Slapped by Adam Smith

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson. Candlewick Press, 2017. 9780763687892.

After watching humans for decades, the aliens have landed. The Earth is now part of the Interspecies Co-Prosperity Alliance, trading the energy being harvested by the vuuv for advanced technology to solve the world’s problems. But the technology went to Earth’s big corporations, so you can only get it if you can afford it. Earth currencies are worth almost nothing in vuuv money, so only the privileged few  can have their diseases cured and live in beautiful floating cities.

Adam’s family is broke. His mom’s old job is done by a vuuv computer program and she’s spending every day looking for work. Even a job at a soup kiosk at the mall has an applicant line around the block, so they have to rent part of their house out to another family. Adam falls for the family’s daughter, Chloe, and they decide to make money from the vuuv by becoming stars in a 1950s-style dating reality show. They strap on sensors and look at sunsets together while the vuuv watch. (The vuuv don’t reproduce the same way humans do so it all seems exotic.) But the love and the money don’t last.

This book is not subtle: it’s about colonization and economic exploitation. The ideas in it would only be new and mind-blowing to young people. But the family’s financial hardships and indignities pile up gradually, building a claustrophobic feeling as the family loses the hope of making their own way out of poverty even as Adam refuses to compromise himself.

Last But Not You Know

The Penderwicks At Last by Jeanne Birdsall. Knopf Books for Young Readers, 2018. 9780385755665. 304pp.

When I’m not reading comics, I favor dark mysteries, science fiction on an epic scale, and heroic fantasy so violent that I can’t recommend it to many. And when I’m looking for books that meet these tastes, I seek out recommendations from folks who read widely in these genres. (“I read 300 fantasy novels a year and this was the best.”) But when I’m looking for books outside them, I want to find the books people read kind of in spite of how they can be easily described. (“I don’t like literary fiction, but I couldn’t put this down.”)

Well, I don’t read many kids chapter books, or books that paint a rosy picture of family life and childhood. But this is one of those, and it’s the book I most anticipated reading this year. It’s  the fifth book in the Penderwicks series, so minor spoilers ahead. Take it from an atypical recommender — start at the beginning and don’t stop until you’ve read them all.

This one focuses on Lydia, the youngest Penderwick sister. Her oldest sister Rosalind is getting married, and decides to have the ceremony at Arundel, the setting for the first book (where the four original Penderwick girls met now honorary Penderwick Jeffrey, who lived there with his mother, Mrs. Tifton, and her horrid then current husband). (Sorry for the long sentence. There’s just so much context here.) Lydia heads to Arundel early with Batty (now a young adult, still a singer), to start cleaning the place, and soon Jane (waitressing while working on her books) arrives to start making the dresses. It’s a great excuse to get everyone together, and to see them through young Lydia’s eyes as she explores Arundel (and the stories she’s heard about it) with her new friend, Alice. There’s lots in here about dealing with the pair’s annoying beloved older brothers, plus Mrs. Tifton is around, still intimidating and unpleasant to kids, still worried that her beloved Jeffrey (who now owns Arundel) is going to get sucked into marrying one of the Penderwicks.

This book contains more amazing dogs than have ever existed in my cat-centric world, plus one cool sheep. Give it to everyone you know, even the cat people.

A girl a girl a girl

Pemmican Wars (A Girl Called Echo Volume 1) by Katherena Vermette, Scott B. Henderson, and Donovan Yuciuk. Highwater Press, 2018. 9781553796787. 47pp.

Echo is a thirteen-year-old Métis girl living in a group home and attending a new school. In her history class she falls asleep and finds herself having a realistic dream about being in the North-Westernern Territory in 1814 and witnessing a buffalo hunt. The next day she falls asleep at home, and when she again finds herself in 1814 it’s clear she’s not dreaming — which gives her a chance to make a friend and learn about her people firsthand.

I know this sounds a little like an After School Special, but the book doesn’t overuse words, is well written, and both Henderson’s art and Yaciuk’s colors are top notch. There’s more to love here including a teacher who prefers they / them pronouns and a difficult conversation between Echo and her mom. A timeline of the Pemmican Wars, a recipe for pemmican, and a few verses by Pierre Falcon at the back make this a great title for libraries. (The next book is due out in September.)

