8-Bit Nostalgia

Impossible Fortress: A Novel by Jason Rekulak. Simon & Schuster, 2017. 9781501144417.

Sarah: So do you find yourself wondering if a book is intended to be an adult or teen book and then judging it differently?
Gene: Yeah.
S: I think I would have been harsher to this book if it had been a teen book.
G: Isn’t it a teen book?
S: It is not a teen book.
G: I read it like it was a teen book.
S: I read it as an adult book, so I was a little bit more forgiving of the fact that it meandered.
G: But it’s clearly a teen novel. It just relies so heavily on nostalgia that you can’t put it on the teen shelf. It’s much more for us.
Continue reading “8-Bit Nostalgia”

Mom Rom Com

Colonial Madness by Jo Whittemore. Aladdin, 2015. 9781481405089. Also published as Me & Mom vs. The World.

When I booktalk to middle school classrooms, I like to bring at least one squeaky-clean book for the kids who need one. (And as a palate-cleanser for all of the books about skeletons and bizarre animals that I bring.) Colonial Madness was a perfect fit. The plot is light and cute: an eccentric aunt has decided that her huge historic house will go to the relative who can best live like a colonial settler in an heir-on-heir reality-show-style competition. Throw in a cute boy (the son of the house’s caretakers) and you’ve got a screwball family romantic comedy. Tori and her mom, competing as a team to save her mom’s dress shop, have a warm and close relationship, even if mom is often silly and impractical. How so? She and Tori once made a massive ice cream sundae in the bathtub, played hide and seek in a graveyard, and decided to see how many stuffed animals they could velcro to their bodies. Tori loves her mom a lot, but still gets mad at her and hurts her feelings. And it’s all presented in a way that I think would be very reassuring to a kid, especially to one who doesn’t want to read anything mom might think is inappropriate.

How to Use Pink to Draw the North

How To Survive In The North by Luke Healy. Nobrow, 2016. 9781910620069.

how-to-survive-in-the-northFor epic tales of icy climes that will make you feel the cold in your bones, read Leiber’s Whiteout or Bertozzi’s Shackleton. But for a beautifully rendered meditation on loneliness, bad choices, and survival, look no farther than How To Survive In The North.

There are three intertwined narratives. One begins in Nome, Alaska, in 1913 as explorer Robert Bartlett sets off on a scientific expedition to the arctic aboard The Karluk. (All does not go well.) The second begins in Nome in 1921 when young native Ada Blackjack signs on as seamstress for an expedition to claim Wrangel Island for Canada. (All does not go well.) The third, unlike the other two, is not based in fact. It involves a tenured professor in trouble with his school for having an inappropriate relationship with a student. On a forced sabbatical, he starts going through the papers of a former professor named Stefannson, learning about Bartlett and Ada Blackjack (via her diary) in the process. But he can’t get the student out of his mind. (All does not go well.)

There are two striking things about the way Healy drew this graphic novel. First, the colors — he uses a the washed out pink, yellow, and blue green that make up the aurora on the cover, along with white, to tell the stories. And somehow it totally works. Second, Healy creates the impression of maintaining a constant distance from is characters. Before taking another look just now, I could have sworn there were no drawings of them at a distance or close-up, that they were all framed as if seen from the same distance throughout. I would have been wrong, but somehow the work as a whole gives this impression — it feels like I’ve been watching an art film that I loved but that I can’t quite explain.

This is one of my favorite graphic novels from Nobrow, which is putting out some great books. Be sure to check out Luke Pearson’s Hildafolk books, Louis Roskosch’s Leeroy and Popo, and Marion Fayolle’s In Pieces.

Gross vs Reader, Everyone Wins

Dan Versus Nature by Don Calame. Candlewick Press, 2016. 9780763670719.

danvsnatureGene: Dan vs. Nature: the ultimate teen boy book!
Sarah: (laughs)
G: I would give this book to almost any normal, hormonal, insane teen boy that I know.
S: Yes. I gave it to an ELL student who said he liked Calame’s Swim the Fly. His tutor was there with him and didn’t know what the book was about. I said “it’s a nature book. It’s about nature.”
G: It’s like Hatchet, but everybody has a raging boner the entire time.
S: OK, the very first sentence of the book: “Charlie and I are getting our asses punched.” This is why I decided I had to read the entire book. There’s a lot of books where if it grabs me on line one, I’m in. “You had me at hello.”
G: So Dan and his friend Charlie are geeks.
S: Yes, and his mom, uh… hasn’t had the best luck with boyfriends. Continue reading “Gross vs Reader, Everyone Wins”

