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Out Of Left Field

Out Of Left Field
Jonah Newman – writer and artist
Donna Oatney – colorist
$16.99 (SC) / $21.99 (HC)
Andrews McMeel Publishing

Baseball, boys, and best friends!

Out Of Left Field is the debut graphic novel by Jonah Newman. More memoir than strictly autobiographical, Newman relates his experiences navigating high school with all its sundry expectations from academia, friends – both true and pretend, and most importantly oneself. In many ways Jonah is a pretty average kid. He’s a nerd (history, especially French) with a love for fantasy movies. Think Lord of the Rings. Like many high schoolers Jonah is also socially awkward, a bit of a loner, somewhat naive, and a target of verbal abuse, often homophobic, from the baseball jocks. Jonah is also secretly gay and suddenly crushing on fellow mild mannered classmate Elliot when Elliot approaches him for a little chat after Jonah’s history presentation. Freshman Jonah’s life is about to change in unexpected ways for the rest of high school by accepting an invitation from Elliot.

The cover illustration conveys feelings of confidence and personal triumph. These characteristics are true for Jonah or rather they will be once Jonah completes the journey he’ll find himself on not long after accepting Elliot’s proposition to join him and the rest of the baseball team for practice. Newman’s interest is in recounting the twisting path his younger self took — the good and the bad — because even a good kid like Newman was can make mistakes, have missteps, and do hurtful things.

Among the good things is Jonah’s determination to become better at baseball. The efforts are admirable because of Jonah’s irrefutable clumsiness and the verbal abuse aimed at him by other players. This dedication is fueled by Coach Jackson’s encouraging and sympathetic philosophy. In spite of his loner nature he quickly although reluctantly at first becomes friends with Sophie, a girl in his class who is just as big a nerd as Jonah when it comes to fantasy movies. They bond by sharing a bag of chocolate chips, a small ritual that will have great significance for their friendship as events unfold. Romance does enter Jonah’s life in case you’re wondering. It comes out of left field (groan) and becomes a big part of Sophie and Jonah’s conversations. It also makes for a big learning experience for Jonah when he realizes relationships involve work and having a mutual understanding unlike the warm and fuzzy infatuations that had occupied his thoughts.

Newman underscores the ease and speed at which a good person’s behavior can be affected for the worse by passively going along with things we hear and see. Jonah’s mistakes can be traced back to the fateful day he started giving in to peer pressure by sitting at the jocks’ lunch table. All it took was a single joke made at the expense of Amelia, the only girl on the team. Amelia has qualities that jocks hate. She’s smart, knows her self worth, and doesn’t mince words. Jonah even begins to repress his nerdy self and before long Jonah’s good judgment is clouded by the jocks’ attitude which clears the way to do some very hurtful things to people. Coach Jackson’ continuing moral support along with empathetic words from a favorite teacher and a strong dose of Amelia’s no nonsense help Jonah to understand what is genuinely important in his life. Newman doesn’t end the story on this high note. Instead Newman shows his younger self making amends for his bad choices and coming to the mature realization that some things are simply irreparable while other relationships will thrive again.

Newman’s storytelling engaged me right at the start with his four color namesake’s first appearance and if it hadn’t been for the remnants of a benadryl haze I’d have read it in a single sitting instead of three. Out Of Left Field with its nerdy joy and affirming message of being true to yourself is a story any gay or questioning teen will benefit from reading. This is the type of affirming story teenage me desperately needed so many year ago living in a small Illinois town. While the graphic novel is aimed at young adults I think Newman’s graphic novel will appeal to readers of any age who enjoy character driven narratives, the struggles of underdogs, and budding queer romance.

Newman’s graphic novel has received critical praise from Kirkus Review, Publisher’s Weekly, Dav Pilkey of Dog Man and Captain Underpants fame, and Ngozi Ukazu, creator of the very popular Check Please! and its sequel.

Out Of Left Field was released on March 26th. Look for it at your local comic shop or bookstore. Give this ISBN 1524884847 to your bookstore to order a copy if none are available. Copies may be ordered from Bookshop.com. If all else fails, there is Amazon. This is an affiliate link while this link is not.

Please visit Newman’s site or follow on Facebook or Twitter/X.

April 8, 2024
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