Illustrator: Cynthia L Copeland
Published by Algonquin Young Readers on January 7, 2020
Genres: Middle Grade, Graphic Novel, Memoir, Historical Fiction
My content rating: Middle Grade (Some minor bullying)
A laugh-out-loud funny and empowering graphic memoir about growing up and finding your voice.
Twelve-year-old Cindy has just dipped a toe into seventh-grade drama—with its complicated friendships, bullies, and cute boys—when she earns an internship as a cub reporter at a local newspaper in the early 1970s. A (rare) young female reporter takes Cindy under her wing, and Cindy soon learns not only how to write a lede, but also how to respectfully question authority, how to assert herself in a world run by men, and—as the Watergate scandal unfolds—how brave reporting and writing can topple a corrupt world leader. Searching for her own scoops, Cindy doesn’t always get it right, on paper or in real life. But whether she’s writing features about ghost hunters, falling off her bicycle and into her first crush, or navigating shifting friendships, Cindy grows wiser and more confident through every awkward and hilarious mistake.
I’m guessing this graphic novel will be a big hit with middle graders! It’s perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier’s books because it’s very similar to her books in style (and some of the themes). I especially loved that Copeland included empowering messages about young girls without hitting us over the head with them. She shows the ways that she was treated unequally without having a graphic novel that constantly decries those injustices. For instance, there was the fact that her father had high expectations of her brothers but not really of her—but then he was very supportive when she took initiative and started accomplishing things on her own. The reporter that Cindy worked with was very blatantly the only woman in the news office and she wasn’t getting great assignments (at least at first)—but the book showed her taking action about that (and getting what she wanted). Cindy has a boyfriend who’s sort of insensitive to her, but we see that in the subtle way he cuts her off when she talks or how he complains when she takes time for things that are important to her—we didn’t need for her to give big speeches about how wrong he was. The situation was all given to the reader in a very subtle way, but in a way where I think kids will still come away with all the right messages (and won’t feel like they’re being preached to).
This is a very honest story, where we see some of Cindy’s failures too—many kids will be able to relate to the way Cindy caves to pressure to say something she doesn’t mean about the boy she likes or the way she fails to befriend the slightly strange girl in class until someone else does. Fractured friendships (and changing ones) are also featured—I loved seeing Cindy find her friend group in the midst of loneliness.
The graphic novel format is perfect for this story because it gives us such a fun sense of the time period (70s clothes and hair are featured prominently in fun ways) and makes the autobiographical nature of the story more accessible to middle schoolers. I also love that the author sneaks some writing lessons in (showing us examples of early articles marked up by her mentor). Some kids will skim right past those, but I suspect others will be curious as to what makes a good lede and how you shouldn’t include inconsequential details in an article.
Cub is an incredibly inspiring autobiography masquerading as a simple story of surviving middle school. Middle graders will enjoy its themes without feeling like they’re being hit over the head with moral lessons. I HIGHLY recommend this book to middle grade readers, teachers and librarians.
***Disclosure: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. No other compensation was given and all opinions are my own.***
About the Author
Cynthia L. Copeland is the New York Times bestselling author of more than 25 books, including Really Important Stuff My Dog Has Taught Me and The Diaper Diaries. Her books have sold more than a million copies in eight languages, and have been featured on Good Morning America, selected for Oprah’s “O List” in O Magazine, and recommended by Ann Landers. Ms. Copeland lives in New Hampshire with her family.