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Graphic Novelty²

Month

May 2020

The Man Who Came Down The Attic Stairs

This thin graphic novel packed quite a punch, that effectively tied postpartum depression with a creepy noir vibe.

Set in what looks like the French countryside, a young married couple purchase a charming old home, in preparation for the child they are expecting. During move-in day, the husband is carrying up supplies to the attic when his wife hears a huge crash. Panicked, she is about to start upstairs when her husband Thomas comes down the attic stairs stone-faced, insisting that he simply tripped and everything is fine. Her water breaks at this moment.

The next scene is set in the near future as they are home with their new daughter Roslin who seems to have a bad case of colic, and she cries incessantly. Emma’s husband seems strangely detached, never complaining of the baby’s never-ending crying, yet not the playful man we first met at the beginning of the story. Not surprisingly Emma is at her wit’s end and doesn’t feel connected to her child. The pressures of new motherhood, an eerily changed husband, and her worries about her child’s health weigh heavily on her. Afraid of being perceived as a bad mother, she lashes out at some neighborhood women when she feels judged by them.

While speaking to a psychiatrist about her postpartum depression and her suspicions about what happened to her husband in the attic, a shocking revelation is revealed. The ending is deliberately ambiguous, so you don’t know quite what to believe.

Rendered in black and white, the artwork is atmospheric and sinister. The drawings gave a real sense of time and place, plus Emma’s unending housework will give you a sense of claustrophobia. I found the story reminiscent of Emily Carroll’s Through The Woods and Shirley’s Jackson’s short stories (as coincidence would have it, a month ago I read The Lottery and Other Short Stories by Jackson).  Comparing Celine Loup to these other two women authors is praise indeed, so I will seek out future work by her.

-Nancy

 

Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 2): Trials of the Super Son

Clark and Lois are hard at work helping Jon identify and control his growing powers. His unique mix of Kryptonian and human DNA means that he doesn’t have all of Superman’s powers – or he may have new ones! Luckily, the father and son of steel have plenty of opportunity in this volume to test them out. First, Jon’s science project accidentally teleports them to Dinosaur Island, where even they need to fight for survival! Then, a Frankenstein look-alike alien visits Smallville to take in a fugitive hiding in their midst. Unfortunately, it’s not only Jon’s parents that have an interest in his powers. Batman and Robin, known also as Bruce and Damian Wayne, have as well! What’s going to happen when the World’s Finest sons meet each other?

Of all comics I’ve read recently, I think I’m enjoying Superman’s Rebirth run the most. It’s fun, light reading that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Too many comics and their associated media today try to be as serious, dark, and realistic as possible – but that doesn’t always mean better!

What I’m enjoying the most is Clark and Jon’s relationship, not only as father and son, but partners as well. This is most evident in the Dinosaur Island story. There is a part where Jon is scared that he and his dad won’t make it home. Clark has to remind himself that Jon is only ten years old! He then reassures Jon as father to son, not as Superman to Superboy. These kinds of interactions show that while Clark knows all about being Superman, he is still learning to be a dad – it makes him less than perfect, which makes him more relatable.

The dynamic that Clark and Jon have is contrasted by the dynamic that Bruce and Damian have with each other. Bruce is overall – to put it lightly – harder on Damian than Clark is on Jon. This expectation of perfection suits Bruce’s character wonderfully, whereas Clark only asks that Jon try his best. While I don’t like Damian as a character (let alone Robin), it is really fun to watch him and Jon interact because of the fundamental differences in their personalities.

I’m looking forward to not only more of this Rebirth title for some fun summer reading – but also hopefully more World’s Finest teamups and interactions!

– Kathleen

Tomasi, Peter J., Patrick Gleason, Doug Mahnke, Jaime Mendoza, and Mick Gray. Superman (Rebirth, Vol. 2): Trials of the Super Son. 2017.

Something is Killing the Children

Something is Killing the Children– if this title doesn’t grab your attention, I don’t know what will!

