Graphic novels are so fun to read because the artwork adds a whole other level to world building. The illustrative choices set tone, provide context, and sometimes add story clues or easter eggs. Like other forms of literature, graphic novels come in all flavors of fiction and nonfiction; and the artwork can vary from stark black and white drawings to intense color-filled pages. If you’re longing to explore try something new, what better way than a road trip? Grab some snacks and let’s hit the road as we travel through the pages of these five very different stories and styles of graphic novels.
A Bintel Brief: Love and Longing in Old New York by Liana Finck
New York, New York
This graphic novel is an adaptation of actual letters written in the early 1900s to the advice column A Bintel Brief “A Bundle of Letters”. The advice column appeared in The Forward, a popular Yiddeish language newspaper located on the Lower East Side of Manhattan and read primarily by Eastern European Jewish immigrants. The graphic novel is semi-biographical, and Liana Finck brings to life the letters while weaving her 20th century life into the story as well. The illustrations are whimsical two-tone drawings in grays and blues. Love, jealousy, loneliness… this graphic novel transports you to the joys and struggles of beginning a new life in America.
Spit and Passion written and illustrated by Cristy C. Road
Set in the 1990s this graphic biography follows the author as a 13 year old struggling to balance her newly discovered queer identify with her Cuban Catholic family’s beliefs. Oh yeah, and she’s obsessed with Green Day. This is classified as a YA novel for good reason. Roads viscerally illustrates the intense grossness of coming of age and the confusion of forming your own identity in a family of strong tradition. While I’m not sure I would call myself a Green Day fan, the pop culture throwback was tons of fun and totally relatable to anyone who was once an obsessed teen.
Blankets: An Illustrated Novel by Craig Thompson
Wisconsin and Michigan
This is called an illustrated novel for good reason because this book is a brick. But don’t let that scare you away! It’s a fast read and pulls you into the deep chill of the Wisconsin and Michigan winter with the blue, gray and black palette. The main character Craig grapples with his Evangelical faith, familial guilt, and first love in a coming-of-age story about how where we grow up shapes us. This is a heavy read (get it, but seriously it is) but so worth it.
Best Shot in the West: The Adventures of Nat Love by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack, Jr. ; illustrated by Randy DuBurke
Yep, this is graphic novel is in the kids section. But you have to see the illustrations! Randy DuBurke brings the American southwest to life in vivid artwork, breathing sparks of fire into the remarkable story of Nat Love, also known as Deadwood Dick. This graphic biography chronicles Love’s life from his birth into slavery in 1854 to his rise as the most famous African American cowboy working in the Old West. Gun fights, daring escapes, lessons learned, this adaptation has it all. Because this is classified as a children's book much of the violence is softened and the themes simplified, though not eliminated.
Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier ; with color by Braden Lamb
Yes! It’s another kids book, but this one definitely has all the feels and lessons for kids and adults alike. Wow, what doesn’t this book tackle? Moving to a new town, sibling relationships, cystic fibrosis, embracing your cultural heritage, learning to cope with death... It’s a lot to include, but all the themes are beautifully woven into the story of two sisters as they move with their parents from southern California to Bahía de la Luna, a town unusually welcoming to ghosts. The story follows the sisters’ adventures and self-discoveries in their new town and culminates with the celebration of All Souls Day. The illustrations are warm and bright and transport you to the foggy cliffs of Bahía de la Luna with Catrina and Maya.