Saturday, April 8, 2017

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Thursday, July 21, 2016

Well-Meaning, But Lack of Subtlety Dampens Overall Quality

Source: Publisher Website
Stereotypical Freaks (Forever Friends #1) by Howard Shapiro. Illus by Joe Pekar (Animal Media Group, 2012, 140pp.)

Senior class misfits Tom and Dan want to participate in their school’s Battle of the Bands. Dan plays a mean bass, and Tom is a whiz on both guitar and keyboard—but two people, unfortunately, don’t a band make. They still need a drummer and at least one more guitarist if they want a chance at beating the competition. That's when Tom reaches out to Mark, a former friend and now star athlete, for his mad guitar skills. Later, they’re joined by exchange student Jacoby, who proves to be formidable on the drums. And so is born a new band, the “Stereotypical Freaks.” As the night of the competition draws close, the four boys revel in their awesome new sound—until one of them comes forward with a heartbreaking secret. Will misunderstanding and tragedy unmoor their new-found sense of comradery? Or will it bring them closer together?

Oh, where to begin? The thing I liked most about this graphic novel were the lists of suggested songs at the beginning of each chapter. Since I was reading this as a galley on my computer, I was able to go to YouTube and listen to the songs as I read, which was really a nice touch. Supporters of the We Need Diverse Books movement will also be pleased by the inclusion of minority characters as key players in the story. Mark is black and has two mothers, while Jacoby is Inuit. However, that's where my praise ends. Although it’s a nice, well-meaning story with an important message, it also tends to suffer from preachiness and lack of subtlety. When the boys are discussing possibilities for their new band name, Tom muses:

“The name should be unique to us...who we are, what we are. And when people look at us I think they see four, I guess for lack of a better word, stereotypes… We have a brainiac, a goof with zero social skills […], an African-American football star and a tiny and very shy foreign exchange student… To them, that is who we are. The truth is, we’re not the stereotypes they define us as. In a way we are freaks...because we're not who we’re perceived as.”
This is where, as a writer, I’m going to on my creativity high horse and point out that in a good story, readers should be able to pick up on themes by themselves. If a story requires direct intervention by the writer, then the story isn’t as strong as it could be. And unfortunately, I think that’s the case here. Recommended for older teens, ages 16-Up.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Adventures of a Stand-Out 21st Century Heroine

Source: Publisher Website
Faith, Vol. 1: Hollywood and Vine by Jody Houser. Illus by Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage (Valiant Comics, 2016, 112pp.)

Faith Herbert: daydreamer, pop culture geek, and plus-sized super-heroine. In a world where her superhero ex-boyfriend, Torque, makes millions with his own reality TV show, Faith quietly chooses to pay the rent as a mild-mannered entertainment blogger at Zipline. On her own time,  she takes to the skies searching for ways to help out humanity, even if it is just busting a gang of jerks trying to steal puppies from a shelter. But now someone’s kidnapping psiots, other superheroes like herself, and her determination to save them just might blow her cover.

I have to say, I was very impressed with Faith. In addition to being a real sweetie, she’s also a good role model. She knows how to stand up for herself, and seems genuinely comfortable with both her body-type and herself as a person. In other words, she’s stand-out 21st century heroine. Aside from one instance of bad language (a bad guy uses a well-known slang term for urination), there’s very little objectionable content, making this a perfect fit for teen readers, Ages 13-Up.

A Stylish, Violent, and Gorgeously Illustrated Steampunk Revenge Story

Source: Publisher Website
Monstress #1 by Marjorie Liu. Illus by Sana Takeda (Image Comics, 2015, 72pp.)
“Here’s something the poets say: there’s more hunger in the world than love.”
 In the steampunk city of Zamora, a stalemate simmers between two warring sides. Talking twin-tailed cats wander the streets, and university witches teach labs where animal-children hybrids are the focus of grotesque experiments. Against this backdrop, Maika Halfwolf, a damaged, one-arm survivor, seeks revenge on the witches who betrayed and murdered her mother...that is, if she can only avoid being consumed by her own monstrous power. Issue #1, with its gorgeous Art Nouveau illustrations and intricate world-building detail, proves to be a stunning first installment in this new graphic novel series. However, language, violent content, and innuendo limit its audience to mature readers only.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

An Interesting (But By No Means Comprehensive) Introduction to a Fascinating Crime

Source: Goodreads
Capote in Kansas: A Drawn Novel by Ande Parks. Illus by Chris Samnee (Oni Press, 2013, 128pp.)

