MMGM and #IMWAYR: The Leak, written by Kate Reed Petty and illustrated by Andrea Bell
Hello everyone! I'm excited to be reviewing a graphic novel I've heard a lot about: The Leak, written by Kate Reed Petty and illustrated by Andrea Bell!
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Let's start off with the publisher's description of this book:
In this compelling middle-grade graphic novel, Ruth, a young journalist, is determined to uncover a secret that threatens her town.
Ruth Keller is brash and precocious; she argues with her dentist, her parents, and her teachers. So, when she discovers a strange black slime in the man-made lake of her suburban neighborhood, she decides to investigate. Fortified by the encouragement of those around her, Ruth seeks the truth at all costs, even if it means taking on the rich local country club owner, who she believes is responsible for the pollution.
Between the teasing of former friends, and a sudden viral spotlight, Ruth discovers how difficult it is for a journalist to take a stand for what's right in the face of critique and controversy. From writer Kate Reed Petty and illustrator Andrea Bell comes a story about corruption, pollution, and freedom of the press, and the young journalist at the center of it all.
I've seen several bloggers mention this book in the last year or so, and I grabbed it off my shelf looking for a quick, engaging read with a little bit of depth (but not too much, since I needed a break after Salt to the Sea!). I'm glad to say that this book, while flawed, ultimately delivered on its promises, and I am very excited to talk about it today!
This is a story of how kids can effect real change in the world, and I wish I had read it a few weeks ago when I was putting together a list of books like this, because it pairs excellently with other graphic novels like Go with the Flow, Act, and Brave. But also, I think this story is meaningful because it is a story of the value of kids who are impulsive and passionate. Our protagonist, Ruth, pours her heart into everything she does, and she doesn't hesitate to go to bat if someone disagrees with her. She runs an outspoken newsletter delightfully called the CoolsLetter and says exactly what comes to mind. In our world, we often frown upon kids who aren't demure, who don't "know their place in the world"—and we write off kids in general as "too young to know anything," a fact Ruth knows all too well. What I love about The Leak is that Ruth certainly has to learn how to channel her energy more effectively, without making too many enemies or accusing others without evidence. But Ruth's passion about issues in her community, her bravery in saying what needs to be said, and her unwavering focus in getting the job done are all recognized as strengths, not weaknesses—these traits are exactly why Ruth is the perfect girl for the job, and we could all learn a thing or two from her about caring and doing.
Now, Ruth definitely isn't alone in her fight to protect and uplift her community. She has some wonderfully supportive adults on her side, like Sara (pronounced sah-ra), her brother's girlfriend and a journalist herself, or Ms. Freeman, her spirited science teacher. These adults teach Ruth real-world skills related to science and journalism, like reporting without biases, finding evidence for everything, and admitting when you're wrong—all of these are perhaps easier said than done, but they're definitely easier to do when you have a support system like Ruth does. I love this little mini-crash course of journalism tucked into the story, but another real-world element of the story I want to highlight is the inclusion of info about the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, which Ruth learns about and which I am ashamed to say I knew basically nothing about until reading this book, even though it was obviously huge news. The Leak points out that pollution isn't just something happening to other people, it's happening to us too, and these real-world connections helped make that clear.
So we've got a bright young protagonist and some great adults behind her—now let's discuss all the other wonderful things about The Leak, which I'll go through in a bit of a speed round. The mystery of exactly what is going on with Ruth's local lake is intriguingly written, with a wide cast of players and a few small twists and turns that are very cleverly executed (I didn't see them coming, even though they were very well-foreshadowed!). I zipped through this book in an evening, and the fast-paced nature of its plot is a big part of why! I also enjoyed the development of Ruth's relationship with a boy named Jonathan—their banter and collaboration on Ruth's mission is entertaining, and their emotional connection grows throughout the story as well, albeit not without some rocky points (and maybe some romantic tension too). One last plus of this story is the amazing artwork by Andrea Bell, which I was really impressed by. The panels are clear and easy to parse, and the varied, vivid colors and detailed panels reminded me a little bit of Brenna Thummler's art in Sheets, which is definitely a compliment! I also love the inclusion of a few wordless panels that are more effective at capturing the characters' emotions than words would be—I find that art in MG graphic novels tends to focus on function over beauty, so it was nice to see a few panels that fit in yet also stand out.
Now, I am a bit of a fun-killer, so I do want to take a moment to discuss this book's flaws. I don't think any of them are deal-breakers, but I will say that there are more of them than I realized as I was reading it! For one thing, I felt like Ruth's parents functioned in basically whatever way worked best for the plot—sometimes they were kind and supportive, and sometimes they were almost toxically discouraging, with no real reasons for why they changed behaviors so much. Also, one major plot point is Ruth's relationship with a group of "mean girls," but I didn't feel like the book adequately explained why headstrong, brave Ruth felt like she had to stick around a group of kids that made her feel bad. A few small plot lines also don't get any resolution at the end of the story, which is basically a surefire way to drive me a little crazy. And one other thing—this book has a vulgar joke that I don't think is necessarily horrific for MG readers to see (let's be real, they know way more than adults want them to), but that I do think is not at all necessary to the plot and will limit readership of this book for no reason. (If you head to Amazon, you can see a LOT of one-star reviews regarding this joke alone—please note that the reviews do explain the joke's content.)
Despite its flaws, though, there's a lot going for The Leak. This book features a bold, brave protagonist who young readers will relate to and root for, and it has a keen sense of the ways in which adults invalidate children's experiences, rather than learning from them instead. Most importantly, though, this book shows young readers that they all have a part in building the world they live in, and speaking the truth through means like journalism is an essential first step.
My rating is: Pretty good!
My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 3!