Greg Hunter, the Associate Editorial Director for Graphic Universe, and Amy Fitzgerald, the Associate Editorial Director for Carolrhoda Novels, have stopped by the blog to share a few notes about some of their most talked-about titles for this year. So, without further ado, here they are!
Nie Jun’s My Beijing is unlike any other graphic novel I’ve had the privilege to work on. Nie, a Chinese cartoonist, draws from a whole range of influences, including Japanese manga artists like Osamu Tezuka and Katsuhiro Otomo, French and Belgian bandes dessinées artists like Herge and Moebius, and China’s own lianhuanhua tradition. The result, a gorgeous collection of watercolor comics, is a totally original combination of styles. But what matters most is the big, beating heart of the book.
My Beijing follows Yu’er, a kind, eternally optimistic girl with a mobility impairment, and her goofball of a grandpa as they mingle with eccentric neighbors throughout their Beijing hutong (residential alleyway). Each story is tender, surprising, and carefully told—with plenty of credit due, in the case of Lerner’s English-language edition, to expert translator Edward Gauvin. And people have taken notice. After becoming a Junior Library Guild selection and receiving a starred review in Booklist, the book was most recently named a standout new picture book in the New York Times, which called it a “delectable graphic story collection […] a bit like Miyazaki movies, but sweeter.”
Acclaimed graphic memoirist MariNaomi’s Losing the Girl—Mari’s first YA book and her first major work of graphic fiction—grabbed my attention twice over, both for its incisive portrayals of teenage life and for its bold uses of the comics form. The book, volume one in the Life on Earth trilogy, follows the dating lives and fraying friendships of a group of teenagers whose classmate may or may not have been abducted by alien. Mari draws the point of view of each major character in a different style, really showing readers who these kids are. It’s a fascinating book about closeness, isolation, and some possible extraterrestrial interventions.
Here too, people took notice. Jen Wang, of the 2018 hit The Prince and the Dressmaker, said that “MariNaomi authentically captures the angst, vulnerability, and longing of the teenage soul through not just one but four unique and distinct voices.” Writing on behalf of The Comics Journal, comics critic Rob Clough called it “a success from top to bottom.” And at Broken Frontier, Robin Enrico wrote, “The balancing act that MariNaomi pulls of in Losing the Girl is frankly staggering. […] Her characters are deeply sympathetic and their struggle deeply relatable.”
Volume two, Gravity’s Pull, arrives in March of 2019, so keep an eye out for that—it’s a book that goes even deeper with the characters and gets even bolder with its approach to storytelling, as rumored abductee Claudia Jones returns to town.
I’ve written about the intense experience of discovering this heartbreaking, defiantly hopeful YA manuscript, and seeing the finished novel receive such a warm reception has been so gratifying. I’ve heard about a high school that’s worked the book into its curriculum. Librarians and teachers are raving about how it reflects dark and complex realities with unflinching honesty and unexpected beauty. Teen readers have posted that they’ve never read a novel like this, that they don’t usually read much but are going to reread Macy’s story, that they’ve recommended it to their friends. Whenever Macy’s indomitable voice pops back into my head, I know exactly why.
When I read the first draft of this YA manuscript back in spring of 2016, I thought it was searingly relevant to teens—especially girls—who are told they can do and be whatever they want but face starker realities. Brilliant, hardworking Claudia wants to be a force for good in the universe (or her elite high school, for starters), but that’s not easy, especially when she comes up against entrenched power structures, rules that don’t apply to guys, a culture of backstabbing, and her own deep flaws. Rereading the finished manuscript right before it went to the printer earlier this year, seeing more clearly than ever how it reflects the world that teens are growing up in, I cried. This story speaks so powerfully to challenges that I first became aware of as a teen and that follow many of us into adulthood.
As a kid, I was one of “the quiet ones,” to whom author Sarah McGuire dedicated this middle-grade novel. I listened more than I talked, and when I found I did have something to say, I wasn’t sure how to make myself heard. This original take on one of my favorite obscure fairy tales revolves around a girl who must remain silent for six years in order to break the curse that’s been laid on her brothers. Readers will be rooting for spunky Princess Andaryn as she finds ingenious ways to assert her agency and her worth, reminding us that there’s more than one way to speak up for oneself.