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This diamond indicates those titles included in the Top Ten Core List

 

la perdidaLa Perdida
by Jessica Abel
ISBN 0375423656
Pantheon, 2006

La Perdida recounts the story of Carla, a girl who goes to Mexico to explore her Mexican roots. In Mexico, Carla stays with an American ex-boyfriend, Harry, until his disregard for her determination to pursue her Mexican heritage annoys them both to the point where frequent shouting matches erupt. Carla moves out, to a less safe part of the town, but still struggles with the fact that she can never be Mexican enough to satisfy her anti-imperialist Mexican friends, who think of her as a good person, but nonetheless a representative of wealthy upper-class capitalist society. When Carla's brother arrives for a visit, his presence makes her re-examine the doubts she has about Mexico: can Harry and his ex-pat friends be people worth associating with, even if they don't care deeply about the country they're living in? If her Mexican friends are really the shining figures of cultural consciousness she originally saw them as, why do they seem to spend most of their time getting high and associating with drug lords who see her as nothing but a sex object? Carla's worries about how she should be living her life are brought to a head when she learns that Harry has been kidnapped . . . and that her Mexican boyfriend and a number of her other friends were involved in the kidnapping. Jessica Abel's black and white line drawings add to the atmosphere of harshness and reality in _La Perdida_. Her characters are portrayed more realistically in very emotional scenes, which demonstrates to great effect how art in a graphic novel can be used to set the scene of the story. This 256-page tome is a book for people who want their comics to read like fiction--a great book to draw novel readers to the graphic novel. This book was written for an older teen/adult audience--there are frequent mentions of sexual situations, as well as discussion and portrayal of drug use.

review by gina

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Ghost World
ISBN: 1560974273
By Daniel Clowes
Fantagraphic Books 2001

Enid faces the summer after high school with no direction, little ambition, and is armed only with the ability to snidely quote from pop culture and play practical jokes on unsuspecting acquaintances. Her partner in crime, Rebecca, despite once embracing aimlessness, is beginning to become one of "them" -- getting a job, admitting responsibility, and just generally growing up. The waiting and awkward situations that permeate this book are at times uncomfortable but the characters are so riveting simply because they are so true.

review by robin

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I Never Liked You110 Percent
by Tony Consiglio
ISBN: 1891830759
Top Shelf, 2006

110 Percent explores what happens when an obsession gets out of control. The book follows three women--Cathy, Sasha, and Gertrude--who all love the boyband 100 Percent. They're all friends and members of the 110 Percent fanclub, and they do ridiculous things--like driving to New Jersey to pick up the leftovers that 110 Percent throws out of their touring bus--to show that their devotion to the band. As 110 Percent's concert and the day of the release of their new cd get closer, the three women's shared obsession gradually takes over their lives. This is a fascinating graphic novel because it uses pop culture as a lens to look at what's really important in life: family and friends. Tony Consiglio's black and white art is simple but excellently convey the emotion the characters are feeling. This is a graphic novel meant for older teens and adults: there's one sexual scene and some sexual innuendo in the book.

review by gina

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outsiders_wantedMaria's Wedding
by Nunzio DeFilippis, Christina Weir, and Jose Garibaldi (illustrator)
ISBN: 1-929998-57-0
Oni Press, 2003

Frankie Pirelli's cousin Maria is getting married, and the whole family's coming to the wedding-- including his gay brother Joseph (and his new husband), his homophobic aunt Giula, his drug-dealing cousin Mark, and his cousin Carla, who delights in nothing more than stirring up trouble. No one's entirely happy with Maria's choice of a spouse-- Victor Dybow is a bit of an insensitive jerk-- and between that and Joseph's recent wedding (pointedly not attended by half the family), everyone is on tenterhooks waiting for someone to say or do something so unacceptable that they all get drawn into a messy fight.

Can Frankie-- who is known to be outspoken-- and the family matriarch, Nonna, manage to keep their family together? In this touching story about people overcoming their differences for the sake of family, Frankie comes to realize that sometimes tolerance and forgiveness can go further than strident proclamations of other peoples' intolerance and pettiness. This book's black and white art (with grey toned shading) is very simply drawn, centering the reader's attention on the characters.

