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Celebrate Eisner Week With Diverse Graphic Novels

March 1-7 is Will Eisner Week. This week is held to “celebrate graphic novels, sequential art, free speech, and the amazing legacy of Will Eisner, one of the most innovative figures in the history of comics and graphic novels.” Check out the website for more information about how to celebrate the week, as well information about Eisner’s work and the Eisner Awards.


Eisner Week seems like a great time to feature some excellent graphic novels and comics. Building diverse collections and focusing on diverse displays in your library? Don’t forget graphic novels! These titles feature characters, authors, and illustrators from many places, with varied backgrounds, identities, and abilities.


Here are a few picks, both old and new, to get your display started. Summaries via the publisher or WorldCat. Have more titles to add? Leave us a comment or tweet us at @TLT16 or @CiteSomething


The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Sonny Liew (2014)

In the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity: the Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero. The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but Gene Luen Yang has revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.


War Brothers: The Graphic Novel by Sharon McKay and Daniel Lafrance (2013)

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


Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks (2012)

Maggie McKay hardly knows what to do with herself. After an idyllic childhood of homeschooling with her mother and rough-housing with her older brothers, it’s time for Maggie to face the outside world, all on her own. But that means facing high school first. And it also means solving the mystery of the melancholy ghost who has silently followed Maggie throughout her entire life. Maybe it even means making a new friend—one who isn’t one of her brothers.


Part-Time Princesses by Monica Gallagher (March 11, 2015)

Beautiful, popular, and adored by all, Courtney, Amber, Tiffany, and Michelle can’t wait to graduate and take their place among the world’s elite. But when all their future plans are ruined, the girls have only one back-up plan – working as costumed princesses at the local amusement park. Unfortunately, increased gang activity has driven away all but the most loyal of customers. With the park on the verge of closing, the girls resolve to fight back, bring back their adoring customers, save the amusement park they never wanted to work at, and maybe learn something about themselves along the way.


A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached (2012)

When Zeina was born, the civil war in Lebanon had been going on for six years, so it’s just a normal part of life for her and her parents and little brother. The city of Beirut is cut in two, separated by bricks and sandbags and threatened by snipers and shelling. East Beirut is for Christians, and West Beirut is for Muslims. When Zeina’s parents don’t return one afternoon from a visit to the other half of the city and the bombing grows ever closer, the neighbors in her apartment house create a world indoors for Zeina and her brother where it’s comfy and safe, where they can share cooking lessons and games and gossip. Together they try to make it through a dramatic day in the one place they hoped they would always be safe—home.


I Remember Beirut by Zeina Abirached (2014)

Abirached was born in Lebanon in 1981. She grew up in Beirut as fighting between Christians and Muslims divided the city streets. Follow her past cars riddled with bullet holes, into taxi cabs that travel where buses refuse to go, and on outings to collect shrapnel from the sidewalk. With striking black-and-white artwork, Abirached recalls the details of ordinary life inside a war zone.


Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince (2014)

Growing up, Liz Prince wasn’t a girly girl, dressing in pink tutus or playing Pretty Pretty princess like the other girls in her neighborhood. But she wasn’t exactly one of the guys either, as she quickly learned when her Little League baseball coach exiled her to the outfield instead of letting her take the pitcher’s mound. Liz was somewhere in the middle, and Tomboy is the story of her struggle to find the place where she belonged.

Tomboy is a graphic novel about refusing gender boundaries, yet unwittingly embracing gender stereotypes at the same time, and realizing later in life that you can be just as much of a girl in jeans and a T-shirt as you can in a pink tutu. A memoir told anecdotally, Tomboy follows author and zine artist Liz Prince through her early childhood into adulthood and explores her ever-evolving struggles and wishes regarding what it means to “be a girl.”



Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (2011)

Anya, embarrassed by her Russian immigrant family and self-conscious about her body, has given up on fitting in at school but falling down a well and making friends with the ghost there just may be worse.


