Summer. Most people mark this three month period with vacations, BBQs, and outdoor concerts. I mark my summers with books. For example: The summer before my senior year of H.S. I read “Oliver Twist,” “A Long Way Down,” and “Song of Solomon” all the while sitting by a soccer field watching ten-year-olds barely miss my head when aiming for the goal.
This summer has been no different – thus far. However, my tastes have veered away from books with no pictures to books with tons of pictures, to graphic novels.
As a teen I did not read many graphic novels. I did not even know what they were besides books in the YA section that I was afraid to check out. They seemed beyond my mental capability. It was not until the reference librarian/YA librarian told me I had to read “Bone” by Jeff Smith that graphic novels became one of my hidden passions.
I read the entire “Bone” series in about a week, in one ginormous volume, and in its original black and white. Since then, I have browsed the YA graphic novel section fearlessly.
What makes this summer so different, though, is the fact that I have read more graphic novels back-to-back than ever before. I am realizing that they are the hidden gems of YA fiction. They can make a simple sentence like “I thought of you” into a multi-layered examination of the human mind. They allow for three-dimensionality in a two dimensional medium. Thus, they deserve more of my attention. Also, they make my eyes hurt less.
An illustration of this wondrous phenomenon is the graphic novel “American Born Chinese.” Page after page, you are both shown and told the story – you see how Jing’s parents struggle when they were younger, you read about The Monkey King’s woes, and you cringe as you take in Chin-Kee. This bildungsroman would have been great as just a novel, but it would not be the same story. The vivid colors, hilarious onomatopoeia panels, and simplicity (by this I mean trying to describe all the action occurring in the panels would have been more complex in solely the written word) transform it in an amazing story.
This does not mean I have completely eradicated word-only novels from my summer reading list. I think it means that my mind wants a break from the verbose. (Though, it should be noted that I cannot watch a movie without subtitles.) Plus, depending on the graphic novel, they tend be quick reads. I read “The Good Neighbors Book II: Kith” in two hours. (It would have been an hour but I tend to linger on the panels.)
Graphic novels are a great summer choice for me because I can read but not really read. I have a beach book that I can pause, rewind, and fast-forward without feeling like I am cheating. They are also a great mental exercise. The words and pictures are both equally imperative to the story – unless you are reading the wordless “The Arrival” – and force me to create a mental film. This may be the reason that many novels (“Twilight,” “Avalon High”) are later adapted into graphic novels. They add another level to the storytelling.
Summer. The perfect season to grab a graphic novel (including the ones mentioned below) and let it distract you from any and all incoming soccer balls.
“The Arrival” – Shaun Tan
“Cat Burglar Black” – Richard Sala
“Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda” – J.P. Stassen
“The Good Neighbors” – Holly Black and Ted Naiteh
“The Eternal Smile” – Gene Luen Yang and Derek Kirk Kim
“Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth” – Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou
“Scott Pilgrim” volumes 1-5 – Bryan Lee O’Malley
“Skim” – Mariko and Jillian Tamaki
“Stitches” – David Small
“The War at Ellsmere” – Faith Erin Hicks