Three recent graphic novels feature feisty girl protagonists whose ethnic identity places them on the margins of mainstream society, yet whose life questions, personal challenges and eventual triumphs will be recognizable to young people of any background.
Anya, the protagonist of Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol, is a teenager of Russian descent trying to fit in at her American high school and catch the attention of her heartthrob, when she falls into a well in a park and meets the ghost of a long-dead girl. This beautifully-drawn and suspenseful novel, told completely in dialogue and images, adds a thriller mystery plot and a be-careful-what-you-wish-for theme to typical teen concerns of identity, popularity and finding one's place. "I don't know if I'll ever be the same after that fall," Anya tells the school principal at the story's close.
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword by Barry Deutsch (with the irresistible tag line: "Yet Another Troll-Fighting 11-Year-Old Orthodox Jewish Girl") is set in an Orthodox community in a fantasy world complete with witches, trolls and talking pigs. (As bizarre as this sounds, the author-illustrator's confident narration allows the reader to suspend disbelief.) Mirka must contend with
realities like missing her dead mother and the tedium of learning how to knit while keeping alive her dream of being a dragon-fighting hero, all without being late for Shabbos. Along the way, the reader is introduced to Yiddish vocabulary, Jewish traditions, and Orthodox society.
The star of Tina's Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary (written by Keshni Kashyap and illustrated by Mari Araki)
explains on the opening page that her diary is "a class project for (her) English Honors elective in existential philosophy... the whole point being to figure out who you are and who you are becoming." Tina, a first generation Indian-American 10th grader at an independent school in California, describes herself as "a pretty good student. A decent violin player. And a bit of an intellectual." Her year of existential analysis of her own life is full of opportunities to explore what it means to be Indian and American, a daughter, a friend, a possible girlfriend, an actor and a girl finding her own voice.