Review by gina

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9-11: Stories to Remember
ISBN: 1563898810
By Will Eisner et. al.
DC Comics 2002

In the aftermath of 9/11, many authors, columnists, reporters, and filmmakers attempted to put their feelings into their art. The comics industry was no exception. Within a month, all of the major publishers worked together to produce a series of graphic novels collecting a star list of authors' reactions and stories from that unforgettable day. The breadth of talent and experience that went into these books is astounding unto itself, and as the stories begin to process the damage and rekindle hope, so can the reader.

review by robin

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Dropsie Avenue: The Neighborhood
ISBN: 1563896893
by Will Eisner
DC Comics 2000

There's a general perception, somehow, that small town life holds the key to community in this country. That's where you find the tales of ancestors past, traditions passed from generation to generation, and intimate knowledge of everyone and everything worth knowing. Will Eisner, known as one of the greats of comic art, is also a confirmed city-dweller, specifically New York and all its distinctive burroughs, histories, and neighborhoods. With Dropsie Avenue, he tells us in no uncertain terms that small town America has nothing on one street in New York. All of the petty differences, new ideas, and old traditions mix on the Avenue, forcing some old timers to leave in disgust just as new residents arrive with new hope. Taking us all the way from Colonial New Amsterdam to today's suburbanite glory, this epic story elegantly proves that old adage, the more things change, the more things stay the same.

review by robin

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The Diary of a Teenage Girl
ISBN: 1583940634
by Phoebe Gloeckner
Frog Ltd., 2002

Minnie Goetze is fifteen years old when she writes the first page of her diary, the sequel to Gloeckner's A Child's Life. As the months go by, Minnie's initial revelation that she is sleeping with her mother's 35-year-old boyfriend becomes commonplace as her entries describe about two years worth of experiences that seem calculated to horrify grown-up readers. In many ways, what Diary does best is to show how a young teenager can adjust to a life of exploitative sexual encounters, drugs, academic failure, and nonexistent parental supervision until these incidents seem normal and no longer shocking. Minnie eventually finds some stability and continuity on her own, but it is a painful journey for the reader to watch her blunder from one disaster to another the story indicts almost every adult (and many of the peers) Minnie encounters with the self-serving abuse of everyone around them. Minnie's final self-realization at the end of the novel is satisfying, but Gloeckner never lets her story rest for long in a moment when everything seems like it will turn out well. Readers are left with a keen sense of Minnie's worry and hopelessness, but also without a sense that Minnie will ever be emotionally mature enough to help herself, or to find anyone she can trust.

One of Minnie's few unqualified pleasures is comics. San Francisco in the mid-70's was home to one of the largest enclaves of "alternative" comic artists in the country, and the cameo appearances of R. Crumb, Aline Kominsky, and others throughout the story provide a lot of fun for both Minnie and any graphic-novel aficionados in her audience. Watching Minnie's artwork evolve as she chronicles her life in alternating typewriten text, traditional cartoon frames, singles images, and full-page comics can be more satisfying then her frustrating emotional journey. I don't think it would be a long shot to suggest that "comics save the day" in this story. In Minnie's experience, harmful and exploitative influences surround teens as they begin to explore the world on their own, but graphic novels and cartoon art provide a haven of safe and creative self-expression.

review by Alison

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Johnny Jihad
ISBN: 1561633534
By Ryan Inzama
NBM Publishing 2003

Johnny Jihad is a provocative and thoughtful look at the al Qaeda terrorist movement and role of American foreign policy in Middle Eastern politics. With crisp black and white illustrations Ryan Inzama tells the story of how a boy from New Jersey ends up in Afghanistan in September 2001.

