I have to be honest…I didn’t love NEWSPRINTS right away. After my initial reading of it I felt lukewarm about it, but upon a second read and some further contemplation I liked it more and more. I also realized that because I was reading an advanced reading copy that was mainly in black and white that I didn’t experience the full impact of NEWSPRINTS and I was actually confused at times in my reading because some of the action was hard to follow without the support of color; the final published graphic novel is in full color.
One of the primary elements that I enjoy about NEWSPRINTS is the strong female protagonist portrayed in Blue, the main character. Blue is an orphan who has spent the last several years posing as a boy in order to be a newsboy for “The Bugle,” the only paper in the city that “tells the truth.” Girls are not allowed to be newsboys, hence Blue’s need to hide her gender. She lives and works with the rest of The Bugle’s newsboy crew and is constantly nervous that her secret will be discovered.
"One of the primary elements that I enjoy about NEWSPRINTS is the strong female protagonist portrayed in Blue, the main character. "
In her wanderings around the city selling The Bugle, Blue encounters Jack, a reclusive and mysterious inventor, who quickly takes Blue under his wing as his assistant. Although Blue likes working for Jack it is obvious that he has secrets that he doesn’t plan to share with her. Blue then meets an unusual and nameless young boy, whom she christens “Crow.” Crow is enrobed in mystery and secrets, as well. He has a strong dislike and distrust of adults and he is unusually good with birds --- it’s almost as if he can communicate with them.
The backdrop of NEWSPRINTS is the fictional city of Nautilene, in the fictional country of Goswing, which is at war with a neighboring country. The setting of Nautilene is unique in that it appears to lack elements of modern technology while also possessing examples of advanced technologies. It could perhaps be described as steampunk or diesel punk. However, overall the setting feels historic, particularly in the clothing, social norms and language. A good example of the old-fashioned language is found on page 7 when Blue exclaims, “Good goose bumps!” when she is startled by Jack in their first meeting. This brings to my mind Little Orphan Annie.
This old-fashioned feel is counterbalanced by Xu’s drawing style. The influence of manga on Xu’s style is evident throughout NEWSPRINTS. However, the graphic novel is not drawn in a purely manga style. In fact, as I was reading, I thought of the Little Orphan Annie comic strip several times. The artistic style combined with the language that I referenced above definitely pays homage to this other feisty orphan girl.
Although NEWSPRINTS is definitely written for upper elementary and middle school students, it tackles some big subjects. As Goswing is a country at war, the subject of war is an obvious topic, but Xu approaches the subject in an unusual way. As The Bugle newspaper plays a significant role in the story, Xu uses that opportunity to discuss how media presents elements of war and how even The Bugle, which is considered to be the only paper in town that tells the truth, doesn’t always present the entire truth. This leads into bigger topics of truth such as whose truth is more valid and whether or not it is sometimes necessary to hide the truth for a greater good.
After finishing NEWSPRINTS for the second time I came to the conclusion that the story of Blue, Crow and the other characters that populate Nautilene is not over; it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if there was a series of graphic novels featuring Blue and the others. However, I would recommend reading NEWSPRINTS and the others that will likely follow in full color as the black and white images don’t provide the full story.
Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on March 22, 2017