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Graphic Novel Review: Fight Girls Volume 1 by Frank Cho

Fight Girls Volume 1 by Frank Cho, colors by Sabine Rich. AWA Upshot, 2022. 9781953165268. Contains #1 – 5.

The queen abdicated her throne a year ago, her marriage has been annulled, and an ancient contest of ten champions is about to start. The survivor of the trials will become Queen of the empire, but that will be a trial of its own. The contestants are a diverse group of women from across the empire, and not all of them fight fair. (Because Cho drew this, they’re all beautiful though. And athletic.) The trials are violent and of course the entirety of the bloodsport is broadcast live. The frontrunner doesn’t last long. And the woman who is unexpectedly doing better than expected is being investigated by authorities, who fear something is amiss.

There’s a lot going on in this science fiction action movie of a graphic novel. Right when I was deciding whether or not to close the book because I was tired of seeing young women torn apart by well-drawn monsters, it took a pleasant turn. Two of the blurbs on the back mention The Hunger Games, and it’s a good read-alike for those looking for a straightforward, R-rated version.

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Graphic Novel Review: Thieves by Lucie Bryon

Thieves by Lucie Bryon. Nobrow, 2022. 9781838741198. 208pp.

This great romantic YA graphic novel starts with Ella investigating Madeleine, a girl in one of her classes whom she’s obsessed with. They bump into each other at a party, Ella drinks quite a bit, and when looking for a bathroom to barf in she finds a closet full of cool stuff. The next morning she wakes up at her apartment surrounded by some of those things unsure how she got there. Madeleine arrives shortly after and the romance proceeds to its next step, but Madeleine also reveals that the party was at her house and that some of her stuff was stolen.

I don’t want to spoil the story, but the next part of the book is the same sequence from Madeleine’s point of view, which leads to revelations. The two end up with a mission they try to complete for the rest of the book as their relationship develops.

Byron does a great job capturing the energy of a crush in her writing and art. The whole thing feels wonderfully lo-fi, in particular because of the way she switches between colors throughout and because of her use of screen tones.

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Graphic Novel Review: Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam by Thien Pham

Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam by Thien Pham. First Second, 2023. 9781250809728. 236pp. including endnotes in the form of Q&A comic strips. http://www.powells.com/book/-9781250809728?partnerid=34778&p_bt

Pham’s graphic memoir starts with his first memory, when he was five, on an overcrowded boat with his family. They’re given aid by a boat, and then shortly after they’re attacked by pirates; during the attack Pham’s mom holds him and urges him to keep his eyes closed, telling him she’s right there and that everything will be okay. It’s one of the most intense and riveting scenes I’ve ever read. (If this book doesn’t win a few major comics awards from the library and comics communities because of that scene alone, something is wrong.) His family lives at Songkhla Refugee Camp, where Pham makes friends and his mom takes over a restaurant to support their family. Then they get the chance to settle in the US where his parents work exceedingly hard, he meets a familiar friend from the camps, and then he discovers potato chips. The book jumps forward to Pham’s teen years when his parents are once again entrepreneurs, and then again at the end of the book to a time closer to now, when Pham worked at a school with Gene Yang. (Seeing Yang through Pham’s eyes is fun; read the great graphic novel they did together, Level Up, if you haven’t.)

At the heart of the book is the story of Pham becoming American (minor spoiler: he gets his citizenship in the final part of the book), and throughout he relates the journey to the food he ate and his family and friends. This is the kind of remarkable, emotional story librarians and readers love to share with everyone, and it’s amazing to see that Pham continues to improve as a storyteller with every book.

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Graphic Novel Review: Squire & Knight by Scott Chantler

Squire & Knight by Scott Chantler. First Second, 2023. 9781250249333. 176pp. Includes a few pages of Fun Extra Stuff at the end including the origin of the idea, characters, sketches, and a quick look at Chantler’s process of moving from script to finished pages.

