Monday, January 1, 2024

The World Has to Know About This Yo-Yo Book

It has been over two and a half years since I reviewed a comic. Every since then, my Review Policy has warned creators not to send me their comic for review unless it was the best comic released in two and a half years. Since then I've basically retired from blogging, only popping in a few times a year. But that's going to change in 2024. Because the world has to know about so many comics, games, and more. Because the world has to know about this yo-yo book.

Cory’s dance crew is getting ready for a major competition. It’s the last one before they graduate eighth grade and go their separate ways to high schools all over New York City, so they have to make it count! The group starts to have problems as their crew captain gets increasingly intense about nailing the routine, and things go from bad to worse when Cory’s parents ground him for not taking his grades seriously. He gets stuck with a new tutor, Sunna, who he dismisses as a boring nerd… until he catches her secretly practicing cool yo-yo tricks. Cory wants to learn the art of yo-yo, and as his friendship with Sunna grows, he ends up missing practice and bailing on his crew — and they are not happy about it. With mounting pressure coming from all sides, how is Cory supposed to balance the expectations of his parents, school, dance, and his new friend?

Freestyle is a graphic novel by Gale Galligan first published by Scholastic in October 2022. I first discovered it while volunteering at my local Scholastic Book Fair. I recognized the creator as having worked on my favorite Babysitters Club adaptations and grabbed a copy for myself before the Book Fair closed. After my first readthrough I was certain. Freestyle is the best graphic novel of 2022. 

From its first pages it's easy to see just how much love, care, and raw talent Gale put into this one. One of the reasons I enjoyed their BSC outings more than others is because they made the adventures of Kristy and her friends feel a bit more like a manga. From the writing and the way characters were drawn to the way pages were layed out, Gale added a unique touch to a classic story and took that energy with them into Freestyle.

Dancing is one thing that I personally think is really hard to convey in a comic, so I'm always impressed when it's done well. Freestyle isn't just about yo-yos, it's also about dancing. Like 5% of the entire book is just double-page spreads of kids dancing and twirling yo-yos and it's beautiful every time.

Freestyle isn't just drawn well. At a whopping 272 pages, the story here is loaded with nine main characters and it really touches on some relatable themes. I remember graduated 8th grade and thinking I'd just lived through the best times of my life, crying that I might never seen some of those friends ever again. Freestyle perfectly captures that point in time.

Similarly, the relationship between Cory and Sunna really hits home what it's like to drift away from one group of friends while finding another. Friendships don't start when one person walks up to another and asks, "Do you want to be friends?" They happen suddenly and unexpectedly, and Gale really knows how to turn these enemies into best friends.

I discovered Freestyle at the Scholastic Book Fair in autumn 2022. The following Spring I was recommending it to every single kid who would listen to me. The following autumn, something strange was going on. Not only was Freestyle marked down to just $3 a year after publication, it wasn't in the same case with the other graphic novels.

You may have heard the story of Scholastic's "Share Every Story, Celebrate Every Voice" collection. while this may sound like an inclusive way of highlighting diverse stories, the truth is much darker. The collection was an attempt to separate books featuring diverse characters and/or by diverse authors. Schools had the option of choosing not to display this case or even not have it shipped to them at all. In other words, it was a way to keep the Book Fair as white and straight as possible.

The books that got included in this collection were... interesting. Yes, there were plenty that made sense. Pretty much every book brown characters on the cover were included. Of course any book with queer elements was included as well. Strangely, they also included (or, excluded, depending on how you want to look at it) books about autism, eating disorders, and even anxiety. What's that about? What's even more confusing is that some books that you'd think would be in the collection were found elsewhere? Like the Miles Morales comics. There was also a Big Nate book in the collection, while a different Big Nate book wasn't? No idea.

I'm not sure how Freestyle made its way into the collection or why it got a 75% discount. My only guess is that the author is non-binary or the characters on the cover are Asian with one wearing a hijab. That's even more confusing though because Freestyle isn't a story about growing up Asian in any way. It's about a bunch of kids who dance and play with yo-yos and some of them just so happen to be Asian.

The good news is because the heavily discounted book was off in its own weird little category, I knew exactly where to find it when giving recommendations to kids. As a result, we completely sold out of copies. Kids were jealous that they missed their chance. I grabbed some extra copies at the high school Book Fair to gift to a few budding comic creators I know.

It's a shame that Freestyle got segregated and liquidated by Scholastic. The only thing accomplished by including it in the collection is that children were denied a chance to find one of the best books I've ever read. I'm glad I was able to help at least a dozen kids discover this fantastic story. If you would like to help, click here to order a copy. Give it to a kid who loves drawing or dancing, donate it to a school or library, or just read it for yourself. It deserves better.