The Real Riley Mayes

The Real Riley Mayes
Age Range
Release Date
May 03, 2022
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Funny and full of heart, this debut graphic novel is a story about friendship, identity, and embracing all the parts of yourself that make you special.  
Fifth grade is just not Riley’s vibe. Everyone else is squaded up—except Riley. Her best friend moved away. All she wants to do is draw, and her grades show it.

One thing that makes her happy is her favorite comedian, Joy Powers. Riley loves to watch her old shows and has memorized her best jokes. So when the class is assigned to write letters to people they admire, of course Riley’s picking Joy Powers!

Things start to look up when a classmate, Cate, offers to help Riley with the letter, and a new kid, Aaron, actually seems to get her weird sense of humor. But when mean girl Whitney spreads a rumor about her, things begin to click into place for Riley. Her curiosity about Aaron’s two dads and her celebrity crush on Joy Powers suddenly make more sense.

Readers will respond to Riley’s journey of self-discovery and will recognize themselves in this character who is less than perfect but trying her best. And creative kids will recognize themselves in her love of art and drawing.

While often funny and light, Riley’s exploration of what it feels to be an outsider and how hard it can be to make a friend break your heart in the best way. And with all of Riley’s hijinks and missteps, this story is laugh-out-loud funny from start to finish.

Editor review

1 review
Timely graphic novel
Overall rating
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Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
Riley is in fifth grade and is having trouble making friends, now that the people she used to hang out with are gone. She is frequently in trouble in class for wearing her hat, talking loudly, or doodling instead of doing her work, and finds it somewhat difficult to connect with others. There is a new boy, Aaron, whose dads own the local comic book store, and Cate, who has interests other than just talking about crushes. Riley is also very interested in comic Jo Powers, but few of the other children know who this is. When Riley's class is assigned to write a letter to someone they find inspiring, she choses Jo Powers, but struggles with what to say. Cate offers to help, and the two start to hang out together. Cate is also friends with the other girls in the class, but they are quite mean to Riley. They call her "lesbo" and make fun of her, especially after she cuts her own hair very short. They don't want to invite her to the sleepover for all of the girls in the grade because they claim that having her there would be like having a boy there. (Riley also affects a traditionally more masculine mode of attire.) After meeting Aaron's dads, and realizing that she has a crush on Jo Powers, Riley starts to wonder if she is gay. She wants to talk to Aaron's dads, but he doesn't want anyone in their class to know about them quite yet. When she accidentally tells the class about them, Aaron is angry with her. Because her parents have promised that she can take an art class if she can stay out of trouble and keep her grades up, Riley has tried to do better at school, but when the kids in class give her a hard time, she gets into another fight. Her parents are fairly understanding (as is an older brother), and getting a letter from Powers helps her spirits as well.
Good Points
Even though Riley is having problems, she still is fairly upbeat, and the color palette reflects that with sunny yellows and blues. Her parents don't quite understand her, but try to work with her rather than punish her for things like cutting her own hair. (They offer to help trim it a bit, and put forward the opinion that it's a bit drastic, but are otherwise okay with it.) While a good number of the children in her class are mean, she does at least have support from Aaron, who gets her sense of humor, and Cate, who sticks up for her with the mean girls. Riley's questioning, and wanting to seek help from Aaron's dads, seems realistic, and the treatment she recieves at school is also, sadly, probably true to form.

The structure of the classes, lunch, and recess, as well as the interactions with classmates, all seems more appropriate to elementary school. Middle school students have their time structured differently, and interact in sneakier and more sneaky, hurtful ways.

This is a good choice for elementary schools that want to add to their collection of LGBTQIA+ titles or titles about students facing challenges with anxiety or social upheaval. Readers who have moved beyond picture books but aren't quite ready for more middle school titles will appreciate the graphic novel format. Hand to fans of Telgemaier's Drama, Scrivan's Nat Enough, and Libenson's Invisible Emmie.
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