This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library librarians to celebrate our favorite recently published teen graphic novels. Enjoy!
Best & Brightest Teen Graphic Novels of 2018
Speak : The Graphic Novel
8th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. This graphic novel retelling of Anderson’s bestselling and moving novel about sexual assault, published in 1999, is just as relevant today. Melinda starts her first year of high school with a secret so powerful and so silencing that it is like duct tape across her mouth and soul. Slowly over the course of the book, the truth is revealed as Melinda processes her horrific experience. High school, with all of its friendship challenges and classroom dynamics, is convincingly portrayed, as is Melinda’s struggle and ultimate victory over her own pain. The greyscale drawings give the story an ominous tone. The haunting artwork and spare prose are additional layers that bring a new emotional poinency while remaining true to Anderson’s original.
6th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. In this graphic memoir, Vera tells the story of her nine-year-old self, a Russian immigrant who does not fit in with the cliques in her Albany, NY, elementary school. She is too poor, too Russian and too different. In a desperate attempt to find a sense of belonging, she convinces her mother to send her to a Russian summer camp. But even there, she does not find the acceptance and comfort she craves. Misadventures involving nighttime games of capture the flag, smuggled candy and caricature drawings of fellow campers serve as hard lessons about self-acceptance. The simple, humorous drawings highlight Vera’s expressive, often worried bespectacled eyes while the black, white and shades of green coloring grounds the reader in the forested summer camp setting. With a quick moving plot and relatable characters, this is the perfect book for fans of Smile, El Deafo and Roller Girl.
Nuclear Winter. Volume One
6th grade & up. Humor, Science Fiction. Winters in Montreal have always been harsh, but after a nuclear plant melts down, the city is engulfed in perpetual nuclear winter and half the population is mutated. This sounds like the premise of a post-apocalyptic horror story, but instead Nuclear Winter is a funny science fiction story that follows Flavie, a snowmobile courier in her 20s, as she treks across the city making deliveries. Flavie loves the winter. She’s perfectly at home navigating extreme weather, dodging giant snowflakes and fighting off rabid mutants. Her personal life is the real disaster. The comedic, expressive drawings suit the witty dialogue, and the bright coloring of the people and places really pops against the white winter landscapes.
10th grade & up. Adventure, Fantasy. When the Volcano Goddess dies, her title and power are passed on to her rebel daughter, Keegan, who finds herself in the middle of political upheaval. The arrival of the new Volcano Goddess could be a sign of salvation or it may signal the end of all things. Can Keegan and her allies save the ancient city of Azar, defeat the forest monsters and combat the Cult of the Goddess? This actionpacked first book in the Firebug series contains brief nudity and introduces a series of myths, legends and religious and political turmoil. Christmas’ fluid, expressive drawings are heightened by Bonvillain’s dynamic colors igniting the pages and causing readers to yearn for the next installment of this intricate fantasy series.
8th grade & up. Realistic Fiction. Illegal is the story of Ebo, an orphaned 12-year-old from Ghana, and his struggle to be reunited with his family. After reuniting with his older brother in Niger, the two boys hire traffickers first to take them through the Sahara to Tripoli and then across the sea to Italy as they search for their older sister. The spare and powerful language is balance with descriptive narrative and simple dialogue. The muted color artwork is moody and, brings moments of beauty to the emotional story. True to reality, some of the events are distressing, the journeys are treacherous and not everyone survives. This is a moving tale of migration and refugees, and their suffering, desperation, ingenuity and hope.
Isola. Vol. 1
8th grade & up. Adventure, Fantasy. Rook, the captain of the Queen’s Guard, embarks on a dangerous journey, seeking the mythical land of the dead, a place called Isola. Her only companion is the mysterious black and turquoise tiger that she must protect at all costs. Lavish line art, a perfect fit for this fantasy tale steeped in mystery, alternates between warm and cool color palettes to denote jumps between past and present. This magical adventure features strong female characters and samesex relationships developed through a mixture of action-oriented wordless panels and speech bubble dialogue. Fans of immersive fantasy worlds will eagerly await more titles in this captivating series.
8th grade & up. Nonfiction. In this graphic memoir, Jarrett Krosoczka (creator of the Lunch Lady and Jedi Academy series), gives a frank and serious account of growing up in the shadow of addiction. Krosoczka’s mother was a loving, devoted parent until her drug addiction forced her to relinquish custody. Thus begins a complicated childhood in which Krosoczka grows up in his grandparents’ home, nurtured by his mother’s large and loving family. Krosoczka treats all the characters sympathetically, and tells his story through sketchy, two-tone drawings and real documents, like letters from his mother in prison and artwork he created while in high school. The orange and grey color palette, as well as visual motifs, were inspired by objects Krosoczka associated with his grandparents (his grandmother’s pineapple wallpaper, his grandfather’s handkerchief). In this emotional, and ultimately uplifting, book, Krosoczka provides a compelling window into how complicated and painful family life can be when drugs are part of the equation.
Royden Lepp's Rust. Volume 4, Soul In The Machine
6th grade & up Adventure, Science Fiction Rust is a four volume series that uses sepia-toned illustrations to transport readers to a world that is both nostalgic and fantastical. The simple page layouts and abundance of clean horizontal panels have a cinematic flair. When Roman Taylor’s father does not come home from the war, it is up to Roman to support his family and keep the farm going. A mysterious boy with a jetpack crashes into their barn with a giant, rusted war machine in pursuit. What follows is a high-octane, heartfelt adventure story about war, family and sacrifice, told with a sparsity of dialogue that keeps the reader turning the pages.
