There were six finalists this year in the Cybils Graphic Novels for Young Adults category. One of them I’d already read – Shadow Hero, by Gene Luen Yang. Two of them I was unable to find through my local libraries; the other three are reviewed here. All of these had been on my radar, but In Real Life was the only one I was really thinking about reading before this list came out – the others had been coded as “probably great, but not my thing.” I read them anyway, and am glad for the stretch.
In Real Life by Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang. First Second, 2014.
Anda, teen programmer and gamer girl, is new in Arizona and not fitting in. Then, she receives a school-led invitation to join an all-girls’ guild on Coarsegold, a new MMRPG. Joy! Friends! Adventure! When her guild leader offers to hook her up paid work that she can do in the game, she’s all in. The work turns out to be killing gold farmers, low-level characters who mine gold in the game to sell for real money to other players. It feels like helping to root out cheating in the game, and Anda finds it great fun at first. Then she gets to know one of the gold farmers, who goes by Raymond. He’s a Chinese boy just a little older than she is, working long hours for low pay in the least dangerous job he can find. Anda wants to help him – but even that goes awry as what had been a simple black-and-white situation explodes into horrible shades of grey. This is a nicely told story of Anda noticing injustice in her world for the first time, and I really appreciated that she wasn’t allowed to be the white savior of helpless natives. Jen Wang’s art work felt somewhere between Western and manga style, and bridged the real and the virtual world very nicely. I enjoyed this one lots, and was happy to see it come away the winner.
The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks. Illustrated by Caanan White. Broadway Books, 2104.
This is a stirring story based on the true experiences of the 369th Infantry Regiment in WWI, an all-Black unit that terrified the Germans, won medals in France, and came home the most decorated American unit abroad ever, all in the face of horrific prejudice. This was a story that drew me right in, told in a way that made me believe it could have been a movie. Caanan’s black-and-white art work told the story clearly, and I really appreciated the lack of color for keeping the focus on the story rather than the copious gore. I confess that I usually have a hard time keeping the characters straight in war movies (so many people of the same gender dressed and hair cut identically!), but White did a fabulous job of keeping everyone distinct. An important story, for sure, but also one that works well just as a story. It’s a little old for my son yet, but I could see him devouring this in a couple of years.
Through the Woods by Emily Carroll Margaret K. McElderry Books, 2014.
Horror is really not my thing and only my resolution to read all of the finalists that I could induced me to pick up this book. I carefully read it on break at work, so as not to risk too many nightmares by reading it before bedtime at home, or where my kids could see the pictures. The tales have a timeless folk feeling and brought to mind the time I accidentally read some of Edgar Allan Poe’s tales at the dentist’s office. (I still don’t know what that book was doing on the shelf next to the coloring books.. The art is beautiful, in saturated colors with lots of contrast, the text woven through – a ghost’s song written in trails of blood is particularly vivid in my mind. There are mysteries, ghosts, murders. Everything ends badly and there is no hope. I’m still not a fan of horror, but highly recommend this for those who are!