In the winter of 1959, two convicts on parole, Perry Smith and Richard Hickock, made their way to the small town of Holcomb, Kansas, where they had heard that the prosperous Clutter clan kept a small fortune hidden in the family safe. When they discovered that this was, in fact, untrue, Smith and Hickock murdered the four resident family members and made their escape. After a massive manhunt lasting months, they were finally caught, imprisoned, and sentenced to death. They were interviewed by Truman Capote, an Alabama-born writer, before their executions in 1965. Capote in Kansas focuses solely on Capote’s journey and meditation on the crime, an investigation that what would ultimately culminate in his true crime masterpiece, In Cold Blood. While there is some foul language, no violence from the murders is shown, with the exception of the beginning scene, where the killings are enacted off-screen. An interesting (but by no means comprehensive) introduction to a fascinating crime, appropriate for older teens and adults.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Lean On Both Substance And Character

Source: Publisher Website
The Curse of Dracula by Marv Wolfman. Illus by Gene Colan and Dave Stewart (Dark Horse, 2013, 82pp.)
“The undead deserve no mercy. They’ve earned no compassion.”
Set in San Francisco, Jonathan Van Helsing, CEO of Sunlight Industries, leads a dream team of vampire hunters against Count Dracula, the historical devil who’s been slinking through the centuries using deceit and guile. Presently, the Count is investing his time in politics, lending support to Charles Waterson, a slimy senator who’s signed over his soul in exchange for a chance at the White House. While it has some potential, Curse ultimately proves to be disappointing, being lean on both substance and character. Recommended for mature readers for language, violence, and sex.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Showcases Faith's Nonconventional Nature, While Advances the Plot on Twilight

Source: Goodreads
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 8), Vol. 2: No Future For You by Brian K. Vaughan and Joss Whedon. Illus by Georges Jeanty (Dark Horse, 2008, 120pp.)
“The final triumph of the base humans over the demons. It’s your life’s goal achieved, slayer. The death of magic.”
In the first story of this volume, “No Future For You,” Giles recruits Faith on a secret mission to take out high-class Slayer, Lady Genevieve, who kills weaker Slayers for sport. Faith strikes up a surprising friendship with her intended target, but finds herself conflicted when Lady Genevieve declares her intentions to kill Buffy. She’s always felt second-best when it comes to perfect Buffy, but will she stand by and let her on-again, off-again ally be slain? “No Future For You” probes Faith’s complicated character, showcasing her non-conventional nature, while highlighting her secret desire for acceptance.

In the second story, “Anywhere But Here,” Buffy and Willow seek mystical guidance to the series’ current Big Bad, Twilight. His goal? To bring about the death of all magic. While this story definitely moves the overall plot forward, it’s somewhat confusing, in that it mentions things that make me wonder if I missed something from the first volume. Despite these shortcomings, it’s a pretty entertaining volume overall, and makes me want to move on to Volume 3.

Sunday, March 31, 2013

A Nice Opening Act To Continuing The Series

Source: Goodreads
Buffy the Vampire Slayer (Season 8), Vol. 1: The Long Way Home by Joss Whedon. Illus by Georges Jeanty (Dark Horse, 2007, 136pp.)
“The thing about changing the world...once you do it, the world’s all different.”
A lot has changed in the Buffyverse since the hit show Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended in 2003. Now, instead of there being one Chosen Slayer, there are 1,800 of them. In addition to this, wicked witch Amy has teamed up with a skinless, reanimated Warren from Season 6. Oh, and did I mention that the United States Armed Forces is out for Buffy’s head?
 

Where the TV seasons were made of 22 episodes, this graphic novel “season” is made up of eight volumes. There’s not much I can say about The Long Way Home. While not exactly emotionally engaging, it still exhibits the series’ trademark quirkiness, and acts as a nice foundation stone for continuing a much beloved series, albeit in a different genre.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Eerie, Darkly Romantic, But Flawed

Source: Goodreads
Interview with the Vampire: Claudia’s Story by Ashley Marie Witter (Yen Press, 2012, 224pp.)

When most people think back on their early childhoods, the memories they’re most likely to recall are attending preschool, going to birthday parties, and making friends. For Claudia, her first memory is of the night she was turned into a vampire. Her two guardians (the ones responsible for her transformation) are Louis and Lestat. Louis guides her towards studying the classics, enjoying music, and appreciating the beauty of the natural world. Lestat, the sleek and sophisticated alpha male of their trio, on the other hand, is more interested in exposing her to the carefree life of murder and mayhem that their dark lifestyle has to offer (in other words, he’s the “fun” parent). Because of the peculiar nature of vampire biology, Claudia cannot outgrow her childlike body, though her mind has quickly matured past the point of childish interests. She soon begins to question the oddity of her existence, and wonders: Is her little coven of three the only vampires in existence, or are there others of their kind elsewhere? Although she presses her guardians for answers, both are reluctant to explain and continue to treat her like a child rather than the young woman that she has matured into. When the truth is at last revealed to her, it’s more devastating than she expected, and puts a nearly unbearable sense of strain on their family life.

Interview with the Vampire: Claudia’s Story is a graphic novel adaptation of the 1976 novel by Anne Rice. Instead of tracing the story as originally told entirely through Louis’s POV, Claudia’s Story is seen through Claudia’s eyes, and manages to fill in the gaps of Louis’s narrative. Although it provides no surprising revelations into Claudia’s character, I have to applaud the adapter’s efforts for approaching the story from this particular angle, by highlighting Claudia’s predicament as a metaphor for teen angst and rebellion.