I know this isn’t cheap, but this is exactly the type of high quality, small press graphic novel that deserve librarians’ professional support.

When You Run to the Rock for Rescue

Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice from My Bipolar Life by Ellen Forney. Fantagraphics, 2018. 9781683961017.

Gene: Ellen Forney’s Rock Steady, which is a follow up to…
Sarah: Marbles.
G: But this graphic novel is more… advice-y?
S: Yeah. So Marbles was her autobiography about how she figured out she had bipolar. This, years later, is about how she has managed her bipolar. It tells how she has gotten her shit together and how she hopes you can get your shit together, too. It’s based on a lot of work she’s done, and it’s also based on a lot of success that she’s had.
G: It has are other options that she hasn’t explored personally, too, but she’s really clear about what specifically works for her.
S: And she interviews people. I really liked that she interviewed people from a Somali-American health project about how a person’s background and community can really affect what kind of help it feels like you’re allowed to ask for.
G: It was interesting, because it’s local, too, and we know what the Somali health project is because we live in Seattle. I assume that’s not a unique thing, but it’s our thing.
I don’t know exactly how to start talking about this book. I know people who have bipolar disorder, I’ve talked to them about it, a lot of this rings true for me. The thing that I related most to was some of the self-care stuff in the book, which I do when traveling.
S: Yeah.
G: Specifically for my fear of flying, which I manage with a lot of breathing, recognizing when my body is ramping up, and I’d never thought that it’s also a way someone might recognize that they’re heading into a manic episode or a depressive episode, and how much other people have to watch themselves.
The breathing exercises recommended for them were the same as mine, plus just taking time for yourself — it all seems really generally applicable to everybody who has something that troubles them, who has to figure out how to deal with their bodies.
S: Yeah. She talks about the percentage of the population that has bipolar, and it’s not a huge number, but I feel like not only do you want to have this book available for people with bipolar, there’s a lot of overlap with other illnesses and there’s a lot of advice here that’s going to work for people with a variety of issues. You can pick and choose what’s useful to you. There are some things that are much more important for people with bipolar. The chapter on sleep and insomnia is a big issue for her, but I know tons of people who have that problem for other reasons. I think her advice could work for them, too.
G: The insomnia stuff was great. No screen time near bedtime, have a routine…
S: …to let your body know it’s time to chill.
G: She gives a sense that things might change for you, and that you might have to readjust even after something works for a while. Which I’ve had to do around my sleep schedule — the same things don’t always work for me. And that feeds into my fear of flying and my jet lag. When I’m on the road, when I’m doing speaking gigs, it can be just go go go. I have to recognize that I need to take time for myself, that I need to make sure I get enough sleep, otherwise I’m hosed.
S: She talks about finding your warning signs, about red flags — when you know the shit is going down — but also about red flagpoles, which are the circumstances that often lead to your red flags, the things in your life like travel, a big change, or a loss.
G: Reading about seasons as a flagpole, I realized I’ve heard of that before. But being on the outside of it, I don’t get it, so having that reiterated to me was good.
S: And she’s not saying that it’s definitely going to happen, she’s not saying you’re doomed in this circumstance or that, she talks about it in terms of if you know that’s coming up, do all that you can to buffer yourself. You could apply that to your normal life stresses. If you know that going to visit your parents is hard on you, why don’t you make sure that you’re eating a balanced diet before you go so that you’re not all jacked up on sugar. The equivalent of that, but for bipolar.
I’ve got to say, the other thing I really like about this is that there are lots of books on how to manage all sorts of different conditions that are written by doctors, that are written by people with backgrounds in medicine and pharmacology, and they all have good tips, they all know the symptoms and how to manage them, but they haven’t lived it, so they can’t talk to you like a peer would. Because Forney is not only talking about how to deal with medicine, what pills you need to take, etc, she’s also talking about how to make sure you don’t forget to take it, here’s how you take it when you go on the road. She gets into… I think this was in Marbles, too… when you get a diagnosis like this, especially a diagnosis that kinda changes how you can live your life, and changes it when you’re fairly young, that’s a big psychological blow. I didn’t anticipate my life was going to be like this. I didn’t think that I was going to be limited in this way. It can be really hard to take.
G: For some people it’s that the whole this isn’t fair thing. Other people don’t need to worry about this.
S: That’s really baked into the whole book, I really appreciate that.
G: Whereas I liked the pictures.
S: Yeah, the pictures are so good, too.
G: I like the little personal anecdotes, I like the way the pages are laid out, almost like slides for a meeting, an image for each idea. Every page feels very organic, the way the information is packaged. Sometimes there’s a little doodle, sometimes more than a doodle.
S: She’ll go from a cartooney expression to show someone feeling emotions, then switch to more realistic drawings to talk about actual events in her life. She has these great, funny, entertaining ways of talking about… on this page on the importance of having lots of coping tools she has a drawing of a utility belt!
G: Like Batman’s utility belt, but featuring pill dispensers, red alert flags, mood trackers, and compressed sunlight. And a grappling hook, because everyone needs a grappling hook. And tissues.
S: Oh, man, that page on how to cry in public! I think that’s applicable to everybody, I think we need to print that out and have it available in a lot of places.
G: I did that the other day. I can’t remember why.
S: The whole thing is put together in the pattern of an acronym. Other books have acronyms like SMART, but hers is SMEDMERTS! Which she admits is long and unwieldy, but she draws a mascot, a little pig/gremlin creature.
G: It looks like something Elise Gravel might draw.
S: It’s a way to remember the tools you can use to stay Rock Steady. And the book has an index, so you can find what you need when you need it.

