The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

January 9, 2011

Cari Boatright Rerat, Book Review: Graphic novels tell compelling tales

By Cari Boatright Rerat
Globe Columnist

JOPLIN, Mo. — Graphic novels and comic books are my go-to format for a quick, satisfying jolt of story when life is too busy or too crazy for the required quiet time of a traditional book or audio book.

I love all types of graphic novels, but lately I have been leaning towards more realistic stories that grapple with difficult issues. In fact, I find that graphic novels are able to address heavy issues in a powerful format that resonates with readers of all levels and backgrounds.

(Technically, graphic novels and comic books are different. For the ease of writing, I’m lumping them together.)

~ “How I Made it to Eighteen: A Mostly True Story,” written and illustrated by Tracy White, is “mostly true” (95 percent, says the author) because names, places and chronologies have been changed.

At 17, Stacy Black has a nervous breakdown and checks herself into Golden Meadows Hospital to get better. This sparsely drawn black and white graphic novel is the story of her 24-week hospitalization and how she came to terms with her depression, substance abuse problem and eating disorder.

While not a happy-go-lucky story, it's one that is told with an honesty that hits home. Tracy White’s art could easily be believed as an average 17-year-old’s drawings, but are well laid out and well executed. “How I Made it to Eighteen” will stick with readers far after they finish the last page.  

~ “Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty,” by G. Neri and illustrated by Randy DuBurke, is the true story of Robert “Yummy” Sandifer, an 11-year-old boy caught up in Chicago’s gang violence in the early ’90s.

After being initiated into the Black Disciples gang, Yummy mistakenly shoots a neighborhood girl named Shavon Dean. Shavon’s death and Yummy’s age garner a lot of attention from local and national venues as the “manhunt” by police for Yummy begins.

The fictional narrator, Roger, gathers stories from various people in Yummy’s life that reveal the two very different sides of Yummy. According to the stories, Yummy is dangerous and menacing while simultaneously sweet and childlike.

DuBurke’s black and white art is fittingly dramatic and vivid. It makes Yummy’s heart-wrenching story all the more palpable. Even though teen readers are too young to have heard about the real Yummy, readers will still find his story moving and poignant.  

~ “Resistance: Book 1,” by Carla Jablonski and illustrated by Leland Purvis, is a full color graphic novel set in “Free,” or unoccupied, France during World War II.

12-year-old Paul Tessier and his family are trying to adjust to life with the new French-German government. Paul, in particular, has a hard time reconciling the views of some of his peers about Jewish people with what he knows of his Jewish friend and neighbor Henri.

When Henri's parents are taken, Paul and his little sister Marie hide Henri in a cave on the Tessier’s vineyard and the three children decide to be part of The Resistance Ñ a group of everyday people who are doing as much as they can to subvert the Germans and their French takeover. The group quickly puts the children to work to reunite Henri with his parents, who have escaped into the care of The Resistance in Paris.

Purvis’ art isn’t my favorite style Ñ sort of PBS educational cartoon Ñ but it does a good job of showing detailed facial expressions and setting the tone of the story. Readers will find this angle of World War II history interesting and enlightening while cheering the young heroes along on their dangerous task.

These three graphic novels are found in the Teen Department’s graphic novel collection.