Next Stop

Random House Graphic. Mar. 2024. 272p. Tr $21.99. ISBN 9780593425206.
Gr 4-7–With touches of magical realism, a slice-of-life road trip story gradually transforms into a profound journey of loss, grief, guilt, and healing. Pia, a withdrawn and guarded middle schooler, embarks on a bus tour through a desert landscape, stopping by quirky roadside attractions en route to a luminous underground lake said to have mysterious—even miraculous—properties. Every traveler on the tour has their own reasons for seeking out this lake, and Pia’s secret hope to resolve a family tragedy unfolds through a series of flashbacks. Through deftly crafted plotting and pacing, the emotional tension increases incrementally as each part of Pia’s story is revealed. Readers will root for her as she processes her pain, finds solace and friendship among her fellow travelers, and begins to move toward acceptance. Thoughtfully sparse dialogue is paired with expressive line drawings to create a thoroughly absorbing and emotionally resonant reading experience. An effective use of color conveys setting and mood: While road trip scenery is awash in vibrant colors, Pia’s lonely motel nights are rendered in somber grays, and flashbacks are indicated by a muted palette. Extensive back matter includes an author’s note and several pages detailing her artistic process. Pia is of Asian descent; other characters on the road trip represent a variety of ethnicities and ages.
VERDICT Endearing, heartbreaking, and uplifting in turns, Fong’s unforgettable debut is a first purchase for youth graphic novel collections.

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