Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Alterations by Ray Xu

According to my reading pile, this must be graphic novel month. While I've already had half-a-dozen the last weeks, I'm not done yet. Today's read is one for the middle grade audience, released already in January, and takes a contemporary twist. While the blurb promises middle school drama, the cover makes me wonder how much adventure will be thrown in, too. Only way to find out is to open it up and read, I guess. So, here we go!

by Ray Xu
Union Square Kids
Middle Grade Contemporary  /  Graphic Novel
240 pages
ages 8 to 12

For fans of Gene Luen Yang’s  American Born Chinese  and Svetlana Chmakova’s   Awkward , this funny yet poignant middle-grade coming-of-age story highlights the struggle of feeling invisible while yearning to be seen by all. 
Kevin Lee is having a really bad week. Although he lives in a crowded Toronto apartment above the family’s alterations and dry-cleaning store, he mostly goes unnoticed. School isn’t exactly an oasis either—being one of the few Asian kids makes for some unwelcome attention. But when Kevin’s class plans a trip to Thrill Planet, a spectacular theme park, will he finally have a chance to turn his life around, or will it just be another day for Kevin Lee?

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Middle school mixes with problems such as divorce, first crushes, and century eggs to form a balance between giggles and heart.

Kevin Lee's life has been turned upside down since his parents divorced and his father left the city. Now, his mother is working overtime in her alterations shop to make ends meet. Kevin is forced to help out both in the house and with sewing buttons, but he'd rather just read his comic books. His older sister is an awesome support (even when she's irritating), and then, there's Popo, his odd, ancient grandmother, who is so traditional, it's weird. School isn't any better thanks to all sorts of misunderstandings, which leaves him as the strange kid. While comics offer an escape, it's the upcoming trip to a theme park, which might give the relief he needs...if it isn't as doomed as the rest of his life.

This book tackles quite a few tough problems many middle graders face, while weaving in a touch of science fiction and humor to make it an exciting and enjoyable read. Kevin is a kid, who just wishes everything were easier. His father's disappearance from their lives has left a mark, which isn't an lot to deal with. While Kevin's family is very supportive and caring, they are all under stress as they try to come to terms with everything. The mother works over-hours, which adds a familiar strain kids can identify with, especially since that means picking up some of the slack at home which would, otherwise, be used for free time. Kevin's attitude is very understandable as realizes why things are the way they are but still isn't happy about it and rebels to a certain extent. It makes him human and easy to identify with, since many readers will recognize similar situations from their own lives.

The graphics are well done, and the text balances nicely with each one. There are side-thoughts, settings, comments and such in square text boxes, while the speech appears in bubbles to keep everything clear. The illustrations especially work nicely as Kevin switches to his comic/fantasy thoughts, and it's this which offers the fun side to balance out the more serious issues on the life end. But even in the 'real life', there's enough lightness to keep the problems from growing to heavy...and especially Popo comes across nicely.

It's a packed book in many ways, never invites boredom, and stays entertaining the entire way through.

And here he is...

RAY XU is a Toronto-based story artist and animator for television and feature films. His recent work includes the 2021 Netflix animated hit The Mitchells vs. The Machines; DreamWorks’ Captain Underpants movie; and more. He invites you to visit him online at

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