True stories

The following five true stories provide young adults with captivating history lessons and also provide them opportunities to draw connections to the current events affecting our world.

83 Days in Mariupol: A War Diary
by Don Brown; illus. by the author
High School    Clarion/HarperCollins    128 pp.
5/23    9780063311565    $22.99
e-book ed.  9780063311589    $10.99

Here’s a rare chronicle of a contemporary, ongoing war. This comic-format “war diary” isn’t told from the viewpoint of any one person, although individual perspectives are plentifully represented and woven throughout the narrative in a cohesive fashion. Rather, it’s the diary of Mariupol, a port city situated on the far eastern edge of Ukraine. A prologue recounts the shared history of Ukraine and Russia. The narrative then plunges into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, and the eighty-three-day siege of Mariupol. Using a spare, understated text that synthesizes basic facts and primary-source quotes, Brown relies on his pen-and-ink and digital paint illustrations to do the heavy lifting of conveying what it’s like to live in a war zone. The composition of the panel layouts, the sketchiness of the illustrations, and the black, white, and gray color palette all serve this purpose. The siege wears on, and things go from bad to worse. As the end appears imminent, the resistance retreats to a sprawling steel plant for their last stand and eventual surrender on May 17. By then, ninety percent of the city has been destroyed and twenty thousand civilians killed. An afterword discusses the unfinished business of the war and the legacy of the siege. This powerful work of graphic nonfiction concludes with source notes and a bibliography. JONATHAN HUNT

Doomed: Sacco, Vanzetti, and the End of the American Dream
by John Florio and Ouisie Shapiro
Middle School, High School    Roaring Brook    208 pp.
1/23    9781250621931    $19.99
e-book ed.  9781250621948    $10.99

On April 15, 1920, in South Braintree, Massachusetts (as a prologue describes), two men were shot and killed as they were transporting payroll funds to a major shoe factory. There were a handful of robbers, a getaway car, and dozens of witnesses. Surely the police could find the culprits and bring them to justice. The book then gives the backstory of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Italian immigrants looking for better lives in America. Eventually, each man is drawn to the political movement of anarchism and its promise of a brighter future for laborers, though some anarchists turn to violence. As Sacco and Vanzetti seek to eliminate evidence of their connection to anarchism amid government suspicion, they become ensnared in the search for the Braintree murderers. The xenophobic bias that dominates their trial and numerous appeals will likely seem blatant to modern readers, and the suspense of whether or not they will be executed is what drives the resolution. Primary sources are included throughout, and longer excerpts from the men’s letters conclude most chapters, reinforcing their humanity. Source notes, a bibliography, and an index are appended. JONATHAN HUNT

Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam
by Thien Pham; illus. by the author
Middle School, High School    First Second    240 pp.
6/23    9781250809711    $25.99
Paper ed.  9781250809728    $17.99
e-book ed.  9781250336101    $11.99

This graphic memoir begins with the author’s earliest memory: trying to quench his thirst with seawater as he and his family flee Vietnam by boat. Thien’s perspective as a five-year-old child is relayed through alternating spreads of violence he witnesses and then pitch-black spreads (when he closes his eyes to shut out the terror). After the threat is over, a rice ball with fish saved for him by his mother provides comfort. The food motif continues, with chapters named for foods that accompany his memories, as the family stays at the overcrowded Songkhla Refugee Camp in Thailand until they’re relocated to San Jose, California — where the book showcases the diversity of Asian American identities via a dish introduced to Thien by his Vietnamese American crush. Finally, after anti-immigrant rhetoric drives the adult Pham to seek U.S. citizenship, a celebratory meal of rice and fish shared with his family recalls that first memory. Community-building and resilience are central to the story as people from various backgrounds help the family navigate unfamiliar situations. The cartoon style and animated facial expressions in the muted, earth-hued panel illustrations are warm and inviting, matching the earnest and often humorous tone of the book. A nuanced and hopeful graphic memoir depicting moments of hardship and joy with sincerity. Back matter includes photographs and Pham’s “interview” with himself. KRISTINE TECHAVANICH

Bomb (Graphic Novel): The Race to Build — and Steal — the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon
by Steve Sheinkin; illus. by Nick Bertozzi
Middle School, High School    Roaring Brook    256 pp.
1/23    9781250206732    $24.99
Paper ed.  9781250206749    $17.99

Sheinkin’s work of award-winning narrative nonfiction (Bomb, rev. 11/12) is here sharpened by the author’s own graphic adaptation — and portrayed through Bertozzi’s skillful cartooning — amplifying the drama, intrigue, and brutality irrevocably linked with the dawn of the atomic age. In five chapters, roughly spanning the years of WWII, Sheinkin cogently interconnects a massive cast of world leaders, scientists, military personnel, spies, and civilians across a mostly chronological account of the Manhattan Project. Unique for this new edition, Sheinkin chose the post-war interrogation of Harry Gold (a Philadelphia factory worker who spied for the Soviets) as the narrative’s through line. This clever bit of storytelling permits the omniscient narrator to seamlessly move between key events as they are discussed during Gold’s hardboiled questioning. The Golden Age–style illustrations generally adhere to an efficient three-tier, nine-panel page layout yet regularly shift in size, shape, and number to underscore significant moments and ideas. Notably, a stark white page is used to depict the detonation of the Little Boy atomic bomb over Hiroshima. Back matter includes an author’s note describing Sheinkin’s adaptation process, while an informative epilogue ends on a slightly more ominous note than the original: “How does this story end? We don’t know — because it’s still going on. And, like it or not, you’re in it.” PATRICK GALL

Peace Is a Chain Reaction: How World War II Japanese Balloon Bombs Brought People of Two Nations Together
by Tanya Lee Stone
Middle School, High School    Candlewick    176 pp.
9/22    9780763676865    $24.99
e-book ed.  9781536227086    $24.99

When the United States entered World War II and Japanese Americans were forcibly relocated to various incarceration camps, the Takeshita family was sent first to Topaz, Utah, and then — because they were deemed to be “disloyal” — to Tule Lake, California. Readers are introduced to Yuzuru Takeshita at age fourteen; born in California, he had spent a good chunk of his childhood in Japan and had been struggling to re-acclimate. The narrative then shifts back to Japan to focus on a secretive large-scale effort to create balloon bombs that would be carried by wind currents across the Pacific and explode in the United States, causing havoc, panic, and fear. The bombs largely fail, but one does land, killing six people in a small Oregon town. Stone then segues many years into the future for the third section. Takeshita is an old man and has brought together some of the women who had made the bombs (then high-school girls) with the surviving family members from the Oregon bombing. It’s a healing and cathartic process for all parties. This complicated story includes a large cast of characters, multiple settings, and several shifts in time. It’s a credit to Stone that she fashions them into a cohesive, compelling narrative. Black-and-white captioned photographs appear throughout, while author’s notes, source notes, a bibliography, and an index are appended. JONATHAN HUNT

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

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