Chef Yasmina and the Potato Panic

First Second. Jan. 2021. 160p. Tr $22.99. ISBN 9781250622044; pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781250622051.
Gr 4-7–Eleven-year-old budding chef and amateur urban plant forager Yasmina relies on the extra bounty of her feuding gardener friends Cyril and Marco to cook delicious vegetarian meals for herself and her debt-ridden father, Omran. When a shady businessman buys and demolishes Cyril’s and Marco’s gardens to start a nefarious potato enterprise, Yasmina resorts to stealing from the rooftop garden on their Belgian city apartment. Meanwhile, city residents who are addicted to a new brand of potatoes terrorize the streets. With the help of the reclusive but brilliant upstairs scientist Amaryllis, Yasmina, her father, and her friends must address the strange behavior. The narrative relies heavily on the art, resulting in pacing that ebbs and flows until the action heats up in the final third. Often, there are long stretches of pages that contain art but no dialogue, requiring readers to pay close attention to the illustrations. Mannaert immerses readers in urban and naturalistic settings, an effect aided by borderless panel shapes that grow and shrink. While creative visuals set the book apart, it lacks character background that would have added depth. Visual clues allude to Yasmina and her father being Muslim but do not provide a clear definition of their ethnicity. Bonus features include an author’s note, a short comic about Belgians’ love of French fries, and behind-the-scenes concept art.
VERDICT Those without a solid grounding in the graphic novel format may have a hard time making it through. Still, for intrepid readers, this is a thought-provoking tale of plant hybridization gone awry that will spur discussion on food genetic modification and business ethics.

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