In a quiet Wisconsin town, children are disappearing. While most will never come back, a precious few escape and come back with horrifying stories of a monster in the shadows. The townspeople are distraught, so enter Erica Slaughter, who comes to Archer’s Peak ready to kill the monster on hand. This Goth looking Buffy The Vampire Slayer interviews a survivor and heads into the woods to kick some ass.

The world-building is intriguing, as you can’t help but wonder at Erica’s past and her intentions. There are hints that she belongs to a society of monster-killers, each with a small talking talisman- her’s being a purple octopus plushie.  She has quite an interesting look, her side-swept bangs always camouflaging one of her eyes along with what looks to be a glowing implant in the side of her face. She often wears a mask to cover the lower half of her face, with a fang motif, that I have to admit would be a bad-ass print to wear on a facemask nowadays with the pandemic we are in the middle of.

The artwork is definitely atmospheric- gloomy, creepy and bloody. Drawn by Werther Dell’Edera, his work is sketchy and imprecise. There are many closeups of people, and some come off as grotesque with an emphasis on crosshatching to signify lines and shadows. When fighting the monster, the gutters become black, with an even darker color palette. Colorist Miquel Muerto keeps all the colors muted, as to signify the darkness of the narrative.

I’ve heard good buzz on this new series- on Goodreads, on NetGalley and even better the staff at my comic-book store, Graham Crackers, recommended it to me.  It joins some books that have immediately hooked me in: Briggs Land (which Dell’Edera illustrated parts of V2), Locke & Key, Harrow County, Revival and Bone Parish. Thank you to NetGalley for an advance online copy so I could get in on what promises to be an exciting new horror series.

-Nancy

Almost American Girl

In this graphic memoir, Chuna “Robin” Ha chronicles how she and her mother moved to America from Seoul, Korea when she was fourteen. Her single mother wanted to take a vacation with American friends in Huntsville, Alabama, but it unexpectedly became a permanent relocation after her mother remarries. Overnight, Robin has to assimilate into American culture. She struggles to learn English and fit in both at school and with her new family, none of whom seem to accept her. She tries to lose herself in her art as she longs for the familiarity of her home, her school, and her friends in Korea while trying desperately to make her new home in America work. Where does she really belong? What is the true meaning of family?

Robin tells the story of the total uprooting of her life with grace. It appears to be colored in layers of watercolor that appear faded and washed out. The lines are similarly faded and shaky, suggesting uncertainty and impermanence. A teenager’s eternal struggle is laid bare and amplified across cultures here. She also shares with us excerpts of the comics and drawings she created during this time, which not only helps show us how she coped, but how she evolved as an artist.

Though Robin could be bitter and angry towards her mom for the extraordinarily unexpected way she uprooted both their lives, she presents her mom with empathy. Robin shares her mother’s story, and the story of her own birth and the circumstances that led to her being raised by a single mom. I believe this was a serious and deliberate decision in order for the reader to try and understand and emphathize themselves with Robin, her mother, and their situation and circumstances.

While this is a personal story, it is also a commentary on Korean vs. American culture. Robin struggles to reconcile these within herself, but we also see the differences starkly when Robin goes back to visit years after her permanent move to America. Ending the novel on this visit was the perfect way for us to see how exactly Robin changed and where she felt her home really was.

– Kathleen

Ha, Robin. Almost American Girl. 2020.

ElfQuest: The Final Quest Volumes 3-4

Forty years of ElfQuest under Cutter’s leadership comes to a close in these last two volumes. These four volumes fold decades worth of storyline and family connections into a mostly satisfying conclusion to this truly epic fantasy series.  Warning- spoilers ahead.

