7 Graphic Novels That Offer Powerful Mirrors & Windows for Teens | Summer Reading 2020

With evocative memoirs, complex love stories, and socially-conscious supervillains, these graphic books offer new windows into our world.

With evocative memoirs, complex love stories, and socially-conscious supervillains, these graphic books offer new windows into our world.

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir by Malaka Gharib. illus. by author. Clarkson Potter. ISBN 9780525575115.

Gharib, the U.S.-born child of divorced Egyptian and Filipina immigrants, loved both her cultures but grew up deeply confused about her place in the world. Full of chaotic doodles, lists, and asides, this intimate graphic memoir mirrors Gharib’s uncertainty—about her complex relationship with whiteness, her attempts to belong in high school and in college—and her joy at her rich cultural identity.

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe. illus. by author. Lion Forge. ISBN 9781549304002.

An art class assignment about confronting demons drove Kobabe, who now uses the pronouns e/em/eir, to grapple with eir horror at breasts, periods, and other symbols of femininity—and to realize e identified as genderqueer. Featuring realistic, earth-toned cartoons, this forthright memoir earnestly examines everything from pap smears gone wrong to experiments with sex toys. Kobabe is the reassuring older sibling that many LGBTQ teens will wish they’d had.

They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, & Steven Scott. illus. by Harmony Becker. Top Shelf. ISBN 9781603094504.

In this evocative memoir, actor and activist Takei revisits his childhood, when he, his family, and thousands of other Japanese Americans were imprisoned in internment camps by the U.S. government during World War II. Becker’s clean-lined, grayscale art pulls back the curtains on our dark history and shines a light on recent events—Trump’s “travel ban” and the separation of parents and children at the U.S.-Mexico border—that have chilling parallels with Takei’s experiences.

Harley Quinn: Breaking Glass by Mariko Tamaki. illus. by Steve Pugh. DC Ink. ISBN 9781401283292.

This mesmerizing supervillain origin story reimagines the Joker’s hell-raising sidekick as a wayward 15-year-old determined to protect her newfound community from encroaching gentrification. Tamaki’s pitch-perfect narration and Pugh’s chaotic, superrealistic illustrations bring to life a Harley Quinn who’s a volatile mix of vulnerability and impulsivity, tempered by her growing social consciousness.

book covers

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki. illus. by Jillian Tamaki. First Second. ISBN 9781626720947

Every summer, Rose and her parents vacation at a lakeside cottage. The rest of the world fades away as Rose reunites with her friend Windy and delves into leisurely games of MASH, swimming, and the joy of digging giant holes in the sand—but this summer is different.

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki. illus. by Rosemary Valero-O’Connell. First Second. ISBN 9781626722590.

Francesca “Freddy” Riley flakes on her friends to chase after her dream girl, flighty Laura Dean, who sends mixed signal after mixed signal. Spot-on dialogue; stunning, fluid art; and a panel structure that captures the awkwardness of adolescence create a tender portrait of first love, set in a world where LGBTQ relationships are refreshingly normalized.

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang. illus. by author. First Second. ISBN 9781626720794.

A year after publishing his well-received Boxers and Saints, graphic novelist and math teacher Yang was beset by writer’s block. But his curiosity was piqued by the Dragons, his school’s men’s varsity basketball team.

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