Johnny is one of America's disaffected youth. His grades are mediocre at best. He is bored with his life, but has no sense that there is a better future that he can attain. By chance he meets Salim at work. Through Salim he discovers a new sense of purpose and structure in Islam. Salim introduces him to Islam as a religious political movement, and Johnny embraces the radical politics. He soon takes Johnny to a training camp in up state New York where Johnny easily falls into the pattern of learning how to be a terrorist. Target practice, making bombs, and covert operations are all outlined in a "Training Manual for Jihad" which is as much a canon text in the camp as the Q'ran. It isn't until Johnny actually commits an act of terrorism that he begins to question this lifestyle, but by that point it is too late and he winds up in Afghanistan as an unwilling mole for the CIA. His time in Afghanistan cements his disillusionment with both the America he grew up in, and with the Islamic movement that he embraced.

This is a book for mature teens. It deals explicitly with violence and with the tragedy of 9/11. I think that it would be a fascinating book to use in a high school classroom as a starting point for a discussion about the intersection of religion and violence, the tensions in the Middle East, and the ways in which American foreign policies have contributed to the increasing violence against America and Americans. Librarians should be aware that the book presents points of view which could be controversial regarding the causes of 9/11.

review by petra

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I Never Liked YouYubisaki Milk Tea Volume 1
by Tomochika Miyano
ISBN: 159816290X
Tokyopop , 2006

Fashion-lovers know that the magic of clothes and makeup is their ability to turn us into someone else for a while. 15-year-old Yoshinori (Nori for short), discovers this unexpectedly when he agrees to fill in for his beautiful older sister at a fashion shoot. No one knows that the beautiful bride in the wedding gown is really a boy, and Nori becomes addicted to changing identities with a change of clothes. It s not that he wants to be a girl he s got girl trouble enough as a boy. His childhood friend Hidari is growing up, and their friendship might be developing into something more, but brainy classmate Kurokawa gets his teenage hormones raging. Things get even more confusing when Hidari meets Yuki a really cool girl who mysteriously appears when Nori s not around. Hmm Yubisaki Milk Tea (milk tea is the drink Nori and Hidari always share) is an unexpectedly sensitive and realistic story about first attraction, friendship, and identity. Nori s conflicted feelings and changing crushes are painfully true to life, and Tomochika Miyano is one of the few creators to explore cross-dressing without resorting to clich s or jokes. What prevents me from recommending this series whole-heartedly is the fan service while I can buy Nori s gorgeous big sister walking around naked, the shots of pre-teen girls accidentally showing their underwear or posing shirtless cross the line between innocent and creepy. While these kinds of images are to be expected in some manga, they push Yubisaki Milk Tea into mature readers territory.

review by jen

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How Loathsome
ISBN: 1561633860
by Ted Naifeh and Tristan Crane
NBM: ComicsLit, 2004

"We were beautiful monsters, the kind this city thrives on, allows to flourish, and greedily destroys. Alone we felt like outcast aliens. Together we were perfect: too unusual and awful for anyone else." So begins Ted Naifeh's strange and haunting collage of drawings, photographs, and words, showing us a cast of characters as fascinating as they are flawed. You may have loved them from afar, aspired to join their ranks, grown tired and disillusioned in their company, or found comfort in their existence; if you've ever felt yourself on the outside looking in, you'll recognize someone you know.

Sulking on the borders of her city's drugged, gay, goth underground Katherine reflects with cynical lucidity on the foibles, loves, vices, and transcendence of her fellow freaks and outcasts. After a week of drinking, shady dealings, and dubious sexual exploits Nick and Katherine meet in a bar to compare notes on the night before. Nick's coming down off of a bad trip and gleefully narrates a story of giant praying mantises and Germans with x-ray vision. Katherine is mulling over the implications of an inconclusive threesome with two of the local goth nightclub's most sought-after denizens. Two tales of strange sex and misunderstandings weave together into a tapestry at once repugnant and delightful, and this really sums up the whole series of episodes. Stories range from a spiral of heroin addiction told through fractured encounters and a Japanese folktale to the story of Katherine's wild week of debauchery with a drag queen. The second ends with a painfully thorough lesson about what it really means to transgress the boundaries of gender, and the price some people will pay for a coherent identity. Through it all we care deeply about Naifeh's characters because they revel too much in their own oddity to ever give in to despair. At the end of every story, and throughout the final episode, Naifeh reminds us again and again that to be an outsider is to be beautiful in the eyes of some, and in the end it's only these people who really matter.