Volume Three

As with every penultimate story, so many threads are being drawn to a close and you wonder how it will ever be wrapped up adequately. The Wave Dancers (the ocean elves) and Rayek (Cutter’s antagonist) play a large part in this volume as we move towards the coming battle with the humans. We also, unfortunately, have had brand new characters introduced very late in the game, which muddies the waters since there is already an established huge cast already. The elves recently discovered a new band of elves who have been hiding in plain sight, The Rootless Ones, a group of elves who a millennium ago shapeshifted into forms resembling plant life and became scavengers who think as a collective. Plus, a strange non-speaking elf Dre-ahn, who for some reason is larger than usual and only sings, is found. Cutter recovers from his discovery that he and High One Timmain are spirit-bound in a single soul. Cutter, who now knows more than he ever thought because of his connection to Timmain, says a poignant quote on the last page as he wonders “If I can know the larger truth and still live the smaller”.

Volume Four

It all comes to a close here in volume four, as all the tribes have been converging on the Palace as it prepares to leave Two Moons and journey back through space to their homeland. While many elves have already made their choice whether to stay or go, a few key decisions remain. Moonshade and Strong Bow’s struggle was heartbreaking, as Moonshade wished to leave while her traditional lifemate wanted to remain. How it concluded brought me to tears.

The human vs elf battle concluded with some treachery by the human leaders which put the elf’s continued existence in peril as their Holt burned. There were some significant losses of life, yet you are lulled into complacency when the battle is over when the unexpected occurs to Cutter. The first time I read it- I was so very shocked. This is the way we lose Cutter? To me, his hero’s journey ended ignobly. With time, and a re-read I see his death in another light. Was there ever going to be a “right” way to die? Did he need to die in battle to make his life worthy? Now I see that it’s alright that he died a quiet death, surrounded by those who loved him.

Is ElfQuest truly over? No, of course not. A new series based off Skywise, Cutter’s best friend and father to Jink (another offshoot to ElfQuest) has begun. As stated by the publisher, “When ElfQuest: The Final Quest concluded, it ended the hero’s journey of Cutter Kinseeker, chief of the Wolfriders. But that was only the start of a new adventure for Cutter’s ”brother in all but blood,” Skywise. Stargazer’s Hunt has story by ElfQuest co-creators Wendy and Richard Pini, with script by Wendy Pini. Veteran Elfquest alumnus Sonny Strait returns at full force as the artist and colorist for the new series. All-new material for an established character.” I do not plan on continuing with StarGazer’s Hunt as I never was a fan of Skywise who seemed like a selfish and hedonistic jerk. I looked briefly at the first issue and Straight is an excellent artist, but to me (and many others, I’m sure) the series ended with Cutter’s death.

I’m so very glad that Wendy and Richard Pini were given the time to craft a powerful concluding arc to the Wolfriders and other elves of Two Moons. Was I happy with every choice the Pini’s made? Of course not, but are fans ever fully happy when a favorite book, TV series or movie ends? Cutter, Leetah, Nightfall, Tyleet, Scouter, Dewshine, Moonshade, Strongbow, Clearbrook, Treestump, Redlance, Ember, Venka, Rayek, Khavi and so many others became real to me as I followed their adventures for over 25 years. While I’m sorry to have the series end, I have so many of the graphic novels at home that I can immerse myself in the series again and again. Farewell to the World of Two Moons!

-Nancy

And just to be picky- I will comment on some stray thoughts that I had during my read of these last four volumes:

Windkin (Dewshine’s son) was a petulant ass. He seemed to forget his mother and his adopted father Scouter, but then moons for Ahdri, a rock shaper from the Sun Tribe, but as soon as he is reunited with her, he drops her. So then Ahdri ends up with the half-elf/troll Two Edge?

So Khavi wanted a child to remember her lovemate Tyldak of the Gliders, so she asks his son to impregnate her when Tyldak dies (gross) but then when Tier is born she abandons him since he is a son instead of a daughter??? And…why was Khavi such a big deal to the Go-Backs? She was always leaving their tribe and jaunting off for hundreds of years. There was mention of her having other children beside Venka and Tier, why didn’t they become tribe leaders?

