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On Slowing Down With Young Adult Graphic Novels: Rereading The Favorites I Devoured

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Connie Pan

Senior Contributor

Connie Pan is a writer and editor from Maui, Hawai‘i. She earned an MFA in fiction from West Virginia University and a BA in creative writing from Grand Valley State University. Her writing has appeared in Bamboo Ridge, Carve, HelloGiggles, PRISM International, The Billfold, and elsewhere. An excerpt from her novel-in-progress was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. Instagram: @csnpan Twitter: @panlikepeter

Having spent gaggles of semesters in high school and undergraduate taking classes, art holds a dear place deep in my heart. Because my efforts never quite resembled my ideas or intentions, I continued admiring art and redirected my creative energy toward writing. In the past few years (mostly) at home, reading graphic novels and memoirs has been a way for me to remain close to art, and rereading them has helped me deepen the connection. So far this year, I’ve read nine new-to-me titles, and I’ve revisited nine, too.

This humid August marked my third year participating in The Sealey Challenge. With most of my reading time dedicated to poems, young adult literature and graphic novels sounded like good ways to fit more books into the month. Together, they seemed like an even better option, and revisiting familiar stories a perfect answer. Between the continual rush of poetry chapbooks and collections, these three rereads proved to be wonderful company.

cover of A Map to the Sun by Sloane Leong

When I feel homesick for the Islands, I sometimes look to books, and to noodles, for comfort. As the one-year mark since my last visit to Hawai‘i approached, I — remembering instant ramen, slippers left at the door, and the Pacific — reach for A Map to the Sun. Two years ago, I read Sloane Leong’s beautiful book, which follows a scrappy high school basketball team in Los Angeles. Even then, I knew I’d return to it for multiple reasons: for its mentions of O‘ahu, where I once lived; for its powerful artwork and gorgeous prose; for its unforgettable characters.

Simply opening this graphic novel about friendship, dedication, and vulnerability moves me. The bright colors remind me of the chromatic school supplies I carried, the polish glittering my nails. Highlighter-bright, everything appears important, and I study the pages. I reread the beginning twice. It so excellently captures, through Ren and Luna’s instant connection, that special rarity of meeting someone you don’t want to imagine your life without. A glimpse: “Summer runs long like a river. We see each other every day. I almost forget I didn’t know Luna once.”

After finishing, I place the book spine-in on the shelf to admire the rainbow the pages make. This, too, reminds me of my home of homes, so I keep it like that for a while.

cover of Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki and Rosemary Valero-O'Connell

Brought to my attention by the adoring praise of fellow Rioters, I first read Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me, written by Mariko Tamaki, three Octobers ago. Reeling from a fresh breakup with the titular Laura Dean, Freddy Riley seeks the help of an advice columnist; her friends, old and new; and a psychic. Rosemary Valero-O’Connell’s black, white, and pink art stunned me in 2019, and it stuns me now.

Obsessed with color and a detailed page, I love observing things, from a crack near the light fixture to two potted plants by a window. Like the color orange in R. Kikuo Johnson’s No One Else, my eye searches for everything pink in this captivating graphic novel about heartbreak, friendship, and growth. Some things I notice: balloons, phones, confetti, Anna Vice’s website, succulents, fireworks, an undelivered valentine, a coffee cup, the sky, fountain soda, birds, star earrings and heart earrings and dangly earrings and hoops, notebook doodles, hands, looming palm trees, doors, a tea cup, paper airplanes, and stained glass windows.

I spent some years in the East Bay, married my beloved there, and I get a little homesick for the area, too. So, Berkeley’s flora comforts me and makes my Virgo-y heart bloom in my chest. I can still feel that dry heat, and my eyes hunger for roses, hills, and vineyards.

cover of Mooncakes by Wendy Xu and Suzanne Walker

As a lover of seasonal reads, it seems like I just celebrated the June solstice by rereading The Hurting Kind’s “Summer” section. Naturally, I begin daydreaming about oversized sweaters, Halloween decorations, and autumnal books during sweat-soaked days. While hiding inside during a heat advisory, I linger in front of Mooncakes. I touch the spine of the graphic novel featuring Nova Huang, a young witch who investigates “creepy” happenings in the forest, where she finds Tam Lang, a werewolf and friend, fighting a demon. I can’t wait. Way before summer’s end, I pull the book, written by Suzanne Walker and illustrated by Wendy Xu, off the shelf.

And on the opening page, fall foliage in all its glory: orange and brown and red and gold. I gasp at the sight of the quaint New England town tucked between treetops. From Black Cat Books to a river of glow-in-the-dark stars on Nova’s bedroom ceiling to the marvelous spirits in Witchwood State Park, there’s so much that I like about this exploration of family, magic, and love, and I know I’ll return to it another fall — or maybe sooner.

Thanks to the cozy outfits of Mooncakes, my virtual carts now hold, in addition to books, heaps of cardigans in warm, earthy tones. Sitting with this comfort read also led to me pondering which titles I hope to return to this fall. I scrawl a note in my calendar to place Rainbow Rowell’s Pumpkinheads, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks, on hold at the library. Along with the “Fall” section of Ada Limón’s recent collection, I add Maggie Tokuda-Hall’s Squad, illustrated by Lisa Sterle, to my autumn equinox reading list.

What titles haunt your bookish brain and will you revisit them?

If rereading, graphic novels, and graphic memoirs interest you, check out “On Slowing Down With Graphic Novels And Stories” and “On Slowing Down With Graphic Memoirs.”