Their own stories

“Who tells your story?” In the following four cases, these authors share their very personal and moving memoirs — in prose, verse, or graphic format — with young adult readers about the difficult situations they experienced while coming of age. See also Thien Pham Talks with Roger about Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam; and the Guide/Reviews Database subject tag Autobiographies.

Akim Aliu: Dreamer
by Akim Aliu with Greg Anderson Elysée; illus. by Karen De la Vega and Marcus Williams
Middle School, High School    Graphix/Scholastic    128 pp.
2/23    9781338787610    $24.99
Paper ed.  9781338787603    $14.99

Former NHL player Aliu made headlines in 2020 when he shared stories of the racism and hazing he faced as a person of color in professional hockey. The son of a Nigerian father and Ukrainian mother, Aliu was born in Nigeria and spent his early years in Russia before his family immigrated to Canada and he discovered his love for hockey. His adoration of the sport was tested by persistent and devastating racism throughout his adolescence and beyond. This graphic memoir follows him from childhood through his exit from the NHL and to the formation of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, which makes hockey accessible to “children from diverse communities underrepresented in the sport.” The narrative is notable for its emotional clarity and the strength with which the concise text carries both Aliu’s pain and his resolve. Dynamic comic-panel art serves the story with expressiveness of motion and feeling. Grabbing readers at the intersection of sports and social justice, this is a welcome addition to the graphic-memoir genre. ALEX SCHAFFNER

My Selma: True Stories of a Southern Childhood at the Height of the Civil Rights Movement
by Willie Mae Brown
Middle School    Farrar    240 pp.
1/23    9780374390235    $16.99
e-book ed.  9780374390242    $9.99

Brown, an artist and storyteller, grew up in Selma, Alabama, in the 1950s and 1960s. In her memoir in stories, she focuses on remembrances of 1965 when she was twelve and living through pivotal events of the civil rights movement. Vivid sensory language is the book’s great strength. The titular story is a beautiful evocation of time and place: “My Selma was a place that emitted the rich, clean odor of black dirt and sour clay, that smelled of sage and pork sausages, ham, and biscuits…blowing through dew-covered Johnson grass and across foggy highways at five a.m. on any morning.” Other stories read more like family tales told around a supper table, contributing to an overall warm narrative about the great beauty and joy that coexisted with the ugliness and pain of racism. Brown’s twelve stories confront the prejudice her family faced when moving into a mostly white neighborhood, being called the n-word (spelled out in the book) for the first time, and the terror when white men tried to break into her house. Through it all came a rising protest, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and hundreds of frustrated and angry residents converged at the Brown Chapel Church and the iconic march from Selma to Montgomery began. In her afterword, Brown says that “hope is in the telling,” and her stories offer a strong voice still needed in the ongoing struggle for justice. An excellent match with Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom (rev. 11/09). DEAN SCHNEIDER

In Limbo
by Deb JJ Lee; illus. by the author
High School    First Second    352 pp.
3/23    9781250252654    $24.99
Paper ed.  9781250252661    $17.99
e-book ed.  9781250322869    $11.99

Lee deftly chronicles their tumultuous high school years through elegant cartooning, presenting a difficult story with sincerity, compassion, and grace. An immigrant from Korea, Lee goes by Deb rather than Jung-Jin and feels like “a non-American…and a non-Korean. Forever in between.” Numerous examples of macro- and microaggressions both in high school and in flashbacks reinforce the anxious teenager’s sense of self-doubt; interactions with peers at Korean summer school are not much better. Further complications include a strained longterm friendship, stress over double-eyelid surgery, and conflict with an emotionally abusive mother. Although a new friendship serves as a source of stability, it eventually becomes unhealthily codependent. A suicide attempt leads to further exclusion by classmates, but through art, therapy, and self-forgiveness, Deb tenuously forges a path. Some Korean text is untranslated; brackets indicate English translations of Korean speech. The digital art is rendered entirely in matte gray-blue but never feels dull thanks to Lee’s use of photorealistic backgrounds, lighting effects, and intricate textures. Ambitious page layouts play a major storytelling role; Lee constantly shifts the size, shape, and arrangement of panels to control pacing, set tone, and guide readers’ eyes. Back matter includes an author’s note chronicling the graphic memoir’s development. PATRICK GALL

The In-Between
by Katie Van Heidrich
Middle School    Aladdin/Simon    304 pp.
1/23    9781665920124    $18.99
e-book ed.  9781665920148    $10.99

In this memoir in verse, Van Heidrich recalls the time when her family, whose housing situation had always been precarious, experienced homelessness. Her mother moves thirteen-year-old Katie and her two younger siblings into a hotel, where they try to maintain a sense of normalcy while occupying a single room. Every other weekend, the children go from the hotel to their father and stepmother’s house, where there is more stability but also tension. School provides a haven, though Katie doesn’t share her situation with her classmates. The first-person, present-tense immediacy of the poems (“My siblings and I / are three volcanoes, / though we are not the same / in how we erupt, / let alone how often”) is complemented by the emotional distance Van Heidrich as the adult author brings to the story. Though she relates the events in the voice of a young adolescent, she also widens the perspective, allowing Katie to empathize with her parents and recognize that they are fighting their own demons. The story concludes on a hopeful but clear-eyed note: “I want to be grateful, but / I am also frustrated / and angry, / though that doesn’t feel right.” Van Heidrich doesn’t have all the answers, but she reaches an emotional inflection point that she shares with readers. SARAH RETTGER

From the May 2023 issue of Notes from the Horn Book.

Horn Book
Horn Book

Be the first reader to comment.

Comment Policy:
  • Be respectful, and do not attack the author, people mentioned in the article, or other commenters. Take on the idea, not the messenger.
  • Don't use obscene, profane, or vulgar language.
  • Stay on point. Comments that stray from the topic at hand may be deleted.
  • Comments may be republished in print, online, or other forms of media.
  • If you see something objectionable, please let us know. Once a comment has been flagged, a staff member will investigate.



We are currently offering this content for free. Sign up now to activate your personal profile, where you can save articles for future viewing.