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Kayla Miller’s ‘Act’ | Review

Act by Kayla Miller

by Kayla Miller
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $12.99 (paperback), $24.99 (hardcover)
Grades 3-7

Olive, the plucky heroine of Kayla Miller’s Click and Camp, returns in a very timely story. She participates in her school elections and navigates some tricky political waters, and it’s thrilling to see her awareness open to the struggles of others.

Like so many people, Olive gets involved in politics when she discovers an issue that matters to her. Her class goes on a theater field trip, but one of her friends is left out. Her family couldn’t afford the expense, and when Olive sees how badly her friend feels for having to miss the trip, she realizes she doesn’t think the school policy is fair.

As she tries to figure out whether she can make a difference, there’s a wonderful short sequence where Olive, egged on by her more radical aunt, learns about several important moments in the history of protest and demonstrations around the world. Notes in the back capture what they represent, as well as recommending additional reading.

Trying a petition introduces her to the problems of apathy and, worse, selfishness on the part of people who like things the way they are. Another brilliant use of the comic medium involves blank word balloons to indicate the feeling of being unheard and ignored. Miller’s comfortable, approachable art is enhanced by soft pastel colors, done by Jess Lome.

Olive decides to run for student council, which puts her into conflict with two of her friends, already running. She has an issue, while the friends have a love of pudding. Their campaign is a joke, but it’s hard to convince some sixth graders that their opinion matters enough to take the election seriously.

As events continue, and Olive both pays more attention to how things work and hears from her constituents, she becomes more than a single-issue candidate, realizing that there are several substantial things she has opinions about. This book isn’t all about the election, though. Olive is also coping with two of her friends becoming more interested in being a couple and feeling left out. (We also learn that Olive’s last name is Branche, which is amusing and suitable for her peace-making personality.)

The message that anyone can make a difference, although it may be a hard struggle at times, and that there are a variety of valuable ways to do so, is one readers need to hear. Act is a brilliant resource to introduce young adults to representative democracy and why it matters.

Kayla Miller will bring Olive back next year in Clash, which is great news. That book will explore empathy, friendship, respect, and the concerns of being cool.

Johanna About Johanna

Johanna Draper Carlson has been reviewing comics for over 20 years. She manages, the longest-running independent review site online that covers all genres of comic books, graphic novels, and manga. She has an MA in popular culture, studying online fandom, and was previously, among many other things, webmaster for DC Comics. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

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