Stars in Their Eyes by Jessica Walton (Introducing Teddy), illustrated by Aśka (This Is Not a Book), is a delightful, sweet graphic novel that sweeps readers up in an intense, whirlwind queer romance set at a fan convention.
Six years ago, 14-year-old Maisie had cancer and a lower-leg amputation. She hated being at the hospital, even if the nurses were nice and her mum let her visit the meerkat exhibit as much as she wanted. Now she spends a lot of her time managing pain flares and "super-inspired" people who are impressed when she does everyday things like swimming. Maisie is about to attend her first fancon with her mum and is pumped to meet Kara Bufano, an actress from her favorite TV show. Like Maisie, Kara had a lower-leg amputation, and seeing an amputee play an amputee on-screen has changed Maisie's life--it's even helped her stop hating herself.
At the convention, Maisie meets 15-year-old Ollie, a cute nonbinary volunteer, who also attends Kara's panel. When it's announced that Kara is sick, a devastated Maisie takes a timeout in one of the convention's "couch corners." Ollie tags along, and the pair quickly become "comfy" with one another. Maisie knows she'll have to leave Ollie soon, but how do you say goodbye to someone you've formed an instant connection with after just a few hours?
This YA graphic novel is suffused with joy and features some incredible characters, including Maisie's mum, Jo, and Ollie's dad, Joe. As embarrassing as Maisie thinks her mum is, she's Maisie's champion, as when she volunteers to make cards to tell nondisabled people to Google "Stella Young and Inspiration Porn" before they open their mouths. Walton adeptly uses their lived experiences as a disabled, bisexual, nonbinary person to explore queerness, disability, and anxiety. Walton shows the issues some disabled people regularly face through Maisie's inaccessible hotel bathroom, phantom limb pain, and "my-body-isn't-my-body"-fueled panic attacks. They also share with readers the joys of seeing oneself in media and finding one's community.
Aśka's artwork expresses Walton's text with accuracy and breadth, while adding to the humor and joy with bright colors and visual insider jokes ("the smuggler" looks an awful lot like Han Solo). Aśka places smaller panels over full-page art, presents spreads from a bird's-eye view, and creates full-page bleeds for pivotal scenes, all matching with the text to depict the exhausting yet exciting day. Winsome art combined with Walton's joyful, charming story creates a celebration of identity, community, and love. --Lana Barnes, freelance reviewer and proofreader
Shelf Talker: Fourteen-year-old disabled, bisexual Maisie meets and falls into intense like with 15-year-old nonbinary Ollie in this joyful, charming graphic novel set at a fan convention.