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Guest Post on YASF Battle of the Books

As the Teen Services Coordinator at my library, I attend a networking group with other librarians who work with teens in the Chicagoland suburb area. For several years the YASF (Young Adult Services Forum) group has had a yearly Battle of the Books for YA novels, and this is my second year participating.

This year I wrote reviews for the second round of the tournament, once many of them had been eliminated. I had to read the fantasy novel The Star Touched Queen and the graphic novel Ghosts and decide which book would move to the next bracket. Who do you think I picked as the winner? Check here to find out, plus you can read a slightly more thorough review on Ghosts here.

-Nancy

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Locke & Key: Volumes 2-6

This is one of the BEST graphic novel series EVER! Strong from beginning to end- I can’t recommend it enough! I will now wait as you rush out to purchase this series…

Ok, are you back from the book store? Let’s continue. When I read the first volume back in April, I said “Locke & Key is truly one of the best graphics novels I have ever read, hands down. It just dominates. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are superb storytellers, and this first novel makes me anxious to read the rest of the series. Who cares that I have family, work and school commitments? Lovecraft is calling me.” Well, real life got in the way and I didn’t want to read the rest of the series piecemeal, so I waited until my family was on vacation to give my undivided time to finishing the series. *Warning- some spoilers ahead!*

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Volume 2-Head Games:

After reading the first volume of the Locke & Key series and absolutely loving it, I knew I had to read all six volumes. Each book is dense, and takes time to get through, but is so worth the effort. This second volume delves deeper into world-building, with much back story and character development. Dodge, the malevolent soul released from the well by Bode, has now managed to worm himself closer to the family by taking on a new guise. The Locke family is none the wiser, for “Zack” manages to manipulate or take out any other person who suspects the truth. More magic keys appear, with intriguing diary entries from a Revolutionary-era ancestor in the back of the book explaining the powers of each key. The Head Key proves to be the most intriguing for a head can be opened and memories examined, showing how memories can be subjective to each person. The illustrations showing’s Bode’s colorful kaleidoscope of memories, compared to Ellie’s black and white adult memories are brilliant.

Volume 3-Crown of Shadows:

The third volume continues to dominate. The Locke family is still struggling over the death of the father, with the mother Nina crumbling under the strain of her rape and her husband’s murder. Her drinking takes a toll on the whole family, with Kinsey and Tyler having to take on the adult roles of parenting their little brother since their mother is too drunk to do so. More keys are discovered and used for evil by Zack, but combated by the three siblings with their own keys, still not knowing who is behind the attacks. Nina discovers a magic chest (which surprised me for they make a point in saying that the magic is for the young) which fixes broken items, leading her to put her husband’s ashes in and hoping for a miracle. Unfortunately, it can not mend death, leading to a poignant conclusion of Nina’s breakdown and the discovery of the mysterious Omega Key.

Volume 4-Keys to the Kingdom:

Another solid entry but it runs into the “middle problem” of a series when the beginning sets up the plot and atmosphere, and the middle is left with hanging storylines before the last volumes (hopefully) wrap up everything successfully. The beginning of the book was a fun start, with the illustrations drawn to emulate Bill Watterson’s Calvin & Hobbes style, to set up the stage for an animal showdown. Many more keys are found by the Locke siblings, and for the first time, they are not documented in the diary entries but they are obvious as to their power with the awesome battle illustrations drawn by Rodriguez. Lucas/Zack is still manipulating the family, especially Kinsey whom he romances, but Tyler is beginning to put together the clues. The end of this volume concludes with an epic cliff hanger.

Not every series can be perfect- and I do have some issues: I found the Skin Key to be problematic with stereotypical racial overtones, Ellie’s constant misfortune including her son Rufas’s intellectual disability and the implication that he is too stupid for the Head Key to be used on him, and the teenagers poor decisions in regards to what they let their friends and love interests know. I do look forward to how volumes five and six resolve the story and hopefully tie up some of my stated issues.

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Volume 5-Clockworks:

Backstory awesomeness!!! We finally get an explanation of the keys’ origin during the Revolutionary War era, as hinted by the diary entries of different Locke generations in the back of the previous volumes. The present-day Locke’s discover the Timeshift Key enabling them to witness history. They observe the first Locke family as they endure tragedy from the British while protecting the American rebels. Tyler and Kinsey watch as the 1700’s Locke children witness the evil hiding in the caverns below their home. Later we are privy to what happened in 1988 with Rendell (the father as a teenager) and his friends and how the evil invaded Lucas. It was especially heartbreaking to see how Lucas had truly loved Ellie until he was accidentally taken over, all due to Rendell’s immaturity and bad ideas. This volume had many tragic deaths, all of whom were innocent, due to the evil that got loose from the Black Door. I can not wait to see how this story concludes, and what will happen to Bode, now that the evil is in him. What legacy awaits the Locke’s?

Volume 6- Alpha & Omega:

All the mythology that has been building over the series comes to an epic conclusion. The entire Locke family is fighting for their survival, as an evil entity has been gaining strength and is determined to take over. This coincides with prom, and a large group of foolish teens head into the cave for after-prom festivities, not knowing that they are walking into evil’s lair. The final showdown occurs with Kinsey and Tyler fighting the demon that looks like their little brother. Other friends step up to assist, often with devastating results. The death toll builds, with some surprising twists and turns. Will they be able to vanquish the enemy, and at what terrible price? While the poignant epilogue gives the Locke family some closure and a few happy endings, the Locke family is forever changed by the demons they fought and the tragedies they endured.

