In continuing the short reviews and discussion of the titles on this year’s Outstanding Books for the College Bound list (OBCB), I thought I’d hit on format in this roundup, rather than thematic connections. One of the things that makes me really proud of the work we did on this list was that we included a nice number of graphic novels and graphic non-fiction titles. Even though it seems like those who are huge readers have been “on to” graphic books forever, it’s still a format not everyone widely accepts as a legitimate type of reading. The books that we were able to include in a list of books for those who want to attend college or who are life long learners in the graphic format definitely prove otherwise — included here are both fiction and non-fiction graphic novels, as well as a couple of graphic novel hybrids.
These titles spanned all of the categories on the OBCB list, so I haven’t read them all personally. Because of that, I’m going to format this roundup a little bit differently than the previous formats. I’ll offer up the official WorldCat description for each, and then for the titles I have read or have more to elaborate upon, I’ll note that beneath.
As a bonus, many of the graphic novels are also diverse titles.
March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell: John Lewis’s autobiographical account of his lifelong battle for civil rights for all Americans.
I didn’t get a chance to read this one, but it looks like an outstanding (auto)biographical work about John Lewis’s life and how much a role he played during the civil rights movement.
Philosophy: A Discovery in Comics by Margreet De Heer: A fun introduction in comics to deep thinking and the history of philosophy.
The WorldCat description tells you everything and nothing about this little gem. It is a fun introduction to the history of philosophy, but it’s more than that. While it definitely offers a solid history, the core of the book is about how readers can learn to develop their own ideas about philosophy and figure out what their own philosophy on life is. It’s easy to follow and it’s not going to go over the heads (nor bore!) readers who may not be interested in philosophy or those who think that philosophy is a tough, hard-to-grasp concept. This makes it really easy.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley: Lucy Knisley loves food. The daughter of a chef and a gourmet, this talented young cartoonist comes by her obsession honestly. In her forthright, thoughtful, and funny memoir, Lucy traces key episodes in her life thus far, framed by what she was eating at the time and lessons learned about food, cooking, and life. Each chapter is bookended with an illustrated recipe– many of them treasured family dishes, and a fewof them Lucy’s original inventions.
I reviewed this book last year, well before deciding to nominate it for OBCB consideration. What made this a standout and one we decided to put on the Arts & Humanities list was how much love was poured into food and eating. This is the kind of book anyone — from a passionate foodie to a person who merely enjoys a good meal now and then to the reader who has never thought much about the food they eat — could get into. Knisley’s art is really enjoyable, and her ability to be respectful of the way food connects us as people and the way food becomes a centerpiece to our lives gets at the heart of arts and humanities.
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang: Alternates three interrelated stories about the problems of young Chinese Americans trying to participate in the popular culture. Presented in comic book format.
That’s not the most useful WorldCat description, but it’s pretty spot on about what the book is. It’s been a long time since I read this one — back in grad school is when I think I read it — but it’s one that’s stuck with me not just because it’s three interconnected stories about the Chinese-American experience, but also because of how outstanding the artwork is. This is easily a classic of YA literature and of graphic novels for young readers (if not graphic novels, period) and it’s a perfect fit for the list.
Feynman by Jim Ottaviani and Leland Myrick: In this substantial graphic novel biography, First Second presents the larger-than-life exploits of Nobel-winning quantum physicist, adventurer, musician, world-class raconteur, and one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century: Richard Feynman. Written by nonfiction comics mainstay Jim Ottaviani and brilliantly illustrated by First Second author Leland Myrick, Feynman tells the story of the great man’s life from his childhood in Long Island to his work on the Manhattan Project and the Challenger disaster. Ottaviani tackles the bad with the good, leaving the reader delighted by Feynman’s exuberant life and staggered at the loss humanity suffered with his death.
War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay and Daniel Lefrance: Jacob is a 14-year-old Ugandan who is sent away to a boys’ school. Once there, he assures his friend Tony that they need not be afraid — they will be safe. But not long after, in the shadow of the night, the boys are abducted. Marched into the jungle, they are brought to an encampment of the feared rebel soldiers. They are told they must kill or be killed, and their world turns into a terrifying struggle to endure and survive.
