Graphic Novel Stars at the SLJ Summit

Check out our reviews of the books featured at the SLJ Summit 2020's graphic novel panel "I Guess This Is Growing Up: Coming-of-Age Stories in Graphic Novel Format."

Graphic novelists will consider the poignant, often painful path from adolescence to adulthood in "I Guess This Is Growing Up: Coming-of-Age Stories in Graphic Novel Format," a panel scheduled for the SLJ Summit 2020, a free daylong virtual event held October 24. Moderated by Mahnaz Dar, reference & professional reading editor for SLJ and Library Journal and graphic novels editor for SLJ, the panel will feature Tyler Feder, whose raw yet reassuring memoir Dancing at the Pity Party revisits her experience as a college student coping with the aftermath of her mother's death due to cancer; Robin Ha, whose clear-eyed Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir chronicles her immigration from Korea to the United States; Matt Lubchansky, who contributed to and coedited the smart, snarky, and deeply affecting compilation Be Gay, Do Comics, a celebration of queer history and culture; and Ngozi Ukazu, whose Sticks and Scones (the sequel to Check, Please) follows an irresistible underdog as he plays college hockey, bakes pies, and continues his relationship with his former team captain.

See below for SLJ's reviews of these titles, and register for the SLJ Summit.


Dancing at the Pity Party by Tyler Feder. Dial. ISBN 9780525553021.
 Gr 8 Up–Feder’s tender memoir of coping with a parent’s death deftly and sensitively blends joy, anguish, and even whimsy. The author was just 19 when her mother, Rhonda, was diagnosed with stage-four cancer, with little chance of survival. Feder was often away at college while her family oversaw Rhonda’s treatment in Florida. During a visit home, Feder was shocked to find Rhonda had taken a turn for the worse, passing away mere days later. Equal parts celebration, reflection, and mourning, this graphic memoir touches on the unpredictable path of grief. Feder shares her experience of navigating death with beauty and raw honesty. At times, the pastel coloring belies the somber moments, but the powder soft pinks also celebrate Feder’s memory of Rhonda and emphasize Tyler’s youth. The minimal backgrounds center the focus on Feder and her family, and the controlled but loose lines speak to the ever present conflict between Feder’s need for stability and the chaos into which she was thrust. The chapters end with illustrated tips, lists, and other quirky yet informative extras. VERDICT Grieving teens will find incredible solace in Feder’s story; all readers will be stirred by this wrenching yet uplifting musing. Hand this one to readers who are ready to move past Raina Telgemeier’s work and take a step closer to Lucy Knisley’s memoirs.–Alea Perez, ­Elmhurst Public Library, IL 


Almost American Girl: An Illustrated Memoir by Robin Ha. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray. ISBN 9780062685100.
 Gr 7 Up–Ha’s touching graphic memoir depicts her lonely first year as a teenage immigrant to America. When her single mother brought her from Seoul, South Korea, to Huntsville, AL, in 1995, 14-year-old Chuna (the author’s Korean name) thought it was just another vacation, but she quickly discovered that her mother intended to marry a fellow Korean immigrant, Mr. Kim. Chuna and her mother moved in with Mr. Kim’s extended family, and Chuna joined her new stepcousins at school. Stranded in a sea of indecipherable English and racist bullies, she realized that the glossy America she saw on television was far from reality. But Chuna began to take a clear-eyed look at her home country, particularly the prejudice she faced because her mother was unmarried, and came to understand her mother’s choice to leave Seoul. Eventually, Chuna joined a comic book course and bonded with her classmates. Illustrations include dynamic sound effects and convey overwrought emotion. The sepia-toned flashbacks to life in Seoul at first seem nostalgic, but as the teen reflects on how conservative Korean culture was, the monochromatic scenes feel far more bleak. Ha’s all too infrequent fantasy sequences are gloriously colorful, especially the scene when Chuna takes solace in her favorite fantasy universe. VERDICT A poignant and unvarnished depiction of immigration—both the heartache and the rewards.–Anna Murphy, Berkeley Carroll School, Brooklyn


Be Gay, Do Comics: Queer History, Memoir, and Satire from the Nib. edited by Matt Bors & others. IDW. ISBN 9781684057771.
 Gr 8 Up–Cartoonist Bors has compiled an incisive queer anthology, drawing on content from the Nib, a webcomic site that focuses on sociopolitical satire and nonfiction. More than 30 indie LGBTQ cartoonists and artists share their experiences navigating homophobia, gender identity, and the politics of sex. JB Brager remembers exploring their burgeoning identity alongside other queer teens on the early-aughts website LiveJournal, Breena Nuñez unpacks the difficulties of explaining being nonbinary to their myopic therapist, and Bianca Xunise and Sage Coffey ponder invisibility in media representation in a piece that feels like a cartoon depiction of a podcast episode. Other selections consider the queer experience from a historical viewpoint. Hazel Newlevant’s exposé of queer uprisings before the Stonewall Riots explores how trans teens organized to fight discrimination in their communities, and Max Dlabick highlights the origins and evolution of the rainbow flag. “The Response,” a segment from the Nib featuring the voices of six trans contributors, looks at the unique experience of transitioning. Artists define the word transition as they interpret it, and share how that definition impacted their personal journey. Jason Michaels and Mady G coauthor a piece that asks what it means to be “queer enough,” shining a light on pansexual identity and its perception within the queer community, while Alex Graudins’s musing on birth control and the asexual experience reminds readers that birth control functions as a key component of health care, regardless of a person’s sexual orientation and expression. While most comics center the American perspective, the anthology takes care to include global experiences in Trinidad Escobar’s call to decolonize queerness in the Philippines and Rosa Colón Guerra’s examination of how Puerto Rico’s federal and local civil rights laws affect the island’s queer community. The artwork is as diverse in expression as each artist’s personal experiences—some pages glow with vibrant, full-spectrum illustrations, while others rely on muted tones to project their deeply honest insecurities. VERDICT This celebration of queer voices in comics is a must for all libraries.–Elise Martinez, Racine, WI


Sticks & Scones by Ngozi Ukazu. First Second. ISBN 9781250179500.
 Gr 10 Up–Ukazu continues the saga of small-town Georgia boy Eric “Bitty” Bittle as he begins his junior year at Samwell University and strives to balance his studies with baking, hockey, and his new long-distance relationship with former teammate and current pro hockey player Jack Zimmerman. Despite the excitement of dealing with new teammates, feuding over jam, and keeping up with the growing viewership of his vlog, Bitty struggles with having to keep Jack a secret, and he can’t seem to find the words to tell his parents that his “best friend” is so much more than that. However, as Jack’s team, the Falconers, reaches the Stanley Cup playoffs, the two must decide whether sharing their relationship would result in terrible publicity or exactly the honesty they need in their lives. Full of the same endearing charm and affable dysfunction as the first book, Check, Please!, this is a superb sequel. Ukazu’s manga-esque art is still bright, bold, and deeply expressive; her ability to depict complex emotions in each panel remains impressive. The author infuses both minor and primary characters with unique personalities and quirks, resisting the temptation to settle for jock stereotypes and typical sports tropes. Her saga deftly tackles issues of privacy, acceptance, and authenticity without feeling preachy. Profanity and mature themes make it best suited for mature teens. VERDICT Funny, tender, and sweet without ever verging on saccharine, this is a stellar offering for fans of sports tales, romance, or stories of coming into one’s own.–Lara Goldstein, Forsyth County Public Libraries, NC 

Check out SLJ's interview with Ukazu on her first book, Check, Please.

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing