Since Noelle Stevenson, the author of Nimona, is also a co-author on Lumberjanes, I felt I could get away with reviewing these two top-ten winners of YALSA’s 2016 “Great Graphic Novels for Teens” in one blog post. However, I’ll try not to compare and contrast these two books too very much, given that they are so starkly different in theme and artistic style.
A note before we begin . . .
Again this week, I was not left wanting for strong (and diverse — with regards to race, sexuality, and disability) feminist content in my selected books. Is it because the librarianship profession is filled mostly with women that literary awards given out by library associations so gravitate towards works that promote equality and inclusion? Or, hope against hope, as this new generation of YA readers is there simply more interested in fiction that better mirrors their reality in its composition of characters?
Onto Nimona . . .
Nimona‘s artistic style is definitely more minimalist than Lumberjanes‘ but it also feels somehow more sophisticated . . . as if its muted, tonal colors belong more to an art gallery than a graphic novel section (which is not to say that graphic novels are not, or cannot be, designed with a more artistic aesthetic, simply that the vast majority of mainstream graphic novels tend to exist more on the primary colors end of the spectrum).
Nimona is infinitely multi-layered; it is rare — and delightful — to find a piece of fiction that can mean so many different things to so many different types of readers.
First, the relationship between Nimona and Lord Blackheart is unique and refreshing in that their roles in relation to one another are constantly shifting. Blackheart never settles exclusively into the ‘mentorship’ role and Nimona never plays the ingénue for very long (if at all, if she can help it!).
Also fascinating is Nimona’s choice of shapes.
Only a few times throughout the story does Nimona transform into a humanoid being — instead, mostly she cycles her way through a variety of animal forms. Stevenson suggests, especially later in the book, that while Nimona’s animal shapes tend to be dominated by her more aggressive personality, her human self is at once a cover to prevent others from being intimidated by the amount of power that she wields and a genuine regression to her more vulnerable side.
Which is her true self?
The form Nimona most often uses: a punk-rock pink-haired chubby teenager (yes, Stevenson snuck some bad-ass body positivity in here as well)?
The scared little peasant girl abandoned by her parents?
The changeling that took her place?
Is she simply “a little girl disguised as a monster” or a monster disguised as a little girl? Can she be both?
Stevenson’s answer is undeniably ‘yes, yes, yes’ and ‘all of the above.’
But perhaps the most resonant aspect of Nimona is its way of encouraging a healthy skepticism towards the stories we tell about ourselves and those told about us by others.
Not only is Nimona’s own backstory in constant flux, but Lord Blackheart’s role and his relationship to his friend/lover (yup, Stevenson also snuck in some GLBTQ positivity) Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin are defined by the stories that the Institution has told about them.
Absolute five out of five stars on Nimona; cannot recommend this one enough.
And onto Lumberjanes.
Now though Nimona has many laugh-out-loud moments, I would personally never classify it as ‘humor.’ Lumberjanes on the other hand . . .
Here, we have pop culture references galore and pun-tastic dialogue (Lumberjanes can even earn a ‘Pungeon Master’ badge!). The panels read almost as a graphic depiction of a Gilmore Girls or Veronica Mars episode: simply dripping with quippy, fast-paced, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it dialogue.
But, though Lumberjanes provides more lols than Nimona, it certainly doesn’t skimp on feminist content.
In Volume 1 alone, we have a girly redhead easily besting a muscled statue in a feat of strength, boy scouts happily playing hosts (serving tea and cookies (homemade, presumably) and keeping a “neat and tidy house”), and toxic, hyper-masculinity being played for laughs.
Subversive, Lumberjanes most definitely is.
No doubt, my standards going into Lumberjanes were heightened because of the emotional connection I felt reading Nimona.
And, in no small part, by Lumberjanes‘ much more aggressive PR campaign; the hype it generated necessarily raised expectations beyond the point at which they could reasonably be met.