We’ve found that graphic novels are a vastly under appreciated genre amongst fiction lovers, and while we ourselves are relatively new to the party, having just begun really getting into these magical books a year-ish ago, we can’t imagine our reading lives without them now. If graphic novels seem odd or frivolous to you, or you imagine that they couldn’t possibly hold as much weight and drama and characterization as a traditional novel, we have a few recommendations to change your mind. Each of these are so unique, and carry meaty stories with gorgeous artwork, unforgettable characters, and amazingly crafted narratives.
The first graphic novels to make me cry (and I am decidedly not a crier), this is a memoir where the focus is on one family's immigration story from Vietnam, but it manages to wrap in so much history and culture and personal stories and relationship drama. The way this novel builds its layers and characters manages to bee so elegant and impactful in a way I rarely see done, even in regular fiction let alone a graphic novel, plus I learned a ton about the history of Vietnam in the ‘70’s and the art is stunning.
One of those rare books that captures the indefinable, and with perfect balance between words and illustration. The story focuses on the friendship of two girls at their annual summer vacation spot as they come of age, and mixes in family drama, the awkwardness of being on the cusp of the teenage years, friendship, growing pains, and the complexity of inner life. Some panels are heart-stopping in their elegant blending of text and art to create something meaningful. I especially love how the concept of memory was handled, but it captured so many hard to define emotions so, so beautifully. It also embodies my favorite moods of bittersweet and nostalgia, and I rarely see this level of layering in a graphic novel, which makes it extra special. We even did a literary dinner party for this one!
Another graphic memoir, this time about the competitive world of ice skating, combined with a coming of age narrative. The tone of this is a little more straightforward and realistic, less dreamy and complex than This One Summer, but it is beautifully illustrated and her story is compelling and real. Plus you’ll learn a lot about competitive ice skating, which is actually super interesting, and if you did any sports as a kid/teen you will absolutely relate.
Tamaki excels at writing graphic novels that feel so, so intimately human, and Valero-O’Connell created art that says as much or more than Tamaki’s words, bringing life and personality to the entire story. I LOVED this one and sincerely hope they do another book together. It explores toxic relationships, friendships, and general growing up kind of stuff in a way that feels so nuanced and personal somehow, but with a good dose of plot. The atmosphere in this is just beautiful, and the story will give fiction lovers all the characters and drama and depth they could ever want.
This was such a detailed, and fun, story of Lucy growing up with foodie parents. Then comes the divorce, and she illustrates how her world is changed by the vastly different directions her parents take (still centered around food and culture). Lucy had a fascinating childhood, incredible travel adventures, and an array of experiences that make you want to reach out to be her friend.
Reminiscent of The Best We Could Do, Dare to Disappoint shows a young girl as she tries in vain to follow in the cultural and societal driven requirements of growing up in Turkey. Try as she might, she just can’t do what her big sister does and is constantly the dreamer. As the story goes, you see the internal and external struggles she faces, trying so hard to please her parents, and ultimately, has to find what works for her. This is such a fantastic and relatable story, regardless of geography, that you truly feel for the characters in this story, as they all seem to fight through their own battles.
This is such a great YA graphic novel that shows the immense effect of censorship from parents who refuse to, or simply can’t understand their teenagers. The power, then, of standing together, speaking up, and the book community, was raw and exciting to follow in this story. You also get to see snippets of the Harry Potter-esque story that is fought over to ban, which also holds a powerful story of morality. This made me think A LOT about my own mom in relation to her dislike of books we were given to read in school (without having read them herself), along with now being a parent and how I handle the relationship between myself and my children and literature. Loved this one so much.