Recognizing is a big deal to the elves, as it produces strong children, so why do some couples Recognize several times while some elves like Yun, Ahdri and Shenshen never do? It’s like they were found unworthy and just get to sex it up with love mates but never a lifemate.

It’s cool that Dart and Mender began a relationship, but their romance came out of nowhere. Perhaps unfairly, I felt the Pini’s wanted some representation (and it was established that Dart had been in a lovemate relationship with another male elf years ago), so they quickly choose Mender to pair up with Dart.

So Ember and Tier delay Recognition, when no other elf couples have ever been able to in the past? In the conclusion, it shows a time jump and still no child. Why? Plus, I’d like to add that Tier is an emo mess.

Leetah’s power seemed too strong. No healer could ever do what she could. She could force Recognition between Nightfall and Redlance and then delay it for her daughter Ember? And then she could transform her sister Shenshen into looking like a human (which was problematic) felt like too much.

I love Tyleet! I just had to share that.

To read more about ElfQuest check out: The Final Quest Volumes 1 & 2, the original story that began the entire series and a sweet story about Tyleet and her son Little Patch.

Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 6): Old Enemies

It’s election season! Barbara decides to volunteer for Luciana Alejo’s campaign as she runs for a Senate seat. Unfortunately, that puts her at odds with her own father, Commissioner Gordon. The biggest promise Alejo has made on her campaign trail is to clean up the corruption in the GCPD. While Barbara thinks that’s a good idea, Batgirl has ulterior motives for joining Alejo’s volunteer army. Politics in Gotham are dangerous under the best of circumstances, and someone is really gunning for Alejo. Ex-cop Jason Bard, whom Barbara has a history with, serves as Alejo’s campaign manager. He is willing to work with Batgirl to keep the hopeful Senator safe, but Batgirl isn’t too sure. Can they cooperate long enough to get Luciana elected?

I was reminded of some of the Batgirl comics from the ’70s that were featured in her Bronze Age omnibus. Barbara actually did run for the House of Representatives during the ’70s, to serve as the start of her character retirement. One of the issues featured in the omnibus showed Batgirl and Robin working on her campaign (and on official Bat business ;D ) in Washington, D.C. This story was a great throwback.

Something that was distracting for me were the exaggerated features in some characters, but only from a certain angle. It was just when a character was in profile that their lips and noses were just too big. The style was otherwise pretty standard comic book-y and reminded me a bit of the old Batman animated series.

One last thing… I still hate this new mask!!!

– Kathleen

Scott, Mairghread, Paul Pelletier, and Norm Rapmund. Batgirl (Rebirth, Vol. 6): Old Enemies. 2019.

ElfQuest: The Final Quest Volumes 1-2

As I said when I reviewed the first volume of ElfQuest– I fell in love with this series when I was in high school and my boyfriend who was collecting them introduced me to the World of Two Moons. Sometimes our dates would consist of us sitting side by side reading for hours and debating the finer points of elf lore. That my high school boyfriend eventually became my husband makes this series dear to my heart.

In 1978 the first volume, Fire and Flight, introduces us to the Wolfriders, an elfin band that rides wolves and live in the woods, or as they call it, The Holt. I began reading the series in the early 1990s when six volumes had already been released and throughout college and into my mid-20s I eagerly picked up every new volume. The Pini’s had expanded the elven world and soon the woodland elves met desert, water and mountain elves plus they found some original high-born elves that came from another planet and had crashed there eons ago. During this time, my favorite story, Little Patch came out, which I still like to re-read on a regular basis.  But in the mid-90s the authors began to let other authors and illustrators tell some stories, and within a few years, my husband and I eventually lost interest as the art and storytelling felt sub-standard to us. The stories branched off with characters I didn’t care about, and the art suffered from different artists, as Wendy Pini’s exquisite pencils defined ElfQuest for me.

