List Fun: YA Graphic Novels

What can I say about my passion for graphic novels? Here’s what I can’t say: I am a good drawer; I know how to use water paint, oil, ink, charcoal with positive results. But, when I crack the fresh spine of a graphic novel, I feel like I can do any of things, if only I just gave myself a chance.

This essential literature, especially so in YA, without fail reminds me that life is beautiful with its complications – people will break your heart and others will help you piece it together; identities are massively malleable – it is up to us to see what sticks; humor is the best cure in this world, and rebellion is necessary in non-prescribed doses.

Below, find some of my favorite YA graphic novel finalists/winners of The Cybils Awards:

americanbornAmerican Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (2006 YA Graphic Novel winner): What can I say about this phenomenal book that has not already been said? The parallel and evocative narratives hook you from the inception. The brilliant colors and artwork entrance you in such a way that you ignore everything and everyone until you close the book. But, I think the most pressing aspect of this novel is that we were given it before we knew we needed it. It was diverse and boundary pushing and important before we as readers were actively asking for such criteria. And we need it now as much, or more so, than we did way back when.  

arrivalThe Arival by Shaun Tan (2007 YA Graphic Novel finalist): As the daughter of immigrants and as someone who is now living in my family’s maternal country, the images in this novel continue to resonate. The unknown becomes comforting and arresting. You embrace what is different though it may not embrace you back because you don’t want the fear to disrupt your already fragile world. The smallest events become the most necessary, the most precious. Language comes second to your new environment. You are there to experience. To explore. To live.

plainjanesThe Plain Janes (Janes #1) by Cecil Castellucci; illustrated by Jim Rugg (2007 YA Graphic Novel finalist): I must preface my adoration of this novel by saying how much I miss the DC Comics imprint, Minx. During it short existence, this imprint published numerous graphic novels that were aimed specifically at teenage girls. They were all amazing novels. Case in point, The Plain Janes: a story about a young teenage girl rediscovering herself after tragedy through the power of art. Through the power of rule breaking. Through the power of friendship. I remember devouring this novel and perusing my public library’s shelves for any and all books by Ms. Castellucci, and concocting my own little ways to rebel.

professorsdaughterThe Professor’s Daughter by Joann Sfar; illustrated by Emmanuel Guibert (2007 YA Graphic Novel winner): I recall reading this graphic novel in a whirl of romance and whimsy. I never questioned the attraction between the mummy and the professor’s daughter – they have so much in common. I relished the humor and beautiful color palettes of each panel – you had indoubtably traveled back in time. The only thing I wondered: Why did it end so soon? Also, would their kids be wrapped in toilet paper too?

emikoEmiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki; illustrated by Steve Rolston (2008 YA Graphic Novel winner): Emiko’s evolution from a wallflower to an active participator in life kicked me into high gear. I wanted to know everything I possibly could about Andy Warhol that I checked out from the library a massive book which told me it was his diaries. I wanted to be the person who used creative expression as a way to address what was really worrying me, what was really holding me back. I desired to have an evolution too before it was out of my reach.

kinKin (Good Neighbors Book 1) by Holly Black; illustrated by Ted Naifeh (2008 YA Graphic Novel finalist): When this graphic novel came out I was already a huge fan of Ms. Black’s due to Tithe. So, I was totally on board for more faerie fare. But this novel offered so much more. It’s a thrilling character study of love and betrayal, and how our identities can be so fickle and fading. So fleeting. Especially, when we need them the most. Which, is – as we all know – a perfect parallel to every teenagers’ life.

lifesucksLife Sucks by Jessica Biel and Gabe Soria; illustrated by Warren Pleece (2008 YA Graphic Novel finalist): This book came out during the apogee of vampiric fiction and consciously decides to wittingly tackle all the comical aspects of these night creatures, while chronicling a budding romance between a living girl and an undead convenience store clerk. Plus the beautiful, glossy pages and vibrant colors make every page pop with life and joy. It will remind you why you adore these lovers of exsanguination. Or in Dave’s case, plasma-philes.

skimSkim by Mariko Tamaki; illustrated by Jillian Tamaki (2008 YA Graphic Novel finalist): There are so many things going on simultaneously in this phenomenal novel: self-discovery – sexual and mental, love, death, depression. I can’t really focus on one because each is so necessary and beautifully described and drawn. The colors are so edible – you want to devour the pages because they will nourish you with honesty and life. You want it all to remain in your body for eternity.

levelupLevel Up by Gene Luen Yang; illustrated by Thien Pham (2011 YA Graphic Novel finalist): I could, and still can, immensely relate to Dennis’ plight in this novel: Do you live up to your expectations or your family’s? I don’t think there is a simple answer to this question, more so if you are the child of immigrants. There is a certain responsibility you feel to make your parents’ sacrifices worthwhile. And the exploration of this push and pull is masterfully done while intermixing video games, magical realism, and questioning destiny’s role in our lives.

paigePage by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge (2011 YA Graphic Novel finalist): The sign of a great novel for me is when you feel the compulsion to write down everything that resonates. Case in point: In my journal dated October 4, 2011, I attempted – with less than stellar results – drawing stairs, like the ones in the story which featured the following phrase: “What you are doing right now this moment, THIS STEP is the most important thing in your life.” Paige’s sketches and her journey to self-actualization boil down to this one idea: Everything matters.

~ Lourdes Keochgerien, The Young Adult Review Network