Stepping Stones and Apple Crush are middle-grade graphic novels that follow Jen, a city girl whose parents have gotten divorced. Stepping Stones covers the immediate aftermath of Jen’s mom moving them to a farm in the country with her new boyfriend Walter. Jen has to learn how to get along with her new step-sisters, especially Andy, who is bossy and a know-it-all. The conflict between Jen, who is struggling with math, and Jen, who is using her good grades to try to be perfect for her dad, is well done and very realistic. Apple Crush finds Jen feeling more settled until Andy gets a crush on a boy and Jen has to grapple with its effects on their friendship. These are lightly veiled autobiography, with Jen being the stand in character for Lucy Knisley, who is well known for her autobiographical graphic memoirs. I liked these books and I think they deal with hard subjects like divorce and friendship conflicts in a deft and heartfelt way.
I think my main problem is the reaction I’ve had to Lucy’s mom in other books — I don’t like her and I don’t like the way she treats Lucy/Jen. In her book about pregnancy, after Lucy’s had two miscarriages, her mom starts harassing her about when she’s going to have a baby and saying things like “Are you even TRYING?!” Lucy puts an aside in the text that she forgave her mom and this was just caused by “a single-minded desire to be a grandmother.” But I think it’s really cruel to seemingly ignore your child’s obvious deep pain and grief in favor of trying to ensure you get a grandchild. And in these books, Jen’s mom seems to overlook her child’s pain in favor of getting something she wants (in this case, a boyfriend and a farm). Walter is cruel to Jen and keeps putting her down and insulting her — a child! Jen is always getting scolded for having trouble doing math at the farm stand or not sharing, and it really bothered me that she was the scapegoat kid and her mom never stood up for her. I guess that’s realistic because bullies don’t always get their comeuppance, but it did make me sad for her. The intensity of the unfairness I felt when I read them has made me feel uncertain if I’m going to reread these.
Overall these are nice books and I think enjoyable for most ages. I continue to fully enjoy and appreciate living through the middle-grade graphic novel boom period. No real warnings beyond the aforementioned emotional mistreatment of a child.