Years later my husband and I were in Chicago to see the Blue Man Group and had a bit of time to kill between dinner and the show so naturally, we found the closest Graham Crackers Comic Book store (love that chain!) and discovered that ElfQuest was still going strong and was back to the Pini’s work. We began reading the series again and in 2015 it was announced that the last arc, The Final Quest, would be four volumes concluding in 2018 which would be the 40 year anniversary of the series. I purchased all four as they came out and did quick read-throughs but failed to review them until now. While it might have taken a quarantine for me to write this post, it has been a lovely blast from my past to re-read these four volumes and share my thoughts.

Volume One

The Wolfrider saga is complex with a multi-generational elf tribe and long-running storylines, so coming back into this story (even after some catch up) proved to be challenging. The Wolfriders have broken into two tribes, led by chief Cutter who has led this band of elves from the beginning of the series, and the other is led by Ember his adult daughter, so that way if one tribe is destroyed by humans the Wolfriders will live on. Cutter is known as Kinseeker, as he has united the many elven tribes and remembers the past as other elves do not, as their memories fade after thousands of years.

A human tyrant Angrif Djun is intent on destroying all elves and unites other tribes in a war against Ember’s tribe. Kidnapped for a time, Ember’s plight is worsened as she is fighting off the effects of Recognition from her lover Tier, a time when two elves unite to create a child. Different elves, absent for a while, are being drawn back home as the mystical Palace of the High Ones sends off an aura of magic that strengthens their powers. Fates of some elves are revealed, as this first of the planned four begins to try to tidy up the many many threads of narratives for this series.

Volume Two

Sunstream, twin to Ember, who has strong physic powers begins to send out a call to all elves, not just Wolfriders, to reunite. Together these tribes need to decide if they wish to join the Palace and live as immortals, or if they wish to remain on the world of Two Moons and heed “The Way”. But this decision causes dissent within the tribes, and within families, as some wish to stay while others wish to go. Angrif Djun continues to build an armada to destroy the elves, but can they outlast him as his human lifespan is but an instant to them? They also balance uniting with peaceful humans and have in fact adopted a few into their tribe (like Little Patch years ago) as they realize not all humans are to be feared. But the ending of this volume ended on a very strange note as it is revealed that Cutter and a High One Timmain are spirit-bound in a single soul. What????

It has been a pleasure to see Wendy’s art again fully colored. When the series began it was done in black and white, but when ElfQuest for a time was under Marvel ownership, the issues were collected into colored volumes and reached a greater audience. Her panels are a delight to look at and often include a lot of background with other elves, so you can pick up on other details in the tribe’s lives even if only one is being featured. With a huge cast of characters that is helpful, so you feel you are getting a look into more of the interconnected tribes.  Colorist Sonny Strait did a lovely job with rich colors and letterer Nate Piekos did an admirable job with all the dialogue.

While these final four books are definitely for already established fans of ElfQuest, this series will hopefully make others want to go back and dive into ElfQuest’s deep history.

-Nancy

Check out the concluding two volumes in Final Quest Volumes 3-4

Wedding Planning During a Global Pandemic

This post started as a joke horror post in our blogger friend’s group chat, but I figured… why not? Not like I’m going anywhere during quarantine =P

As some of you may know, dear readers, my fiancé and I were planning on getting married in November of this year.

As almost all of you may know, we are in the middle of a global pandemic due to the novel coronavirus known as COVID-19. This is an unprecedented situation, unlike anything any of us have ever seen or lived through before.

I’m here today to talk about trying to plan a wedding amid a global crisis and collective trauma. My apologies in advance if this post seems very rough, raw, or scattered – I am trying to write what I feel, without too much editing, and I am, admittedly, not feeling a lot of good things right now.

A month and a half ago, life was normal. I had taken 2 days off in the middle of a 14-day work marathon to attend doctor’s appointments, run errands, and work on the wedding. I met with our baker to finalize our cupcake designs and pay our balance. My bridesmaids and I were to meet the next weekend for a wedding craft day. I visited my mother and my grandparents. I was supposed to get a haircut to stand up in another wedding in April, but didn’t get around to it.

Then the world screeched to a halt.

What seemed like overnight, COVID-19 hit the United States. My workplaces closed. I worked my last shift at my public library job on Sunday, March 15th, and have been working from home for my full-time job since that same week, when our state’s stay-at-home order was enacted. My fiancé got laid off and has been looking for work. There is a possibility I may be furloughed at my full-time job over the summer. There has been a reported case of COVID-19 at the senior care complex where my grandparents live. One of my fiancé’s friends, who works in healthcare, actually got the virus (don’t worry, she is okay and expected to make a full recovery at home). The wedding I was supposed to stand up in in mid-April, for two of my dearest friends, was cancelled and has yet to be rescheduled.

On top of all this, we have our own wedding to be worried about. And oh boy, am I worried about it, as well as having a mix of other fun feelings.

I am angry, first and foremost. We have been engaged since September 2017 and set our date for November 2020 so we could save money to pay for it ourselves with little to no debt. I am angry that there is a possibility our wedding may be cancelled, over something as tiny as a virus. I am angry that all our hard work from the past 2.5 years will be rendered useless if it IS cancelled. I am angry at myself for half wanting to cancel my own wedding before that decision is forced for me. I’m angry and frustrated that what work I’m able to do from home is so draining that I have nothing left, no energy to write a grocery list in the evening, let alone work on my wedding.

Above all, I am angry for letting my wedding be the main source of my stress during a global pandemic, where thousands of people are getting very sick and dying. I feel incredibly stupid and selfish for it, and yet I can’t help it at the same time. I’m bankrolling half of my wedding. The thought of postponing or cancelling is a hard and bitter pill to swallow when you know how long and hard you worked to make it happen.

I am sad. I am sad that two of my best friends couldn’t get married the way they planned. I am sad that that could be us as well. I would do anything, ANYTHING, in my power to make it not be us. I am sad because we have had family deaths in the intervening years between our engagement and now, and the longer we wait, the better our chances of further family deaths (whether from the virus or other long illnesses). The better our chances that not all of our loved ones will be at our wedding.

I am scared. One of us is out of work, and there is a possibility both of us will be over the summer. If we are both unemployed for a long stretch of time, the wedding will be a financial extravagance that we will no longer be able to afford. We will need the money we have both so carefully saved over the years for the wedding to pay rent, bills, groceries – to survive. I am scared of all the unknowns that cloud the future, especially as far out as November, which feels about as far away as the moon. No one can predict exactly what is going to happen. Not knowing, not being able to make an executable plan, feeling trapped and paralyzed by all the unknowns and possibilities – that is the worst feeling of all.

Today, I have been trying to work, trying to put together learning materials for our new circulation system, but all that is in my head are numbers. Possible date the stay-at-home order will finally be lifted. Possible numbers of acceptable maximum gatherings by November. Possible numbers of event staff/vendors we will have to accommodate, as well as our guests. Possible guests to cut. Possible ways to phrase those notifications, those rescinding of the invitations for those unlucky friends and family, to minimize their anger and umbrage.

Endless possibilities make for endless torture.

The other night, our friend who is kindly building our wedding website for us, sent us an update. I burst into tears as soon as I saw the picture. Under normal circumstances, they would have been tears of ecstasy. Our friend is very talented and he understands our vision completely. His beautiful website is everything I wanted and envisioned, and more.

Under COVID-19 circumstances, I saw the picture, and my first thought was, “I hope we’re still able to have the wedding, so all of his hard work isn’t wasted.” What would have been tears of joy transformed into tears of dread.

All the tears I’ve been shedding over the wedding are of mourning the untarnished, pre-COVID-19 vision of our day. It was supposed to be one of the best days of our lives. Both of us, and our families, have been looking forward to this day for years. While we are trying to remain cautiously optimistic and carry on with planning as if everything was normal (so we don’t have to play catch-up if it does end up happening), there will now be a COVID-19 pall over the day no matter what we do. There will be less of our family and loved ones, whether they were lost to the virus or whether we had to make cuts to the guest list to meet some obscure, as yet unknown, maximum number of acceptable people gathering in one place. There will still be fear of the virus, getting it, spreading it unknowingly, even if a vaccine is available by then. There will perhaps still be a sense that we shouldn’t be gathering together. Maybe it is too soon.

The innocence of our original vision is gone. What’s in its place is now fear, uncertainty, and what feels like an increasingly futile hope. The hope that that we will still be able to have our day the way we originally wanted it, without the stain of COVID-19 over all.

I am not looking for sympathy, pity, or charity with this post. I am simply giving a voice to my feelings, in the hope that it may help other brides and grooms identify and process their feelings with their partners. In writing this post I was able to identify and articulate exactly why it is that I am so upset. It was incredibly cathartic. I hope that my words, inelegant and raw as they may be, help someone else to do the same.

Through all of this anxious uncertainty, there is at least a silver lining. One thing Fiancé and I are grateful for: we now live together. For the first nearly 6 years of our relationship, we were long distance. We are incredibly thankful that we are both under the same roof, quarantining together, instead of worrying apart and having all of this exacerbated by the miscommunications that distance can bring.

Thank you for listening. To any future brides and grooms in our readership – I sincerely hope you are able to have your day, even if it is not what you originally envisioned.

With all my love, and all my sincerest wishes to stay home, stay safe, and wash your hands,

Kathleen

School Library Journal reviews

I have been reviewing YA books and children’s graphic novels for the School Library Journal magazine for the last two years. I enjoy getting a sneak peek at some titles that will be coming out, as I order both genres for my library.  Reviewing is different than writing for my personal blog, as I am limited to 250-300 words for each review, and can only share once it has been published with their edits. I’ve now reviewed twelve books for them, I shared six on my previous post, and six now. I feel it helps me as a professional, for when I accepted my job as Head of Teen Services last year, my writing for this blog and for the magazine were pluses in my favor for the library director.

The Map From Here to There

Gr 7 Up: Endearing new couple Paige and Max from The Start of Me and You are back for their senior year in this sequel about friendship and finding life balance. Over the course of a school year, Paige struggles with what choices lay ahead for her after graduation. Despite being happy with Max, she wrestles with which colleges to apply to and saying goodbye to her close-knit group of friends. Her anxiety gets the best of her and her relationship with Max begins to disintegrate; she gets caught up in her head about choices to make in the future and loses sight of how to enjoy the moment she is in. An experienced YA author, Lord captures teenage struggles effectively and shows how senior year is a difficult time for many. Teens are almost at the end of their school career and thinking of the different paths they will soon be taking, yet they need to live in the here and now. Friendship is an important part of the narrative, and the author ably shows that one does not have to choose a relationship over friends, but that they can balance both. Paige’s and Max’s journey is realistic and readers will root for them to reconcile.

Verdict: An appealing romance, at times heavy on the angst, that can stand alone but should be a definite buy where the first book was popular.

Gr 7 Up: Four friends—Ava, CJ, Jordan, and Martha—who have been tight since kindergarten are entering their senior year and beginning to face the realization that they will all be going in different directions. The opening chapter establishes that one will become President of the United States, but readers don’t know which one. Is it Ava, an artist who is struggling with her future choices; CJ, an earnest do-gooder; Jordan, a budding ace journalist; or Martha, a strong young woman who is facing some hurdles in life? As the novel spans a year of their experiences, a red herring is thrown in to muddy the waters as to who the future president could be. Debut author Watson creates four appealing and diverse young women; however, the narrative can seem formulaic and strives hard to check all the boxes, thus feeling like a made-for-TV movie. But this coming-of-age drama has a twist that will throw off readers as to which young woman becomes president, as all are smart and capable, and worthy of the office. Plus, the message of enduring friendships is always important for young people to read.

