Wednesday 12 January 2022


A-Okay by Jarrad Greene (Harper Alley) PB RRP $16.99 ISBN 9780063032842

Reviewed by Nikki M Heath

There’s no doubt Year 8 can be a challenge, as discovered by Jay in this middle-school graphic novel. Jay struggles with the onset of acne marring his previously perfect skin, changing friendship dynamics, and expectations of romance. It’s a hard year for him, and the reader can’t wait to discover whether everything will turn out to be a-okay in the end.

This book is not attempting subtlety. Its themes of self-image, navigating social dynamics and discovering asexuality are upfront and addressed directly. In doing so, though, it avoids feeling didactic through relatable characters, empathy, and humour. The book has its fair share of cringeworthy moments, unavoidable in this type of story, but these are handled gently. Jay finds support from both expected (family) and unexpected (random classmates) sources, giving the story an underlying thread of hope in the face of mounting difficulty.

A main plot line is Jay’s distress at his acne and the treatment he seeks and receives for it. There is great value in how well the book demonstrates the process of acne treatment (noting however that this is in a US setting so there may be differences), including finding the right doctor, working through side effects, and managing expectations. However, the book also tries to end on a note of accepting yourself for who you are - on its face these conflicts with the extensive effort Jay puts into medically treating his acne. On the other hand, perhaps there is a crucial life lesson in navigating the tension between self-acceptance and working to address areas of dissatisfaction.

The pages are full colour but not glaringly bright. Dialogue between characters is realistic, as is the internal dialogue which seamlessly conveys Jay’s thoughts, self-doubt, and second-guessing. However, there is a huge cast of characters, and even with the assistance of the illustrations, it can be difficult to keep track of who’s who - particularly on the periphery.

A-Okay is recommended by the publisher for 8- to 12-year-olds, and while there is nothing blatantly inappropriate for the younger end of that range, some of the themes and content will fly right over the heads of most 8-year-olds and probably some 9-year-olds. It definitely has a more 10–13-year-old feel, and will be wonderful preparation for those finishing primary school and Year 7s entering middle/high school.

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