Are You There God? It’s Me, Charlie

As The Crow Flies by Melanie Gillman. Iron Circus Comics, 2017. 9781945820069. 272pp.

“Charlie Lamonte is thirteen years old, queer, black, and questioning what was once a firm belief in God. So naturally, she’s spending a week of her summer vacation stuck at an all-white Christian youth backpacking camp.” (from the back of the book)

Sounds like the setup for a message-y, clumsy after school special -type graphic novel, but this totally isn’t. And that’s clear right away when Charlie feels weird when she’s being dropped off at camp — she talks to her parents, and her mom gives her the option of going home or calling to get picked up when she wants. It’s terrific. It’s also soon clear that God told Charlie this is where she needed to go, that Charlie is waiting for God to speak to her again, and that she’s probably going to keep waiting.

Charlie is one of six girls in her group at a girls outdoor adventure backpacking camp led by Bee and her eighteen-year-old daughter Penny (who Charlie seems immediately smitten with). They will follow the path of feminist pioneer Beatrice Tillerson on a 50-mile hike to the women-only shrine she and others created. Once there they will hold some sort of mysterious, secret women’s ceremony that which involves purification “and whitening our souls.” That stops Charlie cold. But (minor spoiler) don’t worry, she talks about it and there isn’t a big come to Jesus moment. The resolution is quiet.

The rest of the book felt like hiking with people I don’t know, and I totally sympathized with Charlie. This would be a nightmare for me: difficult, uncomfortable, moving toward an uncertain goal I’m not sure I even want to reach. But there might also be cool moments: connecting with new people, helping each other toward that common goal, and the overwhelming beauty of nature (and Gillman’s beautiful colored pencil drawings).

Note: This book is certified good by Gene’s wife, Silver, who also enjoyed it.

Sole Survivors

Final Girls by Riley Sager. Random House, 2017. 9781101985380. 339 pages.

Guest review by Murphy’s Mom

Quincy Carpenter trusts almost no one, and why should she? Ten years ago, she was the lone survivor of a brutal massacre during a weekend camping trip with five college friends. (A patient from the nearby insane asylum had escaped and all hell broke loose.) Quinn was saved by Sheriff Detective Franklin Cooper (Coop) and she has since felt extremely indebted to him. Quinn’s faith in Coop does put stress on her relationship with her almost-fiancé, Jeff, because he is the only other person Quincy can totally trust.

There are two other so-called “final girls” who also survived nightmarish massacres, Samantha and Lisa. Because a tabloid television show wanted the three to talk about their experiences, they shared email addresses. Through the years, Lisa and Quincy have grown closer through email. So when Lisa sends a frantic email to Quincy hours before her alleged suicide, Quincy is freaked out

Shortly after Lisa’s death, Samantha shows up on Quinn’s doorstep, and that’s when things get really weird. Quinn and Jeff both have their suspicions about Sam and her motives because she has kept off the grid. Is Sam really there to be friends with Quinn because of their horrific pasts? Or does she have other motives?

This is a terrifying story that moves between the present and the bloody weekend massacre ten years ago. This is one of those stories where you won’t know who to trust, where you will question everyone’s motives until the very last page.

Two Eyes Made Out Of Coal

Button Man: Get Harry Ex by John Wagner and Arthur Ranson. Rebellion / Riverside House, 2013. 9781781081389. Originally serialized in 2000 AD 780 – 791, 904 – 919, 2001, 1223 – 1233 in 1992, 1994, and 2001.

Harry Exton served as a SAS officer and worked as a soldier-for-hire before retiring to Essex in the early 1990s. There he is approached by a friend who tells him about “The Killing Game” in which men murder one another under the direction of “Voices.” The stakes are high but so is the pay. Harry signs up, and he wins a number of matches. But then, bristling at his fate being controlled by a man he knows nothing about, Harry tries to quit. He finds out that it’s pretty much impossible to walk away from the game.

The violence is realistically rendered and the matches feel smart, though no one is as smart as Harry. (He has a habit of killing the opposing button men when wounding them and taking a marker (a finger) would do. It comes across as not so much ruthless or heartless as practical; why face the same gunman again at some point?) The action moves from the UK to the US, and Harry goes up against fiercer and more numerous killers. And there’s a seductive redhead, a crooked politician you’ll hope gets his, and a loyal dog.

The three stories fall somewhere between Get Carter and The Killer. If you liked either I think you’ll enjoy this one.

Go West, Young Reader

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West. Hachette Books, 2016. 9780316348409.