Verdict: A fun and light read, this book will appeal to teens who like contemporary fiction. A solid purchase.

Aster and the Accidental Magic

Gr 4-7–A move to the mountains results in adventure beyond a young girl’s wildest dreams. A strange species of gigantic birds that reproduce on a 15-year cycle is gearing up for a migration—always a destructive event. To help guide the birds, Aster’s scientist mother is building a robot. Her work takes the family to the mountains, and young Aster is initially distraught when her life is uprooted. But as she explores the countryside, she finds magic and mischief, befriends a seasonal deity, acquires a pet dog, outwits a trickster, and has the adventure of a lifetime. Aster learns to cope with the unexpected and finds solidarity with her family and new friends. The conclusion hints that more fun awaits in future volumes. Featuring simple lines and appealingly bizarre creatures, the art will entice readers. The Alps-inspired landscapes and characters are colored with muted Photoshopped blocks of color, with panels that let the busy narrative flow. At times the style turns anime-like to convey extreme moments.

Verdict: Those who love Luke Pearson’s “Hilda” series will eagerly jump on board the Aster bandwagon.

InvestiGators

Gr 2-5–In the first installment of what promises to be a wildly successful graphic novel series, Green (“Kitten Construction Company”) once again shows off his knack for pun-filled animal tales. Alligators Mango and Brash are friends and secret agents for S.U.I.T. (Special Undercover Investigator Teams), tasked with solving their first case: finding Chef Mustachio, who went missing just before he was about to unveil his latest concoction. These masters of disguise are off and running. But when there’s an explosion at the Science Factory, the duo are asked to look into that mystery, too. No matter where they go, Mango and Brash blend in seamlessly with humans who somehow never notice that they are interacting with alligators who sport vests outfitted with gadgets. Jokes, especially visual puns (“Badges?” “We’re not badgers, we’re alligators!”) and toilet humor, come fast and furious, and the clean, simple cartoon art and paneled layout are easy to follow. Kids who are tickled by Green’s irreverent humor will appreciate the drawing tips that conclude the book.

Verdict: Like the heroes of Dav Pilkey’s “Dog Man” or “Captain Underpants,” the Investigators are bound to resonate with kids.

Gr 9 Up–Cariani transforms his popular play into a fully realized YA novel of interconnected vignettes. The third-person narration opens on Ginette and Pete going to look at the stars in their hometown of Almost. Although they are beginning to fall in love, a verbal spat leads to Ginette’s leaving. Every subsequent chapter is a two-person vignette, a short story informed by her walk home past various locations. The couples experience the joys and struggles of love, with a magical realism bent, and not all the stories end happily. Of the ten couples featured–one more than found in the play, and including LGBTQ+ representation–only two characters are teenagers, so this may require some handselling to get YAs to fully connect with the stories. It will be worth it.

Verdict: For New Adult sections, theater enthusiasts, and born romantics, a charming and whimsical collection.

Gr 7-10–Recent valedictorian Rachel has been laser-focused on her goals of obtaining high grades and getting into Northwestern University. Now that summer has arrived, she can finally relax. Reflecting that she had refused to participate in many high school rites of passage, and after finding a self-help book that encourages saying “yes” to new life experiences, Rachel decides to try this approach. She’s quickly out of her comfort zone as she inadvertently becomes involved in a love triangle, reconnects with an old friend, and learns new truths about her classmates. While the John Hughes–esque narrative is rom-com in nature, Culli has crafted a more substantial book than readers might initially guess. She captures teen life and thoughts authentically and shows that the way people present their lives to the public is not always what is truly happening behind the scenes. A strong supporting cast of characters also adds depth.

Verdict: A definite purchase for YA collections, this winning book will have readers considering how a few key decisions could alter their entire lives. Lessons in taking risks, being true to yourself, and not buying into stereotypes create a truly compelling read.

It is a pleasure reviewing for this librarian’s magazine, and I hope to continue doing so in the future!

-Nancy

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