Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisely, 224 pp, RL 4
by Lucy Knisely
Review Copy from RH Graphic
Knisely, known for her graphic memoirs for adults, brings her superb visual storytelling to the pages of Stepping Stones, her debut graphic novel for kids. Knisely's book, the first in a series, joins a growing shelf of distinguished graphic novels that address the challenges of growing up - from anxiety to friendship and cliques to dental disasters - with a welcome clarity and honesty, along with enlightening, uplifting, inspiring author's notes. While only child Knisely shares the story of the divorce of her parents, her move to the country and adjustment to step-siblings and a stepfather in her author's note, she choses to fictionalize this for Stepping Stones.
When Jen's mom pursues her dream of living in the country after her divorce, she moves her daughter to Jen to her boyfriend Walter's farm. A city kid, Jen copes with the absence of everything she loves, including her dad, by drawing her feelings into comics. An only child, Jen also has to adjust to having two sisters, bossy Andy and quiet Reese, on the weekends. Working the stand at the farmer's market, Andy's math and business skills bring Jen's math struggles to light and giving Walter, argumentative and quick to judge at times, more reason to call "Jenny" (which she repeatedly, if quietly, asks not to be called) a drama queen.
With authenticity and empathy, Knisely brings Jen, Andy and Reese together and, while Walter's hurtful behavior is not addressed directly, the girls unite as they recognize it for what it is. Jen's emotions, especially the shame she feels when she cannot do the math to make change at the farmer's market, as well as her frustration at having no control over her life, are painfully real. In Knisely's author's note, she shares her personal experience as a child of divorce, especially growing up with her own version of Walter, both "annoying and beloved," ending with these words,
One of the worst things about being a kid is finding yourself in these situations here you have no control over the decisions that adults are making that affect you. But sometimes it's also one of the best things - to find yourself in a situation you couldn't possibly have chosen for yourself, totally at sea. It can sometimes bring unexpected beauty and introduce strangers that become family.