A-Okay by Jarad Greene

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A-Okay
Author: Jarad Greene
Published November 2nd, 2021 by HarperAlley

Summary: A-Okay by Jarad Greene is a vulnerable and heartfelt semi-autobiographical middle grade graphic novel about acne, identity, and finding your place.

When Jay starts eighth grade with a few pimples he doesn’t think much of it at first…except to wonder if the embarrassing acne will disappear as quickly as it arrived. But when his acne goes from bad to worse, Jay’s prescribed a powerful medication that comes with some serious side effects. Regardless, he’s convinced it’ll all be worth it if clear skin is on the horizon!

Meanwhile, school isn’t going exactly as planned. All of Jay’s friends are in different classes; he has no one to sit with at lunch; his best friend, Brace, is avoiding him; and–to top it off–Jay doesn’t understand why he doesn’t share the same feelings two of his fellow classmates, a boy named Mark and a girl named Amy, have for him.

Eighth grade can be tough, but Jay has to believe everything’s going to be a-okay…right?

Praise:

A compelling depiction of teenage uncertainty. –Kirkus Reviews

Supported by expressive, well-drawn, and colorful illustrations, this compelling graphic novel will appeal to fans of middle-grade graphic memoirs. Booklist

Greene’s use of color, line, and composition in his comic-panel layouts enhances the humor and angst of this particular slice of adolescent life. -The Horn Book

Jay’s arc is distinct and refreshing, and the story’s emphasis on friendships and body image issues is likely to resonate with any reader who has wished to jump out of their skin. Publishers Weekly

A story about kids learning to feel good about themselves on their own terms is no small thing, and Jay is a low-key, lovely protagonist. Greene’s simple, bubbly color illustrations are friendly and accessible, matching the content perfectly. An earnest exploration of adolescence, recognizable and relevant to middle schoolers coming into their own. -School Library Journal

About the Author: Jarad Greene is a cartoonist originally from Lutz, Florida, who now lives in the curious village of White River Junction, Vermont. In addition to his own comics, Jarad works on staff at the Center for Cartoon Studies and has helped color many graphic novels for younger readers. He is also the author and illustrator of the graphic novel Scullion: A Dishwasher’s Guide to Mistaken Identity. Find him online at www.jaradgreene.com.

Review: My students and I really love middle school memoir (or memoir-esque) graphic novels–I cannot keep them on the shelf, and A-Okay is going to fall right in with that group. What makes a book like this so popular is that it takes something that students need to connect with or that they need to understand and shines a spotlight on a likeable character working their way through the challenge. A-Okay fits this perfectly with Jay’s wonderful character arc as he makes his way through 8th grade figuring out his passions, true friends, and sexual identity; with the focus on Jay’s acne which many middle schoolers deal with but may never have seen in a book; and with the very realistic middle school friendship drama that happens as childhood friends begin to become their own person. This engaging storyline along with Greene’s colorful, detailed, and distinct illustrations will make this a graphic novel I know will never be on my school library’s shelf.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation & Discussion Questions: HarperCollins created a Classroom Conversations page for A-Okay which includes a book talk and five topics with questions for group discussion:

It can also be accessed through the publisher’s A-Okay page. 

Flagged Passages: 

Read This If You Love: Middle school memoirs like Sunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm & Matthew Holm, Guts by Raina Telgemeier, New Kid by Jerry Craft, and The Dumbest Idea Ever by Jimmy Gownley

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**Thank you to SparkPoint Studios and the publisher for providing a copy for review!**

Student Voices!: “We Shouldn’t Be…” (A Poem) by Monika & Jordan with an image by Serine

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The best way to learn what kids are thinking & feeling is by listening to them, so I am happy to share my students’ voices!

We Shouldn’t Be… by Monika & Jordan, 7th Grade

We shouldn’t be scared, 
scared of the guy with the bullets
who can end our lives with a push
of a trigger. 
Shouldn’t be scared of the people
who have jobs to protect us, yet murder
us without thinking what we’re up to. 

We shouldn’t be scared
scared of the big bad men
who look at us like we’re a meal
and lick their lips hungrily.
Shouldn’t be scared of being beautiful
even though we were all made gorgeously. 

We should be scared
Scared of loving the wrong person, 
scared of THEM who will judge us
because of who and what we love. 

We shouldn’t be scared 
Scared of being judged by what we wear
or how we do our hair instead
of being judged by how we act
and hand situations. 

But guess what? We are. 

We are scared of the bullets that are
out there in the wrong hands. 

We are scared of being beautiful
because those men would kill for us. 

We are scared of loving because 
THEY end up hating us. 

We are scared of wearing the 
wrong thing or saying the wrong thing
because of THEM.

They, them
It’s the world. 
We are scared of the world. But we shouldn’t 
be anymore. Let’s stop being scared. 
We are strong. We can overcome the 
fear, only if we come together. We 
don’t have to constantly be in fear. 