Sarah: You sound reluctant to talk about this.
Gene: I’m so nervous! I think I told you when I was reading it that I didn’t realize how much of Lindy West’s work I had read and admired over the years. And she’s been appearing on the local KUOW radio show The Record, which I listen to regularly.
S: I’ve read her stuff in The Stranger, her stuff gets published in The New York Times
G: I used to read her movie reviews regularly, too. I remember when she exploded at Dan Savage for his treatment of overweight people in his Savage Love columns.
S: I’m sort of sorry I didn’t read that at the time. I read The Stranger on and off, but knowing Dan Savage’s personality, if he’s your boss, standing up to him — the MOST opinionated person, the most sure of himself — wow. That’s huge.
G: It was amazing. I remember reading about her engagement. About her then-fiance asking her to marry him publicly because she’d said that fat girls never get the big proposal.
S: The big, romantic gesture.
G: Yeah. That’s in the book, too. Plus I remember the story about her taking on and then meeting one of her internet trolls.
S: Yeah, it was on This American Life.
G: It’s all in here. It’s full of incredibly well-written, very funny personal essays, that start with her life as the basis for something broader.
Continue reading “Go West, Young Reader”

Marathons: Not a Spectator Sport

The Great American Foot Race: Ballyhoo for the Bunion Derby! by Andrew Speno. Calkins Creek, 2017. 9781629796024.

A book about an ultramarathon from Los Angeles to New York City in 1928 might be a hard sell for most readers, but this book packs in a huge amount of fascinating information about the race, the runners, and the issues of the time: the rise of professional sports, corporate sponsorship, the emergence of agents, the dawn of the US interstate highway system (the race was run on the newly-completed Route 66), city boosterism, ballyhoo and humbug (there was a lot of overstated publicity for the race), and even the rivalry between running and race walking. Segregation became an issue as the black runners passed through Texas and Oklahoma — some received threats as they ran. A total of 55 men finished the race. Doctors were astonished that none seemed to suffer long-term health problems. This book is the paper equivalent of those ESPN 30 for 30 documentaries that suck you in even if you had no previous interest in the topic.

Lucky Ducks

Nobody’s Duck by Mary Sullivan. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 9780544792500.

An irritated alligator sees a duck painting his toenails and reading the paper on the alligator’s lawn. When he asks whose duck he is, he says he’s nobody’s duck. So the alligator takes him all over town to find out who the duck belongs to, first to the library, then to the movie theater, and on and on. They bond.

It’s more than kinda great, and it’s all in comics format. While it has an after school special ending (which I usually don’t go for), it’s not very message-y, and it’s so genuinely, relentlessly upbeat that it works and I think everyone will love it.

Woof & Quack in Winter (Green Light Readers Level 1) by Jamie A. Swenson & Ryan Sias. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017. 9780544959026.

Quack tells Woof he’s not flying south for the winter. Woof is worried his friend will be cold. They have some fun together in the snow and then go south together, where they also have lots of fun at the beach.

This is a simple easy reader in comics format. And it’s a duck, so it will get kids ready for Howard The’s inevitable comeback.

My Friend Lucky: a love story (Ready To Read Pre-Level One) by David Milgrim. Simon Spotlight, 2017. 9781481489010.

Expressive cartoon images show the love between a boy and his dog and give kids a chance to learn a little opposing vocab. “Lucky gives.” (Lucky licking the boy.) “Lucky gets.” (The boy kissing Lucky.)

(If I wrote a book like this, the boy would be licking the dog on the second page. At which point the publisher would be like, “Next!” which I guess is why I don’t get to write books like this. Though this does give me some hope that one day I might be able to draw one if I keep it simple, because Milgrim makes it look so easy (even though I know it’s not).)

This book is just plain nice, like the hug on the cover. No ducks, sorry.

Sterile Space

Clean Room Volume 1: Immaculate Conception by Gail Simone (writer), Jon Davis-Hunt (artist), Quinton Winter & Jon Davis-Hunt (colorists). DC Comics, 2016. 9781401262754. Contains Clean Room #1 – #6. Publisher’s Rating: Suggested for Mature Readers.

At the beginning of the book, a small red-headed girl (Astrid) gets run over (twice) by a truck which might also be some kind of monster. After that she starts seeing things. Evil things.

Years later, a topless young woman, Chloe, tries to drown herself in a Florida swamp. The three brothers who live next door save her (this isn’t the only time they’ll do that). She’s seeing things, too, including her dead fiance who recently killed himself (he looks gruesome, most of his head is shot away).

Astrid grew up and founded what may be a self help cult. She wrote the book that may have led Chloe’s fiance to kill himself. Chloe wants answers, so she sets out to interview Astrid. There’s a high-tech white room in Astrid’s HQ she and Chloe go to, it’s kind of like the holodeck on ST:TNG. And there seem to be demons.

There’s lots of nudity and violence and it’s all kinda horrific and mysterious, though there’s an answer of sorts at the end. It’s a well-executed setup to a promising series that I plan to keep reading.

Since I haven’t said it yet, the colors are amazing. And man, Chloe’s neighbors are the best. I hope we get to see more of them. I hope they don’t die horribly.