Sometimes text alone doesn’t do justice to the YA genre, with all its quirkiness and its emphasis on relationships, feelings, and all the gooey bits that make us tick. The format of graphic novels, and their visual, visceral freedom, can be a great fit for the in between, disorderly gray areas the genre relishes. With that in mind, here’s a sampling of this year’s graphic novel crop that ought to keep YA fans turning the pages. Some are emotionally heavy, others delightfully wacky, but they’ll all hit you in the feels one way or another.
Big Kids, by Michael DeForge (out now!)
Let’s begin with what is likely the most challenging entry on this list. In short, Big Kids is a surreal exploration of the sheer, terrifying uncertainty of adolescence. With its awkward, tiny format, it asks the reader to feel the same discomfort as the teenage boy at the story’s center. In dreamlike, ultra-visual style, DeForge charts the path of this turbulent transition with a skill that manages to articulate the inarticulable emotions of a teenager dealing with issues of anxiety and depression, as well as sexual urges and creeping lust. It’ll make you think, and feel.
Lumberjanes, Vol. 3, by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Brooke A. Allen and Shannon Watters (April 5)
The ladies of Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types are back, and so are the endless hijinks, mishaps, and wilderness shenanigans that always follow in their wake. With the addition of a slew of guest artists to the equation, the animation style does change slightly, but the antics do not. In these collected stories, you get the standard camp thrills of scary stories around the fire, but you’ve also got the not-so-standard Lumberjane thrills of monsters and magical portals. Bonus: Molly and Mal’s budding romance finds a sweet spot, if not a carefree picnic.
Paper Girls, Vol. 1, by Brian K. Vaughan (April 5)
To this point, I’ve not been able to come up with a better description of Paper Girls than The A.V. Club‘s, which approximated it as, “Goonies plus Now and Then trapped in H.G. Wells’ nightmares.” Our four titular heroines begin the action with a particular challenge: delivering their morning paper route on November 1, 1988. The morning after Halloween presents all sorts of obstacles, particularly in the form of teenage boys. The Spielbergian vibe may feel like comfort food, but quickly the girls realize they’ve got a bigger pervading weirdness to deal with. Bring your appetite for spunky, take-no-lip ladies, but also a hankering for science fiction.
Compass South, by Hope Larson (June 28)
Though it skews slightly toward middle grade, Larson’s series starter has the spunky heroes, soaring adventures, and overall charm YA fans will appreciate. In New York City circa 1860, the father of 12-year-old twins Cleopatra and Alexander has gone missing. Faced with few viable options, the pair joins the infamous Black Hook Gang…and then proceeds to rat them out to the police in exchange for tickets out of town. Things do not go smoothly from there. The two get separated. There are pirates. There is treasure. If you’ve seen The Goonies, or any of Hayao Miyazaki’s canon, you’ll want to pick this up.
Ghosts, by Raina Telgemeier (September 13)
Telgemeier has shown her YA chops with hits like Smile and Drama—and let us never forget she expertly adapted The Baby-Sitters Club graphic novels. Her latest release has the same heart and girl power, with an insight and poignancy perfectly suited to the format. Catrina’s not happy when her family picks up and moves to California. She’s anxious about leaving her friends, but her little sister, Maya, has cystic fibrosis and will benefit from the sea air. Once the girls arrive, they learn a secret about their new home: It has ghosts. What follows is a tale of family, friendship, and courage—it’s a story that’s universal.