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Welcome to St. Hell: My Trans Teen Misadventure

Lewis Hancox. Graphix, $27.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-338-82443-8

A recollection of Hancox’s adolescence narrated by his adult self, this graphic novel memoir is an intimate exploration of his misadventures as a white closeted trans man in early 2000s England. Hancox, who inserts himself as a character guiding readers through his past, introduces his 11-year-old self, who’s “trying to be a normal girl.” When presented with the option of pants or a skirt for his uniform upon beginning high school, past-Lewis chooses the skirt to circumvent potential bullying but, as fellow classmates and narrator Hancox insists, he “was a boy in a skirt.” Though past-Lewis knows he’s a boy, any attempt on the narrator’s part to provide comfort or advice is rebuffed. Cartoonist Hancox’s classic b&w comic strip style provides levity to the narrative’s sometimes heavy material, such as teenage Lewis’s nervous habit of pulling out his hair, his disordered eating, and his parents’ divorce. Hancox’s depiction of his parents’ reactions to his transition is honest and empathic, highlighting the importance of familial support to his evolution toward adulthood. Earnest, sincere, and at times heart-wrenching, Hancox’s account of a youth spent knowing who he was but unable to express it is affecting. Ages 14–up. (June)

Reviewed on 05/13/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Slip

Marika McCoola, illus. by Aatmaja Pandya. Algonquin, $24.95 (208p) ISBN 978-1-61620-789-2

Shortly before high schooler Jade begins a monthlong summer art residency, her best friend, Phoebe, is hospitalized following a suicide attempt. Isolated by the rustic Art Farm’s cell phone–free campus, Jade attempts to find a driving concept for her ceramics while struggling to understand Phoebe’s actions as well as cope with feeling like she abandoned her friend. Working alongside talented peers and exacting instructors, and forming a strong connection with another artist, Mary, Jade feels ever more conflicted about leaving Phoebe behind—especially when her art, including a memory of Phoebe, literally comes to life. Debut artist Pandya portrays the characters simply, employing bold lines and sparse distinguishing details against richly depicted environments, all rendered in dreamy grays and electric pinks. Though the story centers conversations regarding mental health and its intersection with art, a lack of in-depth discussion and additional character development undercuts the narrative’s overall impact. Text by McCoola (Baba Yaga’s Assistant) ruminates, through Jade’s interior thoughts and external dialogue, on themes of guilt and pressure. Characters are portrayed with varying skin tones. Ages 14–up. Agent (for McCoola and Pandya): Jen Linnan, Linnan Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/13/2022 | Details & Permalink

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M Is for Monster

Talia Dutton. Surely, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4197-5197-4

Dutton’s pensive Frankenstein-inspired debut graphic novel nimbly explores grief, sisterhood, and identity. Driven by guilt following her younger sister Maura’s death, caused by the Asian-cued siblings’ latest science experiment, Doctor Frances Ai defies natural law to revive her. Frances and her cued-white spouse, Gin, stitch Maura’s body back together. Using lightning as a conduit, they work to resurrect Maura; instead, they inadvertently birth M, a blank soul with no memories of her own. Fearing what Frances will do if she realizes her failure, M turns to Maura’s disembodied spirit, which is bound to mirrors and visible only to M. As M learns about the siblings’ turbulent relationship to maintain the ruse, she undergoes her own evolution toward personhood. Thick inky lines, dynamic paneling, and monochromatic hues enlivened with teal splashes fluidly develop an eerie, mid-20th-century setting. Though Frances’s guilt is palpable, Maura’s wry wit (“Science go oops. Energy go BOOM. Maura go bye-bye”) and M’s endearing missteps skillfully balance weighty circumstances with humor, conveying a moving story about prioritizing one’s well-being, personal expression, and self-discovery. Ages 14–up. Agent: Hannah Mann, Writers House. (June)

Reviewed on 05/13/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Clementine (Clementine #1)

Tillie Walden. Image, $14.99 paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-5343-2128-1

