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Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen, May 2015
Reviewed from final copy
I’ve been considering this a graphic novel roundup — we’re short on time, you may have heard? — but now that I’m sitting down to write it, I’m finding myself with a lot to say about Nimona. I can’t guarantee that we’ll have a chance to circle back around to March 2 and Ms Marvel 2 and 3. (It would be the M cubed post, unless we’re able to fit in EVEN MORE GNs. And with the year going as quickly as this one is, don’t underestimate our ability to add and add and add! I mean, I am not convinced that any of those sequel Ms will go the distance at Printz table conversation, but I want to live in a world where Kamala Khan is considered for Printz candidate alongside John Lewis, OK?)
So, less with the others, more with Nimona, and maybe we’ll have the opportunity to talk more about M3 later on. Got it? Good! We are looking at 4 starred reviews and a place on the NBA shortlist (alongside Challenger Deep, which is the only other shortlisted title we’ve gotten to thus far). We’re looking at a book that’s unique — fresh and funny, but starkly emotional with a heck of a pay off. It’s a book that’s the total package, and RealCommittee will find a lot to rave about. This is an examination of friendship, rescues, loyalty, and the consequences of choices, and it’s uplifting and tragic, thoughtful and thought-provoking.
This is slyly funny, and smartly perceptive — it manages to tell an emotionally compelling story while neatly skewering the trope of the powerful woman who must be brought into line (ahem, killed). The funny almost distracted me, actually (“I’m not a kid. I’m a shark.”), but don’t let all the quirk fool you (you probably didn’t and didn’t require two reads, like I did, to let this one settle). This is a story with a trajectory, with points to make, and just because it’s having fun along the way doesn’t mean that you won’t end up with your heart pulled out of you.
There’s a lot of great mixing going on — the science fiction and fantasy elements somehow fit together seamlessly. Nimona and Ballister are glued to zombie flicks, but don’t flinch from serious dragon-related adventure. In this world, television watching and jousting coexist, and the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics is actually creating the monsters and the villains. This is a story that manages to effectively mix irony and sincerity. All of these mixes enhance the story, and one element never overshadows another.
The characterization is strong. Ballister is honor-bound but funny. Ambrosious is flawed but sympathetically weak and relatable. Nimona is the standout character here: furious and hilarious, an outsider who connects others and longs for connection. The three major characters are given specific color palettes — Ballister with browns and burgandies; Goldenloin with pastel greens, peaches, and yellows (those locks! those flowing locks!); Nimona with raging, energizing reds. Nimona’s shape shifting abilities are fantastically rendered; she’s almost always in motion, doing. Her physicality is so expressive (it reminded me of Windy, actually, but with a penchant for blowing stuff up); she’s a great mix of kid-like and ruthless. Without her chaos-bringing, of course, the story would never have happened. The three major characters play off each other beautifully, exposing foibles and trading quips. Their interaction allows them to care for each other and grow, to both endanger each other and support each other — sometimes at the same time.
All of this work is done with quippy, quirky dialogue and characters. Humor is so subjective, and it doesn’t always benefit a title at the Printz table, but it sure does work here, if you’re here for it. Clearly, I’m here for it. There are other more serious books around this year, and sometimes fun can be easily dismissed, but I could see this title going a long way come January. What about you? Are YOU here for it?
Filed under: Contenders, Fiction
About Sarah Couri
Sarah Couri is a librarian at Grace Church School's High School Division, and has served on a number of YALSA committees, including Quick Picks, Great Graphic Novels, and (most pertinently!) the 2011 Printz Committee. Her opinions do not reflect the attitudes or opinions of SLJ, GCS, YALSA, or any other institutions with which she is affiliated. Find her on Twitter @scouri or e-mail her at scouri35 at gmail dot com.
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