Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe, 216 pp, RL: MIDDLE GRADE

Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe is a gem! I am a tremendous fan of Smile and Drama by the exceptional Raina Telegemeier but have been frustrated by the fact that I have yet to find graphic novels that are similar to her work. With Peanut, I have finally found that book! Halliday and Hoppe tell the story of a girl who finds herself starting sophomore year of high school in a new town. Like Telgemeier, Halliday and Hoppe create characters who feel very real and has quirks and qualities that enrich the plot and I hope there are more graphic novels from this team coming in the very near future. Although this story is set in a high school, I have given the book a MIDDLE GRADE rating. There is a romantic relationship, but it is very sweet and chaste in nature with only one on-page kiss. And, there are two mean girls who make some pretty snide comments, but there are no obscenities.

Sadie and her mom move often and when she learns that she will be starting her sophomore year at Plainfield Community High School, Sadie decides to look at it as a fresh start and a chance to reinvent herself. Unfortunately for her, she decides to reinvent herself around a lie. At the start of the summer before sophomore year, Sadie is in line at a restaurant when she comments on the bracelet of the girl in line ahead of her. The girl explains that it's not really jewelry, but a necessity as it is a medical alert bracelet indicating her severe peanut allergy. Intrigued, Sadie goes home and does some research into severe peanut allergies and decides to order a medical alert bracelet for herself. On the first day of school she does her best to make friends and drop hints about her "condition."

Initial attempts to make friends with the mean girls fall flat and, rather than take interest in Sadie's allergy, they use it to make fun of her behind her back. On top of that, Sadie's best friend from her old school seems to have moved on. But, Sadie does manage to make friends, including Zoo, a bike riding, cell phone eschewing guy who communicates by writing notes that he folds elaborately and delivers to the doors of his friends. As things begin to improve socially, Sadie realizes that keeping up her lie is not nearly as easy as she had thought it would be. Soon the her mom is asking questions and so is the school nurse, and Sadie is frantic to hang on to what she has. I need to add here that Peanut actually also provides a fair amount of pertinent information about peanut allergies and related issues as Sadie researches her "medical condition."

How the truth comes out and what happens when it does is, especially from a teenage perspective, pretty intense. The epilogue, in which Sadie talks about the aftermath of her lie feels very realistic and, in the end, hopeful. Halliday and Hoppe do a fantastic job conveying the angst and agony that Sadie that suffers as she struggles with her lie. And the supporting cast of characters, from Sadie's mom to Mr Larch, her dramatic homeroom teacher, and Miss Anderson, the easy going, motherly school nurse, are well drawn (literally and texturally) and genuine. My favorite character, though, is the thoughtful, creative, understanding Zoo, Sadie's boyfriend. Every girl should be lucky enough to have a guy like him in her life at some time!

Hoppe's illustrations, black, white and grey with only Sadie's top (which changes from tank to tee to jacket as the seasons change) in color, are perfectly suited to the story. While Telgemeier's graphic novels are colorfully inked, the more austere palette of Peanut feels better suited to the slightly more mature themes of the novel and ages of the characters. 

Source: Review Copy

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