Horses, Houdini, & Haunted Theme Parks: 10 Favorite Fall Graphic Novels for Tweens & Teens

This autumn’s harvest has produced a brand-new crop of compelling stories, from a must-have manga series starter to a slice-of-life memoir in the graphic format.

This autumn’s harvest has produced a brand-new crop of compelling stories: a trainer kidnaps a racehorse to rescue it from abuse and possibly death, a covert squad of stage magicians fight dark forces, a young cook aspires to turn the everyone on to the delights of eating bugs, and a teenager must re-create modern technology in a matter of weeks to save a world where everyone has turned to stone. And there are some rich slices of life: Jarrett J. Krosoczka’s touching memoir of his youth, Svetlana Chmakova’s funny story of middle school romance, and Rina Ayuyang’s lively memoir of growing up musical. Read on for some of our favorite fall titles.

AYUYANG, Rina. Blame This on the Boogie. illus. by author. 200p. Drawn & Quarterly. Nov. 2018. ISBN 9781770463189.

Gr 8 Up –Ayuyang’s memories of growing up in a Filipino immigrant family and her life as a cartoonist and mother in California are tied together by her love of music, from channeling Olivia Newton-John in her childhood living room to her obsessive Dancing with the Stars fandom. Her style is colorful and freeform, with panels and characters literally dancing across the page. While Ayuyang takes on her postpartum depression and her struggles as a comics creator, most of the book is lighthearted and fun.

CHMAKOVA, Svetlana. Crush. illus. by author. 240p. Oct. 2018. ISBN 9780316363235.

Gr 5 UpCrush is the third in Chmakova’s series of middle grade graphic novels, which started with Awkward and Brave. All three are set in the incredibly diverse and progressive Berrybrook Middle School, but each has a different cast of characters. In Crush we meet Jorge Ruiz, a big, quiet, kind of sweet guy who can quell a miscreant without lifting a finger—his size alone does the job—but likes goofing off with his two best friends. When he finds himself getting tongue-tied in front of a certain classmate—well, you knew from the title what was coming. Chmakova adeptly depicts Jorge’s discomfort in a gently humorous way, while throwing in plenty of middle school drama—love triangles, obnoxious cool kids, and even a social media hacking.

DELLIQUANTI, Blue & Soleil Ho. Meal. illus. by Blue Delliquanti. 150p. Iron Circus. Oct. 2018. ISBN 9781945820304

Gr 9 Up –Yarrow moves to a new city to work in the kitchen of her idol: Chandra Flores, a chef of Cambodian and Mexican descent who uses insects (and spiders) in her cuisine. But while these foods are an integral part of Chandra’s background, Yarrow regards them as a cool novelty, and before she can work in Chandra’s kitchen she has to adjust her attitude. In just 150 pages, Delliquanti and Ho set up a great story with a diverse ensemble cast, an awkward (but sweet) romance, a bit of dramatic tension, and descriptions of real invertebrate dishes—with recipes in the back!

HOLT, Jeremy. After Houdini. 112p. Insight. Oct. 2018. ISBN: 9781608878550.

Gr 10 Up –This supernatural adventure inverts history: while the real Harry Houdini went to great lengths to debunk stage magic, in this book magic is real and Houdini is imprisoned by it. It also turns out that he was part of a secret group of magicians going up against dark forces in the national interest. The story begins with Teddy Roosevelt recruiting Houdini’s son (who was given up for adoption and never knew his father but inherited his powers) to join this organization and rescue his father. This fast-paced story jumps around in time and space, making it hard to follow at times, but it’s a thrilling ride, especially with characters like Roosevelt, Rasputin, Edgar Cayce, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle forming part of the cast.

INAGAKI , Riichiro. Dr. Stone. Vol. 1. illus. by Boichi. 200p. Viz Media. Sept. 2018. ISBN 9781974702619.

