In keeping with my recent book reviews, I'm back with a recommendation for teens and adults from the graphic novel section of the library: a watercolor memoir entitled "No Ivy League" by Hazel Newlevant.
Hazel is a 17-year-old homeschooler living with her parents in Portland, Oregon. Her summer is relatively idealistic: She's got a boyfriend, (younger than her by "a year and some change"), she's exploring '90s rap artists and she's trying to find ways to earn money to make a trip to Washington, D.C., to follow her favorite band.
By good fortune, Hazel finds what seems like the perfect summer job for her: clearing ivy from a nearby forest park. Her expectations: earn money, make friends, help nature. But when affluent, sheltered Hazel finds herself working side-by-side with at-risk teens, her perspective begins to shift. She finds herself crushing on her 30-something boss and not being able to navigate interactions with her peers. In one summer, Hazel begins to learn what her homeschooling never taught her: how her privilege has shaped her life.
I enjoyed this book a lot. To begin with, the art style is excellent. Newlevant draws with great attention to detail, and subtle shading, facial expressions and shifting angles make what might be a visually boring story compelling.
She also includes Hazel's search for answers about Oregon's racially-volatile past, and its attempt at public school integration, showing direct quotes from books on the subject. (My favorite was from Beverly Daniel Tatum's "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? And Other Conversations about Race:" "The task of resisting our own oppression does not relieve us of the responsibility of acknowledging our complicity in the oppression of others.") With incisive strokes, Newlevant captures the driving parts of the story — classic teenage awkwardness and the more urgent power of white privilege.
I highly recommend it to anyone looking for a good coming-of-age memoir that brings current events to the fore.
Megan Mehmert is a programming associate at the Missouri River Regional Library.