Oof, this graphic novel hit me in my comic book-loving heart. I’m not saying I was Azi growing up — I mean, her dad is nuts even by Asian parent standards — but certain of her trials hit me as hard as a hammer blow to my psyche.
The story goes like this: Noah Ramirez wants to design costumes but his firefighter and police officer parents want him to continue the family tradition of public service by enrolling in pre-med at UCLA. Azarie Valerius is secretly a comic book nerd but her high-powered family and popularity-obsessed friends force her to hide her love of superheroes and performing deep, deep down inside. Noah and Azi go to the same high school but inhabit very different social circles. When a comic book movie inspires Noah to check out the nearest comic book store for design ideas, he runs into Azi, who is busy nerding out with the clerk. The two get to talking, and find a mutual interest in cosplay. Tentatively, they form a friendship over building a costume for Azi to wear to a convention in hopes of winning a competition.
As their senior year of high school progresses, Noah and Azi must contend with many obstacles as they each pursue their individual dreams and their joint goal of entering the big cosplay competition at the Comic And Pop-Culture Expo (CAPE). Their friendship is sorely tested again and again, as they have to try to please the people they love most, who look askance at best on their relationship. Can they stay true to themselves and to each other as graduation looms and their tumultuous year comes to a close?
Illustrated in a charming manga style that perfectly suits the slice-of-life tone of the proceedings, Needle & Thread is one of those rare coming-of-age novels that focuses convincingly on a male-female friendship, despite the assumption of everyone around both Noah and Azi that they’re dating. It’s okay if they were, but it’s also refreshing to see kids form a fast friendship over encouraging each other to pursue their dreams, and eventually develop a group of real friends and allies once they embrace the truth about themselves. Of course, it is not at all an easy struggle to get to that point and beyond, but this book lovingly portrays the power of friendship and support in making that happen. That last was embodied especially in the terrific character of Ms French, whose sense of humor was perfectly balanced by her clear-eyed insight into what matters most and how systems work. She felt as relatable to present-day me as Azi did to past-me. I only hope that I, too, can do as good as job of helping others nourish their dreams. At the very least, I’ll hopefully be a better parent than the ones in this book!
This high school graphic novel was sweet in the best possible way. I was rooting for Azi and Noah throughout, and hope that young readers especially will find this book an inspiration for their own lives.
Needle And Thread by David Pinckney, Ennun Ana Iurov & Michah Myers was published September 28 2021 by Mad Cave Studios and is available from all good booksellers, including