Doodles from the Boogie Down

Penguin/Kokila. Apr. 2023. 208p. Tr $20.99. ISBN 9780451480651; pap. $13.99. ISBN 9780451480668.
Gr 6-10–Dominican American eighth grader Steph is struggling to focus on her upcoming New York high school entrance exams because the core subjects don’t interest her much; her real passion is art. With encouragement and support from her teacher Ms. Santiago, Steph instead sets her sights on the LaGuardia High School in Manhattan, a public school with a portfolio-based admissions process. LaGuardia seems like a dream to Steph, but there’s just one (big) problem: her mother, Mari, would never approve of going to a public school, due to Mari’s own bad experiences. Undeterred by the obstacles in front of her, Steph devises a plan to put together her portfolio and convince her mom that she knows what’s best for her own high school career. Loosely based on the creator’s life, the story convincingly delves into familiar themes surrounding diverging interests in middle school friend groups, wanting to fit in, and trying to find individual happiness amid family pressures. Colorfully vibrant artwork alternates between the micro and the macro: Steph and her friends at school and home are depicted with solid backgrounds and a skillful use of shading, while various New York neighborhoods are shown with impressive detail. Chapters are marked by minimalist colored and numbered circles and early 2000s slang and pop culture references are abundant, while Spanish is present throughout. Supporting and background characters largely appear to be Black, including best friend Tiff, or other people of color.
VERDICT A touching and recommended story for offering reassurances that even sticky situations aren’t the end of the world.

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