The following is a list of titles that I have read which would be catalogued for a YA/teenage readership 13+.
Britt, Fanny. Jane, The Fox, and Me (Groundwood Books, 2013). Helen is being bullied by the kids at school. She has few friends and she is occupied with her physical appearance. To help her cope with her insecurities she turns to Jane Eyre and finds a kindred spirit in the novel’s heroine. The beautiful soft penciled drawings reflect the insecurities and timidity of a child growing up.
Hicks, Faith Erin. Friends With Boys (First Second, 2012). This is the coming of age story of Maggie, a teenager beginning her high school career after being homeschooled. Her story is one of family, loss, heartache, growing up, and ghosts. Originally published as a webcomic, Faith Erin Hicks’ use of manga-influenced comic art skillfully combines contemplation with pep.
Larson, Hope. Chiggers (Atheneum Books, 2008). Abby returns to summer camp to find that everything she thought she knew, and everything she spent the year looking forward to has changed- and not for the better! Now she has to maneuver old and new friendships, crushes, lightening storms, and chiggers! Told in bold black and white, reading Chiggers is like an honest and intimate peek into the waning naiveté of childhood.
Millar, Mark & McNiven, Steve. Civil War (Marvel Comics, 2007). This Marvel event was built from previous cross-over events and spanned the entire Marvel 616 (mainstream) universe. In the aftermath of a hero-induced tragedy on an urban elementary school, the Marvel heroes must decide to join Iron Man in his quest to register all heroes with the government for accountability, or to join Captain America to protect the secret lives of heroes and their civil liberties. The event has direct and long standing repercussions for the Marvel universe and is largely considered canon. The story is a social commentary of American government in the early 2000’s. The film, Captain America: Civil War was inspired by the comic.
O’Malley, Bryan Lee. Scott Pilgrim (Oni Press, 2004). This six volume series follows Scott Pilgrim, a slacker who falls in love with the mysterious Ramona Flowers. In order to win her favour, Scott must vanquish her evil ex boyfriends in Nintendo-styled battles. Set in Toronto Canada, and drawn in comic-manga inspired art, this series is a favourite among YA and adult audiences alike. There are six volumes to this series.
Tamaki, Jillian. Super Mutant Magic Academy (Drawn and Quarterly, 2015). This collection of vingettes contemplates the mundane and deeply affecting milestones of teenage years, but with the added burden of super powers and mutations. Largely in black and white, the story includes sparse use of colour to accentuate the unreliability of growing up.
Tamaki, Mariko & Tamaki, Jillian. Skim (Groundwood Books, 2008). This coming of age story centres around Skim, a Japanese-Canadian teenager who exploring her world through Wicca, goth, sexuality, and friendship. The exquisite complexities of the art make the reader ease into characters and move fluidly with them through the panels.
Tamaki, Mariko & Tamaki, Jillian. This One Summer (First Second, 2014). This coming of age story follows Rose and Windy, two young teenagers making sense of love, relationships, family dynamics, personal boundaries and friendships in a small Canadian summer cottage town. The monochromatic images are stunning and metaphorical. This is the first graphic novel to be the recipient of the Governor General’s Award for Literature. It also won the Printz Award, an Eisner Award, and the Caldecott Medal.
Telemeier, Raina. Drama (Scholastic Graphix, 2012). Callie is having the time of her life as the set designer for her middle school’s musical. As she focuses on theatre, she can’t help but be sidetracked by friendship, crushes, a love triangle, and a younger sibling. Callie soon discovers life doesn’t always play out the way it was intended. This book is visually appealing for its cartoonish artistry.
Wartman, Peter. Over the Wall (Uncivilized Books, 2013). A great wall separates a small village and an ancient city. Only those seeking a rite of passage may climb the wall, but not everyone comes back. This is the fate of our heroine’s brother, and in an attempt to get him back, before he fades from memory, she scales the wall and comes face to face with an ancient magic that will threaten her life. A moving story deftly told through detailed black and white art which expertly combines realism and cartoon.
Memoir and Biography
Satrapi, Marjane. Perspepolis (L’Association, 2000). This multiple award winning, two-volume memoir is the story of Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during the Islamic revolution. The first volume centres on her childhood in Iran while the second focuses on her teen school years abroad in Vienna and eventual return to Iran. The bold blank ink depicts the isolation, loneliness, and uncertainty of a teenager witnessing first hand the effects of war.
Small, David. Stitches (W.W. Norton, 2009). This is the true story of David, who was a sickly child who would develop cancer as a direct result of the work of his radiologist father. Struggling to survive both cancer and coming of age, David ran away from home at sixteen. This story captures the poignancy of illness, the uncertainty of teenage years, and the disparity between family members when cancer plays a role in their lives. The art is a blend of sketching and watercolour, with black and white tones used to emphasize the stark realities of growing up with an illness.
