Graphic Novel Recommendations
Graphic novels tend to be very misunderstood, especially by adults. Graphic novels are simply a book format, the same way that audiobooks are a book format. Although we tend to use the word "graphic" to mean something negative (like graphic violence in a movie or video game), in the case of graphic novels, the word "graphic" refers to the illustrations in the book, not the content itself. At the library, I (Alaina) have heard many people dismiss graphic novels because they "don't like comics". Although some people do call graphic novels comics, comics are usually part of a serialized narrative while graphic novels are longer full-length stories. The difference between the two is like a single episode of a TV show vs. a movie - one is a piece of a larger story and the other tells a complete story with clear ending.
Graphic novels are great for readers of all ages and all abilities. If they aren't a format you typically read, then taking part in the reading challenge is great way to expand your reading and try something outside of your comfort zone. Honestly, when I started working at the library a few years ago, I firmly believed I didn't like graphic novels - even though I had never actually read one! When I finally did pick one up, I completely fell in love with the format and have been devouring graphic novels ever since. If you're struggling to find a graphic novel to complete the challenge, I've got lots of recommendations! These graphic novels are geared towards different age ranges, but they are all books that adults will enjoy, as well.
Some of my favorites are:
New Kid and Class Act by Jerry Craft New Kid was the first graphic novel to ever win a Newbery Medal. While both books focus on the same core cast of characters, New Kid centers around Jordan, who is a new student at the prestigious Riverdale Academy Day School, and its sequel, Class Act, showcases more of Jordan's friend and classmate, Drew. Drew and Jordan are some of the only Black students at their school. They're also not rich, unlike a majority of their classmates. Both books follow the characters over the course of year at school; they are meandering in their story-telling as they are not really about an overarching plot, but rather about the experiences of these characters as they navigate their day-to-day lives at a school where they don't fit in. These books deal with race, privilege, microaggressions, stereotyping, and more. These books are written for a middle grade audience but have some important messages that all adults need to hear.
Queen of the Sea by Dylan Meconis
This was the book that turned me into a graphic novel fan. If you struggle with following the text in a graphic novel (and I most definitely do! It's not always clear which speech bubble to read first) then this is the book for you. Queen of the Sea is like a hybrid graphic novel/novel - there are actual paragraphs of writing interspersed among the illustrations. It's easy to follow and the perfect choice for anyone uncomfortable with the graphic novel format. This story is based very loosely on the exile of Queen Elizabeth I by her sister Queen Mary. This book follows a young orphan named Margaret who has grown up in a convent on a small island. One day, Queen Eleanor of Albion arrives, banished to the island after her sister seizes the throne. This is a very "quiet" book that takes its time explaining all the aspects of life at the convent. Meconis also leaves the ending open to continue this story in more books.
Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee This book is simply stunning and had me bawling my eyes out as I read the final pages. This story is about a young girl named Lora who enjoys being a kid but also feels left behind as her friends move on to more "mature" interests like boys and makeup. While holding a tea party by herself, Lora discovers a friendly young ghost named Alexis who lives in her house, and the two quickly become inseparable. This graphic novel is geared towards children who may be nervous about growing up, but it will also appeal to adults because of both the nostalgia it will induce and the underlying (and more emotional than you might expect) message that growing old is a privilege that many of us take for granted.
Harleen by Stjepan Šejić
If you're a Batman fan (or even if you're only familiar with Harley Quinn from Margot Robbie's portrayal of her), you definitely need to check out Harleen. This graphic novel centers around Dr. Harleen Quinzel, a young psychiatrist eager to prove she can cure mental illness through her work with the criminally insane at Arkham Asylum. She is drawn to one of the inmates in particular - Joker - and her attraction to and eventual relationship with him leads to her downfall as a psychiatrist and rise as a villain. This is a fantastic origin story and a really interesting look at how a kind and brilliant woman like Harleen could ever fall for a jerk like Joker and become Harley Quinn.
Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy by Rey Terciero
I'm a big fan of Little Women, so I was super skeptical going into this reimagining of the classic story. After all, do we really need a modern retelling? As it turns out, we do! This is a beautiful, emotional, and inclusive story that features a blended March family - Jo's mother marries Meg's father and together they have Beth and Amy. Don't expect this to be an exact retelling - there are many familiar elements from the original book but there are also lots of updates to keep this story fresh and interesting. This homage to a beloved classic is perfect for longtime Little Women fans as well as readers who are meeting the March sisters for the first time.
The Magic Fish by Trung Le Nguyen
The Magic Fish is the graphic novel I chose to read for the winter reading challenge, and it's one that I highly recommend others pick up, as well. Set in the 90s, this book is about a first generation Vietnamese-American boy trying to find the words to communicate to his immigrant mother that he is gay. Fairy tales end up being a shared language between them, and three fairy tales are woven into this story to help the storyteller and the listener communicate with one another. While the story itself was sweet and beautiful, one of the highlights for me was the additional materials at the end of the book from Trung Le Nguyen explaining his inspiration for the book and how the art style of each fairy tale reflects the background of the character telling the story.
Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds
Long Way Down is one of my favorite books, and I was thrilled to see it released as a graphic novel recently. Originally written as a novel in verse, this story is about Will, a young teen whose older brother was murdered by a rival gang. Even though he isn't 100% sure who killed his brother, he has a pretty good idea who it was, and Will is going to avenge his brother's death by killing his murderer (after all, that's "the rules"). The entire story takes place over the course of one minute as Will rides the elevator from the 8th floor of his apartment building to the lobby. The elevator stops at each floor along the way, picking up the ghosts of people from Will's past who have died from gun violence. I often compare this book to A Christmas Carol. This graphic novel version is phenomenal - the beautiful watercolor artwork adds a whole new layer to the story. I highly recommend it as a companion to the original novel.
Looking for more recommendations? Here are some other great graphic novels to check out:
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Still not sure about graphic novels? Try some of these classic stories you're probably already familiar with: