Knisley, Lucy. Stepping Stones. Random House Graphic, 2020. 224p. ISBN: 9781984896841. $12.99.
In this fictional graphic novel inspired by Knisley’s life, a young girl named Jen moves with her mom and new stepdad to upstate New York to get a taste of farm life. Jen is a creative city kid who would rather spend time drawing the local flora and fauna than tending to it. But at the insistence of her mom and stepdad, Jen finds herself caring for baby chickens and working at the family’s farmer’s market stand, in spite of her persistent anxiety about doing the math required to sling the till. As if spending her whole summer as a farm hand isn’t bad enough, worse is her new stepdad’s continual dismissals of her feelings– which only gets worse when his two daughters, Jen’s new step-sisters Andy and Reese, start spending weekends on the farm.
Andy is a smart and precocious perfectionist and Jen’s continual clashes with her make farm life even more miserable. How can Jen learn to accept her new siblings and make the best of her new life when it feels like everyone is against her?
In truth, it does read as though everyone is against Jen. The stepdad’s bullying behavior is never addressed by Jen’s mother, which felt shortsighted and could be perceived as an adult’s problematic behavior being a child’s problem to handle.
Knisley’s cartooning is, as always, a pleasure to read. Jen is highly relatable, charming, and sympathetic. The story itself felt rushed and hollow. Readers should note that all main characters are white.
-Jack Baur, Berkeley Public Library