Americus, by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill

This substantial graphic novel is about book-banning, libraries, the power of fiction (of fantasy in particular), fitting in at high school, losing friends, making friends, and figuring out who you really want to be … for starters. Neil and his best friend Danny graduate from grade eight and start high school with some trepidation. Both are devoted readers of a fantasy series, “The Chronicles of Apathea Ravenchilde”, finding it in both inspiration and escape. However, Danny’s religious-fanatic mother begins a campaign against the books. To say only that much makes it sound like a simplistic children’s tale in which everyone will learn a nice lesson about tolerance and the importance of reading, but it’s a complex, multi-layered story, with well-developed characters and evolving relationships, intended for teen readers and with lots of appeal to adults as well. The problems faced by the several protagonists of Americus go beyond book-banning: religious intolerance, homophobia, bullying, poverty, loneliness, friendship, and first love all form important elements of the plot. There are no simple endings.

Unlike some American graphic novels, the art is very sharp and clear. Snippets illustrating the Apathea Ravenchilde series are interwoven through the story as characters read the books, but these snippets also echo some emotion or event the primary world characters are experiencing, subtly illustrating the way that the characters are able to take strength to endure their real-life problems from the fantasy world in which the stories immerse them. At the end, the stories of the main characters, like that of their hero Apathea, are left in a safe place, but continuing. We know that they, too, will have new battles to face in the years to come, but that they will take strength from their past small victories.

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