The Eternal Smile by Gene Luen Yang, illustrated by Derek Kirk Kim (2009)

Presents three short stories in graphic novel format involving the blurred line between fantasy and reality, including an office assistant who falls for an e-mail scam, and a young knight whose life is not what it seems.



March by  John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (artist) (2013)

This graphic novel is a first-hand account of Congressman John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Book one spans Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall. HIs commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington D.C., and from receiving beatings from state troopers, to receiving the Medal of Freedom awarded to him by Barack Obama, the first African-American president.



The Zabime Sisters by Aristophane and Matt Madden (Translator) (2010)

On the first day of summer vacation, teenaged sisters M’Rose, Elle, and Célina step out into the tropical heat of their island home and continue their headlong tumble toward adulthood. Boys, schoolyard fights, petty thievery, and even illicit alcohol make for a heady mix, as The Zabime Sisters indulge in a little summertime freedom. The dramatic backdrop of a Caribbean island provides a study of contrasts—a world that is both lush and wild, yet strangely small and intimate—which echoes the contrasts of the sisters themselves, who are at once worldly and wonderfully naïve.


The Sons of Liberty by Alexander Lagos, Joseph Lagos, Steve Walker (Illustrator), Oren Kramek (Illustrator)

Visual and visceral, fusing historical fiction and superhero action, this is a tale with broad appeal-for younger readers who enjoy an exciting war story, for teenagers asking hard questions about American history, for adult fans of comic books, for anyone seeking stories of African American interest, and for reluctant readers young and old.

In Colonial America, Graham and Brody are slaves on the run-until they gain extraordinary powers. At first they keep a low profile. But their mentor has another idea-one that involves the African martial art dambe . . . and masks.

With its vile villains, electrifying action, and riveting suspense, The Sons of Liberty casts new light on the faces and events of pre-Revolution America, including Ben Franklin and the French and Indian War. American history has rarely been this compelling-and it’s never looked this good.



Pretty in Ink: North American Women Cartoonists 1896-2013 by Trina Robbins (2013)

A revised, updated and rewritten history of women cartoonists, with more color illustrations than ever before, and with some startling new discoveries (such as a Native American woman cartoonist from the 1940s who was also a Corporal in the women’s army, and the revelation that a cartoonist included in all of Robbins’s previous histories was a man!)  Although the comics profession was dominated by men, there were far more women working in the profession throughout the 20th century than other histories indicate, and they have flourished in the 21st. Robbins not only documents the increasing relevance of women throughout the 20th century, with mainstream creators such as Ramona Fradon and Dale Messick and alternative cartoonists such as Lynda Barry, Carol Tyler, and Phoebe Gloeckner, but the latest generation of women cartoonists—Megan Kelso, Cathy Malkasian, Linda Medley, and Lilli Carré, among many others.



 Strong Female Protagonist Book One by Molly Ostertag (Artist) and Brennan Lee Mulligan (2014)

With superstrength and invulnerability, Alison Green used to be one of the most powerful superheroes around. Fighting crime with other teenagers under the alter ego Mega Girl was fun – until an encounter with Menace, her mind-reading arch enemy, showed her evidence of a sinister conspiracy, and suddenly battling giant robots didn’t seem so important. Now Alison is going to college and trying to find ways to help the world while still getting to class on time. It’s impossible to escape the past, however, and everyone has their own idea of what it means to be a hero.



The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2007)

Persepolis is the story of Satrapi’s unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming—both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up.



Drama by Raina Telgemeier (2012)

Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi, she’s a terrible singer. Instead she’s the set designer for the stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when she doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen, and when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier! Following the success of SMILE, Raina Telgemeier brings us another graphic novel featuring a diverse set of characters that humorously explores friendship, crushes, and all-around drama!



