Check out this month’s staff picks from the Betty’s Books crew!
November Staff Picks!
A ragtag crew travels to the deepest reaches of space, rebuilding beautiful, broken structures to piece the past together. Two girls meet in boarding school and fall deeply in love–only to learn the pain of loss. With interwoven timelines and stunning art, award-winning graphic novelist Tillie Walden creates an inventive world, breathtaking romance, and an epic quest for love.
Tillie Walden is such a big influence for me that I often forget to recommend her comics, even though I reread her work at least twice a year. From delicate, detailed inking to rich color usage, Walden’s work is sweeping and beautiful, hurtling you though time and space. You are simultaneously small and lost in her worlds, while also being so close and in love with the characters. Filled with queer characters, the vastness of space, and first loves, I cannot recommend On a Sunbeam enough.
This sprawling, epic fairy tale is easily one of the best books I’ve read this year. Very colorful, very grim, and very French, Beauty tells the story of an ugly peasant girl named Coddie who, upon rescuing a fairy, is granted her greatest wish: to be beautiful. Little does poor Coddie know that the fairy she rescued isn’t quite so altruistic as she lets on, and with the wish granted, the girl’s life changes dramatically — for the worse.*
Anyone familiar with husband and wife duo Kerascoet’s other work, Beautiful Darkness , shouldn’t be surprised that behind the veneer of lush, truly stunning artwork, lies uncomfortable truths and sometimes shocking brutality. Despite initially navigating her new life with an incredible amount of naivete and selfishness, Coddie remains a nuanced character whose growth feels natural, and whose suffering stings no matter her mistakes. This read is fabulous and will stick with me for quite a while.
*Trigger warning for sexual assault.
The Tamaki cousins are back as co-creators of what they have called “a love letter to New York City” and what I call one of my favorite books I read this year. This graphic novel tells the story of a 2009 spring trip to New York by two old friends–Dani and Zoe–who are reuniting for the first time since going to college that fall, and one new friend of Zoe’s, Fiona, tagging along. When a fling develops between Fiona and Dani, tension rises with Zoe.
While there’s a sea of youthful emotions churning throughout the story, there’s also an incredible sense of optimism and freedom of three young women exploring NYC for the first time. There’s the M&M store, the Museum of Natural History, and Central Park. There’s all sorts of people watching, shopping and litter on the streets. There are gorgeous full page spreads that range from naturalistic to wildly magical. One that was especially impactful was of Fiona and Dani floating together all over the Museum of Natural History with butterflies flying around them. The limited color palette (which I would describe as “trendy” in GNs right now) is executed with finesse and purpose, and creates an atmosphere I felt as watery, powdery, and, at times, cool or warm. I also love the detail of the Fiona scene under the book jacket.
Besides the sense of physical place, there’s also wonderful (for me, nostalgic) details of the time–2009. I was a Sophomore in college at that time so the space buns, Blackberry and flip phones, and real cameras (like not on iPhone) really brought me back to that intoxicating mix of freedom, naivete, hormones, and BIG feelings. The pacing is skillful and intentional. The compact time frame of a several day trip lends itself well to the graphic novel format–nothing is rushed with a luxurious amount of frames and spreads dedicated to each day, while real character and plot development is still occuring over the given time. I personally loved the ending (no spoilers though!) and it reminded me of endings from French films I’ve seen (not that many, ok?). If you read the book, let me know what you think!
Overall, this was one of my favorite books I read this year. I recommend it to anyone who likes reading graphic novels, and to anyone who loves New York, and was once a young adult out on an adventure. I would recommend it for ages 16+ (technically, this title is not young adult because the Tamakis wanted free reign to include smoking marijuana and other shenanigans).
Recommended for 16+
Hey, where did he go?
Days when the yokai came
Perfect read for the eve of alls Hollow
Playin’ a new game
Laughin’ and a-scarin, hey, hey
Spookin’ and a-jumpin’
In the spooky night
Our, our hearts a-leaping and you
This surreal book begins with unrequited love in Japan but after a cat spawns from the pattern of his owner’s kimono the story morphs into an epic voyage. Our feline friend sets off to see the world- aboard a ship, under the sea, and all the way to London.
He pops in and out of the lives of a slew of characters whose stories are becoming intertwined unbeknownst to them. You’ll meet a lost child, an unsatisfied wife, a lonely sailor, a crime boss, and even Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.
The story was unexpectedly weird and wonderful, but let’s not forget the perfection of Nancy Peña’s bold black and red imagery. Her illustrations are unmistakably inspired by Japanese artwork. They are lush with patterns and energy reminiscent of kimono fabric. For the Japanophiles, Anglophiles, and cat-lovers.
I reread all of Paper Girls because it had been long enough that it felt like reading her for the first time, and I need more people to pick it up.
It follows a group of 80’s teens against world-ending circumstances. In 1988, four girls working for the local newspaper set out on the morning of November 1st for what paperboys call ‘Hell Day’. Halloween only ended 4 hours ago, so the rowdy teens still in costume use the opportunity to terrorize and hunt papergirls out on their bikes. The nature of the job is isolative; all the girls have their own routes that don’t overlap or intersect. But on this day, Erin, the new papergirl, recommends they run their distinctive routes in pairs for safety, and the others begrudgingly oblige. Hell Day gets a lot more hellish when the girls find themselves completely alone in the formerly populated Stony Stream, and get sucked into a time-traveling journey. Paper Girls follows their attempt to navigate through time to get back home to normalcy, end a time-war, and preserve the deep bond they made with one another along the way.
Paper Girls is another example of Brian K. Vaughan’s snappy, comedic writing that is not afraid to stimulate your tear ducts. He writes inside the mind of a 12-year-old girl insanely well for someone who never was one, but I guess he’s never been a time traveler either. Cliff Chiang, an established DC artist, is the perfect fit for Paper Girls. The color is beautiful and the inking is skilled and intentional. Chiang draws both 80s fashion and freaky fourth dimensional beings like he was born to.
Bonus: Paper Girls the comic follows a different narrative from the Amazon show, making it feel like an alternate universe. It’s super fun, and you should both read AND watch it for the full experience!
It’s a normal day in modern Tokyo when Kagome, a sixteen-year-old girl, is accidentally pulled into her family’s ancient well! When she ends up hundreds of years in the past in feudal Japan during a dangerous time of war, demons, and spirits, she doesn’t know what to do. However when she accidentally awakens a half-demon named Inuyasha and learns of the magical priestess powers she has, the two set off on a journey. They are desperate to find the shards of a sacred jewel that gave her powers so they can save the world, and her future, from the evil demons who want the power for themselves. This manga is a beloved classic and one that I’ve been reading and rereading for years. If you love epic tales, battles, the supernatural, with a side of romance, this book has it all!