Review of The Real Riley Mayes

The Real Riley Mayes The Real Riley Mayes
by Rachel Elliott; illus. by the author
Intermediate    Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins    224 pp.   g
5/22    978-0-06-299575-9    $21.99
Paper ed.  978-0-06-299574-2    $12.99
e-book ed.  978-0-06-299576-6    $11.99

“Fifth grade isn’t my kinda vibe,” admits Riley at the start of Elliott’s debut graphic novel, an exploration of self-identity that is both LOL funny and touching. Riley struggles in school, preferring to crack jokes and doodle on her assignments. And she doesn’t have a crush on anyone in Eleventy-One, the boy band that is the frequent subject of her classmates’ discussions. But she starts to suspect she might have a crush on Joy Powers, a celebrity comedian who is her idol and the intended recipient of a letter for a school assignment—if Riley can only figure out how to narrow her questions (“Do you ever love stuff that other people think is weird?”). Riley finds a true friend in new-kid Aaron but accidentally outs his parents as gay. When a classmate calls her a “lesbo,” Riley (who thinks of herself as a “dude-ish girl”) struggles to come to terms with her own identity. With the help of a few friends, her tight-knit family, Aaron’s dads, and even Joy Powers, Riley realizes that “it’s worth it to find the few people who truly get you.” Elliott brings readers crisp linework, a bright palette, expressive body language, rich narrative details, and (bonus!) kitty comics. Best of all is inimitable Riley, who endears herself to readers with her budding self-awareness and undeniable moxie.

From the July/August 2022 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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