Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

RollerGirlRoller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

It’s the summer before junior high and Astrid is going through the changes. Breaking up with a best friend, finding a new passion, lying to her mom and dying her hair blue. Astrid wants to become a roller derby girl but her long-time best friend Nicole is more interested in ballet, boys and fashion. What’s worse is that Astrid doesn’t even know how to roller skate, or how she’s going to make it through the derby summer camp. But the bumps and bruises start to pay off. Her skating improves, she makes a new friend, finds a new she-ro and learns to put on a mean game face.

Roller Girl is an awesome, fun read!  Life lessons are sprinkled throughout this face-paced graphic novel. These girls are gritty and fun, and the story rolls along to the end. Take a reading dive into the exciting world of the Roller Derby created by new comer graphic novelist Victoria Jamieson (aka Winnie the Pow).

CLICK HERE to read about the author and The Making of Roller Girl

Review by Sarah Rosenkrantz


Raina Telgemeier Book Talk & Signing

Raina T.jpg.
Raina Telgemeier will be at North Berkeley Library, Sunday, February 7, 1:00! There will be books to buy and get signed. You can also check out her books at the BHS Library.

Into the Volcano by Don Wood


Into the Volcano by Don Wood

This graphic novel tells the story of Duffy and Sumo Pugg, brothers whom their father pulls out of class at school. He introduces them to their cousin, Mr. Come-and-Go, who takes them to the island of Kocalaha for ten days while their mother finishes research in Borneo. They fly on a private plane to stay with their Auntie Lulu on Kocalaha, which bears a strong resemblance to the Big Island of Hawaii.  Shortly after they arrive the boys are taken on an expedition with their cousin and other family and friends, on a dangerous boat ride to hike through lava tubes to an unknown destination. Their adventure is shrouded in mystery and filled with danger, especially when Duffy and Sumo become separated from everyone else. Sumo has been less energetic than Duffy, but when Duffy is hurt, Sumo has to figure out what to do to get then both to safety.

The story of this novel is totally implausible but great fun. The artwork is vivid and really brings the characters to life. I really enjoyed this imaginative story and the distinct personality of each character. The way the layout varies, with different size panels on the pages, adds more interest. Even people who are not regular graphic novel fans will find this a great introduction to the genre.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

plain janes

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci  and Jim Rugg


This graphic novel tells the story of Jane, who is injured when terrorists set off a bomb in her home city. After Jane is released from the hospital her parents move the family to a quiet suburb where they feel safer. Jane continues to write letters to an unidentified man who’s in a coma and was hospitalized at the same time with her. At her new school Jane turns down invitations from a popular girl to sit with her group at lunch, choosing to sit instead with three “reject” girls, who also happen to be named Jane. They form a group called P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art in Neighborhoods), carrying out guerilla installations of art around town.  As they continue, the police, school and authorities react with more and more restrictive measures rather than enjoy the art. How the Janes and other students handle the new rules and repression builds to a climax.

I read this book in one afternoon; I really wanted to know how it would end. The graphic format enhances the story perfectly, since the drawings show the projects they develop and the reactions in the town. It reminded me of the “yarnbombing” projects that have appeared around Berkeley in the last few years, with knitters wrapping knitted pieces around bike racks, sign poles, etc. The most notable installation was the letter T in the “There” sculpture  by the BART tracks on the Oakland/Berkeley border, wrapped entirely in multicolored knitting.

The characters in this book truly come to life through their actions and their facial expressions. The storyline of  “misfits” banding together and taking positive actions rings true. I recommend this book not only to fans of graphic novels, but all readers who are looking for a true to life story of teens who find creative and positive ways to rebel.

Review by Ms. Goldstein-Erickson

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

my friend dahmer

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf

While most people know parts of the story about the infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, Backderf knew him as a teenager and uses this graphic novel as an opportunity to explore the killer’s teen years.  If readers are looking for answers to Dahmer’s horrifying behavior, this book won’t give them answers.   But it does shed light on his teenage years as as misfit who ultimately became one of the U.S.’s most notorious serial killers.  Backderf portrays his classmate as an quiet giant, who drank too much and faked seizures for attention. The artist and his group of friends treated the teenaged Dahmer almost like a mascot, sneaking him into yearbook photos, bribing him to “spaz out” at a local mall, and encouraging him to perform a “spazmatic” sketch at the school talent show. One of Backderf’s main themes is that the adults in Dahmer’s life ignored him and his increasingly bizarre behavior. No one seems to have questioned his strange actions, near alcoholism or prolonged truancies from class even though he did lurk around the high school campus.  Readers must wonder what might have been different if he had had any real friends or adults who had taken him under their wing.

I liked this title, although found it somewhat creepy, as I’m sure most readers will given its subject.  It did give me some insight into a killer’s mind and early development, which was what I was looking for.  Backderf’s black and white drawings are expressive and realistic.  His high quality artwork enables readers to  observe the world of the 70’s teenage boys, where drinking, goofing around and camaraderie  are portrayed as crucial to the more normal boys.  I recommend this graphic novel for readers interested in the darker side of life,  the mind of a serial killer, or true crime stories.

*By the way, there is very little graphic violence in the book; mostly it’s just alluded to at the beginning when Dahmer started killing small animals.

Pitch Black by Youme Landowne an Anthony Horton


Pitch Black by Youme Landowne an Anthony Horton

This unusual book is an unique collaboration between artist Youme and a homeless artist named Anthony.  They met on the New York City subway and spend time learning about each other, especially Anthony’s life living in the tunnels underneath the subway.  Even though the text is brief, it tells a profound story of the young man growing up in New York City, unwanted and homeless most of his life.  The graphic novel is told using simple text on  full page illustrations in black and grey watercolors.

This book is a really quick, but will leave you thinking afterwards.  It made me think about homeless people and how the solutions we offer may be even  worse than being homeless.  I think it might encourage readers who have become nearly immune due to the number of homeless in Berkeley to see behind the shopping carts and layers of old clothing next time we see a homeless person on Shattuck Avenue.  I recommend this title to all thoughtful readers, teenagers and older.

Zahra’s Paradise by Amir and Khalil

Zahra’s Paradise by Amir and Khalil

Readers who appreciated Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi will be taken in by this story.  It is a fictionalized account of what happened to one young man who protested in Tehran during the 2009 Green Revolution in Iran.  Mehdi has disappeared during the street protests, and we watch as his mother and our narrator, a blogger, search everywhere for him.  They start with his friends, check the morgue, try to check the infamous prison named Kahrizak, and even Tehran’s largest cemetery, Zahra’s Paradise.  In essence, this is a story of the most recent human rights abuses in Iran.  The writers do not pretend to be impartial, and lambast the Iranian government time and again.  No matter what one thinks about Iran or the Middle East, this story of a family searching for its son will wrench your heart.

This soft revolution was made famous throughout the world by its participants using their cell phones to record the events then post them immediately on YouTube.  Millions of citizens took to the streets of Tehran to protest the results of the presidential election, calling them fraudulent.  During the riots that took place, thousands of people were arrested, beaten,  and/or imprisoned, and dozens more were killed.  The book blends fiction with real people and events, like the killing of Neda Agha Soltan near the ironically named Freedom Square. The authors have also enhanced the book by including a number of sections after the story itself, to further explain the Green Revolution while giving historical context.  Readers will find these and the brief glossary of Farsi terms especially helpful in understanding this precursor to Arab Spring.  I very much recommend this book to high school readers, especially those with an interest in human rights, the Middle East and Iran.