I think I am reading too many coming-of-age graphic novels for younger readers. Big Apple Diaries normally would have been a 5 a few months ago for me. Yet even though Alyssa Bermudez tells a unique middle school experience due to it being set in a Catholic school, the issues of growing up are the same no matter who you are. No matter if you are half Puerto Rican, Catholic, tall, short, or blond, green eyes, have your parents divorced or together, everyone deals with friendships, trying to figure out homework, find balance to have some fun, trying to find freedom from your parents, and finding a place to call your own.
Alyssa is also dealing with her years in junior high where grades now mean whether you get into your first-choice high school. And whether you stay with lifelong friends or go into the world of a school without anyone you know. Do you go to an all-girls school and have even less of a social life then now or the school all her friends are pretty much accepted to? And as the diary is set up to show you several school years day by day, we see one day that was not typical. That many books I have read recently (or at all) do not cover; did not have to cover.
September 11, 2001.
This is (unfortunately) when the coming-of-age story takes a sharp turn. Alyssa was in school the day the towers were hit. Her classroom window allowed a front row seat. Her parents should have been at work that day in downtown. Families one by one came to pick up their children. And a father bought a pair of roller skates to try and find safety (real story of Bermudez’s father).
Simple, but expressive illustrations top it all off. The color is minimal (mostly blues and tans) giving it both a modern and a classic feeling to it. The afterwards wraps up pieces of the story and photographs of the author are shown.