Looking for a new graphic novel to offer to your 10-12 year olds? Cathy G. Johnson's The Breakaways is a fresh, queer-friendly option.
Targeted Ages: 8-12. (At GIC, we think it's best for ages 10+).
Plot: Faith lives with her single dad, and is just starting fifth grade in middle school when she is approached by popular Amanda, who asks if she wants to join the soccer team.
Excited about the prospect of befriending "popular" kids, Faith signs up, but quickly figures out she's been deceived. The "cool" kids are on the 'A' soccer team, and Faith is stuck on the 'C' team.
The Bloodhounds is a motley crew, from punk musicians to older mean girls. Unassuming, rule-abiding Faith finds an unlikely friend, a radical girl two years her senior named Sodacan. With Sodacan to guide her, Faith gets to know the members of her team in a more meaningful way. One beautiful feature of this book is the fantasy plot happening simultaneously. As Faith navigates her real-life struggles, she also journeys alongside gender nonconforming Mathilda, who brings messages back and forth from "one territory to another." Through this parallel universe, Faith slowly begins to acknowledge her quiet fierceness, and uses her power to make change in the real world.
Where the book succeeds: Finally, a group of 5th-8th graders who actually LOOK like real 5th-8th graders! Kudos to Johnson for depicting all body types, multiple girls of color, and varied gender expression. Throughout the novel, each teammate is fighting their own demons. Prone to sudden angry outbursts and bullied at school, Faith desperately wants to help teammate 'V,' whose mother is struggling with addiction. Yarelis's mom wants her to play soccer for at least a year, when all she wants to do is play her electric bass. And two characters come out as queer: one as transgender, and one as attracted to other girls.
Finally, the book is so beautifully nuanced with so many intricate plot lines and careful, deliberate artistic choices that it invites a second and third read. This will be a graphic novel that readers will turn to again and again, discovering something new each time.
Where the book falters: Readers may find the wrap-up a little too perfect. The positive ending doesn't quite fit with the raw honesty that the rest of the book presents.
Vocabulary: AP History, trans, bass, tattoo, space colony, architect, record deal.
Content warning: At one point, two of the characters are lying in bed facing one another, fully clothed, under the covers. One asks the other if they can kiss them, and the two kiss. In another scene, a character tells another that one of the team members "stuffs her bra."
Want to buy it? We recommend that you visit your local bookstore, and ask them to order it if they don't have it in stock. However, we know that some people prefer Amazon. If you do purchase books through Amazon, we ask you to consider clicking here to purchase The Breakaways. We get a little of the proceeds, so we can continue to offer reviews of fabulous gender inclusive children's literature just like this.