Growing Up is Hard to Do: New Coming-of-age Graphic Novels

I find I read in cycles, sometimes it’s all about the non-fiction, other times, novels…but right now I am going through a graphic novel phase. I am loving the striking visuals and the quicker reads of this genre. Here are a few of my recent favourites, which—as it suddenly became obvious to me while writing this blog—share the theme of growing up.

I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together

by Maurice Vellekoop


My first suggestion is I’m So Glad We Had This Time Together: A Memoir by Maurice Vellekoop, an epic coming of age story that takes place over decades of Vellekoop’s actual life. The reader is presented with a detailed look back at his formative years through frame by frame images that to me felt like both an homage to retro comics and a reference to old photos. It is remarkable to think about how much work was put into the visuals and story of this almost 500 page book! I loved how specific to a time and place it was too, getting to see the evolution of the city of Toronto and its suburbs from the 1970s to the 2000s was very enjoyable.

Vellekoop depicts growing up in a family who were members of the Christian Reform Church, holding somewhat conservative social views. As a young, gay man he struggled to find his was in the world suffering from depression and mental health issues along the way. He tells this very personal story in such an honest, moving and funny manner that you will see in no time why his work has been published in such celebrated magazines as Vogue and The New Yorker.

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Freshman Year

by Sarah Mai


Freshman Year will play out differently depending on its audience. Part cautionary tale and precursor of the adventures that lie ahead for a teen reader; and accurate reminiscence of university life for those who have attended in the not-so-distant past. Mai does a wonderful job of exploring the emotions that go along with the big leap that is freshman year.

As the book opens, Mai explores the shock to the system of one day being surrounded by your friends in the familiar situation of high school to suddenly sharing a room with a complete stranger and having to deal with the stress and complexities of schoolwork, finding a new friend group and young love. The amusing depictions of Emma (who looks remarkably similar to the author if you look up a photo of Mai and the book is indeed based on her own experiences) are wonderfully descriptive and engaging. For me this was a poignant and realistic look back at a very impactful time in a young person’s life.

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The Happy Shop

by Brittany Long Olsen


The Happy Shop is a charming children’s graphic novel that likewise explores emotions on many levels. Darcy, the main character, is an eleven-year-old who has recently had to move with her mom to a new country and is dealing with the feelings and situations that come along with such a big change. When her mom sends her out to explore her new town one day she discovers an intriguing shop that sells jars containing magical memories. Customers can purchase from a wide variety of memories (one of my favourites being: “A cat chooses to sit on your lap over everyone else in the room” for 5 pounds) to bring themselves a hit of instant joy or happiness. Darcy accidentally breaks some of these jars when looking around the store and is then offered a job by one of the shop owners to make up the cost. The shop is owned by two sisters, one who is warm and receptive to some young blood in the store, and the other who is grumpy and annoyed by having a young Darcy around.

Darcy learns a lot about feelings working there and, in the end, wisely imparts knowledge of her own to these two shop sisters that perhaps their store should include more than just happy thoughts.

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Art Club

by Rashad Doucet


As an art lover myself, Art Club tugged at my heart strings a little. Dale, a young boy and comic book lover, tries to start an art club at his school to embrace his passion and demonstrate to the naysayers in his life (his grandfather, the vice principal and some of the students at school) that art can be a long term goal…and one that he might even make a living out of it! His recently passed grandmother is the person who first introduced him to comic books and sparked his love of art but as the story progresses Dale finds fellow art appreciators who help to bolster his confidence in general.

The illustrations are wonderfully appealing, and kids will connect with sections that play out as live chats during Dale’s favourite video game. This graphic novel is an empowering look at how sometimes an outsider can overcome the odds and even find some new friends along the way. Doucet is a professor at Savannah College of Art and Design in Georgia and his teaching skills come across as he uses the end of the book to demo the making of a graphic novel, discussing sketching, script writing and editing as some of the various steps along the way…a very cool addition to the book!

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Kelly I.
Library Assistant, Main Library

Kelly has the great pleasure of spending her time as a Library Assistant at the Main Library. Her favourite things about working at WPL are getting to experience amazing new books all the time, and then write about some of her favourites for the Check It Out blog. When she is away from the library, Kelly loves spending time with her family, who are big into hiking and taking in the great outdoors. Kelly majored in art history at university and so she also loves to immerse herself in all things arts and culture. Her favourite way to spend a Sunday is at an art gallery and then lounging at a café afterwards with a latte in one hand and a great book in the other.