Ms. Marvel Volume 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona (Illustrator) (2014)

Marvel Comics presents the all-new Ms. Marvel, the groundbreaking heroine that has become an international sensation! Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City – until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! As Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to handle? Kamala has no idea either. But she’s comin’ for you, New York!



Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (2010)

Spunky, strong-willed eleven-year-old Mirka Herschberg isn’t interested in knitting lessons from her stepmother, or how-to-find-a-husband advice from her sister, or you-better-not warnings from her brother. There’s only one thing shedoes want: to fight dragons!

Granted, no dragons have been breathing fire around Hereville, the Orthodox Jewish community where Mirka lives, but that doesn’t stop the plucky girl from honing her skills. She fearlessly stands up to local bullies. She battles a very large, very menacing pig. And she boldly accepts a challenge from a mysterious witch, a challenge that could bring Mirka her heart’s desire: a dragon-slaying sword! All she has to do is find—and outwit—the giant troll who’s got it!



Marble Season by Gilbert Hernandez (2013)

Middle child Huey stages Captain America plays and treasures his older brother’s comic book collection almost as much as his approval. Marble Season subtly and deftly details how the innocent, joyfully creative play that children engage in (shooting marbles, backyard performances, and organizing treasure hunts) changes as they grow older and encounter name-calling naysayers, abusive bullies, and the value judgments of other kids. An all-ages story, Marble Season masterfully explores the redemptive and timeless power of storytelling and role play in childhood, making it a coming-of-age story that is as resonant with the children of today as with the children of the sixties.


Kampung Boy by Lat (2006)

Kampung Boy is a favorite of millions of readers in Southeast Asia. With masterful economy worthy of Charles Schultz, Lat recounts the life of Mat, a Muslim boy growing up in rural Malaysia in the 1950s: his adventures and mischief-making, fishing trips, religious study, and work on his family’s rubber plantation. Meanwhile, the traditional way of life in his village (or kampung) is steadily disappearing, with tin mines and factory jobs gradually replacing family farms and rubber small-holders. When Mat himself leaves for boarding school, he can only hope that his familiar kampung will still be there when he returns. Kampung Boy is hilarious and affectionate, with brilliant, super-expressive artwork that opens a window into a world that has now nearly vanished.


Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by Stassen, Jean-Philippe Stassen (Illustrator), Alexis Siegel (Translator) (2006)

The 2000 winner of the Goscinny Prize for outstanding graphic novel script, this is the harrowing tale of the Tutsi genocide in Rwanda, as seen through the eyes of a boy named Deogratias. He is an ordinary teenager, in love with a girl named Bénigne, but Deogratias is a Hutu and Bénigne is a Tutsi who dies in the genocide, and Deogratias himself plays a part in her death. As the story circles around but never depicts the terror and brutality of an entire country descending into violence, we watch Deogratias in his pursuit of Bénigne, and we see his grief and descent into madness following her death, as he comes to believe he is a dog.

Told with great artistry and intelligence, this book offers a window into a dark chapter of recent human history and exposes the West’s role in the tragedy. Stassen’s interweaving of the aftermath of the genocide and the events leading up to it heightens the impact of the horror, giving powerful expression to the unspeakable, indescribable experience of ordinary Hutus caught up in the violence. Difficult, beautiful, honest, and heartbreaking, this is a major work by a masterful artist.


Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet, Clement Oubrerie, Helge Dascher (Translator) (2012)

Ivory Coast, 1978. It’s a golden time, and the nation, too—an oasis of affluence and stability in West Africa—seems fueled by something wondrous. Aya is loosely based upon Marguerite Abouet’s youth in Yop City. It is the story of the studious and clear-sighted nineteen-year-old Aya, her easygoing friends Adjoua and Bintou, and their meddling relatives and neighbors. It’s a wryly funny, breezy account of the simple pleasures and private troubles of everyday life in Yop City.


