Margin Notes



“Stand tall. Be loud. If you can make it through this, you can make it through anything” 

This is a must-read middle-level graphic novel memoir hot off the press as it was released just this month. The Tryout follows the author’s story of growing up as an Asian American in a small Texas town. With essential themes of racism, failure and friendship, Christina retells the memories of navigating the social scene of middle school, the pressures put on a friendship and the relatable tale of trying to fit in.  

In her author’s note, Christina talks about the hesitation to include how it felt to deal with racism and her identity as an Asian American. She notes other discrimination that happened and how she had “accepted and internalized that that’s just the way things were.” With that reflection, she also acknowledges that sharing these stories is how we bring change. Readers see the racism disguised as jokes, mispronunciations, exclusion and obvious name-calling. 

The story centers around Christina and Megan’s friendship which was formed from shared experiences being minorities in a predominantly white town. They are both drawn into the social status of cheerleading and tryout for the squad together. The pressures of the upcoming cuts cause some conflict that is handled well and both girls experience growth and newfound confidence in the process.  

Readers are left with a description of growing up in Texas where Christina refers to the town as merely the setting and goes on to share the spotlight of her story – the characters.  Every middle schooler should read about her experience and see themselves in the characters, images and emotions.  



“One night, after the power went out, I lit a candle as usual.  Then, also as usual, I got down on the floor and just gazed at its flame.

My candle was white and thick, like the ones in church. I lay on my belly and just stared and stared into it. So orange, like the abdomen of a firefly. It was nice and soothing until…it started flickering.

Then, I thought I saw something. Something serious and big and scary. I moved closer.”


Akata Witch is told through the eyes of Sunny, a twelve-year-old albino girl born in the United States, but who now finds herself living in Nigeria. Not surprisingly, Sunny is often seen as an outcast. An outcast at school because of where she was born and how she looks.  An outcast in the community because of her lack of knowledge about Nigerian culture. Even an outcast at home because she is a girl, an unwanted girl.

Sunny’s days are filled with trying to navigate school, prejudices, staying out of the way of bullies, and not upsetting her parents. Especially her father. This changes when she befriends a quiet boy in her class named Orlu and his friend Chichi. Slowly Orlu and Chichi introduce Sunny to their world of Nigerian magic, and she learns she is in fact a leopard person; Nigerians who can conjure and perform juju (magic). Soon Sunny is visiting mysterious villages where books and devices for creating juju are purchased, disappearing through keyholes, and accepting challenges issued by their leopard person teacher.

Sunny is equal parts fascinated, terrified, and frustrated by her new life and what she is learning about herself, her family’s past, and the challenges she will need to face when charged with finding and defeating Black Hat Otokoto. The man responsible for kidnapping and maiming children in order to gain powerful juju strength.

Okorafor crafts a well paced suspenseful narrative that provides readers needed background knowledge by enlisting excerpts from the “Free Agents” handbook that Sunny reads to learn about her newfound abilities. If you have readers in your class who enjoy supernatural fiction and want to try something new, Akata Witch, the first book in the Nsibidi Script series may just be a great book fit.

To read more about Nnedi Okorafor, Akata Witch and the sequels Akata Warrior and Akata Woman click here.





Extraordinary Ordinary Ella was written in 2020 by Amber Hendricks. This book is a must read as it talks about Ella, a young girl struggling to find a talent. At such a young age, and all through adolescence, kids are pressured to find their purpose. This book teaches them that it’s ok to take your time and enjoy life rather than worrying about the little things. 

This picture book provides a lesson for all ages and will leave readers thinking about this topic in a new way. This title is inspiration for young people as they grow up, giving them a female role model with a young perspective. It helps give readers the encouragement and confidence they need to grow in life. This book is a great representation of how extraordinary, ordinary is and can be.  



Deaver writes a book that the world needs to read with insight into a non-binary mind and life. The story follows Benjamin De Backer as they come out as non-binary and are not accepted by their parents. This story gives space to relationships that include a non-binary person while quietly including the addition of a mixed-race relationship. 

While the reader feels the devastation of the rejection by Benjamin’s parents, the book does provide examples of supportive allyship. There are characters like the sister and her husband, the boyfriend and the art teacher that really highlight how to be there for someone in a situation where the queer person was kicked out of the house.  

Readers may see themselves or peer into a new world as they follow the loss of hope with battles faced and then the glimmer of new dreams with a fresh chapter in life. The themes around love, friendship, hardships, adversity and hope surround the characters in this read. 




They Both Die at the End, by Adam Silvera is a great choice for fans of young adult, dystopian, science fiction narratives. This bittersweet story connects two unlikely people, who push each other to live their last day to the fullest. I enjoyed the author’s modern take on fatalism, as it is easy to relate to as the two teen protagonists must come to terms with mortality. It evokes the realization of human mortality in the mind of the reader and makes them question the base of fatality. It beautifully demonstrates how a single day lived to its best is better than a lifetime of just existing – making everyone who reads want to live each day as though it’s their last.  

This book has great representation through its main characters Matteo and his antithesis Rufus, who although very different, create a deep bond. Matteo is an 18-year-old Puerto Rican teen, who suffers from anxiety and keeps to himself as much as possible. He meets Rufus a 17-year-old Cuban teen, who is vivacious and confident on “The Last Friend” app. Both character’s growth in just the short time they spend with each other shows that you don’t have to spend an eternity with someone to have a lasting effect on their life.  

I could not put this book down, I finished it in just one sitting and as you grow to love and empathize with the characters, you begin to dread the inevitable ending. However, it was satisfying as they both lead meaningful lives. Readers will be left thinking about this book long after they’ve put it down. 



‘It came from the woods. Most strange things do.’  

