I grew up loving comics (not superhero ones, other kinds). Reading Persepolis & Maus as a teen was transformative, I particularly love the way graphic novels convey memoirs. I wanted to share 4 YA graphic novels that help bring discussions about oppression and personal responsibility into the classroom or home learning space.
Kisses for Jet by Joris Bas Backer
Published & sent by Flying Eye
This book has been getting a slew of advance praise, and with good reason. Jet is a teen that’s just been moved into a boarding house to finish school while their parents are living abroad. Jet’s mom has just received a huge promotion. This time alone and with more freedom gives Jet time to realize how uncomfortable they feel in their body.
I would describe reading K4J as seeing a collection of small moments of gender discovery, almost as if by mistake. They are quiet, solo reflections that felt intrusive to read.
Over the course of a few months, Jet is able to connect the pieces with a friend and begin a new chapter. Anyone that has spent hours reflecting on their own personal journey and joining threads, this book is for you.
Squire by Sara Alfageeh & Nadia Shammas
Published & sent by Harper Kids
This isn’t quite a memoir, but the plot of Squire discusses racial discrimation and oppression as well as the pressure to assimilate into the cultural majority that members of marginalized groups often feel.
Ornu protagonist Aiza joins the army in hopes of attaining full citizenship, but decides to hide her cultural tattoo that signifies her status.
As Aiza continues to train and eventually does become a squire, she realizes that some missions and responsibilities are at odds with her moral compass.
Squire is a beautiful exploration of personal goals and community care. Aiza’s ability to navigate an inequitable society in search of her own personal success is soon called into question when that involves harsh treatment of others.
Amazona by Canizales
Published & sent by Lerner
This book is INCREDIBLE. Indigenous land rights, infant loss, sneaky photo taking…soccer? CW: infant loss, systemic racism, sex acts.
Andrea is a displaced Indigenous woman from a tribe in the Columbian Amazon making a journey back to her homelands from the city where her family has been forcibly crammed into a dirty shack. Andrea is returning to bury her daughter and to capture evidence of illegal mining operations. If she can gather enough proof, her lands could possibly be returned and the mining would cease.
When Andrea comes across some guards, the stakes get even higher. While the character of Andrea herself is fiction, the context and issues within Amazona are not. Indigenous activism has only ramped up in the last decade as native lands are ripped away from their traditional stewards and the land itself is brutalized with mining and lumber milling.
In the back, Canizales has provided detailed information about land back activism in the Amazon. Amazona is set in 2014, and there is updated information about movements from 2014 to present day.
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, adapted by Fred Fordham
Published & sent by Harper
I’ve said it before and I’ll die on this hill, Aldous Huxley is a dead white guy I can stand behind. Brave New World was my favorite book as a teen, and I think I screeched when I saw this new graphic novel adaptation!
Even at 90 years old, the themes within Brave New World are startlingly prescient in the current moment.
Fred Fordham has taken this dystopian classic and given it an update, providing an illustrated view of the future world where science and technology reign supreme. Most of us have probably read BNW, in English class or otherwise, but the visual component makes it soar.
The themes of capitalism & consumerism above all else coupled with the exploitation and exoticism of Indigenous life continues to be deeply rooted in colonization, of which the society in Brave New World is the epitome of. A fabulous update to an amazing text!