The boastful Sir Kelton and his book-loving squire arrive in Bridgetown, but there aren’t any people in the street, and the town’s namesake bridge is gone, too. Turns out everyone is inside because they’re afraid of the dragon. The townsfolk blame a curse for bringing the dragon and for everything that’s gone wrong in the town, including the bridge. Sir Kelton loudly proclaims he’ll take care of the dragon and rebuild the bridge (and take care of other problems) and then gallops off after it. Days later he still hasn’t reappeared. But his squire is trying to investigate using the books in the hall of records and by talking to the townsfolk. The wizard who founded the town, Elden Augerhand, keeps coming up, as does his tower (where the dragon now resides).

It all turns into a wonderful fantasy/mystery with a satisfying ending. And though I loved Chantler’s Three Thieves graphic novels series, this is by far my favorite book of his. (I’m a huge fan of Chantler’s art, and this is some of his best, plus the limited color palette is used to great effect.) I highly recommend it to fantasy readers of all ages.

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Kids Graphic Novels!

Mad About Meatloaf (Weenie featuring Frank & Beans Book 1) by Maureen Fergus, illustrated by Alexandra Bye. Tundra, 2021. 9780735267916. 56pp.

This book is worth buying for the series name alone. Weenie is the dog, Frank (a cat) is his best friend, Beans (a guinea pig) is his other friend, and Bob takes care of them all. Bob made a meatloaf that he left on the counter and that Weenie simply must have. First the friends have to work together to get on the counter, and then they work together to make Bob a new meatloaf. It’s zany fun that’s beautifully illustrated by Bye.




Sir Ladybug and the Bookworms (Sir Ladybug Book 3) by Corey R. Tabor. Balzer + Bray, 2022. 9780063069121. 64pp.

An ant delivers a notice to Sir Ladybug that the book he checked out is due at sunset. Turns out it’s in his friend Sterling’s shell (he’s a snail). They set off with Pell, a roly-poly, to find the library and return the book, which is a biography of a dung beetle. But there are a lot of bugs that need help along the way, and then three bookworms who want to eat the book. The best part by far is the library, which is a bit of a surprise.




The Spooky Story (Paige Proves It #2) by Amy Marie Stadelmann. Aladdin, 2023. 9781534451643. 112pp.

Paige loves facts. When her friends Penn and Karla say the Evergreen Street Music School is haunted, Page makes a list of evidence and starts investigating to determine the facts. My favorite thing about the book: there are even a few pages on how facts need evidence, or they’re just guesses, and another page that explains what to do when new evidence shows up. It reminds me of classic Scooby-Doo episodes (back when the supernatural stuff was found to be some sour adult with an agenda) but with more of a library-friendly focus.




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Book Review: The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen

The Skull: A Tyrolean Folktale by Jon Klassen. Candlewick, 2023. 9781536223361. 108pp.

I picked this up at Third Place Books and then had to buy a copy. The free print that came with it had something to do with that, but mostly I was buying it for the illustrations, and because the shelf talker was right, it’s a perfect children’s book.

It’s about a girl named Otilla, who runs away in the middle of the night. She runs and runs and falls and in the forest finds a huge house that looks abandoned. But it has one resident, a skull who has lived there a long time. (He can talk and move around with some difficulty, but he needs some help.) There’s a bottomless pit, a bunch of spooky masks, and a tower, and something that comes looking for the skull every night.

The story is spooky, but not too spooky. In Klassen’s author’s note at the end, he explains how he first read the original tale (in a library) and how his brain misremembered it. I’m so glad the bookseller who sold me a copy told me to read his comments.

