Cynthia L. Copeland’s new middle-grade graphic memoir, Cub, is an intimate and atmospheric coming-of-age story that follows 12-year-old Cindy as she navigators the hormonal halls of middle-school and an informal internship at a local paper. This snapshot of author Cynthia L. Copeland’s middle-school years takes place during 1972 and 1973 and is packed with recognizable cultural references. Adult readers will likely find themselves chuckling at references to sea monkeys and trolls that younger audiences may not be able to fully appreciate. However, there is plenty of charm and relatability to keep the intended audience of eight to twelve-year-old readers engaged.
Cindy is an intelligent and ambitious girl growing up in a comfortable home with a mom, dad, and two brothers. Her parents are loving but strict and they enforce traditional gender roles. However, even though she isn’t allowed to wear pants to school or make-up to dances, she is given permission to follow a local news reporter and learn the basics of reporting. Cindy is aware of gender restrictions, particularly her father’s different expectations for her and her brothers. However, she never really shares how she feels about these restrictions, leaving reader to draw their own conclusions. As a result, Copeland avoids becoming too heavy-handed while addressing inequalities.
Along with learning the basics of journalism, Cindy negotiates the drama of middle-school. When her good childhood friend is befriended by the mean/popular girls, Cindy has to find a new place to sit at lunch. The same mean girls trick her into saying something mean in front of her boyfriend and she gets dumped. Tweens will surely find the school dynamics relatable even with the distance of several decades!
Copeland is clear that this is not everyone’s experience of middle school in the early 1970s. The story takes place in a small racially homogenous town. Her family is depicted as comfortably middle-class. At twelve, Cindy has a budding understanding of gender politics but is unable to make a strong critique.
Copeland illustrated her graphic memoir with retro colors and expressive images that complement the story nicely. Cub is a fun middle-grade read that I recommend for readers ten-and-up. Some of the content may be a bit too mature for younger readers. Middle grade readers interested in journalism, graphic memoirs, and history will surely enjoy this charming story!