Thursday, July 12, 2018

Draw Me Your Life: Memoirs in Graphic Novel Format

I figure I'm preaching to the choir, but two things to keep in mind:

1. Graphic Novels are a format, not a genre. Any genre can be created in the graphic novel format.
2. Graphic Novels are real books.

Now that we have that out of the way, there are some amazing cartoonists who have shared their life story in graphic novel format. There are also writers who have worked with artists to create illustrated versions of their autobiographies. Graphic Novel Memoirs (because "graphic memoirs" sounds like memoirs that include lots of sex and violence) are a strong subset of the memoir genre and of the graphic novel format. I've really enjoyed these literal glimpses into some fascinating lives.

As I did with last week's TTT, I've picked out the titles that have the fewest reviews on Goodreads, hoping to garner some more attention for these hidden treasures. Below that, I'll include a list of all the others I can think of as well. I'm also including covers for each one, so you get a sense of the art style. If a title is asterisked *** it's a particular favorite.

Ten Terrific Graphic Novel Memoirs With Fewer Than 3,500 Reviews on Goodreads

*** Rendez-Vous in Phoenix by Tony Sandoval
Sandoval focuses in this book on his attempts to cross the border from Mexico to the U.S. in order to join his American girlfriend. It's a short book with almost a picture book set-up, but it's not a kids' story. 

Yo, Miss: A Graphic Look at High School by Lisa Wilde (my Goodreads review here)
Wilde teaches at an academy for at-risk kids in New York City. This hits close enough to home that I looked at it with a critical eye, but it's an interesting story and interesting format.

*** Soviet Daughter: A Graphic Revolution by Julia Alekseyeva
Two for the price of one! Alekseyeva is sharing the story of her grandmother's life in Soviet Russia, and how her life as an immigrant to the US, reflects her grandma's. This era and area are of great interest to me in general.

*** Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir by Tom Hart
I always say how much I like going into books blind. Well, this was the exception. Rosalie was Hart's daughter who died at age two. It's a beautiful meditation on grief and loss, but only you can decide if you really want to read a book about the aftermath of a toddler's death. Not for everyone.

***Lighter than My Shadow by Katie Green (my review on Goodreads here)
Green's tale of anorexia, compounded by her abuse by a so-called healer, is pretty tough going too. My 12 year old liked it a lot though, although she admitted to skimming over the skeevy stuff.

The Alcoholic by Jonathan Ames
Honestly, I don't really remember this one, but I gave it three stars, so I enjoyed it.

***Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol
I knew Brosgol's work from Anya's Ghost, which has been popular in my classroom for years. You might know her work from Leave Me Alone!, which was nominated for a Caldecott last year. Instead of fantasy, though, her latest is this fantastic memoir of her time at a Russian Heritage summer camp. I mentioned my thing about Russia already, and I loved the summer camp I attended, so I was completely delighted by this one.

To Dance: A Ballerina's Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel
Okay, I don't remember a lot about this one either, but Cherson Siegel was a Puerto Rican emigre to NYC, so it's definitely a nice diverse, own voices read.

The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley
Gownley uses a graphic novel to tell the story of how he became a cartoonist. (The "dumbest idea" is when his friend suggests he use that doodling he constantly does to impress a girl.)

*** The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos
Mark Long's dad was a Houston area reporter who befriended a local professor in the 1960s. Long is white, the friend, black. It's an interesting look at the civil rights movement in a specific locale, and shows how personal experience can change people's minds better than any rhetoric ever will.

Some More Magnificent Graphic Novel Memoirs For Your Consideration

  • ***Smile and Sisters by Raina Telgemeier are probably the most famous graphic novels for young people in existence, and for good reason. They are so engaging that many students don't even realize they're not fiction.
  • ***Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi might be the first graphic novel memoir I read, and I was hooked. 
  • ***Something New by Lucy Knisley. I first read her food memoir, Relish, but I prefer this story of her wedding and all the many thoughts she had about sexism, the patriarchy, love, commercialization, and catering.
  • March Vol. 1-3 by John Lewis is the famed US Representative from Georgia's memoir of his early days as a Civil Rights activist.
  • My Friend Dahmer by Derk Backderf is possibly the only book I've read without rating. It's about his memories of the guy who would become the most famous cannibal in modern history. Fascinating, but...ew.
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale is a book I think most middle schoolers (and former middle schoolers) will be able to relate to. How do you find good friends? What does it mean when friendships end?
  • *** Marbles, Mania, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney is pretty  much what it says--an honest look at mental illness over time.
  • Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash is about Thrash's coming out to herself and then to others while at a summer camp for Very Proper Southern Young Ladies.
  • *** Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast was a definite case of right book, right time for me. As she shared the end of her parents' lives, it made me sob and it made me cackle with glee.
  • Fun Home by Alison Bechdel is "a family tragicomic" that has somehow been adapted into a musical. 
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson covers a childhood of abuse, his first love, and his grappling with faith.
  • *** Tomboy by Liz Prince is a great look at gender binary.
  • *** Stitches by David Small is a disturbing story of a dysfunctional family.
  • *** Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh is technically an illustrated memoir, not a graphic novel memoir. But it's awesome, and it has pictures. Terrible pictures, but that's part of the point. 
  • *** Little White Duck by Na Liu is about her childhood in post-Maoist China
  • Drawing From Memory by Allen Say tells how he risked it all for his art.
  • *** Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. George is one of those crazy family stories that make you glad memoirs exist so we can find out about them.
  • *** Maus 1 and 2 by Art Spiegelman might not quite belong here--it's ostensibly about mice, and it's main focus is biographical, not autobiographical. But nobody's ever thought it was actually a talking-animals book, and Spiegelman does reflect a lot on how his father's experience during the Holocaust has influenced his own life.
  • El Deafo by Cece Bell isn't about superhero bunnies either. Bell shares what it was like growing up deaf.


  1. I’ve only read Blankets and Persepolis. I want to read more graphic novels, but I like owning them, and some of them are really expensive.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

  2. I just put 3 books on hold at the library! This was an awesome and comprehensive list. I also felt a little weirded out by reading My Friend Dahmer, but ultimately I did like the book (and I even rated it :)).

  3. I owned Persepolis for a while but never got around to reading it.
    Read both Maus books - thought they were good, not great.
    Read the Dahmer one. Definitely recommend.


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