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Board Book Reviews

Happy Halloweenie by Katie Vernon. Little Simon, 2023. 9781665930604.
Weenie can’t decide what to be for Halloween, which provides a chance for Vernon to create hilarious illustrations and for young kids to learn some rhyming vocabulary words. My favorite is the Chewbacca-esque “hairy” costume.
Birthday Monsters by Sandra Boynton. Boynton Bookworks, 1993, 2014. 9781665925105.
Five birthday monsters wake a poor hippo up at 6am and create chaos! My daughter loved it when I used to read this book to her, and then she loved reading it to me.
And, good news, it seems like every Sandra Boynton book I remember is back in print now!  Did they ever leave print? At least I’ve seen more out there recently than I remember reading, and I remember quite a few.) My favorites are :
  • Fifteen Animals (I’m sending this one to my friend Bob)
  • Jungle Night (I love Boynton’s hippos best, but the way she draws monkeys is a close second)
  • and EEK! Halloween! (the chickens are nervous)


Yeah, tuk tuk wheels go round and round, and people jump off and off as you’d expect. It also stops for the moo-moo-cow, and the riders say namaste-ji. It’s all a nice way to honor the tuk tuk walas in India who don’t stop for anything (and one of whom inspired the authors to write this). Golden’s illustrations are what keep me coming back to this book — they’re bright and friendly and make me want to take a ride.
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Super Fake Love Song (Book Threat with Sarah Hunt)

Years ago, my friend (and fabulous librarian) Sarah and I talked about books on Book Threat, and I really miss those conversations because I always love the books she recommends. Here’s a conversation we had a few weeks ago about

Super Fake Love Song by David Yoon. GP Putnam’s Sons, 2021. 9781984812254. 384 pp.


Gene: Welcome back to Book Threat! I’m very excited. How long a break have we had?

Sarah: I was trying to figure it out. Five years?

G: And why did you pick this book to talk about?

S: I was looking at my book collection and I liked the look of the cover, especially him holding a guitar with a 20-sided die on his T-shirt. And I was in a place in my life where I was like, you know what I need? A romantic book with an Asian male lead. There are a lot of movies out there and not a lot with Asian male leads.

G: And why is that Sarah?

S: Because the world sucks. (laughs)

G: How about the opening quotes?

S: They’re from Bruce Lee and Gary Gygax, which sets the tone.  

G: These are great. 


Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.

                —Bruce Lee


If you find the false, you find the true.

                —Gary Gygax


G: The first line is “What is the most embarrassing thing you have ever done for love?” which is exactly what the book is about, I guess. Though it’s not exactly embarrassing…

S: I’d summarize the book as this dumb thing, this misguided thing, not exactly this embarrassing thing. 

G: What is your booktalk for this book?

S: So this guy’s parents bring home their clients, and they introduce their son to their clients’ daughter, and she’s gorgeous. They say to their son take her up to your room while we do business or whatever and instead of going into his room which is filled with plastic storage containers filled with props for his YouTube channel where he makes LARPing weapons, DIY Fantasy FX, he turns the other direction to his brother’s room. He’s living in L.A. now, and he’s a rock star, and his room is full of guitars and amps and gig posters and cool clothes.

G: And the girl thinks it’s his room.

S: Yes. So he’s stuck in this lie that he’s a cool guy and not who he is. 

G: She thinks he’s in a band so he convinces his friends to form a band.

S: I love that scene! She goes to his school, and he’s going to show her around, and so he doesn’t have time to contact his friends and tell them, hey, I lied, please go along with it. He just walks up to them and talks like they have a band and his friends, who are awesome, are like okay, hey, yes! Sure! Band practice!

G: His brother’s band’s name was The Mortals but he’s named his The Immortals.

S: He said his old band broke up and this is his new band. 

G: He panicked because of the gig posters on his brother’s wall.  

It’s about him trying to fake being in a band and not let her know how geeky he and his friends are. So he grabs his brother’s clothes and sneaks wearing them at school. His parents are workaholics… 

S: So they don’t notice!

G: He’s being bullied by someone who knows the truth. It’s kinda cute. More cute than it should be. I love his friends Milo and Jamal. He says he pretended to be in a band to seem cool, and Milo says, “It’s perfectly okay to be terrible with girls. We are all terrible with girls.” So their plan is to practice, have a fake fight, and a fake break up.

S: And maybe not even practice. But just to seem like a band.

