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Graphic Novelty²

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April 2021

A Bride’s Story (Vol. 10)

Karluk and Amir make a visit to her clan, but Karluk is staying for a while. He wants to learn the bow, how to hunt, and generally how his in-laws live. He’s even given a golden eagle to teach how to hunt. He starts to distance himself from Amir to try to show his growth and independence. He doubts himself… is he really manly enough for her? Meanwhile, Mr. Smith and Ali have finally made it to Ankara and met his friend, Hawkins. Though Mr. Smith wants to retrace his steps and photograph his findings, the war with Russia is getting very bad. Is it enough for him to prematurely go home to England?

I was so glad to see Karluk in the spotlight in this volume. Though Amir is the main character, we haven’t gotten a very clear picture of him until now. He went through some much-needed character development, and though he went through a lot of it in this volume, it didn’t feel rushed at all. It still moved at a leisurely pace, and there was a chapter dedicated solely to golden eagles and how they were used for hawking to break up the emotional content. His conversation with Amir – where they confess their feelings for one another – felt earned and well deserved. (Also made me tear up)

Upon finishing this volume, it occurred to me that I’ve never made it this far in a manga before! This one really speaks to me. The historical setting lines up with my interests. Though romance is a huge part of the story, it’s not cheesy, over the top, or melodramatic, and progresses organically. It’s a slice of life story, which is slow moving and focused on showing everyday things, not necessarily grand adventures or deep philosophical questions. This, coupled with the fact that it’s a manga, is definitely outside of my normal reading zone, but I am so happy I gave it a chance. I hope one day to find more manga like it!

Kathleen

Mori, Kaoru. A Bride’s Story (Vol. 10). 2018.

The Department of Truth

The world is flat. The moon landing was faked. Reptilian Illuminati rule the world. Most people don’t believe these wild conspiracy theories, but what if they became real because collective belief could turn these theories into reality? That’s where the secret Department of Truth steps in.

Cole Turner, an FBI teacher who teaches about conspiracy theories at Quantico, is attending a Flat Earth conference when he is convinced to get into a plane that takes him and flat earth believers to the end of the world where he sees that, indeed, the world is flat. Astounded by this, he disembarks with the others just to have everyone gunned down but him. He is taken to a bunker where he is interrogated about what he saw. There is some insightful conversation about why wild theories take hold, often it is about a loss of control in someone’s life, and the wish for them to come up with explanations that make them feel important and justified. The director (whose name will be familiar to you) reveals he and the other agents are from the Department of Truth and recruit him to to their organization.

But the secrets go deeper than keeping fringe theories from becoming fact. Since outcomes can branch off into many different scenarios, agents need to make split-second decisions that don’t always tidy up neatly. A heartbreaking example is shown of a single mother whose child was killed in a school shooting, who begins to doubt her reality when she goes down the rabbit hole of internet rantings. She begins to believe her son was part of a “crisis-actors” set up, and he is being held hostage by shadowy officials. More theories are brought up- what if modern day presidents have been puppets with their lives manipulated- including the Bushes, Clinton, Obama and Trump, all for some grand scheme?

The artwork is sketchy, abstract, and frankly, messy at times. While it is apropos that this shadowy tale also has shadowy panels, I found it overkill at times. There were some full page spreads that had overlays of other graphics in a collage format that gave it an interesting stylistic look. The colors are muted, except for some splashes of red and the mysterious woman in a crimson dress who always wears sunglasses.

The graphic novel ends on a cliffhanger as Turner is confronted with yet another secret society, and the question begs, who is telling the truth? Who decides which secrets need to never see the light, and which should be revealed? Why was Turner recruited and who is the woman with the strange eyes that follows him? This was a promising, yet convoluted story with an X-Files vibe, that could go either way in the next volume.

-Nancy

School Library Journal reviews, part 3

I have been reviewing YA books and graphic novels for the School Library Journal magazine since 2018. 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 200-300 words for each review, and can only share once it has been published with their edits. The magazine wishes to be transparent with descriptions regarding race, so people don’t default to thinking characters are white, so any physical descriptions of characters are now required in the review. I’ve now reviewed eighteen books for them- here are my first six and my second set of six.

Junk Boy by Tony Abbott

Gr 9 Up–Bobby Lang lives on the edge of town in a dilapidated house with his father, who is disabled and continuously drunk. The kids at school call Bobby Junk, a cruel reminder of the junk-filled property he lives on, and he tries to be invisible at school to avoid the bullying. His story is told in free verse and readers are privy to his thoughts as he ruminates on his lonely life. By accident, he witnesses a moment of violence against his classmate Rachel when her mother discovers her with her girlfriend. Bobby and Rachel bond over their outsider status, and her friendship gives him hope where earlier he felt none. Seasoned YA author Abbott crafts a nuanced story about an unlikely but desperately needed friendship between two outsiders. Both Bobby and Rachel are dealing with weak and abusive parental bonds and the damage this does to them is capably shown. Readers will cringe over what Rachel’s mother tries to force on her daughter because of her sexuality, and will hopefully be pushed to think critically about how words and actions affect others. The narrative also respectfully shows positive aspects of religion and getting mental health assistance.

VERDICT This novel-in-verse has an engaging male POV, and would be a good read-alike for those who enjoyed Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down. The message of breaking through barriers to reach out for help and being an empathetic friend are important themes for teens to understand, and makes this a definite buy for YA collections.

