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Books in Brief: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

GRAPHIC Novel
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol, color by Alec Longstreet; First Second, ($12.99) Ages 8 and up.
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Gifted author-illustrator Vera Brosgol, who was born in Moscow and moved to the U.S. at the age of five, has created a funny, poignant, uniquely Russian-flavored graphic novel memoir about her childhood experience at a Russian Orthodox summer camp. Her wonderful cartoon illustrations and text offer a funny, painfully honest look at a girl caught between two worlds and not really fitting into either while struggling to gain acceptance with her peers and yet find her own way.

Young Vera is acutely aware that her life is very different from that of her rich classmates, after she attends a birthday party sleepover - with fancy gift bags, expensive presents and an ice cream cake - and then has a spectacularly unsuccessful sleepover of her own in the small apartment where she lives with her younger brother, baby sister and hard-working single mother. With all her classmates going to summer camp, Vera jumps at the chance to sign up for a Russian summer camp she hears about at church.

But the camp brings a new set of challenges: she's much younger than the other campers in her group, the rustic conditions (horseflies, tents, the outhouses, bathing in the lake) are off-putting and she has trouble reading Russian, unlike the veteran campers. Desperately lonely, she uses her drawing talent to try to win over her tentmates, a strategy that backfires.

Brosgol, creator of marvelous picture book "Leave Me Alone" and 2011 graphic novel "Anya's Ghost," includes a note at the end about the research (including a visit to the camp), the interviews and letters that helped refresh her memory about her unhappy camp experience 20 years ago. She includes a letter she wrote to her mother at the end, and explains the letter, printed in a childhood scrawl, that appears inside the front cover which immediately snags the reader's attention: "Dear mom. Could you pick me up as soon as you get this? PLEASE! I'm desperate." Only the great Raina Telgemeier ("Smile") is Brosgol's equal in crafting graphic novels that so vividly evoke the preadolescent and adolescent experience. Brosgol includes a smattering of Russian here and there, adding to the fun.

YOUNG ADULT
The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo; Farrar Straus Giroux, 319 pages ($17.99) Ages 12 and up.
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Sixteen-year-old Clara Shin has been known as a cut-up at school since classmate Rose Carver reported her for smoking in the school lavatory. Clara's joke nomination as junior prom queen leads to a prank that backfires, and Clara finds herself forced to work alongside her nemesis in her father's KoBra food truck, serving Korean-Brazilian fusion specialties, for the summer, when she had expected to be vacationing at a resort with her free-spirited mom, a social media influencer. Then a boy named Hamlet enters the picture.

This entertaining novel from the author of acclaimed 2017 novel "I Believe in a Thing Called Love," has all the ingredients of a perfect beach read: appealing characters, a poignant romance, delicious descriptions of food and a vivid portrait of L.A. as seen through the eyes of a girl who has always called it home. Goo offers an appealing story of Clara's transformation into someone who actually cares about something and learns how to be a true friend. The novel, told in Clara's snarky voice, is also funny. Here Clara describes her ex's new girlfriend: "She was one of those insufferable snobs who pieced together a personality with obscure music facts."

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