Foiled by Jane Yolen, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro (2010)

Aliera Carstairs just doesn’t fit in. She’s always front and center at the fencing studio, but at school she’s invisible. And she’s fine with that . . . until Avery Castle walks into her first period biology class. Avery may seem perfect now, but will he end up becoming her Prince Charming or just a toad?


A + E 4ever by Ilike Merey (2011)

Asher Machnik is a teenage boy cursed with a beautiful androgynous face. Guys punch him, girls slag him and by high school he’s developed an intense fear of being touched. Art remains his only escape from an otherwise emotionally empty life. Eulalie Mason is the lonely, tough-talking dyke from school who befriends Ash. The only one to see and accept all of his sides as a loner, a fellow artist and a best friend, she’s starting to wonder if ash is ever going to see all of her…. a + e 4EVER is a graphic novel set in that ambiguous crossroads where love and friendship, boy and girl, straight and gay meet. It goes where few books have ventured, into genderqueer life, where affections aren’t black and white.


If you would like to recommend additional titles on this topic, please leave us a comment. We always look forward to hearing what books others value and recommend.

12 Blogs of 2014: DiversifYA

Choosing just three blogs to feature for our 12 Blogs of 2014 was hard. I may have sent Karen, Robin, and Heather about 15 emails constantly changing which blogs I was calling dibs on. I hope you’re adding all of the blogs we’re featuring to whatever blog reader you use and following the blogs and their creators on Twitter. I’m always looking for more blogs to read, so make sure you share your favorites with us, too! You can find me on Twitter @CiteSomething. 


Today’s featured blog


The focus of DiversifYA is on being inclusive in every possible way.

From the blog:

DiversifYA is a collection of interviews that allows us to share our stories, all of us. All sorts of diversity and all marginalized experiences. We are not Other.

DiversifYA is a tool, an introduction. Allow us to convince you that the world is so much richer than the world we often read about, and that every reader deserves to find themselves in books.

DiversifYA is our way to show you: diversity is all of us. Diversity is reality. We all have shared experiences, no matter how different we may be, and the countless combinations of sameness and difference is what makes this world amazing. It’s about time more stories reflected that.

Follow the blog on Twitter  @_DiversifYA

(Note: this blog is on a hiatus until January rolls around.)


Who runs DiversifYA

The DiversifYA team currently consists of Marieke and Sarah, with former co-moderator Alex as honorary team member!

Marieke is VP of We Need Diverse Books™. You can follow Marieke on Twitter @mariekeyn and visit her website.

Sarah’s debut, THE LAST LEAVES FALLING, releases from Random House UK and Simon and Schuster US in Spring 2015. On Twitter she’s @SWritesBooks.


Why I like this blog

DiversifYA features interviews, guest posts, cover reveals, in-depth looks at books, issues, and themes. With their DiversiTheme category, they examine various issues with writing diversity. From their blog: “For example, over the next couple of months we’ll have topics as writing/publishing diverse lit and living in different cultures. We’re talking about body imagine and fat culture, which is an integral part of diversity as well.” The blog also features roundtable discussions. The discussion they had last year was a 6-part series about diversity and sexuality. I hope they do more, because that one was great! When you hop on over to their blog, check out the bevvy of tags they have for their posts (in the column on the right). Some examples: Neurodiversity, asexual, hearing loss, QUILTBAG, Eskimo, OCD, bulimia, and so lots more topics. The posts are smart and touch on so many topics that more people need to be thinking about and writing about. As they say on the blog, “[DivesifYA is not] an alternative to research. DiversifYA is an introduction to diversity, it’s not a collection of premade character bios you can use. It is not a substitute for research. But don’t mind us if we want to nudge you in the right direction.”


