Garvey's Choice the Graphic Novel

writ­ten by Nik­ki Grimes
Word­Song, Octo­ber 2016

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Garvey’s Choice the Graphic Novel

Garvey’s father has always want­ed Gar­vey to be ath­let­ic, but Gar­vey is inter­est­ed in astron­o­my, sci­ence fic­tion, reading—anything but sports. Feel­ing like a fail­ure, he com­forts him­self with food. Gar­vey is kind, fun­ny, smart, a loy­al friend, and he is also over­weight, teased by bul­lies, and lonely.

When his only friend encour­ages him to join the school cho­rus, Garvey’s life changes. The cho­rus finds a new soloist in Gar­vey and, through cho­rus, Gar­vey finds a way to accept him­self, and a way to final­ly reach his dis­tant father—by speak­ing the lan­guage of music instead of the lan­guage of sports.

This emo­tion­al­ly res­o­nant nov­el in verse by award-win­ning author Nik­ki Grimes cel­e­brates choos­ing to be true to yourself.

Awards and Recognition

  • School Library Jour­nal 2023 Best Book/Graphic Nov­el category


  A very good graph­ic nov­el adap­ta­tion of a well-loved Nik­ki Grimes title, Garvey’s Choice. Both words and illus­tra­tions are true to the orig­i­nal con­tent. This graph­ic nov­el will pull in some chil­dren who may be hes­i­tant to read the orig­i­nal. More than 2/3 of the Tan­ka poems in the orig­i­nal are still in this ver­sion. Noth­ing is lost in the remain­ing short poems that are true to the orig­i­nal tones of the first ver­sion. Words are well sup­port­ed by excel­lent illus­tra­tions. The illus­tra­tions are clean, unclut­tered and reflect the often seri­ous tone about the depth of pain and even­tu­al climb toward a reshap­ing of a more joy­ful iden­ti­ty of the main char­ac­ter. Col­or and facial expres­sions do a good job with the intense inter­nal con­ver­sa­tions Gar­vey has with him­self and the inter­ac­tions he has with fam­i­ly mem­bers, friends and oth­ers. (Stephanie Wolflink, Youth Ser­vices Book Review, starred review)

Grimes’ acclaimed nov­el in verse sees new life in comics for­mat. Gar­vey, an imag­i­na­tive young Black boy, loves read­ing SF and stargaz­ing, but his father would rather he play sports. Feel­ing unheard, he copes by overeat­ing and is mocked for his weight at school. But through new friend­ships and a pas­sion for music, Gar­vey forges a path to self-con­fi­dence and finds a way to con­nect with his father. Grimes’ tan­ka poems, kept most­ly intact with minor edits and some changes to their order, pair nice­ly with Taylor’s straight­for­ward illus­tra­tions, bring­ing to life Garvey’s sto­ry of new­found self-pos­ses­sion. The ener­getic illus­tra­tions play­ful­ly depict his rocky jour­ney toward a truer ver­sion of him­self, pro­vid­ing lev­i­ty at times but nev­er short­chang­ing the most poignant moments. The poem “Stars” offers a breezy por­tray­al of Garvey’s extrater­res­tri­al fan­tasies: “Stars on my ceil­ing / Wink at me when the full moon / comes for a vis­it.” In “Shad­ow,” the mag­ni­tude of his feel­ings about body image and his emo­tion­al eat­ing becomes clear, with Gar­vey loom­ing above his com­par­a­tive­ly tiny fam­i­ly: “When­ev­er I stand near that’s / how it feels. They’re all so small.” These charm­ing, reflec­tive poems are an ide­al match for Taylor’s endear­ing first graph­ic nov­el endeav­or. An adap­ta­tion that expands the world of a cap­ti­vat­ing, much-loved char­ac­ter. (Kirkus Reviews)

Gar­vey loves chess and sci­ence fic­tion, much to the dis­may of his father, who wants to play foot­ball with his son the way he did with his own father. Gar­vey feels like he’s let­ting his father down, but he can’t do any­thing about it. Nor can he help the fact that the kids in school tease him about his weight. But he has a good team on his side, includ­ing his sis­ter Ang­ie, who got the ath­let­ic abil­i­ty in the fam­i­ly, and his friend Joe. Things start to improve when Joe per­suades him to join the school cho­rus. Gar­vey makes a new friend, Man­ny, who has albinism and who helps him learn to ignore the teas­ing. And in a nice twist, music turns out to be that one spe­cial thing Gar­vey can share with his father. Grimes wrote the orig­i­nal ver­sion of Garvey’s Choice in a type of Japan­ese non-rhyming verse called tan­ka. Although she slight­ly mod­i­fied the text for this graph­ic nov­el, the effect still comes through: The sto­ry is bro­ken into bite-size pieces, each page or spread depict­ing a sin­gle moment. Taylor’s art has a min­i­mum of detail but plen­ty of emo­tion­al impact. (School Library Jour­nal)

Grimes’ award-win­ning tan­ka poem nar­ra­tive about a boy strug­gling to find a place for him­self in his fam­i­ly and the world is adapt­ed in this cap­ti­vat­ing, visu­al­ly impres­sive graph­ic, which looks at Gar­vey from a slight­ly dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive. Gar­vey knows that binge eat­ing is not a healthy solu­tion for nav­i­gat­ing the pain of feel­ing like a con­stant dis­ap­point­ment to his father who has clear expec­ta­tions about what a Black man should be, or for han­dling bul­ly­ing and iso­la­tion at school, but he doesn’t have a bet­ter ther­a­peu­tic tool. When he final­ly finds the school cho­rus, it is a rev­e­la­tion: here is a way to engage with the world, to share his gifts, to nego­ti­ate his hurt, and to maybe even relate to his father who also has a strong con­nec­tion with music. His rela­tion­ship with eat­ing changes, and he adjusts to mod­er­ate exer­cise and a more mea­sured approach to food, although (refresh­ing­ly) Gar­vey does not con­demn his ear­li­er behav­iors nor obsess over the exact extent of his weight loss. The dig­i­tal illus­tra­tions are arranged to retain the feel­ing of vignettes build­ing to a whole, using emp­ty space, page tran­si­tions, and thought­ful pan­el sizes to sup­port the struc­ture of the poems. In an author’s note, Grimes explains how some of the orig­i­nal poems, care­ful­ly writ­ten using the tra­di­tion­al tan­ka syl­la­ble count and for­mat, need­ed to be adapt­ed for a visu­al medi­um with speech bub­bles; the occa­sion­al loss of flow from the orig­i­nal is eas­i­ly com­pen­sat­ed for with the emo­tion­al­ly rich illus­tra­tions. (Bul­letin of the Cen­ter for Chil­dren’s Books)

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