Getting Graphic with Ruth Allen

Previously published on Multnomah County Library’s Embarrassment of Riches blog at

I must confess that I loathe manga. I think the characters’ huge eyes are disturbing, and I find most of the plots mystifying at best and insipid at worst. Even though I’ve had a number of people explain the appeal, I still don’t find them appealing. I’m sure the problem is with me since millions of other people seem to enjoy manga. I do, however, occasionally enjoy a good graphic novel and I’ve read three this past week that hit the spot.

I was recently in Amsterdam, and when I got back, I read A Family Secret, a graphic novel that is set in that city during World War II. The story is about two girls – one Dutch and the other a Jewish German who left Germany with her family to escape the Nazis. The Dutch family members represent a variety of Dutch people’s positions during the war: one brother joins the Resistance; another joins the army and fights in Russia with the Germans; the father is a policeman who finds no other choice than to keep doing his job even when the Nazis require him to do things his family would rather he didn’t; and the girl and mother are sickened by what’s happening in their city. The story was compelling and the twist at the end was satisfying. I’m looking forward to reading the companion book, The Search.

Oregon is the home of the most recent women’s Olympic gold medalist in fencing (2008), and so I decided to read a bit more about the sport when I saw Foiled by Jane Yolen on the shelf. Aliera is a loner at school who is awesome at fencing. She basically goes from high school to fencing lessons to home, and then does it all over the next day. She doesn’t need anyone, and the other students certainly don’t seem to need her. But then the new school year starts and a gorgeous new boy ends up being her lab partner. What to do?Her fencing instructor has always said she needs to protect her heart, but that’s now proving to be difficult. I thought this was going to be a straightforward romance, but it turned out to be something a little different.

Another sort of different story is Prime Baby by Gene Luen Yang. Many of us who have siblings have wondered at one time or another if our brothers and sisters might have come from outer space. When Thaddeus’s young sister begins making noises, all of which come out in prime numbers (eg. “ga ga ga” and “ga ga ga ga ga”), he thinks his sister might be an alien. Everybody thinks he’s crazy, but then something happens that surprises everyone BUT Thaddeus. I liked the sassy, snarky kid – he’s got brains, imagination and, in the end, heart.