At times eerie, twisted, disturbing, and darkly romantic as the original novel, Claudia’s Story starts out strong, but is flawed by the change of pace at the three quarter mark. From this point to the end, the story’s pacing speeds up considerably, and inevitably causes it to lose some of its dramatic power. Fans of the Vampire Chronicles and the 1994 movie should be able to follow the action as it wraps up, but first-time readers of the story may need to consult the original source material. Recommended for mature readers for violence.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Not Terrible, But Certainly Disappointing

Source: Publisher Website
Bloody Chester by J.T. Petty. Illus by Hilary Florido (First Second, 2012, 160pp.)

Set somewhere in the Old West, Bloody Chester follows the story of Chester Kates, a ragged teenage waif who’s always falling in and out of bar fights. After one particular scrape, a man from the railroad company plucks him from the gutter, gives him clothes, a gun, and a mission: burn the neighboring town of Whale to the ground to make way for the brand new rail-line. When he reaches the town in question, however, he finds plague victims littering the streets, and a dead man with a sign around his neck that reads: Coyote Waits. Three survivors are all that remain: Caroline, a young woman whose father has fled to the hills, Father Goodnight, the ailing town priest, and Potter, his dimwitted adopted son. Despite Chester’s urgings, the three refuse to leave. Caroline is waiting for her father’s return, and the priest, who has just come down with the “heathen plague,” has quarantined himself and is determined to die alone for the betterment of mankind. As Chester continues his efforts to lead them to safety, he soon discovers the true horror of the plague’s origin.

Bloody Chester isn’t a terrible graphic novel, but when all is said and done, it’s a pretty big disappointment. Petty employs some big themes, like the corruptness of Western men and the savagery of modern progress. He even goes so far as to suggest that the “heathen plague” is brought upon Whale by moral corruption, not actual disease--which, coupled with the Old West setting, is pretty cool at first. Unfortunately, the author abandons his exploration of these “big themes” in order to pursue a confusing series of convoluted plot twists that left me thinking, “I’ve read better.” Much, much better. Recommended for Ages 16-18 for Language.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Chilly Read

Source: Product Website
The Coldest City by Antony Johnston. Illus by Sam Hart (Oni Press, 2012, 176pp.)

Bodies pile up and twists abound in The Coldest City, a complicated espionage thriller that features a gutsy female spy on a mission in West Berlin, 1989. Fans of John le Carré’s spy thrillers will definitely enjoy this dense tale of intrigue, but readers not familiar with spy jargon, or not in the mood for challenging material, may want to look elsewhere.

Recommended Only for Serious Beatle Fans

Source: Publisher Website
Babys in Black: The Story of Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and the Beatles by Arne Bellstorf (First Second, 2011, 224pp.)

Baby’s in Black is told from the point of view of Astrid Kirchherr, a German photographer who befriended the Beatles in their early years, before they hit it big. The story focuses primarily on the romance between Kirchherr and Stuart Sutcliffe, the “Fifth” Beatles member, while the band was playing in Hamburg in 1960.

I can only approach this graphic novel in review from the angle of someone who likes the music, but isn’t a serious fan. This biography showed me just how little I know about the Beatles (they had a drummer before Ringo? And—holy cow! There was a fifth Beatle?) So, yes, for someone who knows admittedly little about the band, this was completely uninteresting. All the characters look alike. We get no sense of who these people are. In the case of the “romance,” it holds you at a distance. So, while informative, I can only say that it’s completely forgettable as a piece of art. Recommended only to serious fans of the Beatles.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

A Heartbreaking Graphic Memoir/Biography

Source: Publisher Website
Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. Talbot. Illus by Bryan Talbot (Dark Horse, 2012, 96pp.)

Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes is a heartbreaking graphic memoir/biography that focuses on the lives of two women: Lucia Joyce, daughter of author James Joyce, and Mary Talbot, daughter of the Joycean scholar, James S. Atherton. With deft skill, Talbot crafts her story by drawing parallels between Lucia’s relationship with Joyce (a kindly dreamer, but ineffectual as a parent), and her relationship with her own father (a brilliant scholar, by turns loving and tyrannical). An excellent read, and highly recommended. Appropriate for both adults and teenagers.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The Girl Who Owned a City

Source: Publisher Website
The Girl Who Owned a City by Dan Jolley. Illus by Joëlle Jones (Graphic Universe, 2012, 132pp.)

Lisa Nelson and her brother Todd live in a world without adult supervisionand it’s not as fun as it might sound. A deadly virus has killed every person over the age of 12. It’s everyone for himself, pretty much. Lisa has managed to support both Todd and herself by scavenging for food, but it’s not a lifestyle that she’s very fond of. After their food supply is stolen by Tom, the neighborhood bully and his gang, Lisa decides she’s had enough. She gathers the other children in the neighborhood and forms a community
a “city,” in her mind—that will live together and share food. Lisa and her followers settle into the abandoned local high school, building defenses and hidden tunnels—and soon find themselves under attack from Tom’s army. Adapted from O.T. Nelson’s 1975 novel of the same name, this treatment of the oft-visited “kids in control” theme is fast-paced and exciting. While there is some violence, including use of guns and guard dogs, the situations aren’t too perilous. Recommended for young adults, but could be enjoyed by older elementary children as well.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Next Day

Source: Goodreads
The Next Day by Paul Peterson and Jason Gilmore. Illus by John Porcellino (Pop Sandbox Inc., 2011, 98pp.)

