Book Review: GREEN LANTERN: LEGACY, by Minh Lê and Andie Tong

“Legacy.”  This word has the power to weigh down young and old. Often attached to legacy are the expectations of those before us that we knew and love, but that may have radically different views on life and what dreams and goals are worthy pursuits.  The responsibility of carrying on a legacy not chosen by us, or harder yet, to forge a new one, can be overwhelming.

Green Lantern: Legacy by Minh Lê, illustrated by Andie Tong,  discloses from the very title that Tai Pham’s story would not be just his own, it would be laden with expectations from the past.  Lê doesn’t let readers get fully comfortable, he barely allows us to enjoy Tai and his Ba Noi’s (Vietnamese for paternal grandmother) funny banter, when BAM!, in the characteristic action-packed-fast-paced style of superhero stories, an event of vandalism takes place that offers the reader two important keys to understanding Chi Dao, Tai’s Ba Noi: she doesn’t run from a fight, and she has superhuman abilities. The pace continues to move rapidly, with a few panels slowing down the action enough to let readers learn about Tai’s personality and history, catch their breath, before rolling back into action.

Tai’s story can be considered an origins one. In the world of the Green Lanterns, there’s not just one individual charged with protecting the Earth and it’s innocents, but rather an army of Lanterns.  When one Lantern extinguishes, a successor takes their place, effectively beginning their story as a superhero. One of the pulls of Tai’s origin story is his age, he’s only thirteen when he has to step up to a responsibility that should have come later in life, making him a contemporary to his readership.  Lê develops Tai with nuance. If you’ve ever been around a 13 year old, or if you are a 13 year old, you will attest to how age appropriate Tai’s behavior, maturity, and playfulness are.

Superhero or not, Tai’s loss of his grandmother, a steady and strong presence in his daily life; well known and liked billionaire, Xander Griffin, taking an interest in Tai; and having his friends, Serena and Tommy, prove their loyalty by questioning his decisions, are all turning points in Tai’s already complicated Green-Lantern-legacy situation. Readers will find a mirror in Tai’s handling, and sometimes mishandling, of these events. Meaningful conversations about what “having your back” really means, and the possibility of readers redefining friendship and what it means to be a friend, will be made possible thanks to Lê’s care in showing rather than telling, through the interactions and actions of Tai and his friends, what healthy friendships look like.

As a reader, when Lê’s first installment of Green Lantern was close to culmination, I was caught up in the action, the battle, the outcome, reading as fast as it was unfolding, when Tai made me halt mid page turn, as he voices the realization of the gifts legacy brings. I had to shake my head to try and clear it. It felt like I had been driving over the speed limit and came to a sudden, immediate stop. Lê offers readers the opportunity to redefine the power of legacy, and I had no other option but to pause and let it sink in.  

For the past few years the word diversity has been flung so often in the world I live in (education) and the world I frequent (publishing) that it seems to echo indefinitely in the social media universe, in educator conferences and publishing marketing campaigns, but the TRUTH is in the numbers: in 2018 only 23% of Kid Lit books published included diverse characters.* I like to think that Lê’s legacy with Green Lantern, as well as with his picture book Drawn Together, illustrated by Dan Santat, is forging a diverse book world where our children of color and marginalized communities witness that their stories, their culture, their diversity is valued because they frequently see themselves on the cover of books and in stories that are loved and shared by all. Lê’s Green Lantern offers diversity in so many forms. It’s a model for a true diversity trend that will be worthy of being read by all our children: 

  • #OwnVoices author and illustrator 
  • a superhero that is a person of color from a marginalized community 
  • set in a diverse neighborhood portrayed as a tight-knit community 
  • a storyline that pauses to include authentic customs and language of the character’s culture 
  • engaging, action packed story  

May you enjoy Green Lantern: Legacy, and may author Minh Lê continue to enrich our children’s lives with diverse stories.

Ro Menendez is a picture book collector and teacher-librarian in Mesquite, TX.  After thirteen years in the bilingual classroom she decided to transition to the library where she could build relationships with ALL readers on her campus. She enjoys the daily adventure of helping young readers develop their reader identity by connecting them with books that speak to their hearts and sense of humor! Ro’s favorite pastimes include reading aloud to children and recommending books to anyone who asks! She is also very passionate about developing a diverse library collection where all readers learn about themselves and those around them. You can find her on Twitter at @romenendez14.

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