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Friends, Food and SciFi December 7, 2013

Posted by ccbooks in Analysis.
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One of the genres in YA lit that has exploded recently is comics and graphic novels. A form traditionally dominated by male artists and male voices, it has been great to see more women writers and artists getting recognition for their fantastic work. Here are three female comic artists and writers to check out:

relishLucy Knisley is based in Brooklyn, NY and has two autobiographical graphic novels centered mostly around food. French Milk details a trip she took to Paris with her mother at age 22. Knisley includes photos from the trip, along with countless doodles of meals and food that are no less tantalizing for being black and white sketches. This is a great read for anyone who has fallen in love with Paris, as well as those teens who long to get away and travel. Anyone who enjoyed To Timbuktu by Casey Scieszka and Steven Weinberg will also like this combination of words and images.

Knisley’s latest book is Relish: My Life in the Kitchen which is a more comprehensive food-centered memoir. Structured around a set of recipes, each one caps a story or episode from Knisley’s life. Many are about family, her mother’s work at restaurants and farmers markets, trips abroad, and the experience of working at a gourmet store in Chicago during college. Each episode is well-paced and as in her other work, Knisley is excellent at using her artwork to make you hungry.

I think one of the big appeals about Knisley’s work for teen readers is her focus on everyday things like food. There are plenty of comics and graphic novel series about superheroes, magic and grand epic battles, and fewer about common experiences such as being with family and preparing food. Knisley has talked in interviews about her goal to use comics to create a bond between herself and her readers, and that warmth and dedication to connection definitely comes across in both these titles.

mercuryHope Larson writes for a slightly younger audience but is just as good a storyteller, with her titles Salamander Dream, Chiggers and Mercury (to say nothing of her adaptation of the classic A Wrinkle in Time). Similar to Knisley, much of her work is in black and white, with the addition of blue to A Wrinkle in Time. All of her work features believable female protagonists and often a touch of mystery or the supernatural. Change and growing are themes in many of her books, with an emphasis on friendship. Hailey in Salamander Dream encounters an ambiguous being named Salamander, Tara in Mercury must find the connection between a quicksilver necklace and her family’s past, while Meg in A Wrinkle in Time of course discovers her true abilities while fighting IT on the planet Camazotz. Larson’s compelling characters and unusual settings make her a great choice for any middle school reader interested in comics.

friendsFaith Erin Hicks takes on the twin themes of family and friends in her book Friends with Boys, as well as Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong, authored by Prudence Shen. Both titles have families with absent mothers and friendship struggles. In Friends with Boys, Maggie is starting public school for the first time and worries about making friends. Add to that a gang of older brothers with their own struggles and a ghost hanging around and you have a great coming of age story with a slightly creepy touch. Charlie Nolan in Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong ends up as a candidate for student body president as his neighbor and his cheerleader ex-girlfriend fight over whether student council money gets spent on cheerleading uniforms or a robotics competition. Campaign tactics reminiscent of the movie Election get the teenagers in trouble both at school and at home and it seems as though Charlie will never be able to find a peaceful moment. Hicks’ drawing style is a little busier than either Larson or Knisely, her characters’ faces defined with sharp lines and shadows around the eyes.  Readers will root for her teenagers and agree that their happy endings are entirely deserved.

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