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Review: ‘Class Act’

Class Act
By Jerry Craft
Quill Tree Books, October 2020, $12.99
Grades 3 and up

Cover of Class Act by Jerry Craft

In April 2019 I quoted Colby Sharp and agreed that New Kid, by Jerry Craft, was the best comic of the year. And then it turned into a groundbreaking title by winning the Newbery Medal—the first time a graphic novel attained that honor!

When I wrote the review, I knew that a second volume was in the works, but with the success of the first title, I had to wonder: Can he get better or will the sequel be a dud?

To be honest, I got off to a rocky start. I don’t love to read titles digitally, so I start and stop and don’t always get into a flow. Nevertheless, I was about a quarter of the way into the title when I realized I just didn’t want to put the book down. Despite the late hour and an early wake-up call, I just kept going.

While Jordan is still a central character, in Class Act the story focuses on Drew. Drew is the “other” African American student in the mostly white and not-very-diverse RAD Academy. He is on scholarship and lives with his grandmother. Since his skin tone is darker than Jordan’s, he often feels invisible. It seems like Jordan, who is having his own angst because he is so small, fits in much more easily with the RAD student body.

When Jordan and Drew visit their wealthy friend Liam over the holiday break, Drew can’t get past the feeling of how different their lives are. He feels like Liam could never really be friends with him, especially if Liam saw how he lived.

The book touches on a number of social themes, but they all gel and arch into the idea of how people of different races perceive each other…. And how, if given the chance, people could probably work things out. Readers will enjoy seeing how Drew, Liam, and Jordan, and the other students in RAD, worked at seeing and accepting each other.

Craft also makes some other points, such as depicting how it feels for a Black man to be pulled over by the police. This is something my friends and colleagues have told me about, and that many of us have seen depicted on TV. Craft allows that scene to linger, without taking over the story.

The story is punctuated with much humor, such as when the much-disliked Andy turns his skin temporarily green and the other kids tease him about it.  With all the pointed lessons, readers won’t feel like important ideas are being shoved down their throat. The story never feels pedantic, and many of the themes are truly universal. Many teens feel invisible, some because of race and some for other reasons. They will all be able to identify with Drew.

The colorful illustrations are large and lively. They humor is packed in the artwork even more than the narrative! The bold colors invite readers in.

Librarians should stock up on as many copies as they can.

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Esther Keller About Esther Keller

Esther Keller is the librarian at JHS 278, Marine Park in Brooklyn, NY. There she started the library's first graphic novel collection and strongly advocated for using comics in the classroom. Her collection is also the model for all middle school libraries in NYC. She started her career at the Brooklyn Public Library, and later jumped ship to the school system so she could have summer vacation and a job that would align with a growing family's schedule. On the side, she is a mother of 4 and regularly reviews for SLJ and School Library Connection (formerly LMC). In her past life, she served on the Great Graphic Novels for Teens Committee where she solidified her love and dedication to comics.

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