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Two Great Teen/YA Graphic Memoirs

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Book By Book

I took advantage of Nonfiction November to  catch up on some graphic memoirs, and I read two of them that are perfect for teens and young adults (though I enjoyed them as an adult, too!).

Pénélope Bagieu has written and illustrated several graphic novels and graphic nonfiction books, including the award-winning Brazen, though her coming-of-age graphic memoir, Layers, was the first of her books I’ve read. I’m so glad I did! In it, she tells sixteen different stories about her life in France, covering the period from childhood to young adulthood, with warmth, emotional depth, and humor. Each of these is a separate vignette, not in chronological order, on a different topic, but together they paint a full picture of her early life and process of growing into an adult. Her first story is titled, Why Don’t You Have a Cat?, and it tells the story of the kittens she and her sister got for Christmas when she was very young. But she had her cat for almost twenty years, and she tells stories of her relationship with her cat throughout those years, so we see every stage of her life through that lens, from small child to young adult. Some vignettes are very short and funny, like A Story About My Seduction Abilities, or short and dark, like the one-page story about noticing signs that a friend in school was being abused. Sometimes she digs a bit deeper into some serious topics, as in Deja Vu, where she compares, side-by-side, two instances of unwanted sexual attention, one as a child sleeping over at a friend’s and another as a young adult. That one, like many of them, uses very creative story-telling techniques and makes maximum use of her drawing talents. These aren’t illustrated stories but truly a graphic memoir, where the pictures tell the story. Often funny, sometimes thought-provoking, and always intimate, Layers is a truly unique, though very relatable, memoir that uses the graphic form perfectly.

144 pages, First Second

This book fits in the following 2023 Reading Challenges:

Nonfiction November – Published in 2023

Travel the World in Books – France

Print and e-book from Amazon.

You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)–the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!


Dreamer: Growing Up Black in the World of Hockey by Akim Aliu (co-written by Greg Anderson Elysee and illustrated by Karen de la Vega) is another coming-of-age graphic memoir with an international flavor but quite different. Akim was a professional hockey player in the NHL who here tells the story of the terrible racism he faced, from youth hockey all the way up to the pros. Akim’s mother is Ukrainian and his father is Nigerian, and when he and his brother were children, they lived in both countries. As a biracial couple, his parents found prejudice and racism in both places–even from family members–so they moved the family to Canada, hoping to provide a better life for their sons. Life was generally better in Canada, but Akim and his brother were still often the only Black kids in their school or neighborhood. Akim fell in love with hockey from the first moment he saw it, and when his parents got him some used skates at a yard sale, they discovered he was a natural. He loved the sport and was very good at it. So good, in fact, that he qualified for an elite teen league in Canada. At age sixteen, he moved to a town four hours away from his family to live with a host family and play hockey. He eventually went pro and joined the NHL, but Akim encountered horrific, often violent racism at every step of his journey–from teammates, spectators, and most alarmingly, sometimes his own coaches. As dark as this story is, there’s a happy ending because Akim started a foundation, the Hockey Diversity Alliance, and has dedicated his life to making hockey, the sport he loves, more inclusive and to stamping out racism on the ice and off. The way that he turned his pain around to help other kids is truly inspiring.

120 pages, Graphix (Scholastic)

If you want to know more, as I did, here’s a short interview with Akim Aliu about his experiences and his important work.

This book fits in the following 2023 Reading Challenges:

Mount TBR Challenge

Nonfiction November – Sport

Diversity Challenge

Travel the World in Books – Canada (several different provinces)

Print and e-book from Amazon.

You can buy the book through, where your purchase will support the indie bookstore of your choice (or all indie bookstores)–the convenience of shopping online while still buying local!



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