Set in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead comic universe, in which zombies have overrun society, 17-year-old Clementine travels Pennsylvania alone. While this story targets existing franchise fans, the character-focused volume, set amid a sparsely populated and frigid climate, remains accessible to new readers. After acquiring a prosthesis for her amputated foot at an Amish survivor settlement, Clementine meets 16-year-old Amos. She accompanies him to Vermont, where homesteaders are purportedly recruiting help to build a mountaintop community. Once there, they encounter the homestead’s few inhabitants: a pair of taciturn twin sisters and 19-year-old Sephardic Jewish Ricca. Suspicious of the twins, Clementine stays to watch Amos’s back, but as the group’s plans for a stronghold crumble, she must decide whether she’ll protect her new companions or return to her loner ways. While overlapping character designs occasionally cause visual repetitiveness, Walden’s (Alone in Space) heavy inks and grayscale color pallet complement the eerie, dystopian atmosphere. Depictions of trauma, animosity, and romance intersect in this unflinchingly brutal survival horror tale that is not without hope. Characters are portrayed with varying skin tones and abilities. Ages 13–16. Agent: Seth Fishman, Gernert Co. (June)

Reviewed on 05/13/2022 | Details & Permalink

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We All Fall Down (The River City Duology #1)

Rose Szabo. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $18.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-3743-1432-3

Hidden somewhere in the U.S. is the once prosperous River City, whose magic is waning after a revolution overthrew its last king and the witches who simultaneously ruled. Now, the city is controlled by its university hospital and police force, both of which operate with little accountability. But the prophesied cycle to replenish the dying magic is beginning again, centering four young people: white, gender-fluid newcomer Jesse Archer; Black physics professor David Blank; David’s unnamed twin, a trans girl born with tentacles and “crimson skin”; and gay, white Jack Marley, who frequents River City’s criminal underground. When their paths intertwine, they’re embroiled in the mystery of a murdered policeman as they delve into the city’s oppressive government amid magical conspiracy. Narratively, the city’s lore, especially its revolution’s history, is sometimes vague, but its streets are resplendent with both menace and whimsy, including a German shepherd crime boss. Interludes following secondary characters sometimes slow the pace, and a protagonist’s decision, while true to life, frustratingly undermines the premise. Even so, Szabo (What Big Teeth) uses alternating third-person perspectives to tenaciously interrogate police violence and racism, making for a promising duology starter. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jennifer Azantian, Azantian Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/13/2022 | Details & Permalink

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That Summer Night on Frenchmen Street

Chris Clarkson. Tu, $21.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-6437-9501-0

Clarkson follows a group of New Orleans teens coming together to overcome past traumas and carve new paths forward in this weighty debut. Black 17-year-old Jessamine Grace Monet plays things close to the vest. Burdened by her memories of Hurricane Katrina and facing college in the fall, she has more to worry about than love. But when white 17-year-old Tennessee Rebel Williams arrives in New Orleans with his bigoted father and emotionally absent mother, there’s an immediate connection between the two. Meanwhile, Jess’s scholarly—and closeted—twin brother Joel maneuvers advances from a classmate, while the twins’ out and proud trans cousin Solange navigates her disappointed mother’s declining health. As the teens’ lives converge, they must learn to open up to one another and confront their respective pasts to make way for their futures. Though a shifting tone can undercut heavy moments, and a character’s undisclosed mental illness leans on stereotype, Clarkson eschews tidy relationships and characterizations in an emotionally extravagant, slowly paced depiction of complex familial circumstances and young love’s trials. Ages 14–up. Agent: Rachel Brooks, BookEnds Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/13/2022 | Details & Permalink

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Katzenjammer

Francesca Zappia. Greenwillow, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-316165-8

Zappia (Now Entering Addamsville) paints a sinister picture of modern teenage life in this disturbing high school horror novel. Seventeen-year-old Cat cannot recall when or how she and her fellow students got trapped inside School, a living organism with halls that expand and contract, showers that spray blood, and no clear escape. She also doesn’t know why her teachers became inanimate objects, or why she and half her peers started mutating into caricatures of themselves, while the cruel popular kids remain unchanged. But when class president Julie, who turned into a walking, talking porcelain doll, is found smashed, Cat, whose face has become a feline mask of hardened flesh, teams up to find the killer with best friend Jeffrey, whose head is now a crayon-decorated cardboard box. As Cat investigates, memories of her past return—some sweet, but most marred by sadistic bullies. The author’s stylized b&w illustrations amplify the tale’s nightmarish feel. Brutal physical and psychological violence and complex, mostly white-cued, characters pervade this relentlessly bleak interpretation of high school society. As the mystery’s pieces click into place, the devastating reality of the teens’ situation becomes clear. Zappia’s denouement, though earned, offers not catharsis but despair. Final art not seen by PW. Ages 14–up. Agent: Louise Fury, Bent Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 05/13/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Black Girls Left Standing

