Reviews /

Remarkably Ruby

Authored by Terri Libenson
Illustrated by Terri Libenson
Published by Balzer and Bray - an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers

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Remarkably Ruby is the 6th book in the popular ‘Emmie and Friends’ series. This book switches between the narratives of Ruby and Mia, two ‘total opposites’ at Middle School, who used to be friends and have now grown apart. Being a mixture of a graphic novel format and illustrated chapters, this would be an accessible and welcome addition to any reading corner or library. Its style is humorous, creative and colloquial – I was reminded of Charles Schulz’s ‘Peanuts’ cartoons and the wonderful graphic novels of Raina Telgemeier. This book can be read as a standalone, yet having the whole series to hand would be ideal to build reading stamina and encourage reading for pleasure.

Both main characters are relatable, natural and well-drawn. Ruby is bigger and taller than her friends, artistic and awkward in social encounters, preferring plants to people. In the classroom, she likes to be ‘farther from people and closer to the pencil sharpener’. I feel that many young people would relate to Ruby. She also has Irritable Bowel Syndrome, which is exacerbated by anxiety. This book shows how she learns to live with her condition, using art and gardening to soothe and calm herself. Mia is popular, ambitious and driven in her quest to be class president – perhaps a little too driven at times, at the expense of others’ feelings. Again, we have probably all known or taught a Mia at school!

Mia’s narrative is told through a graphic novel format. In my view, these are the stronger sections of the book because readers can take cues from backgrounds, positionings, sounds and colours. There is a little too much white background on some of Ruby’s pages for me, although her narrative is well written. A strength of the book is the representation of ideas and emotions through illustration, poetry, labelling, speech balloons and movement lines. In particular, I like how Terri Libenson shows social awkwardness with positioning and alternative imaginings. Vocabulary is rich (‘frailty, eclectic, configuration, personification’ as examples) and imagery is strong.

Having read the other books in this series, I can see a positive, confident progression in the author’s work. The 6th book seems to have fewer words and better spacing, which allows the reader to add their own interpretations. Connections between characters are now even more assured. This book is meant for pre-teen and teenage readers growing a little older and feeling that their interests and friendships are changing – perhaps they don’t know how they fit in anymore.  Above all, this is a story about becoming lost and finding your true self again, learning from mistakes and looking to the future with pride.