This is a title I didn’t get my hands on, despite being on one of my own subcommittee’s lists. If you’ll remember, one of the things I talked about in terms of the committee process is that sometimes, you don’t get to read everything (in this case, the book was too new and I couldn’t get it at work, nor could I interlibrary loan it) but a good argument and discussion by those who did read it can persuade you to consider it worth including on the list. I’ve since acquired it for my library and look forward to checking it out.
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie: Budding cartoonist Junior leaves his troubled school on the Spokane Indian Reservation to attend an all-white farm town school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.
Alexie’s novel isn’t a straight graphic novel — it’s a hybrid. It’s been years since I read this one, but like with Yang’s title, it’s a staple of YA lit and it’s a perfect fit for the Literature and Languages list. This could have easily fit, too, on the History and Cultures list.
Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi and Craig Phillips: Chasing Shadows is a searing look at the impact of one random act of violence. Before: Corey, Holly, and Savitri are one unit– fast, strong, inseparable. Together they turn Chicago concrete and asphalt into a freerunner’s jungle gym, ricocheting off walls, scaling buildings, leaping from rooftop to rooftop. But acting like a superhero doesn’t make you bulletproof. After: Holly and Savitri are coming unglued. Holly says she’s chasing Corey’s killer, chasing revenge. Savitri fears Holly’s just running wild– and leaving her behind. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long? In this intense novel, told in two voices, and incorporating comic-style art sections, Swati Avasthi creates a gripping portrait of two girls teetering on the edge of grief and insanity. Two girls who will find out just how many ways there are to lose a friend– and how many ways to be lost.
I reviewed Avasthi’s title before I nominated it for our list and I still stand behind everything in that review for why it belongs on the OBCB list. One other reason is that this story is set in that strange time period between the end of high school and whatever comes next. Though there have been more of those books in recent years, Avasthi’s handling of the social elements in that time frame — friendship, specifically — really makes it stand out. This, like Alexie’s book, is a graphic hybrid, rather than a solid graphic novel.
Pluto by Naoki Urasawa (the entire manga series): In a world where man and robots coexist, the powerful Swiss robot Mont Blanc has been destroyed. Elsewhere a key figure in a robot rights group is murdered. The two incidents appear to be unrelated…except for one very conspicuous clue – the bodies of both victims have been fashioned into some sort of bizarre collage complete with makeshift horns placed by the victims’ heads. Interpol assigns robot detective Gesicht to this most strange and complex case – and he eventually discovers that he too, as one of the seven great robots of the world, is one of the targets.
This series of books is on the Science and Technology list, and it’s one that I didn’t read. It sounds really fantastic though, and I appreciate how an entire manga series is on the OBCB list — not only does it showcase how graphic novels can be “real reading,” but it shows that even a format that many consider to be “lesser” than more “prestigious” graphic novels are worthwhile, thought-provoking, important reads.
Little Fish: A Memoir From a Different Kind of Year by Ramsey Beyer: Told through real-life journals, collages, lists, and drawings, this coming-of-age story illustrates the transformation of an 18-year-old girl from a small-town teenager into an independent city-dwelling college student. Written in an autobiographical style with beautiful artwork, Little Fish shows the challenges of being a young person facing the world on her own for the very first time and the unease–as well as excitement–that comes along with that challenge.
Beyer’s memoir is maybe less of a graphic novel than the others on this list, but I’m including it because the style will have appeal to those readers who love the graphic format. This is sort of collage/scrapbook style storytelling, with art, lists, and images sprinkled throughout the story of Beyer’s first year at art school. What’s great about this book and why it fits so well on the list is that it’s the first-hand experience of the first year of being away at school. There are highs and there are lows, there are expectations met and failed, and there is a lot of musing about relationships past and present. It’s honest and heartfelt, and it’s the kind of realistic portrayal I wish I’d read before I went to college. It would have definitely made me feel less alone or weird in some of the less-than-pleasant feelings I had when I went to college and away from home.
For the previous roundups of titles on the Outstanding Books for the College Bound list, you can find them on the topics of music and musicality, religion and spirituality, girls across borders, and football and football culture.