2015 was another great year for graphic novels, as writers and illustrators continue to push the boundaries of the art form to tell compelling, humorous and sometimes heart-breaking stories — both real and imagined — in the graphic medium. Many of the recommended graphic novels for teens are written for an adult audience, but the stories, and particularly the format, will appeal to young adults as well.
The Best of the Best:
Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina & New Orleans, written and illustrated by Don Brown — A graphic novel account of the Hurricane Katrina disaster in November of 2005, when the city of New Orleans, Louisiana, and surrounding areas were flooded and more than fourteen hundred people lost their lives. “Spare but emotionally resonant, this outstanding title will appeal to graphic novel and nonfiction readers alike” (Booklist starred review).
Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash — A graphic novel memoir depicting the author’s teenage experiences at summer camp where she fell in love with an older girl. “Readers will feel as though they’re opening a scrapbook or journal rather than a more formal autobiography. An insightful and thought-provoking work” (School Library Journal starred review).
Nimona by Noelle Stevenson — Lord Ballister Blackheart seeks to bring down the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics with the aid of his new shapeshifting sidekick Nimona. “Stevenson’s portrayal of the relationship between good and evil is particularly ingenious, as is her attention to detail and adroit worldbuilding. If you’re going to read one graphic novel this year, make it this one” (Kirkus starred review).
Supermutant Magic Academy by Jillian Tamaki — SuperMutant Magic Academy is a prep-school for mutants and witches, but their paranormal abilities take a back seat to everyday teen concerns. Science experiments go awry, bake sales are upstaged, and the new kid at school is a cat who will determine the course of human destiny. “Simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious, this is perfect for fans of Daniel Clowes’ Ghost World” (Booklist starred review).
The Rest of the Best:
The Arab Of The Future: A Graphic Memoir Of A Childhood In The Middle East (1978-1984) by Riad Sattouf — Sattouf recounts his nomadic childhood growing up in rural France, Gaddafi’s Libya, and Assad’s Syria — but always under the roof of his father, a Syrian Pan-Arabist who drags his family along in his pursuit of grandiose dreams for the Arab nation. “Caught between his parents, Sattouf makes the best of his situation by becoming a master observer and interpreter, his clean, cartoonish art making a social and personal document of wit and understanding” (Publishers Weekly starred review).
Chasing Shadows by Swati Avasthi, with graphic by Craig Phillips — Holly and Savitri find their friendship in trouble after the death of their friend Corey and Holly’s insistence to find his killer, despite the danger in it. “Fans of Cecil Castellucci’s Year of the Beasts will especially appreciate this book’s themes and its hybrid format that alternates chapters from Savitri’s and Holly’s points of view in both compelling text and adept black-and-white graphics that ultimately deliver a sad and powerful twist” (School Library Journal starred review).
I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest, illustrated by Kali Ciesemier– Years after writing stories about a superheroine character she created with a best friend who died in a tragic car accident, 16-year-old May is shocked to see stickers, patches and graffiti images of the superheroine appearing all over town. “An engrossing cyberthriller packed with a puzzling mystery, crackerjack detective work, and an eerie, atmospheric sense of place” (Booklist starred review).
March, Book Two by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell — A graphic novel account of some pivotal moments in the Civil Rights Movement. “[Powell], the veteran graphic novelist, experiments with monochrome watercolors, powerful lettering techniques, and inspired page layouts to create a gripping visual experience that enhances the power of Lewis’s unforgettable tale” (Publishers Weekly starred review).
Monster: A Graphic Novel adapted by Guy Sims from the novel by Walter Dean Myers, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile — While on trial as an accomplice to a murder, sixteen-year-old Steve Harmon records his experiences in prison and in the courtroom in the form of a film script as he tries to come to terms with the course his life has taken. “The superbly rewarding format serves to powerfully emphasize Myers’ themes of perspective and the quest to see one’s self clearly. A must-have for public and school libraries, and a standout graphic novel” (Booklist starred review).
Out On The Wire: The Storytelling Secrets Of The New Masters Of Radio by Jessica Abel — This graphic novel takes readers behind the scenes of radio shows and podcasts to show the storytelling techniques and ideas that produce these programs. “A spirited work whose readership should not be limited to those who make radio narrative or love to listen to it” (Kirkus starred review).
Ruins by Peter Kuper — Samantha and George are a couple heading towards a sabbatical year in the quaint Mexican town of Oaxaca. For Samantha, it is the opportunity to revisit her past. For George, it is an unsettling step into the unknown. For both of them, it will be a collision course with political and personal events that will alter their paths and the town of Oaxaca forever. “Richly illuminated by Kuper’s trademark light touch with relationships and steely political acumen, it’s a beautiful, epic roman à clef about the importance of seeking the new and questioning the old” (Publishers Weekly starred review).
The Sandman: Overture by Neil Gaiman and J.H. Williams III — Collects all six issues of “The Sandman: Overture” comics, from the birth of a galaxy to the moment that Morpheus is captured. “Sandman fans will surely be elated not only by the return to the story but also by the stunning, gorgeous artwork, which outshines the original. A Gaiman comic alone would make this noteworthy, but the return to the Sandman universe makes this monumental” (Booklist starred review).
The Sculptor by Scott McCloud — David Smith is giving his life for his art — literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding what to create is harder than he thought, and discovering the love of his life at the 11th hour isn’t making it any easier. “If you want to read ambitious comics and graphic novels, you have many choices, but if you want to learn how to read them, you probably have to start with Scott McCloud” (Stephen Burt, the New York Times Book Review).
Terrorist: Gavrilo Princip, The Assassin Who Ignited World War I by Henrik Rehr — Fictional account of the life of the young Serbian terrorist Gavrilo Princep, who touched off World War I in 1914 by assassinating the Archduke Franz Ferdinand. “With an author’s note providing more detail and a few resources, this would make a good choice for both casual reading for history buffs as well as curriculum support” (Booklist).
The Thrilling Adventures Of Lovelace And Babbage by Sydney Padua. A humorous take on the relationship between Ada King Lovelace and Charles Babbage, with an alternate reality in which they actually build a computer and use it to change the world in different ways. “Readers can get lost in the explosion of imagery and overwhelming notes that document the history that never was. A prodigious feat of historically based fantasy that engages on a number of levels” (Kirkus starred review).