We need to listen.

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Where the Heart Is by Jo Knowles

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Where the Heart Is
Author: Jo Knowles
Published April 2, 2019 by Candlewick Press

GoodReads Summary: If home is where the heart is, what would happen if you lost it? Compassion and humor infuse the story of a family caught in financial crisis and a girl struggling to form her own identity.

It’s the first day of summer and Rachel’s thirteenth birthday. She can’t wait to head to the lake with her best friend, Micah! But as summer unfolds, every day seems to get more complicated. Her “fun” new job taking care of the neighbors’ farm animals quickly becomes a challenge, whether she’s being pecked by chickens or having to dodge a charging pig at feeding time. At home, her parents are more worried about money than usual, and their arguments over bills intensify. Fortunately, Rachel can count on Micah to help her cope with all the stress. But Micah seems to want their relationship to go beyond friendship, and though Rachel almost wishes for that, too, she can’t force herself to feel “that way” about him. In fact, she isn’t sure she can feel that way about any boy — or what that means.

Review: I absolutely adored this book. Jo Knowles tackles critical issues that are not as common in middle grade literature. The Rachel’s family faces foreclosure of their house—a home in which she is deeply rooted. She feels as if a piece of her identity will be lost. Further, she is experiencing many emotions regarding her sexuality. She is questioning, and those around her are placing pressure on her to make a choice. I’d love to use this book in the classroom setting. The coming of age issues are very real for our young people, and Jo Knowles does not shy away from digging deeply into critical topics.

Teachers’ Tools for Navigation: I’d love to have students visually map different themes of the novel. The complexity of this novel is rich, and students would be able to visualize the themes with supporting quotations.

Discussion Questions:

  • What are some of the struggles that Rachel faces?
  • What do we know about Micah? How does he change in the novel?
  • What is the role of Rachel’s sister (Ivy) in the novel? What does she teach us?

Flagged Passages: “When you learn vocabulary words in school, you memorize the definition. And you have a good idea of what the words mean. But it’s not until you feel them that you really grasp the definition. I have known what the word ‘helpless’ means for a long time. And ‘desperate.’ But I’ve never felt them. Feeling them is different. They fill your chest with a horrible sense of ‘dread’ and ‘guilt’ and ‘despair.’ Those are more vocabulary words that you can’t fully understand until you feel them.” (p. 246)

Read This If You Loved: Anything written by Jo Knowles, Marcus Vega Doesn’t Speak Spanish by Pablo Cartaya, Perfect by Natasha Friend, Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova, Zack Delacruz by Jeff Anderson

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Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley

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Highly Illogical Behavior
Author: John Corey Whaley
Published: May 10, 2016 by Dial

Summary: Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him.

Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But is ambition alone enough to get her in?

Enter Lisa.

Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa steps into his world, along with her charming boyfriend, Clark, and soon the three form an unexpected bond. But, as Lisa learns more about Sol and he and Clark grow closer and closer, the walls they’ve built around themselves start to collapse and their friendships threaten to do the same.

Ricki’s Review: I didn’t expect this book to hit me quite as hard as it did. The summary was compelling, and I enjoyed reading the first few chapters, and then I became personally invested in the characters’ lives. There are many complex emotions within this text. Because of the alternating perspectives, I’d be rooting for Lisa in a chapter and then feel like a jerk because I was betraying Solomon. And then I’d wonder if rooting for Lisa meant that I was also rooting for Solomon, in a way. This book makes readers question their values and consider ethics. I’ll be thinking about this one for quite some time.

Two other things I love about this book: 1. Solomon’s parents are great! I love when a YA book features good parents! 2. Sexuality is discussed in the book, but it isn’t the only (or main) feature of the book. This goes along with my belief that books that feature discussions about sexuality need not be purely focused on sexuality.

Teacher’s Tools for Navigation: I am a big advocate for literature circles that consider mental health. I think that placing texts like these in conversation allows us to consider the complexity of mental health issues. Some great texts to include in these literature circles follow: Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, and 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. A discussion of these titles would foster incredibly rich discussions about phobias, depression, anxiety, and suicide. In my opinion, we must have these conversations with our students.

Discussion Questions: Do you think that Lisa “did the right thing” throughout the text? Were all of her decisions selfish, or could some of them be considered simultaneously selfless? Can a decision be selfish and selfless at the same time?

We Flagged: “We’re just floating in space trying to figure out what it means to be human.”

Read This If You Loved: (Many of these are listed above.) Dr. Bird’s Advice for Sad Poets by Evan Roskos, Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick, It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, Twisted by Laurie Halse Anderson, Everybody Sees the Ants by A.S. King, Reality Boy by A.S. King, Dear Life, You Suck by Scott Blagden, 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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