In 2004, Amanda’s life is full of comfortable constants: attending her Catholic high school; spending time with her best friend, Cat; attending church with her family; and watching minor league baseball and bad TV with her beloved father. An overheard conversation and a mysterious letter set her on the path to uncovering a family secret; around the same time, she realizes that she is probably in love with Cat. Venable (Mervin the Sloth Is About to Do the Best Thing in the World) creates a remarkably full picture of Amanda’s life—family, school, church, baseball, the local music scene, and the corresponding and overlapping relationship dynamics. Amanda’s decisions—confronting her family about the secret, exploring her sexuality—lead to realistically messy consequences that are not easily remedied, and the way these open up and close off areas of her life is handled well. Black-and-white cartoon art by Crenshaw (Test Your Baby’s IQ) complements the narrative, offering distinct characters and conveying what the dialogue alone can’t. A queer coming-of-age story that earns its powerful emotional impact. Ages 14–up. Author’s agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Mar.)
Gr 9 Up—Mads lives in a conservative community with her deeply religious parents. Her social circle includes her friends from Catholic school, Cat, Adam, and Laura, but her best friend is her father. After overhearing a phone conversation that upsets him, she realizes that he's hiding something, but her parents refuse to answer her questions, leaving her angry and betrayed. Mads also wonders why her first seven kisses, with boys, aren't as stirring as kiss number eight, with Laura, and why she feels something deeper than friendship for Cat. A mysterious letter and an explosive confrontation with her parents and grandparents lead to a difficult realization, shaking up their relationships. This graphic novel addresses transphobia, sexuality, and hypocrisy. The art's retro feel serves the story well and is most powerful when depicting the contrast between truth and lies. The characters aren't especially deep but they help frame Mads's world. The resolution is realistically complicated, highlighting Mads's agency as she manages her conflicts. Though characters spend more time than necessary proclaiming their trans- and homophobic views, Mads's decisiveness and the clear look at how so-called "values" can mask harmful attitudes make this a thought-provoking book. VERDICT A solid addition to YA shelves.–Carla Riemer, Claremont Middle School, Oakland
The discovery of long-buried family secrets brings Amanda closer to owning her own.
Amanda is the demure sidekick to the wild and sexy Cat, who knows how to have a good time but doesn't always know how to be a great friend. Her real best friend, though, is her Catholic dad. They go to Sunday baseball games, share favorite TV shows, and trounce each other in video games. When Amanda discovers that her runaway grandmother was actually an early transgender rights activist who transitioned late in life, it brings unbearable tension into their relationship. It also makes Amanda wake up to parts of herself she's not yet been able to acknowledge, such as how she really feels when she's around Cat. These revelations wreak havoc on her relationships. Fortunately, Amanda, who is white, finds a new, multiracial crew from the public school. Their lack of need for labels, for the gender binary, or to overexplain themselves allows Amanda to relax into self-acceptance. It's a story of family and friendship and love in all its forms, perfect for the graphic novel format and elevated by the combined art and narrative. For example, when Amanda's father tells his mother's story, his distorted recollections are laid out in juxtaposition with actual events, resulting in an achingly moving vignette. The characters shine, fully human and permitted to be flawed. Hope prevails.
A rare blend of tender and revolutionary. (Graphic novel. 13-18)
"Venable’s frequently heartbreaking recollection of the abuse and torment that people went through for being 'different' and the fact that it still happens all too frequently is a powerful reminder of how far we still have to go." New York Times
"[This is] a story of family and friendship and love in all its forms, perfect for the graphic novel format and elevated by the combined art and narrative...the characters shine, fully human and permitted to be flawed. Hope prevails. A rare blend of tender and revolutionary." Kirkus, Starred Review
"Thought-provoking... A solid addition to YA shelves." School Library Journal
"The interest here is in comparing GLBTQ experiences across a gap of generationsit was difficult then, it can be difficult still, but there’s a promise of genuine happiness that makes following the heart worthwhile." Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books