reviews by alison

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dinosaur comicsYour Whole Family is Made Out of Meat: The Best of Dinosaur Comics
by Ryan North
ISBN: 0756005183
Quack!Media, 2006

This is a compilation of an internet comic called Dinosaur Comics. The simplest way to describe Dinosaur Comics is as an experiment in the comic form: each comic is composed of six panels with exactly the same images on them: a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a close up frame of a Tyrannosaurus Rex, a Tyrannosaurus Rex stepping on a house while a Dromiceiomimus looks on; a Tyrannosaurus Rex stepping on a woman while a Utahraptor looks on, a panel with just the Tyrannasaurus Rex and the Utahraptor, and a final panel of the Tyrannosaurus Rex all alone. Every day, Ryan North adds different words to these same six frames to create a continuous and hilarious story that meditates on the issues of life (and such strange things at the Canadian punctuation system). But beyond the formal experiement, this comic is humorous, introspective, and it has a huge online presence. Though the six frames remain the same in every comic, Dinosaur Comics transcends being an experiment in form to become, in T-Rex's words, "so awesome!"  The comic is exists online at www.quantz.com.

review by gina

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Escapo
ISBN: 1882402146
by Paul Pope
NBM Publishing, Inc. 1999

The circus has always held a great allure for storytellers who can resist the wonderful contradictions of the center ring and the freak show, the blaring showmanship and the everyday lives of the performers? In Escapo, Paul Pope draws inspiration from a very familiar circus trope: scarred but talented escape artist Escapo loves the beautiful trapeze artist, though she seems to be unmoved by his affection. Working his way through a series of terrifying escape machines, Escapo tries to figure out if he can profess his feelings or if he should simply leave well enough alone. Pope's fluid and sinuous black and white style lends the long moments of escape and contemplation energy and melancholy beauty. You'll also find that though this tale has been told many times, this time around it doesn't work quite as you'd expect, with a satisfying and affirming finish.

review by robin

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ronin hoodIt's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken
by Seth
ISBN: 189659770X
Drawn & Quarterly, 2004

Who is the cartoonist Kalo? This is the question that binds together the episodes of Seth's life portrayed in the graphic novel It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken. In a possibly autobiographical tale, Seth lives a relatively solitary life in Canada. He's content with his simple life, with his cartooning, with his occasional interactions with his mother and brother, and with his one friend, Chet. Seth collects old cartoons, and one day he finds a cartoon by an artist he hasn't heard of, Kalo. Over the next several years, Seth sporadically finds additional cartoons by Kalo, and his appreciation of the cartoons and the fact that he hadn't heard of Kalo before leads him to initiate a search for Kalo's identity. The simplicity of the art in It's A Good Life, If You Don't Weaken emphasizes the realism of the story.

This is a graphic novel for the people who think that comic books should be more like novels, containing fewer fantastical events, funny animals, and men in funny costumes and more introspective true-to-live narrative. This book is a thought-provoking story about a man living a more-or-less normal life, and as such, a great book to use to introduce fiction-reading skeptics to the comics medium. Librarians take note-- this book was written for an older teen/adult audience, and as such contains a scene with sexual situations.

Review by gina

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ronin hoodWimbledon Green: The Greatest Comic Book Collector In The World
by Seth
ISBN: 1896597939
Drawn & Quarterly, 2005

Wimbledon Green is a rich old man who doesn't do much with his life besides collecting comics. This book is a portrait of its title character, told through two intertwining storylines. The first is a series of interviews and reminiscences about Wimbledon Green that takes place after his disappearance. The second is the adventure tale (with added rocket car action!) of Wimbledon Green and his comics collecting competitors attempting to cheat each other out of a mint condition copy of 'The Green Ghost #1.'