The Next Day is both a graphic novella and an interactive animated documentary website co-produced by the National Film Board of Canada. Both depict the suicide attempts of four individuals, and ask the question: “What if they had just waited one more day?” The purpose of both mediums is to raise awareness of suicide, and how to prevent it.

The graphic novel is little more than a comic strip montage. The four life stories of Jenn, Chantel, Ryan, and Tina—all who survived their suicide attempts—are interwoven together by similar themes and events, including sexual abuse by a relative, bipolar disorder, depression, and substance abuse—all in just 98 pages. This method, however, disturbs the flow of each individual’s story, and prevents us from getting a clear picture of each person’s situation.

The concept works better in the form of an interactive website because you actually hear the stories of these four people, rather than just reading about them. The interactive “experience” begins by showing us a house, very simply drawn, very spare in detail. There’s a front yard with shrubs, a swing set out front. Emotionally charged words appear on the screen, words like “fear,” “death,” “helpless,” etc. As you click on a word, the site takes you through an animated tour of the empty house. Hallways are lost in shadow, and poorly affixed wallpaper begins to deteriorate. While all this is going on, you hear about the lives of four different people, some who had happy childhoods, others who had miserable ones—but all of which follow the inevitable path to self-destruction.

The worsening of depression is depicted in the animation by the presence of a storm. As the interviewees speak of contemplating suicide, the storm begins: water rattles against the windows and shadows deepen. But, as the website reminds us, things won’t always be this bad. As this portion of the animation wraps up, we are shown a calm scene: water drips from the roof of the house onto the ground and onto the seat of the swing set. In the background, the four survivors deliver their closing comments on their life choices and what they are doing to deal with mental illness.

So skip the graphic novel, and go straight to the website. I guarantee the “experience” will be worthwhile. Recommended for mature readers.


Note: The website link won't show up until you scroll over the word “website.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Mean Girls

Source: Author Website

Chiggers by Hope Larson (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2008, 176pp.)

Chiggers is a tale that takes place at a summer camp. Abby, the focus of the story, is a naive, dorky kind of girl who secretly reads fantasy novels and likes to pretend that she’s an elf. Not that she would tell her friends that. That would be uncool.

Things change when a new girl, Shasta, arrives at the summer camp. The main thing that attracts Abby to Shasta is their shared love of fantasy books. In addition to this, Shasta is pretty darn neat! She’s one eighth Cherokee, has an Internet boyfriend, and was once struck by lightning! But strangely enough, Shasta is instantly reviled by Abby’s circle of friends. So who should Abby hang out with? Her old friends, or the new girl who she has more in common with?

I found this in the juvenile section at my library, and upon browsing it, was surprised to find swear words and conversations about periods. My first thought was, This needs to be in the Young Adult section, but on second thought, it’s really more of a read aimed at “tweens.” The reason for this is the subject matter. I never went to a summer camp like the one shown here, but apparently they’re breeding grounds for gossip and back-stabbing. Abby’s two friends, Beth and Zoe, are mean, petty posers who aren’t beneath putting down other people to make themselves look good. Even Shasta and Abby aren’t immune from such behavior. After having a quarrel with Abby, Shasta spitefully implies that she’s going to make a move on Teal, Abby’s crush.

Chiggers highlights the negative qualities of females (in particular, young teenage females), and reminds me of everything I hated about high school. While this behavior certainly rings true with girls this age (even among friends), it certainly doesn’t commend them to the reader. Recommended for girls ages 13-15.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Forget Diamonds - This Girl's Best Friend is a Ghost

Source: Author Website
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol (First Second, 2011, 224pp.)
 

Anya Borzakovskaya, a self-conscious teen born in Russia, finds it difficult to fit in at school in the US. Even though she’s lived in America since she was five and can speak perfect English, she still feels like an outsider and worries that her peers at school will always see her as “that girl from Russia with the unpronounceable last name.” And her well-meaning, very Russian mother certainly doesn’t help matters. Although Anya is trying to lose weight, her mother tries to feed her traditional homeland dishes (which Anya sees as greasy and fattening), and pesters her to make friends with Dima, a dorky new classmate right off the boat from the old country. The “ghost” element of this story is introduced after Anya wanders into a wooded area close to school and falls down a well. What does she find at the bottom of said well? A skeleton. And accompanying this pile of bones? A frail wisp of a ghost named Emily. She’s been trapped in the well ever since she fell down it some 90 years ago. Naturally, Emily is delighted to have company, but Anya is more interested in climbing out of the well than sticking around for small talk. When Anya is eventually rescued, Emily decides to follow her home. The two strike up a friendship—although Anya doesn’t have much of a choice in the matter, since this pesky spirit follows her everywhere. But Emily is determined to be a helpful friend.

