As a Secondary English teacher I try to keep up to date with some of the recent YA releases. I must admit that they aren't usually high up on my list as I find YA a bit challenging due to feeling so removed from all the teenage angst, but while on Lockdown I have read a couple of YA novels which have really caught my imagination and attention. These are the first YA novels I've tackled since Pet by Akwaeki Emezi last year - I cannot recommend Emezi's fantasy novel enough - and I was really engaged by them. They each have completely different formats and I enjoyed them all for very different reasons.
First up is Black Flamingo by Dean Atta. This is the coming-of-age story of Michael Angeli told in prose poetry. It is absolutely beautiful - and I don't just mean visually. Yes, the cover art is stunning and the pages are also illustrated but the story itself is heartbreaking, informative and emotional. We follow the protagonist's life from his early childhood years as he comes to terms with his complicated family life, his own racial identity, sexuality, bullying and ultimately friendships through his teenage years. Yes, that all sounds a bit cliche and 'angsty' but Atta explores these themes so sensitively that I wanted to reach out and reassure the young Michael. As he gets older he goes to uni and tries to work out where he 'fits' - it's a fresh start. He tries the societies he thinks he'll fit into. Though he tries he doesn't feel comfortable as he is made to feel a misfit by the other members: his hair isn't right or he doesn't speak the right language fluently enough. These feelings last until he sees a poster for the Drag Society and his alter ego the Black Flamingo is born. It doesn't happen often but I actually got shivers when Atta described Michaels first performance and an incident that happened straight after. It was so well written that I can only encourage everyone to read this book. I read this about 6 weeks ago now and I am still thinking about it. Such a smart and original exploration of identity - Atta is an incredible talent.
My next YA pick was Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson and
illustrated by Emily Carroll. This kept me up until the early hours of the morning as I cared so much for Melinda I wanted to see how things turned out for her. Speak is the story of a teenage girl who suffers a serious sexual assault while at a summer party. The boy who committed the assault is also the most popular and charming student at her high school - because of this, Melinda feels unable to speak out. All she keeps thinking is 'I said no'. This graphic novel explores the self imposed isolation of this young girl in ways that are so moving that as a reader you want to support her and encourage her to seek help rather than turn away from everyone because of the shame and fear she feels of being 'found out'. She finds it easier to stay away from her closest friends but also finds it difficult that they let her distance herself - did they ever really care?
It becomes easier not to speak at all - especially to her family. First a critically acclaimed novel, then a film and now a graphic novel, I cannot recommend this book enough. What will it take for her to find her voice again and to speak the truth out loud? A story of true courage and strength. As a teacher I have been trained to look for clues of abuse being present in my students' lives and I think this is a very important story that needs to be told. Sometimes silence is the clue. A must read.
The last YA title I read is Paper Girls Vol. 5 by Brian K Vaughn illustrated by Cliff Chiang. I was first introduced to the work of Brian K Vaughn through the incredibly addictive Saga series and looked forward to seeing what he would do with a group of female teenage misfit paper girls. This is a science fiction series which follows a group of teenagers as they travel backwards and forwards through time desperately trying to get back to 1980s America. I would absolutely recommend this for fans of Stranger Things for the nostalgia alone. It's not as atmospheric or as developed as Stranger Things or Saga but it is a good fun graphic novel series that explores themes of intersectionality, environmentalism, power and time travel. I think there is only one other volume to conclude this series and I will probably get it at some point just to finish the series and see if the girls manage to fight off all the monsters and aliens that hunt them through time and space.
Black Flamingo by Dean Atta
Published by: Hodder Children's Books
Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Emily Carroll
Published by: Hachette Children's Group
Paper Girls Vol. 5 by Brian K Vaughn illustrated by Cliff Chiang
Published by: Image