Spotlight Review: GENDER QUEER by Maia Kobabe

August 16, 2022

 A Memoir 

From the publisher:

2020 ALA Alex Award Winner
2020 Stonewall — Israel Fishman Non-fiction Award Honor Book.

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Then e created Gender Queer. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fan fiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears.

Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: It is a useful and touching guide on gender identity—what it means and how to think about it—for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

“It’s also a great resource for those who identify as nonbinary or asexual as well as for those who know someone who identifies that way and wish to better understand.” — SLJ (starred review)

This special deluxe hardcover edition of Gender Queer features a brand-new cover, exclusive art and sketches, a foreword from ND Stevenson, Lumberjanes writer and creator of She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, and an afterword from Maia Kobabe.

This book has been getting a lot of press and is one of the most banned books in America, so of course, I wanted to read it. I’m very glad I did.

Kobabe uses the pronouns, e/em/eir, and I will try to honor that choice. E struggled with eir identity for most of eir life, and that struggle is graphically portrayed here. When I say graphic, I don’t necessarily mean sexual, although there are a few sexual drawings here (which is probably what is getting this book banned.) What I mean by “graphically portrayed” is that first, this is a graphic novel, but second, it is a raw, honest look at a life of struggle. The struggle is real, and if more people read this book, maybe there would be more empathy and understanding towards the “other”, those who are different, in the LGBTQ+ community.

Like most graphic novels, it is a quick read, but it is also compelling and thought-provoking. I don’t have much experience to draw on here, so I learned a lot about the asexual nonbinary community. I feel it is also an important book because if Kobabe struggled with these feelings, you can bet others do as well. If this book gives comfort to even one person (and I’m sure it has affected many, many people) then it is worthwhile, worth reading, and certainly worth being available to anyone who wants to read it.

It’s 2022 and Two Books Are on Trial for ‘Obscenity’

These obscenity proceedings are in line with a history of attacks on our First Amendment rights to read, learn, and think for ourselves.

Not sure what is going on with the publisher, but the paperback version is not available directly from Amazon, but rather through the secondary sellers on Amazon. The hardcover (pictured on top) is only $20 and way less than the paperback, which is odd. There are also 2 different Kindle versions at different prices; I linked to the less expensive (original) edition.

8/2022 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

GENDER QUEER: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe. Oni Press; Deluxe edition (July 5, 2022). ISBN: 978-1637150726. 240p.




September 22, 2019

High School Is Hell

Buffy Summers just wants to be a normal teenager and make friends at her new high school.  Being normal, however, is difficult when you are the one Slayer chosen to fight vampires and the forces of evil.

Graphic novels based on beloved television franchises can be hit or miss, and do not necessarily capture the magic of their source material.  To be clear, this new series should not be confused with the graphic novel continuation of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television series (Season 8, Season 9, etc.). Instead this new series seeks to answer the question: What if Buffy Summers was a teenager in 2019 instead of 1999?  Volume 1: High School is Hell achieves this mission with varying degrees of success.  Volume 1 is not a retread of stories told in the television series, and instead tells a new story set in Sunnydale and featuring familiar characters. The story moves quickly, and Bellaire has done a respectable job of recreating all the main characters in graphic novel form.  The voices of the Scooby Gang, Giles, and Spike all feel true to character.  There are also some positive updates. Willow is openly gay and has a girlfriend, and Sunnydale High features diversity that was clearly lacking in the television series. Some changes, however, are a little more puzzling.  In seeking to recast Cordelia as a nice popular girl, much of the character’s edge has been lost, and this Cordelia comes across as far too naive and trusting. For the most part, the dialogue is witty, but there were a few times that I felt Bellaire’s attempts to capture the iconic “Whedon speak” of the television series were not entirely successful, and instead read closer to parody.  Dan Mora’s illustrations are full of energy and felt like a good fit for the story.  He showed close attention to detail to familiar settings, such as the library, and the characters were all recognizable- just updated to 2019 fashion and style.

Was it entirely necessary to revisit this series in a current day setting and replace Buffy’s pager with an iPhone? I’m not too sure.  But I am intrigued enough, and Volume 1 ended on enough of a cliffhanger, that I will check out Volume 2 when it is released in February 2020.

9/19 Caitlin Brisson

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, VOL. 1: HIGH SCHOOL IS HELL by Jordie Bellaire. Illustrated by Dan Mora. BOOM! Studios (May 28, 2019). ISBN 9781684153572. 128p.