Telemeier, Raina. Sisters (Scholastic Graphix, 2014). In this memoir, young Raina reflects on growing up as an older sister and her role in the transitions of her family during her early teenage years. This book is visually appealing for its cartoonish artistry and bold colours. It was the recipient of an Eisner Award.
Telemeier, Raina. Smile (Scholastic Graphix, 2010). Raina longs to be a normal sixth grader, but when she falls down and damages her two front teeth everything changes. This is a Telemeier’s love-hate relationship with braces and how they affected her early teenage years. This book is visually appealing for its cartoonish artistry and bold colours. It was the recipient of an Eisner Award.
McKay, Sharon & LaFrance, Daniel. War Brothers (Annick Press, 2013). Follow Jacob, who at fourteen was abducted and forced to become a child soldier in Uganda. The harrowing account of Jacob’s life, told in text and accentuated in pictures is a realistic and incomprehensible read.
Millar, Mark. Superman: Red Son (DC Comics, 2003). This retelling of Superman’s origin story in Soviet Union considers how the Man of Steel would have been different had he landed on Soviet soil in the midst of the Cold War. Many characters from the DC universe, including Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, and Batman make an appearance. The art is strikingly infused with shades of red and propagandized throughout the book. This is a book I often use when I teach Global History to high school students and encourage them to think outside of the box.
Neri, G & DuBurke, Randy. Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty (Lee and Low Books, 2010). The true story of eleven year old Robert “Yummy” Sandifer (as told through a fictional narrator) who looks to his gang when he accidentally kills a neighbourhood girl. The black and white pen and ink reinforce the duality of light and dark and good and evil. The book won the Coretta Scott King Award.
Vaughan, Brian. K. & Henrichon, Niko. Pride of Baghdad (Vertigo, 2006). This story is a fictional account of the true story of four lions who roamed the streets of Baghdad after escaping from the Baghdad zoo during a 2003 American bombing. The anthropomorphic representations of different view points on the Iraq war make this book poignant and emotional. The images’ contrast of green hues with vibrant reds emphasize the varying view points and uncertainty of war.
Science Fiction and Fantasy
Bendis, Brian Michael & Pichelli, Sara. Miles Morales: Ultimate Spiderman (Marvel Comics, 2011). Miles Morales, the Black Hispanic teen who dons Spidey’s spandex, is a fan favourite and quickly becoming one of the most important superheroes in Marvel continuity.This is an ongoing series.
Gaiman, Neil. The Graveyard Book (Harper Collins, 2014). The graphic novel adaptation of the award winning novel is beautifully rendered in this two volume collection. Nobody “Bod” Owens lives with his adoptive ghost parents and mysterious caregiver in the graveyard where he enjoys the full protection and power of its magic. As Bod grows, so does his curiosity and he comes to wonder how a human child lives among the dead in this beautiful and chilling coming of age tale.
Morrison, Grant & Quietly, Frank. All Star Superman (DC Comics, 2008). This trade collection of the twelve issue event is one of the most celebrated canonical Superman stories. Morrison wrote a narrative to breathe new life into a longstanding character by adding rich detail and subtle-personal qualities to the Man of Steel. The Herculean theme of the text does not escape the novice readers’ notice, nor the seasoned reader familiar with the mythological inspiration of the character. The artistic representation of Superman is as vulnerable and soft as the colours Quietly uses. This series won multiple Harvey and Eisner awards.
Stevenson, Noelle; Ellis, Grace; & al. Lumberjanes (Boom! Studios, 2014). This knockout tale of friendship, scouting, and magic at summer camp is a hilarious and vibrant collection with strong, empowering, female heroes. The bright colours and full panel spreads make every inch of this comic enjoyable. This is an ongoing series.
Wilson, G. Willow. Ms Marvel: No Normal (Marvel Comics, 2014). Kamala Khan, the sixteen year old, Pakistani-American Muslim Inhuman is leading the charge in diversity in mainstream superhero comics. Filled with existential dilemmas, coming of age conundrums, and a visual realism rendered in the characters’ faces, this comic is for everyone. Winner of a Hugo Award. The first in an ongoing series.
Suspense and Horror
Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto & Francavilla, Francesco. Afterlife with Archie (Archie Comics, 2013). Brace yourselves, Riverdale fans, everything you think you know about Archie is about to change! What happens when you combine a dark and stormy night, a hit and run accident, and some of Sabrina’s magic? A zombie apocalypse, and no one in Riverdale is safe. The muted colours and dark tones accentuate a frightening tale of beloved classic heroes. This is an ongoing series.
Brosgol, Vera. Anya’s Ghost (First Second Books, 2011). Follow Anya, a Russian immigrant to a New England community as she tries to navigate life in a private high school, friendships, crushes, family, culture, and a ghost who is slowly trying to take over Anya’s life. Drawn in a monochromatic comic-manga style, it is the winner of an Eisner Award.