Through the Woods is a graphic novel written by award winning Canadian author Emily Carroll. This novel contains 5 haunting and eerie stories about topics such as the chilling adventures of three sisters after their father’s disappearance as seen in Our Neighbour’s House or the story of a girl who witnesses the horrors awaiting her in the woods during her trip to visit her brother after their mother’s death as told in The Nesting Place.  

Carroll’s fast paced story telling had me absolutely entranced the whole time. Each story is easily digestible with a charming art style. It is easy to imagine yourself in the shoes of each character and wondering what you would do in their situation. That is until the real horror element truly seeps in and darkens every crevice, making you reconsider all of the trust you’d once put into the characters..  

All this, paired together with Carroll’s unique panel placement and organization, truly makes for an unforgettable read that will have every horror fan on the edge of their seat.  This graphic novel is one that’s stuck with me for quite some time after devouring it in one sitting. 



Eleanora Fagan better known as Billie Holiday did not have a happy life. After all, she sang the blues for a reason.  

“Becoming Billie Holiday” is a poetic interpretation of her life story. Readers follow Billie as she matures from a troubled adolescent into the fearless and passionate musician we know today. The text offers the privilege of watching her navigate a world that seems to be against her with parents that leave her, a neighbor that rapes her, and a drug addiction that destroys her. Billie must summon every ounce of her courage to fight against the brutality.  

Carole Boston Weatherford recounts this story beautifully and entirely through free verse poems with titles that correspond to each of Billie’s songs. The poems are accompanied by compelling illustrations.  

It was extraordinary to discover the complex story behind the famous musician. The book was exactly what I needed to incorporate a little bit of poetry and a lot of imagining into my reading routine.  



All Maggie wants is some time alone – and she has a plan to get it. With a few lies about where they are, Maggie and her friends plan a sleepover at her empty grandparents’ house. To say things don’t go as planned is an understatement. Her friends are caught and can’t come. During her secret night hidden alone, her town is evacuated, and Maggie is indeed left alone…totally alone. 

This novel, written in verse, is a fantastic middle level survival story. Readers follow Maggie as she slowly accepts that no one is coming back and realizes she is on her own to take care of herself and her neighbor’s dog, George. The slow descent into survival mode is realistic and brings authentic threats such as food, water, weather, fire and wild animals. 

Other than the obvious challenges of survival, the conflict of the plot is a steady build of loneliness. Maggie is aware of the hope she is losing and searches for connection in radios and books. The seasons change and the years go by without any indication of this isolation ending. Maddie’s resilience in the environmental and mental struggles is fierce and makes her a strong character for readers to admire. Although I would give a trigger warning for animal abuse, I would recommend this book to readers who like dystopian survival stories as well as someone looking to devour a book in verse.  



Heartstopper is a graphic novel depicting an adorable yet realistic LQBTQ romance between two boys finding themselves, one an openly gay and bullied boy, the other a questioning rugby jock.

When the story begins, Charlie Spring wants nothing more than to be loved by his secret, closeted, emotionally abusive boyfriend, Ben Hope. He finds himself sitting in the art room every lunchtime, eating his lunch surrounded by the haunting memories of last year.

Nick Nelson is the epitome of a sweet jock, having a soft spot for vulnerability, but still hanging out with his rough, homophobic rugby friends. Even though he doesn’t agree with what they do, he finds himself with no one else to listen to.

Charlie and Nick finally meet after a homeroom seat change one morning, and nothing but a “Hi” every day to each other. Nick was all Charlie thought about for weeks on end, whereas his friends, Tao, Isaac, and Elle, only crushed his hopes by continually insisting that Nick was straight, without a doubt.

Then there is an incident with Nick in homeroom and a leaky pen, and after Charlie helps Nick, a spark of friendship begins to whirl between the two. They begin to chat in the halls, smile at each other when they pass, and Nick invites Charlie to learn how to play rugby after school one gorgeous, sunny day.

Unfortunately, there is then a horrible and aggressive incident between Charlie and Ben, with Nick comes to Charlie’s aid after lingering around due to a sense something isn’t right between Charlie and Ben. That event sparks the first nighttime texting session between them, evoking a stream of confused feelings about their relationship and the potential struggles of identifying as LQBTQ in an all-boys school.


Heartstopper is one of the most subtly powerful and emotional novels I’ve ever read. Each page ropes you more into the character’s life until you’re immersed into the feeling of pure excitement every time they show affection, romantic or not.

Sometimes I would take breaks in between reading, just to scream out of joy or sob at an emotional scene, and I’ve honestly never had a book do that before. It’s an LGBTQ modern classic, and I absolutely adored how many topics are addressed and how inclusive the characters are. So many mature topics are covered in such an realistic way, like coming out as gay and lesbian, being transgender, homophobia and discovering your sexuality. Heartstopper is an essential read for allies and LGBTQ alike. I guarantee it’ll be the best book you’ll ever read.


Fionna Jarvis is a 14-year-old student at Ridgeview Middle School in Oromocto, New Brunswick who likes to read atypical romance, dystopia, non-fiction and poetry books. She loves to write and has written several online novels. She plays rugby, volleyball and does all-star cheerleading. Also, she does art, she paints, sketches, and also uses oil pastels and watercolours.



the collection of titles on SORA has expanded to include titles for students in high school. To celebrate this, and to add some book buzz, Margin Notes will feature book recommendations written by high school students over the summer months. Stay tuned for some great book recommendations!

Ways teachers might use the students’ recommendations:

  • Direct students to Margin Notes to read student recommendations
  • Book talk the titles by reading the student recommendations
  • Post the recommendations in the classroom for students to read
  • Have students comment on the posts of titles they decide to read
  • Use as mentor texts for students writing their own recommendations