The Adventure of the Clashing Running Shoes

Running Girl by Simon Mason. Scholastic, 2016. 9781338036428.

runninggirl

What if a mixed-race, 15-year-old suburban British slacker had a mind like Sherlock Holmes’, with his photographic memory, knowledge, and analytical skills? Garvie Smith is bored out of his skull in school, gets terrible grades, refuses to apply himself, and hangs out with friends at the park smoking weed. The only thing he puts any effort into is avoiding another lecture from his mom. Then one of his classmates, Chloe Dow, goes missing. Garvie takes it upon himself to find out what happened to her even as the young and serious Detective Inspector Singh tells him to leave the investigation to the police.

The two brilliant investigators piece together conflicting stories and physical evidence on their own, only occasionally sharing their insights with one another. I rooted for each of them through heaps of twists and turns. This books is 432 pages long and never lags. I am someone who tunes out during chase scenes in pretty much any media, but the one in Running Girl had me gasping on the edge of my seat. I really hope this is the start of a series, or maybe even two: one for Garvie and one for DI Singh.

The Attack of the Night of the Living Dead

No one is happier to see another North American publisher putting out French graphic novels in translation. So when I found these two among the review books at December’s WASHYARG meeting, I was ecstatic.

The Attack by Loïc Dauvillier and Glen Chapron.  Adapted (into a graphic novel) from the novel by Yasmina Khadra.  Translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger. Firefly, 2016. 9781770857612.  152 pp.

the-attackDr. Amin Jaafari and others at the Israeli hospital where he works feel the explosion when a bomb detonates in a nearby restaurant, then spend hours trying to save the victims. (Among them, one man who would rather die than be touched by an Arab. Dr. Jaafari helps him anyway.) He’s soon called back to the hospital for what he thinks is a medical emergency. But he is asked to identify his wife’s body.

Dr. Jaafari thought his wife had gone on a short trip to see her grandmother. Instead she became the latest suicide bomber in Israel. The police don’t believe that he didn’t know she’d been radicalized. Others attack him and vandalize his home. As an Israeli citizen of Arab descent he is distrusted by Jews and Arabs alike. After a colleague takes him in, Jaafari goes on a dangerous journey to find out who his wife was.

I particularly liked the view the story offers into life in different parts of Israel. (I’ve been corresponding with an Unshelved reader who lives there, so I couldn’t have found this at a better time.) The images in the book feel incredibly straightforward, and the colors are marvelous. Makes me want to read Joe Sacco’s Palestine and Guy Delisle’s Jerusalem again, though I’m going to read Sarah Glidden’s How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less first.

Continue reading “The Attack of the Night of the Living Dead”

Yes Yes Nanette

Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick. Little, Brown and Company, 2016. 9780316379595.

everyexquisiteHigh school junior Nanette is on a well-planned track to her future. She’s good at school and amazing at soccer,  and she’ll soon have colleges fighting to pay her way. Then her English teacher gives her a xeroxed copy of The Bubblegum Reaper. The novel is pretty simple, about a high-school boy who decides he wants to “just quit,” but it changes Nanette’s life. Her teacher ends up introducing her to the reclusive author, who took the book out of print after one too many people used it to justify shootings. The author introduces her to Little Lex, an intense poet her age and also an ardent fan of the book. Nanette falls in love and makes huge changes in her life, at a high price.

This story did not go where I thought it would, or where I was afraid it would. Nanette’s life and sense of self change drastically and painfully in totally believable ways, and she’s surprised by who is willing to stick with her and who isn’t. Quick brings in some hallmarks of his other books: a quirky person who has something significant to share (a cop who wears a ribbon on his finger in memory of his young son who was murdered) and a therapist who helps the protagonist find the strength she needs. (Nanette’s doctor, who recommends that she speak about herself in the third person to help her take better care of her own needs.) Nanette does, and it changes how about a third of the story is written. It’s touching and hilarious.

Someone giving a protagonist the book that changes their life can feel a little bit like pandering to teachers and librarians, but Every Exquisite Thing is more about finding what you need to change your life and how painful that can be. It’s also about feeling locked into a particular path because it’s what’s expected of you: one of Nanette’s realizations is that she doesn’t actually enjoy soccer, even though she’s very good at it. It’s that aspect that makes me want to ensure I’ve always got a copy available for the kids who need it.