Despite underbaked elements, a socially conscious fantasy with appealing themes and tensions.

NAMELESS QUEEN

A teen from the lowest social class is selected as the new queen.

Seriden’s population consists of Royals, Legals, and the Nameless, deprived of basic rights—even wearing clothing belonging to another caste is a potentially execution-worthy offense. Seriden’s ruled by a sovereign who, on their deathbed, names an heir, transferring the royal magic and a crown tattoo. A Nameless grifter who calls herself Coin panics when the king dies and the crown tattoo shows up on her arm, putting her in mortal danger from Royals wishing to usurp her. First seeking simple survival, Coin, by trial and error, figures out what power she has to improve things while also trying to determine how a Nameless could be named heir and why Nameless have been disappearing. Some world mechanics are eventually explained, but the worldbuilding tends toward flimsy. Racial descriptors are largely absent; the focus is on class divisions. The lack of a romantic storyline strengthens the platonic relationships the themes depend on; as outcast Coin weaves a new interpersonal network and explores her ability to belong to society and her obligation to improve it, the result is an empowerment narrative and an appealing family-of-choice focus. While the plot carries a few surprises, it’s marred by a too-obvious villain and too-easy solutions. The strength lies in the characters’ emotional inner lives that help ground the themes which have strong ties to our reality.

Despite underbaked elements, a socially conscious fantasy with appealing themes and tensions. (Fantasy. 12-adult)

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5247-0026-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2019

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A reimagined folktale as grand as its painted visuals are sublime.

SHUNA'S JOURNEY

A dangerous quest to feed an impoverished land leads to chance encounters and awe-inspiring sights.

Shuna, the prince of a humble, struggling country, acts on the advice of a dying traveler from an Eastern land to seek out seeds that will grow bountiful grains. What he finds is a hostile city built on greed with an active slave trade. After meeting Thea and her little sister, Shuna fights to free them from enslavers. Every scene in this cinematic work stands apart with breathtaking watercolors aided by expert staging and blocking. The sights along Shuna’s journey range from a derelict ship in a treacherous desert to supernatural creatures and settings. The certainty and simplicity of Shuna’s motivations along with Thea’s own narrative arc allow the story to move nimbly from one larger-than-life spectacle to another. The pages read right-to-left manga style, while large panels and minimal dialogue create an immediate, immersive experience for readers. The narration sits outside or along the edges of panels, allowing the lush visuals maximum room to impress. Afterwords from the author and translator describe the story’s roots in a Tibetan folktale as well as comparisons to Miyazaki’s later animated works; this story, translated from Japanese, was originally published in Japan in 1983 before Miyazaki rose to fame with Studio Ghibli. The story’s cultural origins are cued through characters’ garb and other visual elements.

A reimagined folktale as grand as its painted visuals are sublime. (Graphic fiction. 12-18)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-84652-5

Page Count: 160

Publisher: First Second

Review Posted Online: Aug. 3, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression.

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GIRL IN PIECES

After surviving a suicide attempt, a fragile teen isn't sure she can endure without cutting herself.

Seventeen-year-old Charlie Davis, a white girl living on the margins, thinks she has little reason to live: her father drowned himself; her bereft and abusive mother kicked her out; her best friend, Ellis, is nearly brain dead after cutting too deeply; and she's gone through unspeakable experiences living on the street. After spending time in treatment with other young women like her—who cut, burn, poke, and otherwise hurt themselves—Charlie is released and takes a bus from the Twin Cities to Tucson to be closer to Mikey, a boy she "like-likes" but who had pined for Ellis instead. But things don't go as planned in the Arizona desert, because sweet Mikey just wants to be friends. Feeling rejected, Charlie, an artist, is drawn into a destructive new relationship with her sexy older co-worker, a "semifamous" local musician who's obviously a junkie alcoholic. Through intense, diarylike chapters chronicling Charlie's journey, the author captures the brutal and heartbreaking way "girls who write their pain on their bodies" scar and mar themselves, either succumbing or surviving. Like most issue books, this is not an easy read, but it's poignant and transcendent as Charlie breaks more and more before piecing herself back together.

This grittily provocative debut explores the horrors of self-harm and the healing power of artistic expression. (author’s note) (Fiction. 14 & up)

Pub Date: Aug. 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-93471-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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