The smell of familiar houses

Hey, Kiddo: How I Lost My Mother, Found My Father, and Dealt With Family Addiction by Jarrett J. Krosoczka. Scholastic Graphix, 2018. 9780545902489. 310pp.

Krosoczka’s mom was the third of five kids. Her parents weren’t too happy when she got pregnant (she was pretty young), but supported her by buying her a house near them. His early memories are happy, but there’s a dark edge there — men coming over, a recurring nightmare of being surrounded by monsters. After his mother gets arrested (not for the first time), his parents move Jarrett into their house. He lives there as his mother drifts in and out of his life, seeming to get better and then relapsing. She lets him down again and again as he grows up, discovers his love of creating comics, and finally even meets his father, who didn’t want to have anything to do with him when he was born.

The book is full of drinking and smoking (I bet his grandparents’ place smelled like my parents’ houses) and even has a little swearing (though I bet there was a lot more in real life). It was a dark, difficult read for me because it all hit so close to home. It’s stayed with me, and I’ve found myself returning to its pages over and over again since finishing it a few weeks back, and I know there are kids out there who will read it repeatedly even though it’s not as funny as his Lunch Lady, Jedi Academy, and Platypus Police Squad series.

I need a Walkman to play all my old mixtapes

Luisa: Now and Then by Carole Maurel. Translated by Nanette McGuinness. English Language Adaptation by Mariko Tamaki. Humanoids, 2016. 9781594656439.

17-year-old Luisa falls asleep on a bus and wakes up in Paris seventeen years later and, with the help of a young woman (Sasha), she meets and is taken in by her 34-year-old self (they pretend they’re cousins). I was worried the book would have a wacky Freaky Friday vibe, but it’s a fairly quiet story in which the younger Luisa is horrified at how her older self has fallen out of touch with friends and settled for a career that’s not as glamorous as planned. Both Luisas are attracted to the older’s neighbor Sasha, and it’s no surprise there are conversations about a young woman Luisa just kissed in the past and hiding who they are (especially from their mother).

Younger Luisa’s clothes and Walkman took me right back to the 80s. The only time I’ve had a similar flashback to my teen years is seeing the hairstyles and shoulder pads in Papergirls, and when I see costumes in Uncanny X-men issues numbered in the mid 100s.

The Starlost

Lost Stars Volume 1 (Star Wars) by Yusaku Komiyama, based on an original story by Claudia Gray. Yen Press, 2018. 9781975326531. 256pp.

A Japanese manga adaptation of a Star Wars novel originally written in English, translated back into English. Strange thought? Yeah. Worth reading? Totally.

Thane and Ciena are friends who grew up on the same backward planet with the same dream: attend the Imperial Academy. At the academy they were on the verge of becoming more than friends, but were driven apart. Now Thane flies an X-wing for the Rebellion, and Ciena is rising in the Imperial ranks. How’d all this happen? It’s not quite clear by the end of this, the first volume of the story, which takes place in the background of the original Star Wars trilogy (the good one, the original original, not the three movies you’re trying to forget).

When I talk about comics at library staff days and conferences, I meet a lot of folks who never read manga. I often recommend they try the original Star Wars manga that Dark Horse published back in the 90s because it’s easier to relate to the manga art style when the story is already familiar. But since those are long out of print, this is going to become my go-to recommendation for such folks. The focus lines make X-wings soar and help the AT-ATs on Hoth look extra intimidating. The layouts make for some amazing pacing. And everyone has such great hair! It’s kind of a relief. (I mean, have you watched the original trilogy lately? Why did no one in that far far galaxy ever invent hair care products?)

I Know What You Did Last Summer

All Summer Long by Hope Larson. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. 9780374310714. 172pp.

I loved this amazing middle grade graphic novel by Hope Larson (A Wrinkle in Time, Batgirl, Chiggers, and my favorite of hers, Salamander Dream). Bina (13) is stuck at home and all alone after finishing 7th grade when her best friend and next door neighbor Austin (also 13) heads for soccer camp. They’re growing up and may be growing apart — Austin doesn’t want to participate in calculating their Combined Summer Fun Index anymore, and seems to be looking ahead to high school rather than their last year in middle school. But she starts to get seriously good on her electric guitar, and finds a few bands she really likes. Has she found her thing, music? Are things about to get weird between her and Austin? Can she really be friends with Austin’s older sister, Charlie, the loudest lifeguard at the pool?

Larson’s graphic novel captures something true about the transitional time at the end of middle school without turning it into too overt a lesson, and shows that, yeah, boys and girls can absolutely be just friends for the long term.

Unruly Assassins for the Exceptional Assassin Trainer

Deadly Class Volume 1: Reagan Youth (1987) by Rick Remender and Wes Craig. Image, 2015. 9781632150035. Contains Deadly Class #1 – #6. Publisher’s Rating M / Mature.

I hadn’t read this series by Remender, and when I saw the Syfy network will soon air a show based on it, I wanted to read at least a bit of it before it aired. Based on the first collection, I’m going to give the TV series a try (but first I’m going to read the other collections — including the 7th, which comes out this August).

San Francisco, 1987. Marcus is living on the streets after the Sunset Boys Home was closed down. It’s rough, but he prefers it, and when begging isn’t enough to get by he turns to petty crime. And he’s being watched.

During a Day of the Dead celebration, he runs afoul of a police sting, and a beautiful girl helps him escape the cops (though she also helps abduct him). It’s all good, though, because a dapper bald guy with a serious mustache wants to make him an offer: attend Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts and train to become one of the world’s greatest assassins. The girl is already a student there so, really, in what world would he say no?

Marcus enters the school with a dangerous rep (it’s not clear why for a while), and gets a lot of the wrong kind of attention from different cliques. The cops are after him, breaking the school’s rules can have serious consequences, and there’s a disfigured redneck straight out of Preacher hunting him, too. But Marcus wants to succeed because he wants revenge. He plans to kill the man he blames for his parents’ deaths: Ronald Reagan.

Death and Catses

The Family Trade written by Justin Jordon & Nikki Ryan, art by Morgan Beem. Image, 2018. 9781534305113. 144pp. Contains issues #1 – #5 of the comic book. Publisher’s Rating T / Teen

In the Atlantic Ocean there’s an artificial island called The Float, aka the Free Republic of Thessalia, a center for commerce and democracy in a world like ours but with a little more magic. Jenn Wynn’s family has always secretly done whatever was needed to keep the Float above water, including stealing and killing. At the start of the story she’s out to assassinate a corrupt politician out to seize power for himself by getting people to believe his half truths. Things don’t go well, but she’ll try again. Luckily she can pretend to be a sweet, innocent girl if needed, and she’s also got an army of “talking” cats on her side.

Beem’s illustrations are really fun, and her watercolors bring my favorite of Richard Scala’s color comics to my mind. You can see some of Beem’s comics and illustrations here

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.