Some posts to check out

Interview with Sabaa Tahir

 Ami Allen-Vath’s guest post about bulimia

 Julie Sondra Decker’s post about asexuality

DivYAQnA: disability edition

 Interview with Sumayyah Daud


Book review: Gracefully Grayson by Ami Polonsky

Gracefully Grayson, by Ami Polonsky, tells the story of 6th grade Grayson, a transgender girl. Raised as a boy, Grayson has never felt entirely comfortable in her own skin. She spends her class time doodling abstract princesses in the margins of her notebook, trying to keep them unrecognizable because she knows boys shouldn’t do that—and everyone perceives her as a boy. When she looks in the mirror, she can envision herself in dresses. She longs to be able to express her true gender identity. Grayson is a loner, eating her lunch in the library and just trying to avoid the attention of the class bullies. Her parents were killed in a car accident when she was young, and though she’s lived with her aunt, uncle, and two cousins for many years now, she isn’t close to them. They don’t know the real Grayson. No one does.


It’s only when Grayson impulsively signs up for play tryouts that things start to change. The play is The Myth of Persephone and Grayson auditions for the role of Persephone. The teacher in charge of the play casts Grayson in this role, unleashing a background storm of controversy (which is revealed bit by bit throughout the story). Grayson loves playing Persephone. At play practice, she finds new friends, including Paige, an older girl who sort of takes Grayson under her wing. While it’s nice to have friends at play practice, and feel part of the group, it further reinforces to her the many other ways she’d like to fit it. She’d like to be able to use the girls’ restroom with her friends, to have them braid her hair not just because they’re being silly but because she’s a girl and it’s what the girls are doing. The decision to play Persephone has many negative ramifications, but Grayson repeatedly thinks that playing this role is right, that choosing to make this bold move is the right choice.


Grayson is bullied from the kids at school who take to calling her “Gracie.” She does her best to just keep her head down and stay out of their way. At home, it’s not a whole lot better. Her older cousin Jack is horrible to her. Once they find out she will be playing Persephone, her aunt and uncle begin to address not only this situation, but what might be going on with Grayson in the larger scheme of things. Her uncle Evan is much more supportive than her aunt Sally, who makes it clear that Grayson being anything other than the boy they have raised is not okay (couching her disapproval in the “I’m just trying to protect you from what others will think” mask). After Grayson’s grandmother dies, she is given some old letters from her mother that help put everything into perspective. While her aunt is hateful and not understanding, there are many other lovely displays of support and encouragement. And while I found her aunt odious, I don’t think her reactions are out of the ordinary for many people. It made the story feel more honest and I was grateful for all of the times we see her uncle being quietly supportive, counteracting his wife’s reactions.


Reading this book wasn’t easy. Grayson is very alone for much of the time. The people who are horrible to her are awful. We spend a lot of time getting to see Grayson’s thoughts and dreams, which are so far from the reality she currently is in. But by the end, after the weeks spent with new friends in the play, the story begins to feel more hopeful. It’s clear that Grayson’s path won’t be an easy one. Nothing magically becomes great for her before the story wraps up. There is still a lot of uncertainty and sadness in her life. Though the ending is a bit abrupt, it looks like Grayson will be taking further steps to begin to show her true self to the world.


This groundbreaking middle grade book presents a look at the life of one transgender girl in a way that feels completely realistic and age-appropriate. Polonsky’s writing is beautiful, always keeping us right there with Grayson and understanding how she is feeling. The true moment of beauty in this book, for me, was how she presented the performance of the play. I teared up (and would have cried a fair bit, I’m sure, were I not in the waiting room of the auto mechanic!). Many times throughout this book I wanted to be able to leap into the story and hug Grayson. I hope this book is purchased widely for collections and gets in the hands of the people who need it the most.


For other thoughts see:

Sense and Sensibility and Stories

A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall

Bookish Ardour

A Chair, a Fireplace, & a Tea Cozy

 Gay YA
ISBN-13: 9781423185277
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Publication date: 11/4/2014

Book review: Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

Let’s get some things out of the way first.

1. Gabi, a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero is absolutely fantastic. You need to order it for your library/bookstore/kid/friend/self.

