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Review of Be Prepared

Be Prepared
by Vera Brosgol; illus. by the author; 

color by Alec Longstreth
Intermediate    First Second/Roaring Brook    256 pp.
4/18    978-1-62672-444-0    $22.99
Paper ed.  978-1-62672-445-7    $12.99

“This book is a true story. And also made up.” Brosgol’s (Anya’s Ghost, rev. 7/11; Leave Me Alone, rev. 9/16) fictionalized graphic memoir captures the ups and downs (let’s be honest — mostly downs) of a stint at a Russian Orthodox summer camp. Feeling like an outsider at school, Russian American preteen Vera is initially thrilled to attend camp with other Russian kids. Once there, however, she struggles to adjust to the strict rules, lack of modern electricity and plumbing, and drama involving her significantly older tentmates. The story’s visual narrative, exposition, and dialogue are in balance as inky illustrations fill smartly placed panels. The tone is accessible, vulnerable, and hilariously kid-centric (there are plenty of potty references). Angle brackets in the speech bubbles indicate dialogue spoken in Russian, and untranslated words and signs build atmosphere. A monochromatic palette using shades of army green reinforces the natural setting, and a cliffhanger ending leaves the door open for a sequel. Gaps between fiction and reality are clarified in an author’s note, which also includes primary documents: real-life photographs and a letter written by Vera to her mom (“Love, and homesick and crying, Vera. P.S. My stomach hurts every night. It does right now, too”). The story, both culturally specific and universal, is a welcome addition to the growing canon of comics by talented women cartoonists (Raina Telgemeier, Tillie Walden, Zeina Abirached, Cece Bell, and many others) based on their own lives.

From the May/June 2018 issue of The Horn Book Magazine: Special Issue: Making a Difference.

About Elisa Gall

Elisa Gall is the Youth Collection Development Librarian at the Deerfield Public Library in Illinois.

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