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8 Wise and Witty Graphic Memoirs Every Teen Should Read

by Laura Buchwald


Graphic novels are one of the fastest growing genres in libraries and bookstores and have become especially popular among teenage readers. These novels tell stories through a combination of prose and pictures — generally in the form of comics, or what is known as “sequential art”.

There was once a stigma against graphic novels, with critics dismissing them as little more than glorified comic books. But these works can cover serious, intelligent topics. When cartoonist Art Spiegelman received a Pulitzer Prize in 1992 for Maus, his graphic memoir about the Holocaust, he brought critical attention to the form and helped elevate it to a respectable literary genre.

Since then, more memoirists have chosen to chronicle their lives through graphic novels, sometimes combining their artwork with photos, journal entries, and other real-life mementos. The visual medium makes even the heaviest of topics a bit more accessible, and these memoirists frequently use dark humor to tell their stories.

Today’s digital landscape may also account for the growing interest in graphic novels. We’ve grown accustomed to the merging of text and visuals in our communications. And to the outward sharing of our lives. There’s also our shrinking collective attention span — we regularly write in 140 characters or fewer. That these stories move quickly accounts, in part, for their resurgence in popularity. Some studies even suggest that readers retain more information from a combination of visual and verbal material, making graphic novels valuable teaching tools as well.

These graphic novel memoirs present a range of compelling topics in a smart, creative style that will be entertaining and enlightening for teens (and many an adult too).

  • Honor Girl

    by Maggie Thrash

    Maggie Thrash spent the summer of 2000 as she did most summers — at a sleepaway camp in the Appalachians for very good Christian girls. Armed with a love of the Backstreet Boys and zero experience with actual boys, she learns to shoot a gun and develops her first crush … on a slightly older, female counselor. Anchored by the story of their reunion two years later, this is a wry and witty tale of first, forbidden love and the heartbreak that comes with it.

  • Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood

    by Marjane Satrapi

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    Marjane Satrapi was raised in Tehran, the daughter of Marxist activists. She bore witness to the Islamic Revolution of 1979 and, with it, to the many contradictions of daily life in Iran. Satrapi’s story is a wise and gripping account of a precocious childhood marked by a tumultuous chapter in her country’s history.

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  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

    by Alison Bechdel

    Alison Bechdel grew up in a funeral home with her younger brothers, mother, and father — a brilliant, artistic, closeted gay man. She turned her childhood journal into a darkly funny and touching memoir about discovering her sexuality and grappling with family secrets in the aftermath of her father’s death. Now a Tony-winning Broadway musical, Fun Home is best suited for mature readers, as it addresses sexual situations and suicide.

  • Little Fish: A Memoir from a Different Kind of Year

    by Ramsey Beyer

    For the first 18 years of her life, Ramsey Beyer lived in “a tiny little farm town called Paw Paw.” A lifelong artist and punk music aficionado, she left home to attend art school in Baltimore and experienced a blinding flash of culture shock. She chronicles her first year of college in this delightful collection of pictures, journal entries, and lists, and through the process comes to redefine her concept of home.

  • Hyperbole and a Half

    by Allie Brosh

    Fans of Allie Brosh’s wildly popular blog love her honest portrayal of living with depression — and dogs — and the quirky illustrations that accompany her story. In the New York Times bestseller that Bill Gates calls “funny and smart as hell,” Brosh shares more of her struggles, triumphs, and everyday observations.

  • Tomboy

    by Liz Prince

    Liz Prince was born a tomboy, and from the time she was old enough to form an opinion she rejected traditional gender roles and all things girlie — dresses, dollhouses, fairy tale princesses. A cross-country move when she’s six subjects her to the ostracism and bullying that will last into high school. When she meets a group of friends who celebrate their individuality — and gets attention from boys who accept her as she is — she finds the sense of community she’s been missing. This funny and heartbreaking memoir was voted one of the best books of 2014.

  • Amazing Fantastic Incredible: A Marvelous Memoir

    by Stan Lee, Peter David, and Colleen Doran

    Stan Lee’s name is synonymous with comic books. Now, the creative force behind such legendary characters as Spider-man, the Incredible Hulk, and the Fantastic Four, is himself a character in this beautifully illustrated account of the history of comic books and of his 75-year career with Marvel.

  • Maus: A Survivor’s Tale

    by Art Spiegelman

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    In the book that raised the bar for graphic memoirs, Art Spiegelman starkly illustrates his father’s experiences as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust and a prisoner at Auschwitz — as well as their touching, complicated relationship decades after the end of the war. This is not an easy story, but it is a must-read for anyone who loves the genre and who wants to learn more about one of history’s darkest eras.

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