2. The novel is a year in the life of Gabi, a Mexican American girl who lives in Southern California. It’s funny, sad, honest, raw, bold, and hopeful. It’s about the many things that can go on in one’s life, great and small. Did I mention it’s fantastic?

3. What I’m going to write now is going to have spoilers. It just is. I want to talk about some of the very big and important things this book addresses and what this book does. I can’t do that by dancing around plot point. I don’t like to write reviews that reveal everything, because, for me, most of the joy in reading a book is discovering the story. But today, there are spoilers. So if you want to take my word that the book is amazing, and read it without knowing many of the details, just get it on your TBR list and come back to read this later.

You’re still here? You’re aware I’m going to reveal a lot of the plot? You’re sure? Okay, let’s go.

Gabi is about to start her senior year of high school. She uses her diary to talk about everything that is going on in her life, whether that means things with her friends and family, or whether that means working out the many big subjects she’s thinking about. Gabi’s mother got pregnant with her at 25, but because she was unwed, her grandmother reacted badly and beat her mother. As a result of her experience, her mother constantly tells Gabi, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas,” meaning “eyes open, legs closed.” Despite the steady diet of this message, Gabi doesn’t feel like sex is anything to be ashamed of thinking about or wanting. It certainly doesn’t make her some kind of bad girl, as her mother is always implying. While her mother might make her crazy, at least she has her best friends Cindy and Sebastian to turn to. It’s a good thing those three have each other for support, because some pretty major things are happening in their lives this year.

Cindy’s thing (remember, spoilers coming):
Cindy tells Gabi she thinks she is pregnant. Gabi is pissed at her—not that she had sex, but that she wasn’t safe, that she’s become yet another Hispanic teen mom statistic. She’s also not thrilled that Cindy slept with German, whom she considers a smarmy, entitled idiot. They pick up a pregnancy test after taking the SATs, and when it shows positive, they collapse onto Gabi’s Hello Kitty bedding and cry. I love everything about this scene. It feels so genuine and shows the many parts of being a teenager—preparing for college, dealing with unexpected and devastating news, and still being so young (the Hello Kitty bedding).

(Here comes a super-spoiler.)

Nearly three quarters of the way through the story, Cindy confesses to Gabi that German raped her. Gabi writes in her diary that she naively assumed that rape didn’t happen in her city. Sure, she’d heard about high profile rape cases on the news, but that kind of thing happened elsewhere. Cindy tells Gabi and Sebastian that she’d been a little drunk and making out with German in his car, but then changed her mind about where things were going and said to stop. “He said that she had already said yes, and she couldn’t say no, and that was that.” Cindy points out that he didn’t hit her or treat her badly (a sentence that broke my heart, because you don’t need to hit someone for it be rape, and he OF COURSE is treating her badly—he’s raping her), but that she cried the whole time and he pinned her down. Gabi and Sebastian react in very believable ways—stammering out their apologies and hugging her, encouraging her to call the police. Cindy declines this advice, again repeating that it’s not like he beat her, and, adding to the heartbreak of this scene, that no one would believe her (despite having just told two people who absolutely show that they believe her). This, of course, is the part of the story that dovetails with the SVYALit project. Anyone teaching this book would do well to supplement this discussion with various posts from the SVYALit project, especially those about being a first responder. (See below for links.)

Gabi can’t stop thinking about how much she detests German. She watches him being charming with some other girl and thinks, “For a second, I was almost like, ‘Could he really ever rape someone? I mean, look at those big eyes! He’s too hot to force someone to sleep with him’ Then I almost slapped myself across the face for being such an idiot.” She instigations a confrontation with German, calling him out for raping Cindy and physically attacking him. She ends up suspended from school and unable to walk at graduation because of this. Cindy is furious with Gabi for getting in the middle of it. Gabi is just doing what she thinks is the right thing. No one has prepared her for how to deal with this. Gabi researches some hotlines that Cindy could call for help. Cindy is reluctant to do that, but Gabi presses on, telling her some of them were anonymous and could offer useful help. What I really like is Quintero showing us over and over that Gabi is thinking about what happened, trying to help, wanting to support Cindy, but not entirely sure how to do that.

