cover image Speak Up!

Speak Up!

Rebecca Burgess. Quill Tree, $22.99 (272p) ISBN 978-0-06-308120-8

An autistic middle schooler secretly becomes a viral music star in this thoughtful graphic novel by Burgess (Wiggles, Stomps, and Squeezes Calm My Jitters Down), a middle grade debut. Mia, who reads as white, uses headphones, a chew-necklace, and moments with a notebook to make it through school days plagued by persistent bullying and home life with a mother who would rather she mask than stim. Overstimulation makes Mia feel “overwhelmed... so when I try to speak, I can never find the words.” But in private with best friend Charlie, who reads as Black and nonbinary, she writes music and posts online videos of her mask-wearing alter ego, Elle-Q. When their latest collaboration suddenly goes viral, Charlie pressures Mia to publicly debut at a local talent show as Mia struggles to handle a bullying classmate—one who’s also obsessed with uncovering Elle-Q’s identity. Autistic creator Burgess employs jewel tones, emanata, and sketchbook-like renderings to portray the complexities of Mia’s sensory experiences, from the internal turbulence of meltdowns to profound joy in creativity and music. Intimate and inlaid with nuance, it’s an empowering look at self-acceptance, accommodation, and masking via the lens of one autistic experience. Ages 8–12. Agent: Britt Siess, Britt Siess Creative. (Sept.)