So, as I was becoming professionally more engaged with graphic novels, my daughter, living her own parallel existence with occasional intersections during dinners, carpools, and family vacations, was reading, enjoying and even introducing me to some of (my now) favorite graphic novels: Smile and Roller Girl. As I started to work on the idea for this new graphic novel course, I became increasingly interested (and here is where I am most positive that my daughter’s – and possibly my subconscious influence(s) kicked in) in investigating female coming of age narratives in graphic novels. Through a diverse range of graphic novels focused on a heroine’s coming of age journey, the course would, ultimately, I decided, investigate the canonical genre of the “bildungsroman” (coming-of-age) through two lenses:
Awkward written and illustrated by Svetlana Chmakova
She’s the new girl at the middle school, just trying to not get noticed, when Penelope “Peppi” Torres runs into the quiet boy in the hall, knocking him and his books to the ground. When the kids start teasing her about being his girlfriend, Peppi shoves the quiet boy and runs off. Thus, starts Peppi’s first day. This graphic novel follows Peppi as she navigates a new school, new friends, making good choices, and battling the Art Club’s arch-nemesis, the Science Club.
Aya: Life in Yop City is a graphic novel loosely based on Abouet’s life. The protagonist, Aya, is a 19-year-old girl whose interactions with her friends and their families are chronicled in this series about growing up in the Ivory Coast working class suburb of Yopougon-Koute (or Yop City for short) in the 1970’s. Translated from the original French, this graphic novel deals with everyday life, college dreams, the status of women in the Ivory Coast, teenage pregnancies, and social class, gender, and cultural differences.
The Color of Earth is the first graphic novel in a trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa telling the story of Ehwa growing up in a rural Korean village with her widowed mother who runs the local tavern. As her mother begins to fall in love again, Ehwa, too, starts to explore what it means to love. This graphic novel has been named to YALSA’s 2010 Great Graphic Novels for Teens and 2009 Booklist’s Top 10 Romances for Youth.
Callie loves the theatre. Though she can’t sing, she is the set designer for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi. Between the crew members not working together, the arrival of two brothers, and keeping up with old and new friendships, there is as much drama off-stage as on-stage that Callie must navigate.
This graphic novel tells the story of Cece’s childhood wearing a Phonic Ear hearing aid around her neck which allows Cece to hear but also somewhat ostracizes her as “different.” Drawn as bunnies, Cece tells how she comes to accept and open up about her hearing abilities while gaining new friends. The graphic novel won a Newberry Honor and an Eisner Award for Best Publication for Kids in 2015.
Fifteen-year-old loner Lily can shape-shift into a boy to get the girl. While dating the “straight” girl that she likes, as well as being involved with government conspiracies, KGB agents, and her parents, Lily struggles to figure out who exactly she is and where exactly she fits in the world.
This novel follows the lives of Enid and Rebecca, two cynical, pseudo-intellectual, recent high school graduates in the early 1990’s. As they drift through the days after high school, Enid and Rebecca slowly develop tensions between each other and drift apart. The graphic novel was adapted into a movie in 2001 starring Scarlett Johansson. The graphic novel and film have become a cult classic.
Set at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, deep in the heart of Appalachia, Maggie Thrash tells the story of her first love, an older female counselor named Erin. Surprised at falling in love with Erin and the possibility that Erin maybe feels the same, Maggie focuses on developing her amazing skills with a rifle at the camp’s rifle range, as she tries (as does Camp Bellflower) to understand this relationship. Honor Girl was a finalist for the 2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the Graphic Novel/Comics category.
Collecting the comic books Ms. Marvel #1-5 into one graphic novel, Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal tells the story of Kamala Khan, a teenage Pakistani American Muslim from Jersey City, New Jersey, who discovers that she has Inhuman genes which provide her with her shapeshifting abilities. She assumes the role of Ms. Marvel. The storyline follows Khan’s life as she navigates new powers, supervillains, her family, and her religion. Kamala Khan is the first Muslim character to headline her own comic series at Marvel Comics.
One of the more famous graphic novels, Persepolis tells the story of Satrapi’s childhood through early adulthood in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution, as well as the war between Iran and Iraq. Part memoir; part bildungsroman – the story goes from Tehran to Vienna (where Satrapi went to high school) back to Iran (where she studied college) to France (where she landed at the time of publishing the book).
Astrid and Nicole are best friends. But when Astrid signs up for roller derby camp, and Nicole decides to go to dance camp, the most difficult summer of twelve-year-old Astrid’s life begins. As the summer progresses, transitions occur, friendships change, and new skills emerge. As the summer end nears, Astrid has to confront the changes ahead (including junior high) head on. This debut graphic novel earned the 2016 Newberry Honor for real-life roller derby girl (and author) Victoria Jamieson.
Told in both present-day and flashback and framed through the lens of a road trip from their home in San Francisco to a family reunion in Colorado, Sisters is the autobiography of big sister Raina’s relationship with her little sister Amara.
Kimberly Keiko Cameron, “Skim”, is a sixteen-year-old Japanese-Canadian girl who attends an all-girls Catholic school. She is a “Goth,” who practices Wicca, and falls for her teacher. When a popular male athlete dumps his girlfriend, and kills himself a couple of days later, the school goes into major mourning with Skim somehow in the middle of it all. The graphic novel was a YALSA 2009 Great Graphic Novels for Teens Award winner.
In this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, sixth grader Raina trips and falls severely injuring her front two teeth. The graphic novel depicts the aftermath of the fall following Raina through multiple surgeries, braces, headgears, retainers, fake teeth, boys, an earthquake, and friend troubles. The graphic novel won 2010 Boston Globe – Horn Book Honor Book for Nonfiction and 2011 Eisner Award for Best Publication for Teens.
Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house at Awago Beach. This year, however, Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting; thus, she and Windy (Rose’s friend at the beach) try to get away from her parents. This one summer, the girls start hanging out with some local teens and have some issues – some bad; some serious. This graphic novel was a New York Times bestseller, a 2015 Caldecott Honor Book, and a 2015 Printz Honor Book.
Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir tells the story of Liz Prince growing up and her struggles with and exploration of gender issues. From how she dressed to how she played to who her friends were, Prince describes growing up from early childhood to teenager as a “tomboy.” This graphic novel was a 2015 YALSA Great Graphic Novels for Teens pick.
Associate Professor of English Education
Associate Dean, College of Arts & Sciences
Winthrop University, Rock Hill, South Carolina