There is so much going on with this story line. Cindy’s complicated feelings about what happened, Gabi’s desire to help or seek out vengeance, but her uncertainty for what is best. The ways this part of the plot ties in with Gabi’s thoughts on gender roles, expectations, sex, and being a “good girl” or a “bad girl.” A secondary character also learns she’s pregnant, and Gabi unexpectedly winds up being her confident and support as she decides what to do with the baby. This is another very powerful story line, as well as one we don’t often see in YA.

Sebastian’s thing:
Sebastian came out to Gabi a while ago. Gabi recalls how he couldn’t even say the words to her, choosing instead to write “I’m gay” on a napkin and showing her that. “I looked at it and couldn’t help whispering, ‘I know.’” Sebastian now wants to come out to his family, but when he does, they kick him out. Sebastian stays at Gabi’s house until eventually moving in with his aunt. Sebastian’s father tells him he never wants to see him again, that he’s no son of his. His mother says she would rather be dead than have a gay son. While staying with her, Sebastian tells Gabi more about realizing he was gay. He says he tried to be straight, he tried to feel an attraction to girls, he even prayed to be able to like girls. Sebastian dates Pedro, a new boy from Bolivia. Staying at his aunt’s houses is okay. Gabi observes, “[S]he seems to be loving and accepting.” But she doesn’t want Sebastian hooking up with any boys at her house. “Why is every mom’s concern about sex?” Gabi wonders. When his aunt busts him pantsless with Pedro, she sends him to a psychologist to try to talk him out of being gay, and to a priest, who wants to pray the gay away. Eventually, Sebastian goes on to join the GSA at school, hopefully starting to find more of a community and more support during a time when he desperately needs it.

There is also a noteworthy scene where a classmate says a really stupid and hateful homophobic thing, and a teacher calls out his ignorance. It’s a great moment of someone in a position of authority not overlooking a disgusting comment and completely schooling a kid on his hate. “At that moment, Ms. Abernard became my new hero,” Gabi writes. Mine too.

Gabi’s THINGS:
Gabi starts to think more about consent after Cindy tells her about being raped, looking around her and wondering if everyone is having consensual sex. Gabi has A LOT of thoughts about sex, rape, consent, and boys’ attitudes toward girls’ bodies. She has so many thoughts about these topics that trying to cover all of them here, or even quote bits and pieces of many of them, would mean you’d be reading this paragraph for the next 30 minutes. In particular, Gabi writes some amazingly profound poetry about sex and women’s bodies. She is furious over the line “boys will be boys,” and the message this sends to both boys and girls. She ends her piece about rape with: “You should know better/It’s all your fault/Always/Boys will be boys.”

Throughout the course of the year chronicled here, Gabi dates a few boys. She has crushes, is awkward (at one point answering a question in a fake robot voice for no good reason except the moment feels uncomfortable), worries about kissing and sex, makes the first move, and wonders about dating other boys. The boy Gabi goes on to date for the longest part of the story is wonderfully thoughtful and their sexual relationship is a great example of enthusiastic consent. When making out, Gabi notes that it got a little awkward because he asked if it was okay if he touched her boob. She thinks about it and decides she’s glad he asked rather than assumed. Later, when they are about to have sex for the first time, Gabi writes, “He asked if I was sure it was okay, and I said yes and we went from there.” Her boyfriend’s dad tells him to be sure to respect Gabi, and he outright tells his son, “if [a girl] says no, it’s no.” We’re all clapping now, right? Because YESSSSS.