After witnessing Anya’s hidden affections for a popular boy at school, she confesses that she herself she missed out on finding her one true love thanks to—well, being dead. After glimpsing an open page of a fashion magazine, Emily decides that the best way for a girl of the 21st century to catch a man’s eye is by dressing to impress. Although the outfits Emily choses for her are a little skimpier than Anya’s used to wearing, she finds confidence in her appearance and asks her crush out to a party. When she finds out that the boy is really a jerk, Anya leaves the party disappointed—but Emily isn’t ready to let her give up just yet. She’ll do anything to keep Anya from missing out on love, because what are friends for...right?

Although the Emily/Anya relationship ultimately dominates the plot, Brosgol is careful to make sure that her story isn’t just a ghost story, but also one about being an outsider. Although a bit whiny at first, Anya soon turns into a strong heroine who learns the importance of remaining true to your own principles. Aesthetically, the story’s art is simple but effective, with a color palette of only three colors: white, black, and purple. Although I found the choice somewhat unusual, the purplish hues help set the tone for this spooky story, and make the reading experience more enjoyable. Recommended for Ages 13-Up.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Intriguing, Informative True Detective Story

Source: Publisher Website
Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen. Illus by Jonathan Case (Dark Horse, 2011, 240pp.)

In 2001, the nearly twenty-year hunt for the “Green River Killer” ended when a specially appointed task force arrested Gary Leon Ridgway, the man responsible for murdering at least 49 women during the 1980s. He later accepted a plea deal with police in exchange for his cooperation in locating the burial sites of any undiscovered victims. One member of the task force was the author’s own father, Detective Tom Jensen, and it’s really his story that’s the focus of this graphic novel. Reminiscent of From Hell, Alan Moore’s mammoth treatise on the Ripper murders, this is a riveting, intriguing look into the world of the Green River investigation and the effect the decades-long manhunt had on the lives of the task force involved. Recommended for mature readers for content.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Gorgeous Illustrations for a Colorless Story

Source: Publisher Website
The Last Dragon by Jane Yolen. Illus by Rebecca Guay (Dark Horse, 2011, 144pp.)
 

The citizens of the Islands of May struggle for survival after they find themselves under attack by a fearsome dragon. Soon, only Lancot, a sham hero, and Tansy, an herbalist’s daughter, prove to be the only hope for defeating the beast. Although Yolen’s prose is lyrical and at times beautiful, the storyline itself proves to be a disappointing. However, the real magic lies in Guay’s gorgeous watercolor paintings. Reminiscent of Tolkien’s artwork for Lord of the Rings, they fit this fantasy perfectly and make an otherwise mediocre graphic novel worthy of the reader’s attention. Recommended for Ages 13-Up.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

A Bland Noir Knock-Off

Source: Publisher Website
Liar’s Kiss by Eric Skillman. Illus by Jhomar Soriano (Top Shelf Productions, 2011, 120pp.)

Tragedy and melodrama abound in this less than capable noir tribute. Nick Archer, the Sam Spade figure of the piece, is a shabby, wise-cracking private eye who’s been hired by a rich art gallery owner, Johnny Kincaid, to spy on his sultry, unfaithful wife, Abbey. Instantly attracted to one another, Nick and Abbey begin an affair right under Kincaid’s nose. All runs smoothly until Kincaid is found murdered, and the police decide to name Abbey as the prime suspect. As Nick struggles for clues alongside hostile police detectives, he discovers that the key to solving the crime lies in a botched burglary at Kincaid’s art gallery years ago. What could very well have been a great homage to the noir genre if handled properly is instead botched by its well-meaning author. The killer’s motivation feels a bit forced, the story itself is unremarkable, and the characters lack substance. Skillman would have done better had he tried a more satirical approach to the story, and focused more on characters than plot. A bland noir knock-off that’s good for one read, nothing more. Recommended for mature readers.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Quirky, Magical Fun

Source: Artist Website
Gingerbread Girl by Paul Tobin. Illus by Colleen Coover (Top Shelf Productions, 2011, 112pp.)

How many people would willingly describe themselves as a “tease”? Annah Billips does. She’s a sweet but fickle girl in her twenties, an American Amélie who fears commitment, has a thing for girls with afros, and likes to set up two dates when she intends on keeping only one. Why does she act the way she does? The answer is a complicated one. Like the Gingerbread Man, she constantly defies the other characters—as well as the reader—in their attempts to pin her down. Through the course of the story, a handful of her peers step forward to examine her character: her friend and part-time lover, Chili; a phony psychic she hired to help find her missing sister; even a pigeon flying over the city, just to name a few. Annah’s story is a quirky, magical portrait that’s as strange as it is delightful. Recommended for mature readers due to adult content.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

A Tale of Human Frailty

Source: Publisher Website
Lucille by Ludovic Debeurme (Top Shelf Productions, 2011, 544pp.)

Lucille, a young anorexic woman, and Arthur, the son of a disgraced sailor, fall in love and run away together to Italy. Along the way, they fall prey to fears of abandonment and insecurities that test the bonds of their relationship. Debeurme’s bare ink sketches suit the story well with their storyboard simplicity, and his examination of the characters’ past histories and motivations turn an otherwise flat storyline into a moving tale of human frailty. Recommended for an adult audience due to sexual content, language.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Very French

Source: Publisher Website
Harvey by Hervé Bouchard. Illus by Janice Nadeau (Groundwood Books, 2010, 168pp.)