Gr 7 Up – In this new manga series, teenager Taiju is about to confess his love for a classmate when the entire world is mysteriously turned to stone. Thousands of years later, he emerges from a stone chrysalis, and his science-happy friend Senku is just ahead of him. Alone in a world where all of civilization has long since crumbled to dust, they must create modern technology from a Stone Age starting point, MacGuyver-style, and rescue their friends—starting with Taiju’s crush. Outsize characters, humor, action, and an element of battle royale keep things interesting.

KROSOCZKA, Jarrett J. Hey, Kiddo! 320p. Scholastic/Graphix. Oct. 2018. ISBN 9780545902489.

Gr 7 Up —It’s clear from the cover of this volume that Hey, Kiddo! is worlds away from the author’s lighthearted “Lunch Lady” graphic novels. Krosoczka’s mother had a drug problem, and he was raised by his grandparents as part of a large extended family. The narrative is dark in places—Krosoczka’s mother died of an overdose before it was completed—and while his grandparents were loving, they also had struggles of their own. They encouraged his interest in art, but they fought and sometimes drank too much. Krosoczka’s loose, casual art and the flashes of humor lighten the story. The book relies on a muted palette, with a rusty orange that, he explains in the afterword, is a homage to his grandfather. With frank discussions of drug use, scenes of family arguments, and some f-bombs, this book has some mature content, but this powerful memoir will appeal to a range of readers. It is a finalist for this year’s National Book Award—the only work in the graphic format to be selected this year.

MOORE, Leah & John Reppion. Conspiracy of Ravens. 136p. Dark Horse. Oct. 2018. ISBN 9781506708836.

Gr 5 Up –Boarding school student Anne is called to the principal’s office and told that her great-great aunt, whom she never knew, has died and left her a crumbling country estate, Ravenhall, and a locket containing a stone with an image of a raven. Soon Anne is caught up in a series of magical adventures involving young women with bird powers—one of whom is her bullying classmate. This start to a series of magical tales has a classic feel.

NERI, G. Grand Theft Horse. illus. by Corban Wilkin. 240p. Tu Bks. Sept. 2018. ISBN: 9781620148556

Gr 7 Up –This beautiful work of nonfiction reveals the uglier side of professional horse racing and shows some of its uglier aspects. The thief is writer G. Neri’s cousin, Gail Ruffu, a horse trainer who made off with Urgent Envoy, a horse who was part hers, when she felt the other owners were abusing it. As she hides Urgent Envoy and wends her way through the legal system, Ruffu recalls memories of loving and caring for horses. Ruffu is rough around the edges but skilled with horses and determined to save Urgent Envoy’s life—she suspects the other owners want to kill him for the insurance money. This tale immerses readers into a new world, and Wilkin’s deft depictions of humans and animals alike make the story sing.

STEELE, Hamish. DeadEndia: The Watcher’s Test. Bk. 1. 240p. Nobrow. Aug. 2018. ISBN 9781910620472.

Gr 9 Up –Like the “Lumberjanes” and the “Backstagers,” this series opener, which started as a webcomic, combines supernatural adventures, colorful manga-influenced art, and a large LGBTQIA+ cast as Lumberjanes and The Backstagers, with characters who are a bit older and more mature. Just a bit, though. The setting is the Dead End theme park, where Norma and Barney work alongside demons and other out-of-this-world creatures. Eventually the slice-of-life adventures morph into a crazy time-travel plot that ends on a cliff-hanger.

UKAZU, Ngozi. Check Please: #Hockey. 288p. First Second. Sept. 2018. ISBN 9781250177957.

Gr 9 Up —Upbeat but with serious moments, this volume follows the college life of Eric “Bitty” Bittle as he joins the hockey team, comes out to his teammates as gay (turns out to be no biggie), and deals with drama by baking. The comic is filled with larger-than-life personalities, especially the other members of the hockey team. Vlogger Bitty’s “webisodes” make a solid framework for the narrative. Check Please began as a webcomic and drew a large following; it was the highest funded webcomic on Kickstarter and won the 2017 Reuben Award for best online comic.

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