Despite a more-or-less accurate portrayal of aged comics collectors (most of whom are focused on collecting comics to the exclusion of anything else, like hygiene), Wimbledon Green manages to reframe these people with a portrayal of rocket cars, amnesia, car chases, and secret millionaires that brings whimsy and nostalgia for the days-that-never-happened to the stereotypes. Seth's art is simple and brilliant, reminiscent of the art in the comics his characters are collecting.

Wimbledon Green is a book that anyone who has ever collected comics-- or anything else-- will appreciate. This book is a humorous look at the comics universe, told so that it will be enjoyed by both long time comic fans and newcomers to the comics universe. This isn't the best book to introduce people to the medium, but it's a book that most comics devotees will enjoy.

Review by gina

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The Rabbi's Cat
by Joann Sfar
ISBN: 0-375-42281-1
Pantheon Books, 2005

This book is comprised of three interlocking vignettes about a Jewish family in Algeria in the 1930s. The first vignette is about the cat gaining the ability to speak (by killing and eating the family parrot) and his subsequent attempt to convert to Judaism. In the second, the rabbi receives a letter from the French Government that informs him he needs to pass a government test in French (which he reads very poorly) in order to be the official rabbi of his area. In the third vignette, the rabbi's daughter falls in love with a French rabbi and brings her father (and the cat) on her honeymoon to France. The Rabbi's Cat is narrated by the irreligious and mischievous cat, giving the reader a unique perspective on the lives and religion of the characters.

This work of magical realism explores the difficulty of being Jewish in a French colony populated largely by Muslims, examining the internal conflicts inherent in having conflicting national and religious identities. Joann Sfar's vibrantly colored line drawings perfectly complement the tone of The Rabbi's Cat-- it's a book where seemingly mundane occurrences and simple utterances are charged with deeper meaning.

Review by gina

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I Never Liked YouMonokuro Kinderbook
by Kan Takahama
ISBN: 8493309397
Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 2004

Kinderbook collects a series of vignettes by Kan Takahama. A retiring gallery curator realizes that she's in love with one of her artists. A young girl who's unpopular at school finds someone to think that she's special. A man makes a suicide pact with his mistress. The art is different from traditional manga: there's a greal deal of delicate photoshopped shading, and everything is drawn much more realistically. Kan Takahama's Kinderbook is part of a movement in manga creation called 'nouvelle manga' or manga created by both Japanese and European authors and depicting everyday life. While nouvelle manga is in manga format and stylistically bears a lot of similarities to traditional manga, the characters typically are drawn in a different style (there are very few big-eyed, pointy-chinned characters) and the subjects addressed are more personal. This makes Kinderbook a great read for anyone who likes or is interested in manga or Japanese culture, but is prepared for some more serious, introspective works than publishers like Tokyopop and Viz typically offer.

review by gina

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The Tale of One Bad Rat
ISBN: 1569710775
By Bryan Talbot
Dark Horse Comics 1995

Taking off from the sweetness of Beatrix Potter's world, this compelling graphic novel follows Helen Potter, a homeless girl trying to find her way on the streets of London. Helen manages to find company and shelter of a kind, but her own nightmarish past keeps destroying her peace and her ability to reach out. After one frightening incident, Helen abandons the city to seek the comfort of her youth, the tales of Beatrix Potter, by finding the next best thing -- Potter's house in the English countryside. No matter how bright and green her new life is, however, Helen discovers she must confront her past before she can begin her future.

review by robin

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I Never Liked YouThe Walking Man
by Jiro Taniguchi
ISBN: 8493340995
Fanfare/Ponent Mon, 2004

