YALSA 2016 HUB Challenge: Roller Girl; Awkward; Drowned City

Wow . . . we haven’t had a HUB Challenge update on “Half-Way” for going on a full month now!

I’m going to go ahead and blame grad school work, and the resulting stress, for the delay . . . and also for why I cried the other day when a waiter gave me free tortilla chips with my take-out order.

I may have been laying down on the job with these reviews, but I certainly haven’t been slacking off with my ‘to read’ list!

Since I have a bit of a backlog to get through, for the next few posts, we’ll be combining more than one review per post; but I promise to hit all the high points so I won’t leave you dear readers hanging!  We’re also implementing some changes to our review formats to make them a bit more consistent in style.

This week, we have three more selections from the 2016 “Great Graphic Novels For Teens.”

Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

Is there a stronger word than love?  Let’s just go with the all-caps: I LOVE this graphic novel.

Chmakova’s middle-school world is diversely populated: characters range from a badass African-American female science teacher to an equally badass disabled mom/professional artist . . . with lots of interracial friendships and marriages sprinkled throughout (side note: this is also known as ‘how the real world actually looks,’ but unfortunately, still enough of a rarity to be worthy of comment).

But perhaps the biggest selling point for Awkward is the realism it embodies in terms of dialogue and plot.

We meet a character with an abusive father (the specifics of the abuse are not depicted or discussed so Awkward is still a safe read for middle-graders) and, as regular “Half-Way” readers know, there is nothing I hate more in fiction than the ‘Very Special Episode’ trope.  When bad things happen in life — when kids have to deal with very adult problems — there is no preachy background narration or overlaid foreboding music.

The bad days look very much like the normal days.

A younger reader (nor an older one) will never connect with a book that they do not feel is genuinely representing their lives.  Kids and teens do not want to be preached at.  Chmakova avoids the temptation to ‘tell’ and expertly ‘shows’ her readers instead . . . leaving them to draw their own conclusions and have their own emotional reactions.

But don’t let me mislead you.  Overall, Awkward reads as its title suggests: a quirky, laugh-out-loud encapsulation of junior high dramas and tween-age growing pains.

I actually caressed the page reading the panels below.  A tween beginning to discover the endless horizon of opportunities beyond his/her own microcosm of experience . . . it doesn’t get much more heart-warming than that.

These panels are also a full-color departure from the muted tones of the rest of the book.

These panels are also a full-color departure from the muted tones of the rest of the book.

I'm not crying! YOU'RE CRYING!

I’m not crying! YOU’RE CRYING!


Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Smile by Raina Telgemeier, Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm

Trigger Warnings:

Emotional (physical?) abuse

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

This is another ‘tween’/middle grade graphic novel.  Since I still have ‘the kid’ as my mom would say — meaning that I love all things juvenile (especially stickers and glittery things), for me the story was just as enjoyable reading it as an adult, but I also have no doubt that teen patrons (and the occasional fellow kid-ult like me) would like this one as well.

The graphics aren’t personally my favorite (a little too computer animation style for me, with more simplistic coloring and lines), but the story is fabulous.  Here again we have a wide range of ethnicities and family structures (single moms FTW) and some really well-done, subtle (this is key for me, as we’ve discussed above) examinations of gender roles and the weight of the expectations that are placed on girls — from a very young age — to be traditionally feminine.

"Feelings smoothie" is my new favorite term.

“Feelings smoothie” is my new favorite term.

Roller Girl was also just humorous and a nicely accessible overview of a subculture many readers would not have experienced first-hand.

Overall, in my mind Roller Girl is a very close second to Awkward in the competition for best middle-grader graphic novel.  Awkward pulls out ahead for me simply because the art dovetails more closely with my personal aesthetic.


Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson, Smile by Raina Telgemeier, Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm

Trigger Warnings:

Eating disorders (the main character’s best friend seems to have a possibly unhealthy relationship with food, though this is not explicit), gender identity, homophobia, bullying.

Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown

Another middle-grade/teen cross-over that is just as satisfying for adult readers, Brown’s Drowned City offers a pictorial accounting of Hurricane Katrina’s aftermath . . . released for its 10th anniversary.

The art for Drowned City is, in my opinion, by far the most sophisticated — reminiscent of a combination of watercolors and chalk pastels — but it is also the only kind of aesthetic that could match with the stark tragedy of the source material.  There is no balance of humor here . . . as, of course, there shouldn’t be.

Brown also does a good job of remaining politically neutral on a topic that is still, ten years later, strongly divisive.  Sticking to the facts, and presenting each infrastructure’s failure without commentary, Brown refrains from laying the blame for Katrina’s devastating impact on New Orleans and its people on any one agency or government official.

I wouldn’t recommend Drowned City for readers younger than 12+, simply because though Brown does not exploit the more grizzly aspects of Katrina’s devastation, he also does not pull punches when it comes to the realities of mass death and unimaginable destruction.


Gaijin: American Prisoner of War by Matt Faulkner, The Great American Dust Bowl by Don Brown (yup, the same Don Brown), “Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales” series by Nathan Hale.

Trigger Warnings

Death, pet death, natural disaster, looting/rioting

This is about as graphic as it gets in Drowned City, but sensitive and younger readers still might not be able to stomach it.

This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you click on one of the product links, I’ll receive a portion of the sales.  If you would like to donate directly to “Half-Way”‘s operation, please follow the Paypal link on the home page.

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