The Stonewall Riots by Archie Bongiovanni & A. Andrews

The Stonewall Riots: Making a Stand for LGBTQ Rights (History Comics) by Archie Bongiovanni & A. Andrews. First Second, 2022. 9781250618351

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 2

Format: Paperback graphic novel

What did you like about the book?  Three queer teens, Rashad (Black, cisgendered), Jax (White, disabled), and Natalia (LatinX, nonbinary) are helping Natalia’s abuelita and her parrot move into a senior living complex when they discover that she had a girlfriend as a young woman. As she tells her story (hitting main points in queer history), she and the three friends enter the past and witness and even join in the Stonewall Uprising. The punitive restrictions on queer identity and various options for challenging them force each of the three to consider how they will respond to the historic situation (while they’re in the past) and contemporary America (when they return). The art work is bright, sharp, and literal, with all of the information conveyed through dialogue talk bubbles. The book opens with a very moving personal essay by Michael Bronski, Harvard professor and author of A Queer History of the United States for Young People, in which he relates what he was doing on the night of Stonewall: probably buying a milkshake and grabbing a burger with friends. But in his few brief pages, he manages to convey a lot of information about what it was like to be queer before the Gay Pride movement. Back matter includes a glossary, a letter from a young activist, a resource list, and short bios of the two queer creators of the book.

Anything you didn’t like about it? I couldn’t figure out what age group the book was trying to reach. The idea of having the teens travel back in time was corny and confusing, sort of a Magic Treehouse approach but with no explanation. I haven’t read the other books in the series, so maybe that’s what they’re all like. It seemed highly unlikely to me that Natalia would never have heard that her abuelita was bi, given how supportive and loving the older woman was. Nomenclature is another problem in this text. Right in the introduction, Bronski describes the event as an uprising but the title of the book uses riotsHomosexual is used throughout the comic, but is not included in the glossary, and no clarification is provided to explain that the term is now out-of-date and even possibly offensive. The text and the characters use LGBT, but the cover reads “LBGTQ rights”.  A weird visual effect is a flesh-toned paint slash across every character’s face– right across their nose in almost every panel – I found this very distracting and couldn’t imagine what its purpose was.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Middle school students who want queer history told in a quick, comics form. I would be more likely to recommend Queer: A Graphic History by Meg-John Barker and Jules Scheele or for straight up middle school/high school history, the highly readable and terrific Stonewall: Breaking Out in the Fight for Gay Rights by Ann Bausum.

Who should buy this book? Public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? No

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: June 28, 2022

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