PUMPKINHEADS by Rainbow Rowell

September 15, 2019

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Josiah and Deja are seasonal best friends.  Every fall they spend two months together working at DeKnock’s World Famous Pumpkin Patch, and then don’t see each other again until they return to work the following September.  But this Halloween is different, it is their senior year of high school, and it is their last ever shift at the pumpkin patch.  Josiah is hoping to secure the title of Most Valuable Pumpkin Patch Person for the fifth time, but Deja has a different plan.  Her plan involves playing hooky from their final shift at the Succotash Hut and seizing the moment by setting off on an adventure across the patch.

Let me start by saying graphic novels are not my preferred genre, I respect the talent that goes into creating them, but they usually don’t connect with me.  When I saw that Rainbow Rowell had written a graphic novel, however, I knew I had to read it.  Luckily Pumpkinheads did not disappoint.  Josiah and Deja’s characters were well developed despite the short length of the story and limited text (Hicks’ expressive facial illustrations also deserve credit here).  Within a short time-frame Rowell fills the reader in on the foundation of their friendship making the reader invested in the result of their mad dash across the pumpkin patch.  Rowell’s dialogue is engaging and humorous, with Deja’s bubbly personality and penchant for seizing the moment complimenting Josiah’s shyness and sense of duty to his beloved pumpkin patch.

As for the illustrations, Faith Erin Hicks brings DeKnock’s Pumpkin Patch and the feeling of a cozy fall evening to life.  Her illustrations are detailed, make use of a crisp fall color palate, and include plenty of humorous touches. The inclusion of a map of the patch on the inside cover of the book was a nice addition. You will want to visit the Pie Palace, S’Mores Pit, and Corn Maize while trying a Pumpkin Bomb and kettle corn.

Overall, a charming story of friendship set against a delightful fall background.

9/19 Caitlin Brisson

PUMPKINHEADS by Rainbow Rowell. Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks. First Second (August 27, 2019). ISBN 9781250312853. 224p.




February 2, 2017

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Co-author Andrew Aydin
Illustrator Nate Powell

I don’t read a lot of graphic novels – in fact, it feels like I start every one of my reviews this way!

This book is part of a series of biographical graphic novels written by John Lewis about his life and career. Book Three starts in the early 1960’s.

What brought this book to my attention was the awards. It won the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature. Then at the American Library Association Midwinter Conference last month, the following awards were announced:

The Coretta Scott King (Author) Book Award, which recognizes an African American author of a book for kids

The Michael L. Printz Award for excellence in young-adult literature

The Robert F. Sibert Informational Book Award

The YALSA Award for excellence in young-adult nonfiction

This was record setting – no other book has ever won 4 awards from ALA. So I wanted to read it. Luckily, my library had a copy on the shelf.

From the publisher:

Welcome to the stunning conclusion of the award-winning and best-selling MARCH trilogy. Congressman John Lewis, an American icon and one ofthe key figures of the civil rights movement, joins co-writer Andrew Aydin and artist Nate Powell to bring the lessons of history to vivid life for a new generation, urgently relevant for today’s world.
By the fall of 1963, the Civil Rights Movement has penetrated deep into the American consciousness, and as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, John Lewis is guiding the tip of the spear. Through relentless direct action, SNCC continues to force the nation to confront its own blatant injustice, but for every step forward, the danger grows more intense: Jim Crow strikes back through legal tricks, intimidation, violence, and death. The only hope for lasting change is to give voice to the millions of Americans silenced by voter suppression: “One Man, One Vote.”
To carry out their nonviolent revolution, Lewis and an army of young activists launch a series of innovative campaigns, including the Freedom Vote, Mississippi Freedom Summer, and an all-out battle for the soul of the Democratic Party waged live on national television. With these new struggles come new allies, new opponents, and an unpredictable new president who might be both at once. But fractures within the movement are deepening … even as 25-year-old John Lewis prepares to risk everything in a historic showdown high above the Alabama river, in a town called Selma.

I loved this book. I must admit I pretty much cried my way through it, it is not an easy read. But what a story! Congressman Lewis has has lived an amazing life, and continues his work for civil rights to this day.

The illustrations by Nate Powell are all in black & white, and are viscerally stunning. Bombings, speeches, and arrests are somehow brought to life but the violence is never over the top or gratuitous. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and other leaders of the civil rights movement, not to mention President Johnson and Robert Kennedy, are easily recognized.