Young Harvey and his brother come home after playing with the other neighborhood children to learn that their father has suffered a fatal heart attack. Harvey compares his situation to the fate of Scott Carey, the hero from his favorite film, The Incredible Shrinking Man, who begins shrinking in size after his exposure to a shower of mysterious sparkling dust. During his father’s funeral, Harvey becomes invisible. The art, with its pencil and pastel drawings, is like the story: surreal and simplistic. Most libraries seem to place this book in their juvenile section, and although the story seems to seethe with an undercurrent of psychological meaning, and to be infused with the haunting weight of grief, this reviewer doubts that American children will be able to make much sense of it. Recommended for Ages 13-Up, or for those who appreciate surrealism.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Colorful Rendition of Sherlock Holmes’s Sleuthing Debut

Source: Goodreads
A Study in Scarlet: A Sherlock Holmes Graphic Novel by Ian Edginton. Illus by I.N.J. Culbard (Sterling, 2010, 144pp.)

A man is found dead in an empty house, with a single word, “Rache”—the German word for revenge—written in blood on the wall. Edginton and Culbard produce a colorful rendition of Sherlock Holmes’s sleuthing debut that young readers will be able to both understand and enjoy. Recommended for Ages 13-Up.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Will Not Appeal To Mainstream Readers

Source: Author Website
Animal Crackers: A Gene Luen Yang Collection by Gene Luen Yang (SLG Publishing, 2010, 216pp.)
 
Yang presents a collection of interconnected stories that use food as a means to instigate the action in each piece. Unfortunately, these stories are just plain weird, not to mention more than a bit confusing. In “Gordon Yamamoto and the King of the Geeks,” young Miles is angry that his abusive father has never shown him love. The mystical energy of this emotion somehow fuses with a box of his pal Gordon’s animal crackers, resulting in a gang of terrifying animal cracker monsters that can only be defeated when Miles lets go of his long-suppressed rage. In “Loyola Chin and the San Peligran Order,” a girl meets up with Saint Danger, the mysterious and attractive leader of the San Peligran Order, a group dedicated to weeding out the stupid and the weak in order to galvanize mankind’s chances at survival against a future alien invasion.

The thread that connects these two stories takes form in two subplots. The first details Gordon’s crush on Loyola (they both attend the same high school), and a friend’s attempt to coach him by encouraging him to try acting “cooler.” The other subplot focuses on the San Peligran Order’s attempts to measure Loyola’s and Gordon’s intelligences to determine whether or not they should be eradicated. How? The Order merely dispatches a series of microscopic robots, which access the brain by crawling inside the nasal passage. It is only by reading the graphic novel’s introduction by Derek Kirk Kim that the entwining of these two stories even begins to make sense. Kim writes that here, “[Yang] engages [the reader] with everyday issues and struggles that concern all of us: forgiveness, conformity [to] social hierarchy, and tolerance.”

In the end, Loyola, Gordon, and Miles all make the right choices: Miles forgives his father for his brutality; Gordon choses to be true to himself; and Loyola, who passes the Order’s test, refuses Saint Danger’s promises of power and comfort, arguing that compassion towards the weak is greater than a human race with no weakness at all. These are nice messages, but since Yang takes the detour route to delivering them, he loses the reader halfway through.

For good measure, he also throws in a separate story (sandwiched in between the “Gordon” and “Loyola” pieces) titled “Sammy the Baker and the M.A.C,” about the consequences that occur when a baker decides to ignore his mentor’s advice about sticking to old recipes, and instead begins experimenting with his own ideas. His culinary labors produce a batch of muffins that transform into rhinos and terrorize his unsuspecting customers.

The most helpful (and welcome) of Yang’s contributions to this collection, unfortunately, is his thoughtful “making of” feature. Here, he chronicles his own struggles at breaking into the publishing market, and lays out the steps of how to create a comic for those who wish to follow in his footsteps. That said, it’s safe to say that Animal Crackers will hold no appeal to mainstream readers whatsoever. The only readers I can think of to recommend this to would be those interested in Yang’s previous (and better) work, American Born Chinese. Recommended for Ages 13-Up.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

“I find giants. I hunt giants. I kill giants.”


Source: Publisher Website
I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly. Illus by J.M. Ken Niimura (Image Comics, 2009, 184pp.)

When asked on Career Day what she has in mind for her future, tenacious student Barbara Thorson readily replies: “I already have a ‘career.’ ... I kill giants.” She knows firsthand that giants aren’t just mythical—we face them in everyday life. Unable to accept that her mother is dying of cancer, Barbara employs an elaborate fantasy world to block out reality. But although this feisty pipsqueak has the courage of ten men, life proves that some giants we face can’t be beaten, but must simply be endured. 