G: But then it gets out of control and they end up practicing and planning to play in the school talent show. That’s where everything goes wrong.

S: That’s the pitch. The main character is Sunny Dae his brother —

G: Gray Dae.

S: That’s a little too much isn’t it?

G: A little bit. But they’re both sort of plausible names. And if you have the last name Dae there’s always some goofy thing about it. 

S: And she kind of comments on it after she finds out Sunny’s older brother’s name.  

G: I loved his ringtone, from Gauntlet: “Elf shot the food!”

S: He changes it to a guitar riff. (laughs) 

G: Sunny is the idea guy for the DIY Fantasy FX YouTube channel he created with his friends. He becomes the host. It seems plausible that he’s more than he believes he is but I was trying to think, there was a point where this book felt way too self-conscious and full of way too many things I love because someone my age wrote it. It felt like a book for someone my age. But then it swept me away and took me back to my teen brain in a way that wasn’t nostalgic like Ready Player One. 

S: Yes!

G: And then at some point, I think it was the first kiss, I was all in. This is a great book!

S: There’s a funny setup, and I was in the same mindset, I thought this was aimed at me and not actual teens.  

G: And that’s not the worst thing.

S: Not at all. Because if you can bring something authentic, no matter where it’s from, even if it doesn’t match your readers’ backgrounds, they will feel that specificity and authenticity.

G: I hate teen novels where they have the bullying scene, even if it’s realistic. And his flashback was okay. Sunny remembers his bully– Gunner, the hulking football player– taking a paladin D&D figure he made from plaster. He wrote and drew with chalk to taunt Sunny about where he put it. We think it’s chalk anyway. But Sunny finds it was all drawn with his figure that’s now a nub. Gunner is still kind of a mess, still bullying Sunny. Cirrus is lovely.

S: Cirrus Soh is the girl. 

G: She’s been living abroad so she has a British accent and an outsider’s view of American culture, which is nice. She’s a fish out of water but we’re not in her point of view. She probably seems cooler than she is because she’s just a bit different. Which I like. She’s kind of a goth who dresses in white.

S: It only just now occurred to me that her name means cloud. And will Cirrus turn Sunny Dae into Gray Dae? I’m glad I didn’t think of that while I was reading the book.

G: Wow that’s a lot. (laugh together) There’s a lot of bike riding in this, which is strange.

S: There were a couple of things where I was like oh I see where this is going, and that’s not where it was going. Sunny rides some sort of crazy super efficient bike.

G: Have you seen these things before? It’s an elliptical stepper on a bike frame. It’s the least cool thing in the world.

S: It’s a very specific, super geeky bike, and he decides Gray would never ride something like this so he grabs a regular bike and rides to her house. But then when he gets there she has a crazy folding commuter bike and I’m like, it is cool, but they secretly have all of this stuff in common but it never comes back to the weird bikes.

G: I was worried that she was going to be Lady Lashblade. (She’s someone who’s big in the DIY LARPing community on YouTube in the book.)

S: I was worried about that too. I was worried she was going to be faking her coolness and that she never actually lived in the UK. The first thing that worried me was that Gray had died horribly and that no one was going to talk about it. But it turns out he’s fine and living in L.A. just as they said and I was like, I think I’ve been traumatized by other YA books. 

G: I like when Gray shows up at the house and something bad has happened and he starts living in their basement. He doesn’t want to be a rock star anymore. And when he finds out what Sunny is up to he’s like, whatever. He doesn’t care. He seems to be going in the direction of his parents, trying to get a job in marketing. They’re not awful but they’re super absent.

S: Yeah, they belong to a golf club so they can network but they don’t play golf. 

G: And Cirrus’ parents are urban planners, famous all over the world. 

S: Like the guy who designed the Seattle Public Library building, Rem Koolhaas.

G: But her house is empty and her parents are never there. It’s strange. You can see why she needs him, and why he’s attracted to her. But it’s supposed to be this high-end community in Southern California, 99.6% white. Does that still exist anywhere?

