Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity
Publisher: First Second
Release Date: June 2011
Price: $9.99
Creator: Dave Roman
Format: 176 pgs.; B&W; Trade Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-59643-620-6
Age Rating: 10-14
ICv2 Rating: 4 Stars out of 5

Ah, school--from the companionship of fireball matches to the anti-gravity drills, there’s nothing like it.  And that’s just what Hakata Soy wants when he leaves superheroing for Astronaut Academy.  It’s hard to leave your past behind, but hopefully when your past sends murderous robots after you your classmates will be there to help.

Roman’s off-beat school/science fiction/adventure story was originally published as the webcomic “Astronaut Elementary,” but even having been revised for print, it retains its quirky episodic quality.  The chapters unfold, each told by a different person, and the story pieces them together slowly enough that the many characters do not become confusing.  The round, cartoonish, black-and-white art is adorable almost to the point of saccharine, but Roman keeps everything from being too sweet by injecting both oddness and sincerity.  Not only is the science fiction setting odd in and of itself, but Roman also uses strangely stilted, almost old-fashioned, dialogue which only works because it is so consistent.  He is also unafraid of giving his characters real emotion.  A scene where a character reflects on the beautiful emptiness of space is quietly touching: “I don’t need companionship to feel fulfillment or comfort.  I have the warmth of a billion stars, wrapped like a blanket around me.”  Astronaut Academy won’t appeal to everyone, but for the right reader it will speak volumes about the struggles with identity and place which middle school and early high school aged kids feel so keenly.

--Snow Wildsmith: Writer and former teen librarian and ALA/YALSA committee member.