homophobic bullying. In the ensuing friendship and budding romance (Ezra eschews labels but says he is “attracted to lots of different people, not just guys”), the two realize that they’re both more complicated than the stereotypes other people see them as, and that perhaps they like that about each other.

Faith Erin Hicks’ artwork excels in portraying both quiet, emotional moments and zippy action on the hockey ice. The limited pale blue palette of the illustrations lends an emotional resonance that wouldn’t be conveyed in the same way by full color. The story itself also manages to deftly pack in a number of common high school issues, including parental disapproval (and in fact, teens’ disapproval of their parents’ choices—the parents in this book are far from perfect!), bullying and homophobia, the decision to label one’s sexuality (or not), and how to decide if your dreams are worth fighting for.

Hockey Girl will appeal to fans of other LGBTQ sports romances like Kelly Quindlen’s She Drives Me Crazy and Jennifer Dugan’s Some Girls. It is a perfect next choice for fans of Check, Please who want to stay on the ice but are ready for a more complicated story. Readers of Heartstopper by Alice Oseman will also appreciate that Hockey Girl’s fluffy rom com surface belies a similarly surprising emotional depth.

Lee Stokes

Other Nominated Titles

Release Date: March 5, 2024
Release Date: March 21, 2024

#QP2018 Nominees: Sports Stories

Grit, Motivation, Passion, Focus, Teamwork, Resilience, Tenacity. These are the tenets that Newbery Award winner Kwame Alexander outlines in The Playbook: 52 Rules to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life. The characters in the three sports novels recommended here exhibit all that and more.

In Patina, Jason Reynolds continues the story that began with Ghost, of tenacious Patty and the motley group of runners who win on the the track but struggle in their lives. Top Prospect, by veteran sports writer Paul Volponi, tells the story of a resilient boy pressured way too early to be the quarterback his older brother is, partly based on the true stories of young athletes who are promised college scholarships before they even hit high school. Passionate Tessa, in Thatcher Heldring’s The Football Girl, is an exceptional athlete who loves the game too much to let it go, even at the risk of disappointing her friends and family.

These stories, along with Alexander’s sage advice, will be winners with reluctant readers of all shapes, sizes and athletic skills.

The PlaybookThe Playbook  52 Ways to Aim, Shoot, and Score in This Game Called Life by Kwame Alexander
Photographs by Thai Neave
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
February 14, 2017

While traditional playbooks guide athletes in strategies for winning on the scoreboard, Alexander’s release, The Playbook, has 52 rules for enriching the game of life.  This uplifting rendition contains anecdotes from some of the world’s most influential athletes, leaders, and poets.  LeBron James, Michelle Obama, Nelson Mandela, Serena Williams, and many more are included. A diverse selection of thought-provoking, practical narratives includes quotes and photographs that embrace a variety of sports, gender, race, and compelling individuals. Alexander himself shares encouraging stories about overcoming obstacles while struggling in football and basketball as a teen, before his persistence culminated in finding his niche and success in tennis.  Continue reading #QP2018 Nominees: Sports Stories

An Introduction to Sports Anime

Full disclosure:  I am not a fan of sports by any stretch of the imagination. After a brief (and fairly disastrous) bout with middle school basketball I have studiously avoided athletics of all flavors, even as a spectator, but I LOVE Sports Anime!

This genre tends to focus on character driven stories with boatloads of delicious drama. The four series featured below don’t assume that you have a great deal of prior knowledge about the athletic activities that they focus on and each does a great job of deftly integrating necessary information into the narrative without over explaining or talking down to their audience. Continue reading An Introduction to Sports Anime

Special Olympics, YA Lit Style!

Have you  been watching the Special Olympics? What an incredible group of athletes! It occurred to me that we might find some potential participants in young adult novels. Let’s see who might make it on the roster.

Like T. J. in Chris Crutcher’s Whale Talk (2002 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults), we see the potential in Chris Coughlin.  After his training with the Cutter All Night Mermen, he’s ready to take on the the best.

Marcelo, title character of Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork (2010 Top Ten Best Books for Young Adults), has a summer job working with ponies. His ability to connect with these animals comes much easier to him than connecting with people. With the right opportunities, Marcelo could demonstrate a natural horsemanship.

soccer-iconFootball (Soccer)
In Girls Like Us by Gail Giles (2015 Best Fiction for Young Adults), Quincy is a girl who was terribly injured by her mother’s boyfriend at the age of six, when he hit her on the head with a brick. Understandably, Quincy is dealing with plenty of aggression that she might well work off on the soccer field. As Quincy demonstrates with her cooking, she’s got a good sense for recognizing patterns and envisioning different variations. Sounds like she’s make a good strategist!

Billy D, a boy with Down Syndrome in Erin Jade Lange’s Dead Ends, displays an exceptionally running ability, especially when he’s chased by his pseudo-caretaker, Dane. If Dane can stand the training, Billy D could be able to cover the requisite 13.1 miles.

Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zack Stentz is about the title character’s analytical expertise in crime solving. This exceptional ability to reason makes his adept at getting a basketball to swoosh through the hoop, but doesn’t help much when teammates push and jostle him. Work with Special Olympic trainers, however, could get Colin in fine shape to play on the team.

In Rules by Cynthia Lord, David’s father demonstrates how painful it can be for a boy with autism to learn a sport. David might do far better with someone who is trained to work with differently abled children. We’ll give him a few years with a good coach, and see if David can fill a spot on the softball team.

All icons obtained from the 2015 Special Olympics website:

-Diane Colson, currently reading an advanced readers copy of Immaculate by Katelyn Detweiler.

Summer Sweat: 5 Stimulating Sports Stories

photo by flickr user laffy4k
photo by flickr user laffy4k

While school is out and you are free to enjoy your summer, you might be loading your calendar with fun activities, such as road trips, adventures, and sports. Tennis, archery, and aquatics are some popular sports during the summer that you can become involved with. Many recent young adult titles feature exciting sports stories for teens!

Blue by H.J. Bellus
Blue Williams yearned to blend in when all her life she has been known in her hometown for her looks as the prom queen, brains as the valedictorian of her class, and talented as the top cheerleader in her high school squad. With a full-ride scholarship in a prestigious school, cheer becomes Blue’s primary focus. Until everything is taken away from her. The man who saved her is just as scarred, and they learn to help each other.

The Storm Before the Calm by Cate Ashwood
Charlie lives for dance. He secures a coveted spot in the Free Rein Dance Company in New York for the summer, and he is excited to get away from his life that has been threatening to devour him dead or alive. In New York, Charlie meets Max, an instructor at the school, who inspires him to be the best. Max exposes him to the close-minded perspective of his town, but Charlie’s not sure how to be center-stage in a drama he is running away from.  Continue reading Summer Sweat: 5 Stimulating Sports Stories