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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

21: The Story of Roberto Clemente

In his new graphic novel, Wilfred Santiago captures the game of baseball, the life of one of its greatest players, and the culture in which Clemente lived. This is also the story of a humanitarian, and a man who struggled against racism.

The book has a stylish website that mirrors the look of the graphic novel. For an even more extensive glimpse of the art, see David Brothers’ review on Comics Alliance.

There is also an interview with the author in Publishers Weekly, which emphasizes the shared Puerto Rican heritage of the player and his biographer.

I am at a loss to recommend other sports-related graphic novels of this quality, though I would be happy to stand corrected.

SANTIAGO, Wilfred. 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente. 148p. Fantagraphics. 2011. Tr $22.99. ISBN 978-1-56097-892-3. LC 2011010485.  21

Adult/High School–Clemente is a baseball legend. He was almost certainly the greatest defensive right fielder of all time, and, according to some measures, he was one of the 30 or 40 greatest baseball players ever. He was also so devoted to serving those in need that Major League Baseball named its humanitarian award after him. And yet, though readers of this graphic biography get hints of these facts, even reading closely they could easily come away without recognizing the magnitude of the athlete and human being. Strangely enough, this is exactly what is right about this graphic novel. What Santiago has done is to create a sketch of Clemente’s life as he actually led it, not as the legend he became. Mundane village life in Puerto Rico, the challenges of racism and assimilation in the U.S., petty arguments, heroic deeds both on and off the field: all of these are given equal footing. Even more impressive is the way Santiago tells this story. His gorgeous illustrations–colored in Pittsburgh Pirate-tinted black-and-white and drawn with slightly exaggerated realism in bold, dark lines–perfectly capture the period (1950s and ‘60s). And his storytelling is practically mosaic: overlapping dialogue; snippets of scenes fading in and out without introduction or conclusion; information spread all over the page. This is a book to be pored over, not read straight through.–Mark Flowers, John Kennedy Library, Solano County, CA

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. Alison Morris says:

    Per your question about great sports-related graphic novels, I can’t say enough good things about Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow by James Sturm & Rich Tommaso. It’s superb!