Could pack more of a punch, but Natalie’s straightforward, heartfelt story will still resonate.

NAT ENOUGH

Cartoonist Scrivan’s debut graphic novel explores friendship breakups and coming in to one’s own.

Bespectacled Natalie and her best friend, Lily, used to be “two peas in a pod.” But after Lily moves, even though they both start at the same middle school, nothing is the same. Mean and dismissive, Lily has clearly dropped Natalie for their middle school’s cool girl, but Natalie is desperate to win her back no matter what. Convinced she’s “not enough” as she is, she tries everything from a new hat to suppressing her creativity. While she faces mild bullying from Lily and another classmate, a few newfound friends work unwaveringly to support Natalie in her journey to rebuild her self-esteem: “I’ve spent so much time thinking about what I’m not good at…that I never think about what I am good at.” Both the illustration style and slice-of-life pacing have an early-2000s feel—think Amelia’s Notebook rather than Raina Telgemeier. Natalie’s first-person narration is so self-focused that secondary characters are exclusively there to contribute to her character development. Readers learn next to nothing about the internal lives of Natalie’s kind new friend Zoe or her crush, Derek, both kids of color. (Both Natalie and Lily are white.) While this isn’t unfitting—the premise is that this is Natalie’s sketchbook—it makes for underwhelming representation.

Could pack more of a punch, but Natalie’s straightforward, heartfelt story will still resonate. (Graphic fiction. 10-12)

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-338-53821-2

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Graphix/Scholastic

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child...

KEEPER OF THE LOST CITIES

A San Diego preteen learns that she’s an elf, with a place in magic school if she moves to the elves’ hidden realm.

Having felt like an outsider since a knock on the head at age 5 left her able to read minds, Sophie is thrilled when hunky teen stranger Fitz convinces her that she’s not human at all and transports her to the land of Lumenaria, where the ageless elves live. Taken in by a loving couple who run a sanctuary for extinct and mythical animals, Sophie quickly gathers friends and rivals at Foxfire, a distinctly Hogwarts-style school. She also uncovers both clues to her mysterious origins and hints that a rash of strangely hard-to-quench wildfires back on Earth are signs of some dark scheme at work. Though Messenger introduces several characters with inner conflicts and ambiguous agendas, Sophie herself is more simply drawn as a smart, radiant newcomer who unwillingly becomes the center of attention while developing what turn out to be uncommonly powerful magical abilities—reminiscent of the younger Harry Potter, though lacking that streak of mischievousness that rescues Harry from seeming a little too perfect. The author puts her through a kidnapping and several close brushes with death before leaving her poised, amid hints of a higher destiny and still-anonymous enemies, for sequels.

Wholesome shading to bland, but well-stocked with exotic creatures and locales, plus an agreeable cast headed by a child who, while overly fond of screaming, rises to every challenge. (Fantasy. 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4593-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Aladdin

Review Posted Online: July 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat,...

EXILE

From the Keeper of the Lost Cities series , Vol. 2

Full-blown middle-volume-itis leaves this continuation of the tale of a teenage elf who has been genetically modified for so-far undisclosed purposes dead in the water.

As the page count burgeons, significant plot developments slow to a trickle. Thirteen-year-old Sophie manifests yet more magical powers while going head-to-head with hostile members of the Lost Cities Council and her own adoptive elvin father, Grady, over whether the clandestine Black Swan cabal, her apparent creators and (in the previous episode) kidnappers, are allies or enemies. Messenger tries to lighten the tone by dressing Sophie and her classmates at the Hogwarts-ian Foxfire Academy as mastodons for a silly opening ceremony and by having her care for an alicorn—a winged unicorn so magnificent that even its poop sparkles. It’s not enough; two sad memorial services, a trip to a dreary underground prison, a rash of adult characters succumbing to mental breakdowns and a frequently weepy protagonist who is increasingly shunned as “the girl who was taken” give the tale a soggy texture. Also, despite several cryptic clues and a late attack by hooded figures, neither the identity nor the agenda of the Black Swan comes closer to being revealed.

However tried and true, the Harry Potter–esque elements and set pieces don’t keep this cumbersome coming-of-age tale afloat, much less under way. (Fantasy 10-12)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4424-4596-3

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Simon Pulse/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2013

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