A few final wrap-ups: The artwork made this series for it established the atmosphere to coincide with Hill’s magnificent and well-paced storytelling.  Rodriguez is crazy talented. He has included Easter eggs in this series from the start, with details drawn into pictures or words written into books in a library background, so I had to smile when I recognized Hill and Rodriguez drawn as the paramedics on page 18. Although I have been on the lookout for eggs, I wonder how many other details I have missed or what other background characters have been people the artist knows.

So, everyone, you MUST READ this horror series! Beg, borrow or steal these books. You will be glad you did.

-Nancy

L&K

 

Locke & Key: Welcome To Lovecraft

Locke & Key is truly one of the best graphic novels I have ever read, hands down.  It just dominates. Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez are superb storytellers, and this first novel makes me anxious to read the rest of the horror series. Who cares that I have family, work and school commitments? Lovecraft is calling me. *Warning- some spoilers ahead!*

The story starts with a family tragedy as the Locke family is terrorized by two students who have an ax to grind with the father, Rendell, who is a high school guidance counselor. This book is not for the young, as adult themes of sexual assault and extreme violence are implied or shown. After the father’s murder, the shattered family leaves California and heads to Massachusetts to start over at the Locke family estate, where Rendell’s younger brother Duncan provides them sanctuary.

Nina, the mother, shows extreme strength (although she drinks too much) in trying to keep it together for her children Tyler, Kinsey and Bode. Bode, at six years old, copes differently than his high school siblings who carry guilt and shame for their actions before and during the attack. The grieving family settles into their new home and explore the extensive grounds near the ocean. Bode, curious to a fault, is the one who discovers the secret in the locked-up well house. Who is calling to him from the well, and what do they want? So while the family believes they escaped from the monsters from their past, one is still following them intent on creating more havoc, and a new mysterious enemy is closer than they know.

Rodriguez’s artwork is what makes the novel so amazing. The illustrations are lush and detailed, and he makes each new character individual and unique. He captures emotions perfectly and makes Sam, one of the disturbed killers, eerie and believable. The supernatural aspects of the story with Dodge, the mystical being in the well, were appropriately creepy and drawn meticulously, and often you can find little clues hidden in the pictures if you examine them carefully.  The layout of the pages varies and is easy to follow, and no matter if it is a small panel or full page, each drawing contributes to advancing the story.

As the first in a six-part series (edit- volumes 2-6 reviewed here) the storyline is set up to explore threads that are introduced and hinted at to make you eager to continue reading. Joe Hill, aka Stephen King’s son, won an Eisner Award for Best Writing in 2011 for this series and it is well deserved. Hill also writes novels, but this story is better told in graphic form,  so his collaboration with Rodriguez was well worth the effort. I will definitely be buying this six-volume set for the graphic novel collection at my library, and I look forward to seeing other people enjoy this book as much as I have!

-Nancy

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Hill, Joe & Gabriel Rodriguez. Locke & Key: Welcome to Lovecraft. 2008.

Graveyard Quest

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Green KC. Graveyard Quest. 2016.

This book was quite an acid trip. Based off KC Green’s webcomic, Gunshow, his 59 strips about a petulant gravedigger with mommy issues has been turned into this unique novel, with an added epilogue bonus.

The gravedigger (no name given) has inherited the family business of you guessed it-gravedigging. He keeps his beloved mother’s bones in a box near his bed so he can converse with her, much to the dismay of his father’s angry ghost. His father steals the bones, sending the gravedigger on a quest to retrieve them from the Underworld. So begins a journey that has him meet a wise mole, train bandits who want to hijack their way to Heaven, a town of worms that live off the rot of the corpses he buries, Charon the river Styx conductor, and the creature Beelzebub who desperately wants to go back to Hell. How do all these expletive spewing characters relate to his odyssey? Well…let’s just say it’s the journey not the destination for the gravedigger to find closure with his father.

Green’s art style is primitive at best with a simple color scheme. The cover has a different art style than the story inside. The gravedigger’s eyes aren’t big enough and it looks like he is wearing lipstick on the cover, and is rather off putting, but as none of Green’s art is appealing in a traditional way, I guess it doesn’t really matter. (Edit- a commenter clued me in that the cover is like the game Fester’s Quest and this website confirmed it) The style of art and storytelling is reminiscent of the tv cartoon show Chowder, with Charon reminding me of this awesome clip from the series!

So if you have a warped sense of humor, like to swear and are familiar with Gunshow then this book is for you!

-Nancy

 

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Friends With Boys

I love me some Rainbow Rowell, so when I heard she was partnering with Faith Erin Hicks to do two graphic novels together, I had to check out FEH’s work and see if she was worthy. And worthy she is-her work is beyond awesome!!

Maggie is about to start high school, and after being homeschooled since childhood she is very nervous. Her three older brothers have been her whole social life before this, so she is scared and unsure of how to make friends, having none in the past. To make matters worse, her mother has recently left the family and Maggie is haunted (!) by the widow of a ship captain from the 1800’s. While her brothers are supportive, they are busy and have issues of their own, so she tentatively strikes up a friendship with a brother & sister who are on the fringes of HS society themselves. Alistair and Lucy have an interesting back story, and with their help (and later her brother’s assistance), Maggie tries to understand and then put an end to her haunting. What seemed like an odd plot thread, ties in neatly with her feelings of guilt in regards to her mother, and not always being able to fix things, no matter how much you’d like to.

The artwork is done in shades of black and white and captures the full spectrum of human emotion. The comic panels vary in size and perspective to convey different aspects of the story, from close ups of the characters to long shots to show atmosphere. The relationships between the McKay family (their last name was just icing on the cake!) were authentic and sweet, and I wanted to hang out with the two sibling sets by the end of the book. I demand a sequel! Seriously…please write a sequel.

I eagerly look forward to the collaboration of RR & FEH. It will undoubtedly be epic!

-Nancy

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Hicks, Faith Erin. Friends With Boys. 2012.
 

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