The other major issues Gabi deals with include her father’s addiction to meth and its effects on their family. She writes frankly about his addiction, including writing letters to her father that she never gives to him. She writes about what he looks like, how long he will disappear for, the times he has tried to quit, the ways his addiction hurts his family. The way this piece of the story plays out is not surprising; but guessing what might be coming doesn’t take away from the powerful way the story unfolds.

Gabi also writes a fair bit about body image and weight. She repeatedly calls herself fat, mostly in a factual way. She sometimes feels bad about herself, but other times feels great. Her mother calls attention to her weight or her eating habits a lot, but Gabi turns to her diary to talk about how that makes her feel. Her attitude toward her weight feels very realistic without feeling judgmental 100% of the time or feeling like she’s defined by her weight or made to be “bad” because she’s fat. She hides food in her room, so she can eat her favorite treats away from the judging eyes of her mother. She talks about food a lot, even telling the boy she likes that he can come over and try some great beef jerky she has. She doesn’t love trying on clothes, or wearing a swimsuit in front of others, but generally gets over her hesitations or negativity each time and feels okay with herself. She doesn’t obsess over losing weight, or lose weight and somehow become “better” or something. She’s mostly okay with how she is.

In addition to her mother having a lot to say about sex, bodies, and body issues, nearly everything she talks to Gabi about revolves around her expectations for Gabi as a girl. She constantly warns Gabi away from being a “bad” girl. Partially because of her mother’s attitude, and partially just from all of the daily messages society sends girls about their bodies and their sex lives, Gabi’s journal and her poetry are filled with ruminations on these topics. Gabi interrogates what it means to be a “good” girl. She realizes women’s bodies are public—that people will talk about them, objectify them, and do things to them. Gabi’s unwillingness to swallow messages and her refusal to be defined by the label “good/bad” is inspiring. The poetry that she produces as she works through her thoughts on these issues is nothing short of amazing.

The good girl/bad girl theme extends to Gabi’s college decisions, and the pressure her mother puts upon her to stay home. Her mother thinks going away to college is just an excuse to have sex and go wild—like American kids. Good Mexican girls stay home. Gabi desperately wants to leave her town, to attend her dream school, to experience new things. She knows that doesn’t make her bad, but her mother doesn’t let it drop.

In Gabi, we have a protagonist who challenges expectations, thinks for herself, and isn’t afraid of putting herself out there or making mistakes. I can’t rave enough about how wonderful this book is. Not only does Quintero unflinchingly address important issues, she’s created multifaceted characters who leap off the page. Gabi and her friends became so real to me that I often forgot this was fiction—it truly felt like reading a real teenager’s diary. I finished the book feeling honored to have watched Gabi grow as a poet and a young woman. I set the book down when I was done wishing I could read books of Gabi’s diaries from the high school years prior to this one, or to see a diary of what her life will hold now that she’s heading off to college. An all-around brilliant and outstanding look at one ordinary year in the life of an extraordinary teenage girl.

For more information on rape, consent, and supporting LGBTQ teens, check out:

Sexual Violence in Young Adult Lit (and Life) project site

The #SVYALit Project: First Responders, part 1 (by author Christa Desir)

The #SVYALit Project: First Responders, part 2

UC Irvine’s Sexual Assault: How to Support a Friend

Healthy Place’s Supporting Someone Who Has Been Raped or Sexually Assaulted

RAINN’s Help a Loved One

RAINN’s Self Care for Friends and Family Members

Huffington Post, “Stop Saying ‘Boys Will be Boys'” by Jennifer Hicks

The Good Men Project’s The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1 to 21

VITAMNW “What Consent Looks Like” with infographic

Slate, “How to Have the Consent Talk With Your Kids” by Amanda Hess

The Band Back Together, “Sexual Coercion Resources.”

Teen Librarian Toolbox, “GLBTQ YA Resources for Building a Collection and Supporting Teens.”

For further thoughts on Gabi check out:

Review by Kelly Jensen at Stacked

Review by E. Kristin Anderson

ISBN-13: 9781935955948
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Publication date: 10/14/2014