By Laurie Halse Anderson, Illustrated by Emily Carroll
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, BYR 2018
Young Adult, Graphic Novel
Ages 14 and up, Grades 9 and up
Other formats: kindle
Melinda is the kid no one likes, the girl who called the cops on a high school drinking party and got everyone in trouble. Now she roams through her life at school in baggy clothes, keeping near total silence.
But what really happened at that party? And why can’t Melinda bring herself to tell?
Laurie Halse Anderson’s groundbreaking young adult novel, Speak, was first published in 1999. All these years later, with the #MeToo movement in full swing, we find that Speak: the Graphic Novel is just as relevant today.
With chilling black and white illustrations by Emily Carroll and dialogue taken directly from the original novel, Anderson pulls the reader inside a girl’s experience with sexual assault at the hands of one of her own classmates. Melinda has not told anyone the truth and blames herself in the convoluted way of so many victims. And every day she sees her attacker continue to enjoy the highest social status at school, even as he grooms new victims for his aggressions. The sense of dread is palpable on the pages. Sinking deeper into her depression, Melinda finds respite only in her art class, where she can access her voice and feelings without words. The graphic format of the novel is a perfect complement to Melinda’s journey to use art as a way to name the most horrific acts and lay them bare.
This is a hard story: Melinda is blamed and cruelly ostracized. She learns to hate and hurt herself. But ultimately, the novel is about her resilience and survival despite an entire community that would prefer not to believe or support her. Her strength shines through all the trauma.
Sometimes, girls have to reclaim their power after its been stolen from them. Speak: the Graphic Novel shows them how to win it back. MM
Sometimes you have to be willing to try something new to discover who you are meant to be.
Misty Copeland is compelling and heartwarming in this first-person telling of how she became the first African American female principal dancer for the American Ballet Theatre.
Her unlikely path to making history began at thirteen, an age that made her a “late bloomer” in the world of serious dance. While most young ballerinas were concentrating on their pirouettes, she and her family were struggling with homelessness. Misty’s haven became the after-school program at her local Boys & Girls Club, and when she enrolled in a free ballet class on a whim, her life changed forever. Her love of dance helped her remain focused and firm through numerous family crises, personal struggles and periods of self-doubt. Though she dances beautifully and with much grace now, she openly shares how her life sometimes reflected the opposite, and how she used those circumstances to fuel her goals and dreams.
Though this book isn’t a cliffhanger, in the sense that readers already know how it will end, they still may find themselves gripped by Misty’s story and capable of learning some meaningful lessons that can serve them as well as they have served Misty.
Here We Are is whip-smart anthology of what it means to be a feminist and why it’s important, from voices teens will (or should, because they’re awesome!) recognize. Amandla Sternberg, Mindy Kaling, Michaela and Mia DePrince, Wendy Davis, and Matt Nathanson join well-known YA authors like Malinda Lo, Sarah McCarry, Nova Ren Suma, and many more writers to talk about the ins-and-outs of equality.
Perhaps the biggest draw of Here We Are is its scrapbook, mixed-media format. There are essays and poems, conversations between writers, Instagram images, comics, interviews, and illustrations (over forty pieces total), which prevent a book about a serious topic from seeming preachy, academic, or condescending to its intended audience. Here We Are isn’t just for teenagers; it’s about being a teenager, and the writers never forget it.
The book’s feminism considers what it means to be a girl, but it isn’t limited to what it is to be a straight, white, middle class American girl. There are perspectives from all kinds of backgrounds, and readers would be hard-pressed to not find something to relate to here. From the damaging effects of trying to be the “cool girl,” to accepting your own (and other people’s) bodies, to the use of sexual assault as a weapon, each aspect of girlhood and feminism is turned over and presented to the reader in a refreshing and relevant way.
Most teen romances are light and full of friendship and warmth; however, The Radius of Us is more gritty than syrupy sweet. This novel shares the story of two youths who are grappling with fear, worry, and challenges that are true-to-life in modern-day America: crime, trauma, immigration issues, and cultural differences.
The main characters are a white American girl named Gretchen and a Salvadoran boy named Phoenix. The two cross paths in an unlikely suburban setting and discover new worlds—each other’s—through their friendship and blossoming affection. They also learn how different doesn’t necessary mean dangerous and how developing empathy for others can be self-empowering.
This is a sobering, yet hopeful novel that will leave readers rooting for the characters to win and for the world around them to wake up and embrace the beauty in change.
In Prohibition-era Boston, speakeasies and underground clubs aren’t just places that serve black market liquor—they’re also places that house hemopaths and give them jobs as entertainers. Hemopaths carry an “affliction” that gives them the ability to control what others see and feel using art (spoken word poetry, music, etc.), and the two main characters, Ada and Corrine, use their powers in their acts at the Cast Iron Club, dousing the paying audience in warm fuzzy feelings. On the side, they perform low-level cons for the club’s owner; that is, until a job goes wrong and one of the girls ends up in a notorious “institution” for hemopaths, where they are experimented upon and killed.
On the surface, this book is a lot of fun (who doesn’t love a good fast-paced heist/flapper story/tale of solid girl friendships?), but it’s held together by the question of how society justifies its abuse and marginalization of people who are different. Hemopathy is outlawed, bringing up the question, how does a government outlaw a person? How do we, the people who live in a country, let that sort of thing happen?
The book is set in 1919, but what Ada and Corrine are dealing with will be familiar to any reader who is even remotely familiar with current events. Iron Cast is a fantastical way to consider the strength of female friendships, racial profiling, oppression, and human rights.
Starr Carter is just 16 years old when she sees a police officer shoot and kill her childhood friend Khalil. Suddenly, the RIP hashtags and Tumblr memorials to slain youth hit home, and Starr must decide whether or not to share what she knows.
The sole witness to the killing, she’s the only person who can reveal the truth. But in the real world, speaking up could put friendships, community alliances, and even her life at risk. She’s already in a precarious position as an outsider in both her poor neighborhood and at Williamson, the wealthy prep school she attends across town. Stepping forward amid national controversy and community unrest could cement her marginal status—or worse.
The magic of this book is the way it explores major social issues—police violence and racism—through the intimate prism of one teen girl’s life and perspective. It grapples with large questions of justice and equity on the same pages as family drama and social media snafus. It is big drama rendered in small strokes—memorable characters, textured relationships, and vivid language.
Readers will root for Starr as she navigates grief and works to honor her friend’s life and her own principles—her way.
High school can be exciting, but for teens who are struggling to fit in, it also can be a long few years to get through. Jade, the main character in the young adult novel Piecing Me Together, is among those who count the days until graduation.
Jade is openly smart and secretly sassy, and happens to love Spanish as much as she loves her modest neighborhood. Every morning, she boards a bus to attend a predominantly white private school on the other side of town, where she can check most of the “other” boxes that exist: minority student, thick rather than thin, child of a single parent, a product of a low-income household. She endures feeling invisible and “not enough” so that she can someday give wings to her mother’s dream that she experience a better life.
When she is coerced into joining a mentoring group that offers encouragement and opportunities, Jade balks. Yet once she settles in, she is surprised to learn that it is just what she needs, and that perhaps rather than solely being the recipient of others’ generosity, she, too, has much to give.
Author Renee Watson has produced a compelling first-person story that can help readers value their own, and others’, experiences and circumstances.