This book is a testament to what civil disobedience can accomplish, and feels very timely right now. This is a truly inspirational read, and I highly recommend it.

2/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

MARCH: BOOK THREE by John Lewis. Top Shelf Productions; First Edition edition (August 2, 2016).  ISBN 978-1501115677. 320p.

COOK KOREAN! by Robin Ha

January 28, 2017

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A Comic Book with Recipes

I loved Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley, which came out a few years ago, but never really expected to find another graphic novel with recipes. I was wrong. Apparently graphic novel cookbooks are now a thing.

There was a really interesting article on about it, Why Cookbooks are Looking More Like Comicbooks. They point out:

But comic cookbooks can do something for home cooks, too — make recipes less daunting and easier to follow. Cookbooks are still in demand, but many — with their overly aspirational food photography — wind up as coffee-table books for the kitchen.

An interesting point, for sure. And click through to an older article, The Golden Era of Food Comics is Happening Right Now. Also interesting.

When I heard about Cook Korean!, I knew I had to take a look at it. I don’t know a lot about Korean food. Korean BBQ restaurants are around, and kimchi is hugely popular pretty much everywhere now, so it seemed like a good time to learn. And learn I did.

Table of Contents:

Kimchi and Pickles
Vegetable Side Dishes
Meat and Poultry
Soups and Stews
Noodles and Rice Cakes
Snacks and Street Foods
Cocktails and Anju
Korean Fusion

I included the introduction because it’s not your typical “here’s why I wrote this cookbook page.” Instead, it’s 20 pages or so of ingredients used in Korean cooking, the Korean refrigerator, the Korean pantry, Korean meal guide, Bap: Cooked Rice, Rice and its delicious by-products, Korea’s regions and foods and finally Dengki’s dress. In other words, lots of super useful information. With illustrations.

All the chapters are heavily illustrated, thus the graphic novel genre. I mean if you just picked it up without knowing it was a cookbook, it probably wouldn’t occur to you as you glanced through it. No, it’s not a novel, it’s cookbook/memoir and nonfiction while we usually call fiction books novels. But what I called comic books as a kid are now called graphic novels, regardless of whether or not the books contain fiction or nonfiction. My library shelves them in the nonfiction. I have noticed that some graphic novel memoirs are shelved in biographies, and I’m not sure who is making that distinction (Library of Congress? The Online Computer Library Center, better known as OCLC?) or why that distinction is being made. Congressman John Lewis just won a bunch of awards for the third book of his graphic novel trilogy memoir, March: Book Three (congrats!) which is shelved in biography. But I digress.

Other things I noticed when looking at the table of contents. I admitted up front I am pretty ignorant about Korean food. I didn’t know there were stews or porridges, for instance. Now I do. Kimchi Stew, for starters. And a Spicy Fish Stew. I learned that pine nuts are not just for pesto and are used in Pine Nut Porridge.

So kimchi. There is a little gastro pub near my house that makes killer kimchi. And by killer I mean they warn you if you try and order it that it is very hot, so I haven’t tried it. A kimchi loving friend (hi Dave!) has had it and really enjoys it. So everything I know about kimchi is that historically, it was made from cabbage in clay jars and buried in the dirt. The smell was supposedly horrific. And very, very spicy. But after reading this book, I learned that my suppositions were correct, but there are ways to make it much more palatable for my delicate American taste. Use less Korean chili, for starters. I also learned that kimchi can be made from a variety of vegetables, not just cabbage – radish, cucumber and green onion, just to name a few. I feel kimchi educated now.

Noodles are big in Asian cooking and Korean food is no exception. The recipe for Handmade Knife Noodles is about as close to pasta as you can get. Rice cakes are called Tteok and there are dozens of different kinds, mostly eaten as snacks or dessert.

The cocktails chapter includes a lesson in Korean Drinking Culture, including the admonishment to “always pour your elder’s drink with both your hands,” to never refuse a drink from your elders and “always refill drinks for others and never refill your own drink. You must wait for others to fill it up for you.”

The recipes are all explained and illustrated so that even someone as ignorant of Korean food and customs as I am, could successfully prepare anything in this book. I loved the watercolor type paintings that illustrate each chapter title page, and the drawings throughout the book really added to my understanding of technique. It’s funny, I never really cared for illustrations in cookbooks, for instance the beloved Silver Palate Cookbook, as I much prefer photographs. But for some reason, I love the illustrations here and didn’t miss the photos at all.

