MMGM and #IMWAYR: Besties: Work It Out, written by Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino and illustrated by Kristina Luu
Hi everyone! I'm still a mess when it comes to commenting on people's blogs, but I'm honestly just glad I've at least kept up my reading habits recently. I do want to thank everyone who filled out my comments survey last week—it gives me a lot of helpful info as I decide how to proceed with the Great Blogger Comment Fiasco of 2022! If you didn't get a chance to fill it out, it's still open, and I'd love your input.
Moving along, today we have a review of a delightful MG graphic novel: Besties: Work It Out, written by Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino and illustrated by Kristina Luu!
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I think my entire existence as a blogger is to solve the problem of books that look like they'll be one thing but are actually another, and Besties: Work It Out definitely fits into this category! A bit of backstory: Last week, I was reviewing the fourth graphic novel in Kayla Miller's delightful Click series, comprised of Click, Camp, Act, Clash, and the just-released Crunch! (As I was pulling those links, I realized I started reading these books three years ago—time flies!) That series, which revolves around the compassionate young extrovert, peacemaker, and middle-schooler Olive, has now spawned a duology of spin-off graphic novels under the Besties umbrella, revolving around best friends Beth and Chanda!
It takes a village to create any book, but especially this book and its upcoming sequel, Besties: Find Their Groove—my understanding is that the main story by Kayla Miller and Jeffrey Canino (their partner!) the actual script is by Canino, the illustrations are by Kristina Luu, and the story's color is by Damali Beatty. (There is a delightful and substantial Q&A with the whole team in the back matter, and I do love that they included Beatty as well, since it seems like colorists never get any love!)
While I initially thought this book might end up as a clunky spin-off of the main series, I am so thrilled to have been proven utterly wrong—this is a skillfully written graphic novel with just as much to love (and sometimes more!) as the main series, and I'm so excited to recommend it today!
Blah, blah, blah—let's dive into the publisher's description of this story:
Meet Beth and Chanda, two stylish best friends on their way to building their fashion empire! An unexpected business opportunity presents itself when the girls are asked to dogsit at Ms. Langford's luxurious house while she’s away, but it quickly turns into a disaster after an accident leaves one of Ms. Langford’s prized possessions in pieces.
Now Beth and Chanda have to take on as many odd jobs as they can in order to afford a replacement. Car washing, book sales, interior decorating—you name it, Beth and Chanda are there! Will they be able to patch up their mistake in time?
New York Times bestselling author Kayla Miller and co-author Jeffrey Canino deliver a vibrant and honest story about middle school friendships and personal responsibility. Accompanied by Kristina Luu's fizzy, expressive art style, this graphic novel is the perfect companion to Olive's existing stories.
So, first of all, Beth and Chanda are some of the most delightful, lovable, flawed yet smart and hardworking kids you'll see in a graphic novel! These two girls have a few things in common. They can set goals and work hard for them—when Beth needs money to try and treat her overworked mom to a spa trip for her birthday, Chanda devises a brilliant new business venture, a lemonade stand with a unique twist, to make it happen. Also, Beth and Chanda are both quite fashion-forward—whether it's their business ideas or delightful outfits, these two have a sense of how to express themselves and how to get others' attention while doing it. (Which is kind of their weakness in the story—and isn't popularity everyone's weakness?—but it's also a strength too, as you'll see.) And the other really important thing is that Beth and Chanda would pretty much do anything for each other—these two are ready to support each other through thick and thin, and although it wouldn't be a plot without some relationship conflict, their compassion and care for each other really shines through. The two girls have immensely fabulous dialogue—it's always snappy and amusing, and switches between self-assured and sweet at the drop of a hat. And both characters have quite a few layers to them—I won't give everything away, but I will say that the only plot line (of the many in this story) that isn't resolved seems like it will carry into the sequel, so I'll be looking forward to that!
Then we've got the main theme of Besties: Work It Out. Although there was a moment where I thought this book would be pretty predictable, it defied those expectations quickly, allowing it to fit right in with the main Click series and its always-insightful, always-original themes. This story's theme? When you screw something up (like, massively screw it up), what do you do—try to hide it and work hard to make things right yourself, or be honest but potentially put the burden on someone else in the process? It's a really brilliant and nuanced topic—so many books advocate for being honest without really thinking through how that can add stress or work to other people's lives, and this book really dives into that complexity. I'm not going to give all the details away, but I want to emphasize that it's unusually satisfying and rich for what seems like just another spunky MG graphic novel!
And also, I love how this book effectively stands on its own (you could definitely read it without having read the main Click series), while also tying back into the Click books in really fun ways! Olive makes some really satisfying brief appearances in this story, bringing love and compassion wherever she goes and just making everyone around her feel so much better. (Can we all just agree that we need to strive to be more like Olive?) Even her beloved aunt Molly has a brief speaking role in the story as well! And Natasha, who makes her debut in Clash, also has a pretty important role to play here, although it doesn't spoil the events of Clash, which is really nice. (But if you are trying to isolate the exact right order, I think this book comes between the events of Clash and Crunch—which is also true for its release date!)
I do want to just emphasize how layered and delightful this story is! The plot sometimes veers into a slightly overcomplicated place—there are a lot of details about the capital-S Situation and Beth and Chanda's attempts to resolve it—but it's never confusing, and it never distracts from the overall message of the story. And I do appreciate a story that has a lot going on, rather than not enough—there's always something to enjoy, and the world is very fleshed out! One character who deserves a moment in the spotlight is Lisa, Beth's wise, selfless, and funny older sister who mentors our two protagonists in meaningful ways throughout the story. And that also reminds me, this story is so quietly diverse and inclusive in countless different ways, which is amazing to see. One last quick random note: The ending of the book is absolutely amazing! It ties up virtually all of the loose threads (beyond one that I think will continue into the sequel), and it is filled with so much sweetness and ends the story on a great note.
OK, that's a lot of talking from me, but I do have one last thing to say—I love the art of this book! Kristina Luu's art style is very different from Kayla Miller's—it's less realistic and more zany and expressive, giving this book a different feel while still grounding it with the same kid appeal that the main series possesses. And the color by Damali Beatty is amazing as well—it's vibrant and always-stylish, bringing things like the outfits and Ms. Langford's glamorous home to life! And Luu's panel layouts are wonderful, with some amazing full-page spreads full of details to pore over, and a careful use of overexaggerated drawings to bring specific emotions to life.
I cannot believe this series keeps getting better and better, but it really does, and Besties: Work It Out is evidence of that! This book has a surprisingly original theme, pitch-perfect plotting full of adventures and thoughtfulness, and two delightful protagonists who make some pretty major mistakes but grow (and remain awesome!) throughout the story. And with an art style that brings the story to life in a uniquely different way from the main series, this book stands out from the Click series while keeping the wisdom and the fun that the main series always brings to the table!
My rating is: Really good!
My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 2!