Crimes Against Fashion

The Fashion Committee: A Novel of Art, Crime and Applied Design by Susan Juby. Viking, 2017. 9780451468789.

The exclusive private arts high school in town has a competition for admission and one year’s tuition, and this year’s theme is fashion. Charlie Dean is utterly obsessed, knows all the legendary designers, and creates all her own clothes. John Thomas-Smith thinks fashion is moronic, but there’s no other way he can afford to attend the school to study metalwork. So the race is on to create an original look for a juried fashion show.

This book could have just been a silly competition story and I would have loved it, but it was a lot more. The chapters alternate between Charlie’s and John’s voices. Charlie’s difficult background slowly emerges from her pontificating about style and her design heroes. You can see what a lifeline this scholarship would be for her. John’s decision to join the competition shocks his girlfriend and best friend, which makes John even more determined. It also gradually opens his eyes to how much they want him to be stuck in the same town in the same way they are. John begins to see that fashion can have a positive effect and decides to design clothes for a bullied foster kid. Charlie starts to understand that maybe her life shouldn’t be on hold because of her father’s addiction.

I have no idea how I will booktalk this, but I know I have to share this book.

Squinting Towards Gibraltar

An Eternity in Tangiers by Faustin Titi and Eyoum Nganguè. Translated by André Naffis-Sahely. Phoneme Media, 2017. 9781939419798. 47pp plus an afterward.

Nganguè is a Camaroonian journalist living in Paris. Titi is an Ivorian artist living in Abidjan. Together they have created a short, compelling, beautifully drawn graphic novel about a young man from a fictional African city on the Atlantic coast.

Gawa’s family practically bankrupted itself to purchase the influence of a local bigshot who promised to get Gawa to Europe. The young man leaves behind his fiancée and his mother to be taken north, across drier and drier lands, before being abandoned in the desert with little water and told to walk. They are delivered to Morocco where, despite warnings, they’re taken advantage of again in their desire to cross into Spain. He’s stuck in Tangiers, where his legal attempts to leave Africa are denied and his illegal attempts are unsuccessful. The only choice he’s offered is to sell his body. Tangiers is his prison.

I love everything about this book. It’s so uninflected, it leaves all of the feeling up to the reader, whether a moment shows would-be migrants drowning or a memory of student protestors being beaten and raped back in Gawa’s hometown. It’s simple, straightforward, and amazing.