Bearmouth by Liz Hyder

Gr 8 Up–Newt is a young miner, described early on as “not a boy nor yet a wimmin,” who lives and works in a mine named Bearmouth. All the boys and men there are trapped by low wages, cruel management, and a draconian religion, thus dooming them to a life of servitude. The miners develop a family underground with Newt being especially close to Thomas, who is teaching the young miner to read. When a new worker named Devlin is added to their crew, Newt is wary yet drawn to him. Devlin begins to plant seeds of revolution in Newt’s mind, so when a secret is revealed and their way of life is challenged, Newt’s eyes are opened to how very trapped they all are. Debut author Hyder gives Newt a distinctive voice. The prose is written phonetically, as if Newt is sharing the story with what little knowledge of writing they have. It’s a challenge to get into the rhythm of this writing style, which may be off putting to readers, but the world-building is strong, as life in the claustrophobic mines seems to be a cross between a dystopian future and the Victorian era. There is a scene with the threat of sexual assault. Physical appearance isn’t often described, though Devlin is white and Thomas has brown skin.

VERDICT A unique story that will take readers a while to get used to. This book might be a hard sell to teens, but for those who are ready for a fresh narrative, this gripping story of hope, friendship, and revolution will be worth it.

Amelia Unabridged by Ashley Schumacher

Gr 8 Up–Amelia and Jenna, best friends since middle school, attend a literary festival after graduation, since they share a passion for “The Orman Chronicles,” a series written by the young and enigmatic N.E. Endsley. While there, curly-haired Jenna meets the author—but Amelia doesn’t, driving a wedge between the two friends just as Jenna leaves for a trip to Ireland before they start college together in the fall. While overseas, Jenna dies in a car accident, leaving her parents and Amelia grief-stricken. Soon afterward, Amelia receives a rare copy of “The Orman Chronicles” in the mail, and she is sure Jenna is behind it. She tracks the book down to an eclectic bookstore in Michigan, where she meets the elusive author, who goes by Nolan. Schumacher’s lovely debut will have romantics swooning over blonde-haired, blue-eyed Amelia and black-haired Nolan’s love story. These two teens have endured loss and family trauma, but both have found acceptance and family elsewhere, and bring out the best in each other. The novel is also an ode to the love of reading and how books can provide the magic and comfort needed during difficult times.

VERDICT Recommended for all YA collections. Readers will root for these resilient protagonists who face heartbreak and must make tough choices.

The Salt in our Blood by Ava Morgyn

Gr 8 Up–The summer before her senior year, Catia discovers that her grandmother Moony, who has been raising her, has died in her sleep. With nowhere else to turn, Cat reluctantly reaches out to her estranged mother, Mary, who brings her daughter back to her apartment in New Orleans. Her mother has been grappling with bipolar disorder for years, with extreme highs and lows that made parenting Cat impossible. A mixture of gritty realism and fantasy are intertwined unevenly as Cat moves between solving the mystery of her mother’s past and interacting with other-worldly beings. Cat begins a healthy romance with a multi-racial young man who proves to be a good balance to her dysfunctional family dynamic. Tarot cards, mysticism, and religion tie in together as Cat unearths a secret from Mary’s past that explains some of her behaviors and sets Cat on her own path of discovery. Morgyn creates an atmospheric narrative that tackles some facets of mental illness and how some youths end up taking a parental role in their relationship with a mother or father. An author’s note explains Morgyn’s connection with Mary’s secret and includes the phone number for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Cat and her family are white.

VERDICT This magical realism story would be a good addition to larger collections and might prove welcome to those who do not have traditional households.

She’s Too Pretty To Burn by Wendy Heard

Gr 9 Up–In this thriller, Mick, a blonde junior on the high school swim team and on the outs with her mother, begrudgingly attends a party with a friend and meets Veronica, a Chicana photographer with an edge. The two girls quickly hit it off, with Veronica taking a photograph of Mick immediately after their first kiss that becomes a sensation on Instagram, allowing her to break into the art world. Veronica introduces Mick to her best friend Nico, a 20-year-old brunette who creates subversive art in their San Diego region, and the two teens become willing participants in his illegal art installations. However, soon they are in over their heads as several murders and a raging fire occur and they become pawns in a larger scheme. Heard capably explores the tipping point in which a group can move from righteous anger to destruction when they let the adrenaline of the moment overtake reason. At what level do you go from political activist to eco-terrorist? Heard also captures the extreme highs and lows of teen romance. The imbalance in Veronica and Mick’s relationship could push teens to explore where they would draw the line on romantic boundaries and consent.

VERDICT This psychological thriller is sure to be popular with teens. A sapphic romance with elements of art, danger, and obsession, it is recommended for all YA library collections.

Lucy Clark Will Not Apologize by Margo Rabb

Gr 9 Up–Lucy Clark, a 16-year-old junior in boarding school in Texas, is mourning the loss of the grandmother who raised her, as her parents’ globe-trotting life has prevented Lucy from ever living with them. Alone and bereft, she becomes best friends with Dyna, but when the girls are involved in an altercation with some bullies, Lucy is suspended from school and sent to New York City to live with a cousin and work for an elderly woman named Edith. Lucy is immediately swept up in a mystery as Edith believes someone is trying to kill her. An eccentric group of suspects is revealed, and, in an implausible twist, Dyna joins Lucy in New York and the girls piece together the clues of who is trying to kill Edith. This story feels more like a cozy mystery for adults that was modified to fit a YA audience. The theme of creating a family of choice versus a family of origin is certainly worthwhile, but the trope of absentee parents in YA novels is taken to an extreme here. While the whimsical tone and the multigenerational connections are a plus, the mystery is far-fetched. Little description of Lucy and Dyna’s appearances is given in the narrative.

VERDICT This mystery might take some hand-selling by librarians but would be a good fit for teens who feel misunderstood and yearn to be heard.

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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