The Leak by Kate Reed Petty & Andrea Bell, 240 pp, RL 4


The Leak
Published by FirstSecond Books

There are so many amazing things about this graphic novel, and so many layers for readers to dig into. In many ways, almost thirteen-year-old Ruth Keller is your typical middle schooler - her friends prod and push her about her friendship/budding romance with classmate Jonathan and her dentist lectures her about brushing and flossing after finding yet another cavity. Atypically, Ruth, curious about the world she lives in with great research skills, is a passionate journalist-in-training with a newsletter where she reports the "coolest news of the week. Serving Twin Oaks and Pikes County since 2014." When she discovers dead fish and a strange sludge at Lake Particular while she and Jonathan are fishing, she senses a story that needs telling. But what is the story? Here is where Petty's story deepens from a mystery to be solved by an intrepid kid reporter to a story about information and how it is disseminated - or not. Petty offers an essential look at the vital work that journalists do and the importance of professional integrity, giving readers the opportunity to see this first hand as Ruth struggles with letting her opinions and assumptions shape and impact her reporting. Petty's superb author's note addresses "fake news,"expanding on the central plot theme of The Leak: "how we decide what is true, and how we share the truth with others."

While adults are often minor characters in middle grade stories, the nature of Ruth's story makes them an important part of The Leak. Petty does a fantastic job with presenting a range of of adult characters, starting with the dentist who is too buys talking to about her own child (and ignoring the fact that her hands are in Ruth's mouth, preventing her from responding) to listen to Ruth when she insists she brushes and flosses. Ruth is also condescended to by adults she interviews in her search for the source of the pollution in Lake Particular, but she finds support and guidance in the form of her brother's girlfriend (an intern at The New York Times) and her science teacher, Ms. Freeman, who goes out of her way to pursue the source of the pollution. And, while there are adults who attempt to take advantage of Ruth's age and manipulate her with subtle bribes, Ruth's parents are present for her every step of the way, setting reasonable boundaries for her, presenting consequences when Ruth makes poor choices, and ultimately supporting her with their belief in her reporting and integrity.

Bell's illustrations are superb. Her muted palette supports the seriousness of the story while the simplicity of her illustrations lends the many characters, settings and action a clarity that is easy to follow in a story where there is a lot going in. Ruth is biracial with secondary characters presenting a rich ethnic diversity.

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