Jiro Taniguchi's The Walking Man is about a Japanese businessman who goes on walks around the city he lives in. That's it for the plot of this book--it exists on that very simple premise. The book is divided into a series of walks that the businessman goes on: there's one, for example, where he stops to rescue a toy airplane from a tree for some kids. After carefully gliding the airplane down to them, he sits in the tree and thinks, appreciating the natural world (the beauty of nature is very well depicted in this book, both artistically and as a narrative device). Later, when he starts off for home, he finds the airplane he had rescued abandoned and broken in a nearby gutter. So he takes it home, repairs it, and flies it that night in the backyard under the moon. All this book's stories have a similar simplicity and reflection on nature. While The Walking Man may not appeal to fans of Ranma 1/2, it's great for older teens who are looking for manga addressing more serious subjects or who are interested in learning about Japanese culture. This book has a few panels of male nudity (the man, on one of his walks, sneaks into a pool and goes swimming), but it's treated very sensitively and matter-of-factly within the story.

review by gina

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I Never Liked YouThe Push Man and Other Stories
by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
ISBN: 1896597858
Drawn and Quarterly, 2005

The Push Man collects sixteen short stories by the acclaimed Japanese manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi. Tatsumi is particularly renowned and recognized for his art style, which is "restrained, minimal, and stylized," according to Adrian Tomine. No one has the big eyes and triangular faces in Tatsumi's books--the simple line drawings seem to be a blend of Japanese and American styles. The sixteen short stories in this book are all snapshots in the lives of men in their twenties, many of them sexual in nature. One story is about a man who makes his living running pornography at private parties, another is a tale of a man who purposely engineers an accident at work so he can collect the disability insurance so his wife can start a club. The protagonists feel helpless and under the thumb of the women they are romantically or sexually involved with. These men then take drastic steps to feel in control s, typically ending up in a worse place than they started out. The Push Man showcase an interesting and insightful perspective on life in Japan. "I myself am a very normal person," says Yoshihiro Tatsumi in the book's epilogue. "Please do not interpret these stories as representative of the author's personality." The fact that he felt such a statement was necessary encompasses the tone of The Push Man --not appropriate for kids and younger teens.

review by gina

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Acme Novelty Library #16
by Chris Ware
ISBN: 1-56097-513-X
Self-published, 2005

This book recounts a day in the life of Rusty Brown, a young boy; it also depicts the accompanying stories of the same day from the perspective of his father, the new boy in his school, Chalky White, Chalky's sister, Alison, and the school art teacher. The main narrative follows Rusty, who likes superheroes and has difficulty fitting in. The accompanying narratives about the other characters demonstrate that all people, no matter who they are, have problems in their lives.

Chris Ware's art is truly wondrous to behold. There are one-panel pages in this book interspersed with pages divided into more than twenty panels (a typical comic has somewhere between six and nine panels per page). Though all his characters tend to be constructed along the similar lines (round face, perfectly round eyes, and a line for the mouth), Chris Ware conveys volumes of meaning through these very simple and beautiful drawings. Even though the main character is a kid, this title is definitely written for an older audience with discussions of sex and masturbation. This is not the book for librarians who mainly provide comic strip anthologies in their collection, but for older teens and adults it's an engaging, well-written book targeted toward fiction readers and literary graphic novel readers alike.

Review by gina

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Slow News Day
by Andi Watson
ISBN: 0-943151-59-7
Slave Labor Graphics, 2002

The Wheatstone Mercury has one reporter, and his desk is in the hallway. When Katharine Washington flew to England for an internship, this wasn't what she'd expected. Owen, the reporter, hadn't been expecting her, either-- and he doesn't particularly want to work with a young American girl who has little appreciation for small town newspapers. But the stories in the newspaper improve as Katharine and Owen start working together, and Katharine comes to understand what Owen sees in small town reporting.

Then, Hollywood calls-- they want to produce a sitcom from a script about small town newspapers that Katharine wrote prior to her experience with the Mercury. So Katharine flies to L.A., abandoning her internship for the job of her dreams. But Katharine's experiences in Hollywood force her to reassess her ambitions. Meanwhile in England, Owen realizes that Katharine has changed how he views his job and his life.

Andi Watson's black and white line art is simple and elegant, capturing the essence of his characters. A romantic comedy at heart, Slow News Day is a great introduction to the format for readers who aren't so interested in science fiction or fantasy. A few scenes of implied sex make this title appropriate to older teens, but there is no explicit nudity.

Review by gina

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