cover image The Real Riley Mayes

The Real Riley Mayes

Rachel Elliott. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $21.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-0629-9574-2

An aspiring artist grapples with gender-related expectations and burgeoning sexuality in Elliott’s warm debut. Riley Mayes, who presents as white, thinks that fifth grade “isn’t my kinda vibe”: her school has laid off its art teacher, the classmate who found her funny has moved away, and the other kids seem to have “squaded-up.” But following her mother’s suggestion to find people who get her, Riley befriends new kid and comics enthusiast Aaron, who has two dads and is portrayed with brown skin, and cued-white cat fanatic Cate, who asks Riley to illustrate her original feline-focused story. As Riley works to earn local art lessons, maintaining her grades and avoiding notes home, a new hairstyle prompts a schoolmate to call her “lesbo,” and she realizes that her fixation on a female comic is actually a crush. Elliott leans into Riley’s anxieties around queerness: “If a person is gay... will they still have friends?” she wonders, even while encountering a positive model in Aaron’s dads. In fine lines and citrus hues, Elliott renders a sunny external world that juxtaposes Riley’s internal worries and confusion in a story of self-discovery that’s messy and full of heart. Ages 8–12. (May)