It’s a little difficult figuring out what’s going on during the first few chapters. The scene introducing Barbara’s family throws in too many characters at once, some that don’t reappear for the rest of the graphic novel. We don’t yet know that Barbara’s mother is bed-ridden due to the advanced state of her cancer, so we’re left to wonder if Karen, the young woman fixing dinner, is her mother or older sister, or if the entire gaggle of teenage boys playing Dungeons and Dragons are her brothers, or just her brother’s friends. Barbara is also shown throughout the graphic novel to sport either bunny ears, cat ears, bear ears, etc. Anyone familiar with anime (the drawing style of the graphic novel) will recognize that this is a frequently appearing trait among anime characters—why this occurs is anyone’s guess. Anyone not familiar with the “animal-ears” trait will surely be extremely confused. Why does Barbara have bunny ears when the rest of the characters don’t? The answer becomes clear after the story settles down and the reader becomes familiar with the storyteller’s rules: Barbara spends most of her day in a fantasy world populated with giants and fairies. Why shouldn’t she have bunny ears? It’s only after you get past this stumbling point that the reader is finally able to sit back and enjoy the story. The thought of life’s obstacles manifesting themselves as giants is really quite clever, and makes Barbara’s struggles more endearing. I Kill Giants is a whirligig of a tale, a magical story about a kooky, brazen little girl who deals with life’s tragedies the only way she knows how: by fighting them. Recommended for Ages 13-Up.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Beautiful Adaptation of Modern Classic

Source: Author Website

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451: The Authorized Adaptation by Tim Hamilton (Hill and Wang, 2009, 149pp.)

In Guy Montag’s world, firemen have always started fires, not prevented them. Books, declared illegal for the ideas they represent, are promptly destroyed whenever found. Those caught hoarding books are arrested, while their books are burned along with their houses. So what happened when one of these firemen brings a book home out of curiosity? How can he escape from an oppressive society where watching television and popping pills are the only encouraged form of entertainment? First envisioned in Bradbury’s 1953 novel, Hamilton’s adaptation brings this passionate defense of reading and ideas roaring to life. Montag’s surreal, nightmarish world emerges on the page in the form of vibrant ink drawings, with the bold, primary colors of the firemen’s infernos often clashing with the soft, sepia tones of the domestic world. Those who have trouble with Bradbury’s writing style will have no trouble getting through this beautiful adaptation. Recommended for ages 16-Up for mature themes and some violence.

Informative But Slow

Source: Goodreads

Che: A Graphic Biography by Sid Jacobson. Illus by Ernie Colón (Hill and Wang, 2009, 110pp.)

Ernesto “Che” Guevara, the infamous and elusive Communist revolutionary, was only 39 when he was executed in 1967. Bet he didn’t imagine that his memory and devotion to the cause would still be around decades later, sported on T-shirts worn by angry, rebellious teenagers. Realistic pen and ink drawings construct a surprisingly objective portrait of this controversial figure, but its saving grace is also its downfall. Jacobson and Colón leave very little feeling on the page. Facts are reported and speeches and letters quoted in a cold, clean fashion that’s reminiscent of a history textbook. Jacobson frequently goes on tangents into background information that, while important to understanding the subject, is positively painful to wade through. Although very informative, this slow-moving biography is often in danger of killing the reader’s interest in its fascinating subject. Readers should press on, however: things pick up around the middle, so finishing it becomes much easier. Although it’s not a complete bore, it sure gets close to it. Recommended for Ages 16-Up for violence.

Not As Good As "Persepolis," But Still Worth A Look

Source: Publisher Website
Chicken with Plums by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon Books, 2006, 84pp.)

The author of the popular Persepolis returns with another gem to the genre. Satrapi uses her trademark black and white drawings to construct a tragic portrait of her great uncle, Nasser Ali Khan, a famous tar player (resembles a lute) who pined away after his wife destroyed his prized instrument in a fit of rage. Although the protagonist’s story is not nearly as endearing as the one charted by Persepolis’ spunky heroine, fans of Satrapi’s earlier work will find themselves entertained nonetheless. Recommended for Ages 16-Up for language and some nudity.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

All Staggering, Moaning, and Drooling Toxic Spit, But No Bite

Source: Author Website
The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks by Max Brooks. Illus by Ibraim Roberson (Three Rivers Press, 2009, 144pp.)
 
Max Brooks, author of the popular Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, provides the text for this imaginary take on how zombies influenced the course of history. (Did you know Hadrian’s Wall was built to keep out zombies, not Scots? That Egyptians removed the brains of their dead to prevent them from rising again as zombies? That even Sir Francis Drake had an undocumented run-in with some zombies on the high seas?) Unfortunately, while Recorded Attacks gains points for creativity, it loses them for lack of substance. This graphic “novel” (if one could call it that) doesn’t really tell a story, or even provide characters for us to follow. Instead, it presents a collection of anecdotes, using realistic pencil illustrations and text boxes to provide the reader with suggestions of how and why history happened as it did if there zombies really existed. A good try, but unfortunately doesn’t play out to its full potential. Recommended for Ages 16-Up for zombie violence and some nudity.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Truly Disturbing

Source: Publisher Website
Deogratias: A Tale of Rwanda by J.P. Stassen (First Second, 2005, 80pp.)

