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Moral Issues

The Outside Circle

Powerful. Heartbreaking. Educational.

Pete, a young man of the Cree Nation of Canada, lives with his mother and younger brother, Joey, in the city of Edmonton in Alberta. Pete is involved in the drug trade and angrily rejects his girlfriend when she tells him of her pregnancy. But he is protective of his brother, and later his mother, when he discovers his mother beat up again by her drug addicted boyfriend. The fight between these two men escalates, with Pete shooting the strung out man, and being sentenced to jail for the murder. Social Services sweeps in and takes custody of Joey, with the mother resignedly signing away her rights. Joey struggles in foster care, eventually running away to go back to his old neighborhood, and getting recruited to be part of Pete’s old drug gang.

While incarcerated, Pete continues with gang affiliations and violence, until he receives a beat down that sends him to the prison infirmary. A kindly parole officer has him switch prisons and gives him an opportunity to be part of a program geared towards rehabilitating First Nations men in prison. He and several other men meet at the Healing Centre and are sponsored through the program by Violet, an older First Nations woman who has conquered her own demons. The group starts each meeting with a Purification Smudge, and weeks go by as step by painful step she leads these men through the Warrior Program. The men learn how the colonial system of Canada deliberately broke the bonds of family ties among the Aboriginal tribes, sending children to schools that were designed to reeducate and Christianize them. The government took away thousands of children from their families, breaking the circles of community and fragmenting generations of people with no connection to their tribe anymore. Pete’s eyes are opened to how he can change his ways, and be a good influence to Joey, breaking the cycle of hopelessness that many feel. His story of redemption and making amends is a compelling testament to finding healing and being proud of your heritage.

The author, Patti LaBoucane-Benson, is of Métis heritage and is Director of Research, Training, and Communication at Native Counselling Services of Alberta. The story she shares, which mirrors many of the same issues that Native Americans have faced in the US, is one that more people should be aware of. The artist, Kelly Mellings, captures the characters (especially the facial expressions) and story arc perfectly. Page by page, I was sucked into the story that had a good narrative flow, with background knowledge added into the pictures for clarification. The illustrations beautifully show the symbolism, ceremonies and traditions of Aboriginal culture. No matter what your cultural identity is, family connectedness and knowing we are all part of our community should be an aspect of our lives.

-Nancy

 

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LaBoucane-Benson, Patti & Kelly Mellings. The Outside Circle. 2015.

 

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Alex + Ada: Volumes 2 & 3

Alex + Ada 2
Luna, Jonathan & Sarah Luna. Alex + Ada. 2015.

I tire of books going on endlessly, for I enjoy the series and anticipate the next volume, but then I eventually reach a point of lessening interest.  But  how can I stop when I’ve invested so much time in the series?! Here’s looking at you, TWD! This three volume series is a welcome change.

Volume 2: Definitely the bridge book of the series, it picks up where we left off in Volume 1– Ada is now sentient. So, what does it mean to be “human”? Ada experiments with her senses, tasting food and touching different textures to find out what she truly likes. Alex enjoys seeing how Ada experiences what he takes for granted. Alex courts her as he would a regular girlfriend, and later with Ada’s full consent, she participates in a full on sensory experience with him. Yeah, you know what I’m saying!  Unfortunately, all of this needs to remain hidden as turning androids into sentient beings is against the law. Alex and Ada try to hide Ada’s new intelligence from outsiders, but that turns out to be harder than expected. People’s scared, judgmental or deviant stereotypes of androids start to take their toll on them. Together in isolation they are happy, but that won’t work long term.

Volume 3: Living in seclusion is untenable, and Alex and Ada must go out in public more often. This leads to complications, as family and friends start to clue in about Ada’s abilities. Not only is their situation risky, there is growing danger in the larger world, as society struggles with what to do about sentient rights. Someone close to Alex betrays him and the FBI wants to make Alex an example to the community. Alex and Ada make a run for it, hoping to find sanctuary elsewhere. As not to spoil the ending, all I can say is- OMG the FEELS at the end!

The artwork is simple and clean, leaving the story to take center stage. As stated above, I was glad for the shortened arc and definite ending of the series, but the story could have been fleshed out a bit more. Maybe one more volume??  This thought provoking series made it onto my must buy list for the library!

-Nancy

Alex + Ada 3

Alex + Ada: Volume 1

Set in the near future, Alex receives a gift of a realistic android from his grandma as a birthday gift. As Alex is still reeling from the breakup with his fiancé a few months ago, his grandma feels that the android will cheer him up and bring him fulfillment, as a male android has done for her. At first Alex is freaked out by this beautiful female robot, and considers returning her, but ultimately keeps her. The year anniversary of a massacre between humans and androids that had become sentient looms throughout the narrative, and new stringent rules are in place to block any androids from gaining real emotions. As Alex becomes attached to the android he names Ada, he longs for a more “human” connection with her and he eventually seeks an underground group of androids that have gained sentience. Through an illegal download she gains self awareness, but as this is against the law, she needs to mask her new abilities in public. The two of them face a very uncertain future, and this sci-fi romance has strong connections to the movies Blade Runner and Her. As this story feels current in time, it did make me think of the imminence of artificial intelligence, and what rights and laws will be appropriate if this story’s technology become feasible in our future.

The cover of this graphic novel stands out, as the wrapping that Ada was packaged in is draped over her head, and with her white clothing, it is an obvious symbol of a woman being offered as a bride. The art is very sparse, with an earth tones color palette. Black borders surround a standard layout, with some full page panels. However, the simplicity of the art lets the complexity of the human emotions shine through. Nothing distracts from the character-centric narrative, and the story is able to breathe.

The story continues for two more volumes, with a definite conclusion in Volume 3. I have read Volume 2 and have Volume 3 on hold. I look forward to seeing how the story will wrap up, and wonder what the future holds for Alex +Ada!

-Nancy

Luna, Jonathan & Sarah Vaughn. Alex + Ada. 2014.

Beautiful Darkness

Macabre.
Unsettling.
Gruesome.
I loved it.

This seemingly sweet graphic novel starts out with a lovely young woman having tea with a prince, and it is going splendidly well, that is until great globs of red stuff starts falling on them. As everyone runs for safety, the view shifts away for a long shot, and you see little creatures pouring out of the orifices of a dead girl. What?!

Aurora takes charge and finds food and shelter for all the little doll like creatures, and tries to befriend the woodland animals. They all work together and it seems like utopia (well, except for the decomposing human girl in the woods) for awhile. But all that shines is not gold. Soon the veneer of politeness starts to wear off, and what at first seemed like a fantasy story slips towards horror.

Another doll Zelie emerges as a leader, with many catering to her every cruel whim. Zelie’s manipulations lead to many of the tiny beings turning on one another to stay in her favor and some accepting their deaths willingly. Even Aurora falls prey to her for a bit, turning against her friend the mouse, when in actuality she is upset on how she fell for Zelie’s deceit.

Only a few besides Aurora survive outside Zelie’s influence- Jane, who is independent and moves away, and an unstable doll who hides in the skull of the girl eating maggots and slipping into insanity. Aurora eventually follows Jane to a mysterious woodcutter’s cottage, whom you will wonder about- what is his connection to the dead girl? When Zelie and her dwindling entourage arrive at the cottage, Aurora then makes a radical decision.

Allegories abound in this book- make of it what you will. Of this I am certain, you will leaf through it several times, reading even deeper meaning into the story each time you look carefully at the watercolor panels. Enjoy….

-Nancy

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