Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Tales of a Seventh-Grade Lizard Boy


I caught a lot of teasing about my name throughout my schooling, and I cannot imagine what it would have been if I had been called Booger Lizk’t. On top of that name, Booger is a lizard person from Elberon, an underground civilization that faced a natural disaster that drove his family to the surface. So he would stand out pretty starkly in a typical US middle school. Luckily for him, his people can shape their skin pretty much as they please, which makes it possible for them to pass as human. However, Booger also has to fit in socially, which is why he goes by the name of Tommy Tomkins while in Eagle Valley. But he is still having a very difficult time, especially when so many of his classmates watch a popular TV show about villainous alien lizard invaders who want to invade Earth (sort of like V).

From the informative back matter of the book, I learned that many of these feelings and situations are based on the author's Vietnamese heritage, and much of the book reflects commonplace immigrant experiences. This aspect gets highlighted by Tommy's friendship with Dung Tran, a Vietnamese immigrant and kindred spirit. The two gravitate toward each other and take solace in each other's company. Like Dung, Tommy has to figure out how to find friends, speak the language, eat strange food, deal with bullies, and navigate academics on top of passing as a human being, so they are both under a lot of pressure and stress. 

What I liked about this book was how human and organic it was. The plot takes all sorts of twists and turns, and this is not a simple tale of a kid learning to fit in or find his people. Tommy is not perfect, and he makes mistakes, pulls some ill-advised pranks, and hurts some of the feelings of his few friends. I found a lot to relate to as well as laugh and marvel at.

This book was created by Jonathan Hill, who also wrote and drew a fantastic apocalyptic graphic novel Odessa. He also drew Americus, a book I reviewed some years ago. He speaks about his work on Tales of the Seventh-Grade Lizard Boy in this interview.

The reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Kirkus Reviews summed it up as "engaging and thought-provoking." Publishers Weekly wrote, "Employing a bright and energetic palette, uncomplicated paneling, and a cast comprising varying skin tones and body types, Hill keenly portrays the effects this othering has on Tommy and Dung, and how connection, mutual support, and earnest understanding can bridge even significant differences." April Spisak opined, "Vivid colors, wry humor, and playful ignoring of traditional panel structure lighten the heaviest moments, firmly focusing this story on working toward better things."

Tales of a Seventh-Grade Lizard Boy was published by Walker Books US, and they offer a preview and more info about it here.

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