Grand Theft Horse
10th grade & up. Nonfiction. This is the real life story of Gail Ruffu, a horse trainer faced with an ethical dilemma. Under pressure by her partners, Gail must either choose to pump her racing horse with steroids or run the horse while injured. Either option could result in permanent injury or death. Gail takes a third option and kidnaps her own horse. On the run from the other owners, Gail ultimately finds herself blacklisted from horse racing. Now she must study the law at night and take her battle to the court to challenge institutionalized inhumane practices in horse training. The expressive brown and white ink artwork is drawn in a slightly exaggerated, caricatured style that conveys emotion and action clearly. The story moves quickly and will appeal to horse lovers, as well as fans of true crime.
8th grade & up. Adventure, Thriller. Creepy and atmospheric, Animus tells the story of a haunted playground with equipment that has darkly magical powers. Going down the slide rapidly advances age; the swingset gives the swinger entry into other people’s thoughts and dreams. One day, two children meet a ghost named Toothless, who inhabits the playground and imbues the equipment with magic. He tells the two friends, a young boy and girl, that he was abducted and buried, and he can’t rest until someone finds his body. Thus begins the children’s quest to solve the mystery surrounding Toothless and to save other children, who are disappearing from Kyoto and confounding the police. The black and white artwork lends to the surreal nature of the story. Readers who enjoy Neil Gaiman and other horror-tinged stories will find the scary dreamscapes and tales of missing children thrilling.
Scarlett Hart : Monster Hunter
6th grade & up. Adventure, Fantasy. In order to keep her family’s home, Scarlett Hart, a plucky, orphaned Brit, takes over the family business, Zoological Eccentricities Apprehension. Which is to say, Scarlett’s departed parents were monster hunters. In this romping, gothic adventure, Scarlett follows in the family tradition, fighting monsters and contending with her unscrupulous competitor, Count Stankovic, all the while having to evade the bobbies out to nab her for underage monster hunting. Dynamic page layouts with the occasional full-page spread keep the action moving. Simple, clear artwork with an eerie color palette and the stacco, witty dialogue makes Scarlett Hart a rompingly fun read. A fast moving plot and compelling characters, along with a fantastic ending, will leave readers yearning for Scartlett’s next adventure.
Check, Please!. Book 1, #hockey!
10th grade & up. Humor, Realistic Fiction. Eric “Bitty” Bittle, an endearing young gay man who loves baking, hokey and vlogging, struggles to fit in as a freshman on his college’s very masculine hockey team. The coarse language and mature subject matter are balanced by heart and warmth. There are also pies, lots of delicious pies baked by Bitty for his skeptical teammates. The simple cartoons, bright colors and standard panel sizes make this comedy an easy, enjoyable reading experience, while endearing characters and witty banter lighten the serious themes of identity and self-acceptance.
The King Of Birds
6th grade & up. Adventure, Fantasy. The King of Birds, the first entry in the Gamayum Tales series, is a fast-paced retelling of Russian Folk Tales narrated by Gamayun, an omniscient humanfaced bird. Various tales are seamlessly woven into one. First, a mouse and a sparrow fight over a stollen golden apple with magical properties, leading to an epic battle between the animal and bird kingdoms, which in turn leads to a merchant being gifted a chest of gold from the Queen of the Golden Realm. Highly saturated with blues, reds and ochers, the dynamic illustrations create an otherworldly ambiance. Details like end-papers decorated with panels from the story, varied page layouts and matte paper lend a feeling of quality to this slim volume.
Last Pick. 1
8th grade & up. Science Fiction. Aliens have invaded earth and taken everyone they deem “useful,” leaving children, older people and people with disabilities behind, including teenage twins Sam and Wyatt, who were too young when the aliens made their first selection. Life on earth under alien rule is authoritarian and hard. Sam is tough and resourceful, and Wyatt’s unique way of looking at the world (there are hints that he is on the autism spectrum) is a big advantage. With the help of a ragtag band of older folks, the twins might just start a revolution and save humanity in the process. With well developed characters of different ages, genders, races and abilities, there is a lot to relate to and admire in this fast-paced, heart-filled, poignant science fiction adventure.
The Prince And The Dressmaker
8th grade & up. Fantasy. When Prince Sebastian and Frances, meet for the first time, it seems like fate. In secret, Frances, a budding fashion designer, creates dazzling gowns for the prince’s alter ego, Lady Crystallia, to wear at parties all over Paris. Sebastian’s responsibilities as a prince and future ruler threaten the happy freedom he finds when his outward appearance matches the inner vision he has of himself. Meanwhile, Frances is caught between her loyalty and love for Sebastian and the prospect of pursuing her own dreams. Can Sebastian and Frances figure out a way to be true to themselves, their responsibilities and each other? Penciled, inked and colored digitally in Photoshop the paneled illustrations are a feast for the eyes filled with frothy dresses, gorgeous line work and thoughtfully placed panels. All text is presented in rounded speech bubbles with many wordless panels propelled by Wang’s pitch perfect knack for facial expressions, body language and comedic timing. The setting has a 19th century European feel, although Prince Sebastian’s country is never named. The setting, characters, gowns and happy ending all contribute the fairy tale quality of this graphic novel about identity, acceptance, friendship and love.