Finally, I was trying to figure out how many recipes there are but it was difficult as so many have variations included. The author does mention in her acknowledgements that her mother helped with 64 of the recipes though. Always nice to acknowledge your mom!

If you are curious about Korean cuisine and culture or you love Korean food and want to try making some yourself, this is the book for you.

1/17 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

COOK KOREAN! by Robin Ha. Ten Speed Press (July 5, 2016). ISBN 978-1607748878. 176p.


YUGE! by G. B. Trudeau

November 8, 2016

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30 Years of Doonesbury on Trump

“Doonesbury is one of the most overrated strips out there. Mediocre at best.”

“A third-rate talent trying to get publicity on my back.”

–Donald Trump

Consider yourself warned; if you couldn’t tell from the title, the cover, or the author, Trump supporters may not appreciate this book, or my review.

Garry Trudeau may be prescient. He first ran a “Trump for President” cartoon in 1987. If only it had remained a joke.

“Analysis: Donald Trump talks to voters at a fourth-grade level.” USA Today headline

This book is a compilation of Trump cartoons that started in the 1980’s and continues up to the present day campaign, he ends prior to the first debate – so no Billy Bush, but that’s probably too easy anyway.


If you are a regular Doonesbury reader, or like me have missed a few over the years, this collection will bring home all the fun Trudeau has had at Trump’s expense over the years. And it couldn’t happen to a more deserving candidate.


“I know words. I have the best words.” –Donald Trump

That may be, but Trudeau has the last word here.

I loved it.

11/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

YUGE! by G. B. Trudeau. Andrews McMeel Publishing (July 5, 2016). ISBN 978-1449481339. 112p.

RELISH by Lucy Knisley

March 26, 2016

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My Life in the Kitchen

I  haven’t read a graphic novel in quite a while, it’s not something I read regularly. They have to be pretty special to get me to pick one up and this one is.

Lucy Knisley grew up with a caterer mother and a food critic father and this is her story. She both writes and illustrates it, and as you can see from the cover, the illustrations are fun but also somewhat true to life. Starting as a young girl in New York City, she talks about the food she tries, and the food her family cooks and eats. Each chapter ends with an illustrated recipe.

Her parents divorce and she and her mother move to upstate New York to a small farm. There her mother gets involved in the community and starts a green market with local farmers that eventually becomes a mecca for foodies in the area. Lucy falls in love with food, but also with drawing and becomes a cartoonist.

Written with great warmth and humor, this is a graphic novel to be enjoyed by anyone who likes a good memoir and foodies everywhere.

3/16 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™

RELISH by Lucy Knsisley. First Second (April 2, 2013). ISBN 978-1596436237. 176p.


STARLING by Sage Stossel

February 5, 2014

I don’t read many graphic novels, probably one a year on average, so if I do manage to read the whole thing, that already says a lot.

I read Starling in an hour. I liked the premise of a young woman superhero who is essentially a flawed character. Amy Sturgess grows up with a mother who is a cat hoarder – they have 36. Shunned in school for smelling like cats, she eventually learns to mask it and get along with people. As a young adult, she survives on Xanax and therapy.

Her adolescence was not typical either. She had amazing speed, incredible strength and then noticed she was emitting sparks of electricity from her hands. She quickly learned to hide these attributes until a society of superheroes finds her and helps create her alter ego, Starling. They help her realize that she can fly as well.

She’s given a beeper of sorts that lets her know when a crime is being committed in her assigned area. She’s constantly having to drop everything and take off in pursuit of the bad guys. But she’s no Superman; her idea of justice is tempered with empathy, and instead of taking all the bad guys directly to jail, she occasionally drops them off at rehab instead.

Her personal life is a mess, she’s lonely having the lost the only boyfriend she ever had when she accidentally zapped him with her hands, causing him to think he was hit by lightning and her to think she was better off alone. And her job as a marketing executive is in jeopardy – she tells people at work she has Irritable Bowel Syndrome to cover for her constant disappearances, plus she has to deal with a jealous co-worker who is constantly stabbing her in the back and undermining her work.

The illustrations are good and add to the story, but it’s the story that really pulled me in. This is a fun read and a good bet for fans of Sex and the City and any young women in need of a superhero like themselves.

2/14 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch

STARLING by Sage Stossel. InkLit (December 3, 2013). ISBN 978-0425266311. 208p.