Juliana Goodman. Macmillan/Feiwel and Friends, $18.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-25-079281-5

Sixteen-year-old Black Chicagoan Beau, an aspiring artist, navigates feuding parents, budding romance, police violence, and unresolved grief in Goodman’s intense debut. When Beau’s older sister, Katia, is accused of breaking and entering, she’s killed by a white off-duty police officer. Reeling, as well as seeking closure and justice, Beau enlists her free-spirited friend Sonnet to help her search for the event’s only witness: Katia’s boyfriend Jordan, a former Onyx Tigers gang member, who went missing after her death. Gathering tips from an anonymous Twitter account lands the teens in increasingly dangerous scenarios, resulting in death threats, a harrowing night in jail, and a deadly shoot-out. As Beau’s investigation brings her closer to the truth about Katia’s death, she confronts facts about her sister that she never knew while struggling to navigate life without her. The narrative juggles multiple story lines, at points causing confusion and leaving plotlines unexplored and questions unanswered. Nevertheless, Goodman’s depiction of the pain, lack of empathy, and presumption of guilt that Black youth often experience due to systemic oppression lands on a necessary, hopeful note. Ages 14–up. Agent: Patricia Nelson, Marsal Lyon Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/13/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Name She Gave Me

Betty Culley. HarperTeen, $17.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-315783-5

Culley’s (Three Things I Know Are True) evocative verse centers 16-year-old adoptee Rynn searching for answers about her past. Rynn lives on a Maine garlic farm with her soft-spoken Jewish father and her mercurial mother, whose personal traumas affect her relationship with Rynn. Though Rynn is content hanging out with her best friend or babysitting her toddler neighbor, she longs to learn about her birth family. But without her adoptive mother’s consent, she must wait until she turns 18 to access her official birth records. With encouragement from friends, Rynn uses one of the few clues she has—her atypical birth name, Scheherazade—to unearth her past on her own. Wistful verse highlights small but telling moments throughout Rynn’s search, from connecting with her biological half sister to growing increasingly distant from her adoptive family while seeking the love and acceptance she desperately needs elsewhere. The author’s lived history with foster care and adoption gives the narrative nuance and authority. Emotionally complex and empathetic characters (most of whom cue as white) and a faithfully depicted rural landscape form an exemplary backdrop for this contemplative novel. Ages 13–up. Agent: Steven Chudney, Chudney Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 05/13/2022 | Details & Permalink

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The Loophole

Naz Kutub. Bloomsbury, $17.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-5476-0917-8

Kutub weaves heartbreak with Muslim-inspired fantasy in a bighearted genre-blending debut. After closeted 17-year-old Indian American Sy’s boyfriend Farouk breaks up with him and promptly leaves the U.S., Sy throws himself into his thankless L.A. coffee shop job. There, he meets avant-garde English heiress Reggie, who offers to grant him three wishes in exchange for an egg salad sandwich. As a joke, he wishes for a million dollars, which immediately appears in his bank account. When his father learns that he’s queer and kicks him out of the house, Sy asks Reggie to help him find Farouk, and the duo traipse the globe aboard a private jet searching for him. Along the way, Sy experiences Islamophobia and homophobia, while his fantastical adventures offer levity en route to an emotional resolution. Though the jam-packed plot and alternating past and present chapters occasionally overshadow Sy’s interpersonal relationships and lessen narrative urgency, Kutub’s highly stylized prose (one minor character is referred to as a “bearded-to-the-neckline LumberChad”) and Sy’s energetic deep dive into his heritage present an upbeat, wish-fulfillment tale. Ages 13–up. Agent: Natalie Lakosil, Bradford Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 05/13/2022 | Details & Permalink

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