S: It might have when Yoon grew up vs. now. 

G: There’s a lot of great stuff in this book. The supporting characters are just fleshed out enough for the roles they play. 

S: And I really like the happy memories Sunny had of playing with his brother, LARPing, hanging out being knights in their old home which was not in a perfect gated neighborhood, with less fancy food in the fridge. Back when the parents were grinding along with clients who had lower incomes.

G: Then there was some kind of transition and instead of meaning more security it meant more money and more work. It’s sad. There’s a nice moment at the end with the parents where they realize how much they’ve messed up. They seem to get it and step back from it in a realistic way. Sunny, to get Gunnar to not tell Cirrus what he’s doing, helps him with his science project. They kind of become friends. It flips in a pleasing way.

S: I like that that’s how it turned out because Sunny can’t see the strength in being unapologetically nerdy until this school year. It doesn’t bother him except when he’s being shoved around in the lunch room. 

G: Sunny finds Gray’s old iPod, which is full of songs he recorded for himself including one Sunny and his friends end up playing at the talent show. The band teacher gives them access to a practice room, and Gray helps them get better and better. There’s a nice moment where Gray is talking about how Sunny can do anything, how he can basically be himself. It’s about how much Gray envies Sunny. In Sunny’s mind Gray abandoned him to become a rock star, but Gray really envies Sunny. I wasn’t sure it was true, but it felt true later on. 

S: I think it was unrealistic for Gray’s high school self but realistic for his adult self because he was trying to make it in the music business. We don’t need to talk about what happens at the talent show when it all implodes.  

G: At the end when the brothers go to serenade Cirrus, after she knows it’s all been bullshit and Gray is trying to help Sunny apologize and all of Sunny’s friends are mad at him. Cirrus is leaving for China and they go to serenade her and the neighbor is the only one who hears it. It was so great. (laughing together) I knew that couldn’t be the end, but I loved the way that worked, and how he got back together with his friends soon after. It all ends at a DIY Fantasy Fair where you get this weird objective view of all of them. Milo is a big buff dude. Jamal is a hunk. And it earns the happy ending it has.

G: I guess I’d give it to any kid who liked Ready Player One. I don’t know if I’d give it to too many adults. I don’t really understand the difference between YA fantasy and adult fantasy except the age of the characters.

S: My usual rule of thumb is what are their goals? And what challenges are they overcoming? And where does that fit into developmental stages? But falling in love or being real or fake seems pretty ageless.

G: And the way it plays out is very high school. I guess I see why adults would read this book — it’s nostalgic. I prefer YA romance like this to adult romance. The latter is hard for me to connect with because I can remember being a teen and not understanding what I now feel relationships are like and how they work. I believed in the Say Anything model and thought that must be the basis for a lifelong relationship. It’s hard for me to suspend disbelief that much when I’m reading an adult romance. 

S: I feel like adult romance is its own genre, marinating in its own tropes. YA romance doesn’t assume you’ve been reading it for years and years. It assumes you’re fresh to it.

S: This book, I laughed out loud multiple times, and my husband, who is the Asian male lead in my life, asked me what I was reading… In the scene where Sunny has to go to class but that is not what he cares about at the moment, so he sits down and listens to the teacher make trombone sounds and leaves. Like the trombone sounds when adults talked in the Peanuts specials! (both imitate the sounds)

G: There are a lot of moments like that. They’re very fun. It felt like Yoon was having such a good time writing this book, and in the Afterward he talks about how he wrote it for himself. And it reads like that. There’s real joy here.

S: That was the other thing that I thought was going to happen that never happened, it threw me, because there is so much overlap between heavy metal and fantasy. There’s a reason there was a joke about a Stonehenge prop in Spinal Tap! I was expecting Sunny and his friends to bring all of their Fantasy FX stuff on stage to make this amazing rock show, which they could have done, but they didn’t. Maybe that will be in the sequel. 

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