Stassen documents the 1994 Tutsi genocide in Rwanda through the eyes of the title character, Deogratias, a member of the Hutu ethnicity. The story begins with the massacre’s aftermath: Deogratias, traumatized by the recent past, wanders from place to place like a disturbed animal, even imagining at times that he’s a dog. As the narrative progresses, the reader pieces together fragments to reveal the horrifying truth. While Stassen doesn’t show the violence as it happens, his depiction of a murdered woman towards the end of the book proves to be disturbing enough. With its vibrant colors and its gut-wrenching content, Stassen’s work will leave the reader feeling unsettled long after the story is finished. Originally published in France, Deogratias won YALSA’s Great Graphic Novel Award, and was named one of ALA’s Best Book for Young Adults. A helpful introduction provides readers with a brief history of Rwanda, its colonization by the French, and the political factors that paved the road to genocide. Recommended for Ages 16-Up for language, sexual content, and violence.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Memoir of an Iranian Childhood

Source: Publisher Website

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi (Pantheon, 2004, 160pp.)

This graphic memoir documents the Iranian childhood of Marjane Satrapi, the only child of Marxist parents. Beginning with the Islamic revolution of 1979, the author uses black and white drawings in a simple comic-strip format to invoke Iran’s tumultuous history, from prehistory days, to the eventual overthrow of the Shah and the triumph of the restrictive Islamic regime. At the heart of this memoir, however, is Marjane’s beloved family. Her supportive parents, grandmother, and relatives are as endearing as the spirited, outspoken young girl who narrates their family’s story. Persepolis came to the silver screen in 2007, and was named a New York Times Notable Book. Recommended for ages 16-Up for language and violence.

Friday, May 7, 2010

An Excellent Addition to Multicultural Literature for Young Adults


Source: Publisher Website
American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang (First Second Books, 2006, 233pp.)

In a traditional Chinese fable, the Monkey King, no longer content with his lowly origins, studies Kung Fu and aspires to become a god, while the gods themselves, unhappy that an outsider has tried to emulate their glory, seek to punish him. Yang cleverly modernizes this tale by interweaving its themes of pride and disillusionment with the experiences of Jin Wang, a young Chinese boy who moves to America with his parents. Although Jin tries to fit in at his new school, he encounters xenophobic attitudes from his mostly white classmates. Like the Monkey King, no matter how much he tries to shed his Chinese identity and take on an entirely American one, he finds that his heritage is always close behind. This poignant and moving tale examines the unique experiences and troubles of duel-heritage children in America. It was the first graphic novel to win the American Library Association’s Printz Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature, and also a finalist for the National Book Award. Recommended for Ages 14-Up.

Almost as Good as the Original Classic

Source: Publisher Website
Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein: The Graphic Novel by Gary Reed. Illus by Frazer Irving (Puffin, 2005, 176pp.)

Reed and Irving deliver a clear, straightforward adaptation of Shelley’s classic novel that older children will be able to both enjoy and understand. Soft, surreal, black and white illustrations set the stage for this gripping, elegant narrative. Facial expressions are never dull, and at times border on the melodramatic. The centerpiece of this work is the Monster himself – towering and lanky with long, disproportional limbs, this creature is dark and frightening, yet expressive and laden with undeniable human thoughts and emotions. Part of the Puffin Classic Graphics series, this graphic adaptation is one that can certainly stand apart from the original. Recommended for Ages 11-15.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

To Dance!

Source: Publisher Website

To Dance: A Ballerina’s Graphic Novel by Siena Cherson Siegel. Illus by Mark Siegel (Atheneum/Richard Jackson Books, 2006, 64pp.)

Husband/wife team Siena Cherson Siegel and Mark Siegel collaborate to produce a graphic memoir of Siena’s ballet training from ages 6 to 18. Simple but effective color drawings illustrate the hard work and sacrifices required in this honest, kid-friendly memoir geared towards older children. The story of her experiences is a fine model for young girls who wish to follow—or rather, dance—in her footsteps. Recommended for Ages 9-14.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

A Fascinating, Grisly Twist on Unsolved Murders

Source: Goodreads
From Hell by Alan Moore. Illus by Eddie Campbell (1989; Top Shelf Productions, 2012, 572pp.)

Sir William Gull, Queen Victoria’s royal surgeon, is enlisted by the Crown to aid in the cover-up of a scandal that could jeopardize the public image of the Royal Family. Four prostitutes stood witness to the secret marriage of Prince Albert and his working-class sweetheart, Annie Crook, their fellow “Unfortunate.” Those four witnesses must be eliminated. Gull takes the task to heart and commits the crimes in a way that will change the face of humanity itself as it teeters on the dawn of a new century. Terrified Whitechapel citizens call him the Knife, but history will know him as Jack the Ripper. Alan Moore bases his masterful work on one of the many theories that speculate on the identity of history’s greatest unknown serial killer: what if the Ripper Killings were connected to the Royal Family? The pen and ink drawings are effective, if at times a bit crude. A helpful appendix includes author’s notes and explanations. From Hell won the Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz Awards for Best Graphic Novel, and in 2001 was made into a film of the same name, starring Johnny Depp. It’s a truly fascinating blend of freemasonry and British history, a brilliantly executed story not to be missed. Recommended for mature readers, for explicit language, violence, and sexual content.