Graphic Novelty²



Guest Post on the 2022 YASF Tournament of Books

As the Head of Teen Services 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 Tournament of Books for YA novels from the previous year, and this is my sixth year participating by writing reviews for their blog So like YA know

This year I got to read two excellent sci-fi novels- Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders and Upper World by Femi Fadugba. One was more a space epic, while the other was grounded in reality, but both will appeal to a YA audience. Check here to find out which book I chose and WHY!


Project Hail Mary

MacGyver in spaaaace!

Mark Watney from The Martian has been reincarnated as Ryland Grace, an astronaut who is tasked with saving all of Earth’s humanity! Can he do it? Well, golly gee-willikers, with science, he can!

The book opens with an amnesic astronaut waking up from a coma. He quickly discovers his two shipmates are dead, but he can’t remember who he is or what the mission is. The onboard computer won’t give him the information, so he ever so slowly starts to piece together what happened. His amnesia is a plot device that is clunky but effective in helping readers gain background knowledge at the same time Grace does. As his memories start to slowly slip back into place, he realizes he is on a suicide mission to help Earth fight back against an extinction event, as the Sun is dimming because of some space organisms eating its energy.

You will need to establish a suspension of disbelief at how Grace got involved and his part in the research, but afterward, Weir world-builds up a storm. The author certainly knows his science, as everything about the space mission seemed very authentic and credible. Earth is doomed to a deadly ice age within a generation if something isn’t done to prevent it, so world leaders band together to send a ship off. In space, Grace learns that Earth is not the only planet that is being affected, and meets an alien he nicknames Rocky (love him!), who is also trying to save his species. What I liked about this story, is the practical steps Grace and Rocky had to establish to be able to communicate. Although a science fiction story, this is no Star Trek where you can just beam yourself onto alien ships or planets, and use a translator to understand one another. Slowly, step by step, the two learn how to work together, despite constant malfunctions in their ships. There is a twist at the end in regards to how Grace came aboard the ship, and a realistic outcome of what happens to him after the mission is over. The conclusion doesn’t have a pretty bow on it, and we have to surmise some details about Earth’s outcome.

Taken in parts, the book has its weaknesses, but as a whole, the story is hopeful and optimistic and I enjoyed listening to the audio edition. This book joins Weir’s two other books, The Martian and Artemis, as matching our blog’s theme of geeky awesomeness.



When I read The Martian, I was sucked into Andy Weir’s plausible science fiction story. His resourceful hero was funny and appealing and readers rooted for his survival. So I eagerly looked forward to his next book and was pleased to find a heroine in his second novel. Imagine my dismay when my opinion of the book plummeted chapter by chapter.

The book started off strongly, as Weir introduced Jazz Bashara, a Moon inhabitant since she was a child. Jazz is a young woman who is a porter for shipped in cargo, which enables her to smuggle goods on a regular basis. She hopes to curtail her hustling by passing an EVA certification that would enable her to take tourists on moon outings, but she fails. She is then open to an offer from a billionaire to sabotage some equipment of a competitor. She takes him up on it, ignoring all the red flags and moral issues about doing so, as she is only intent on the payoff. In typical Weir fashion, everything goes to hell, and Jazz veers from one catastrophe to another.

When Jazz was first introduced, her intelligence was established, and some diversity is added to the equation: she is a lapsed Muslim originally from Saudi Arabia. She has a sense of humor and her conversation is laced with obscenities and sarcastic quips. I thought she was refreshing at first, and I was amused at her attitude. She voices things that I sometimes think. Most people would be surprised at how salty my thoughts are about certain people or situations, but where I smile and keep my thoughts to myself, Jazz does not, and it got old fast. Real fast. I don’t have to completely like a main character to enjoy a book as a whole, but when you start to HATE the raunchy main character, there is a problem. In addition I did not understand why she had so many male friends willing to help her out of problems, yet she did not have a single female friend. Why do so many authors not know how to show authentic friendships between women? Why????

Despite my dislike of Jazz, there is strong world building with descriptions of the bubbled city of Artemis. A conversation occurs between two characters about the original TV series Star Trek, mentioning how it occurred about 100 years ago, which places the book’s events in the  near future of the late 2060’s. Weir certainly knows his science, as everything about the Moon colony seemed very authentic and credible. I listened to the audio edition that was voiced by Rosario Dawson, who delivered the narrative well. So considering how much I enjoyed his first book, I will try to balance my feelings about this one, and if he writes a third book I will certainly give it a go.


The Martian

Survival story on steroids!

Astronaut Mark Watney gets accidentally left on Mars during a mission that went haywire and needs to try to survive until a new mission can be launched to save him. Luckily as a botanist and all around problem solver he is just the guy to survive this catastrophe. Constant disasters abound, but no problem, Mark can handle it. Each chapter- Disaster! Crazy solution! Resourcefulness! Duct tape! Humor! Rinse, repeat!

Once NASA discovers he’s alive, then they too start the cycle of setbacks that can always be fixed, with lots of plausible sounding science thrown in to explain everything. I scoffed at how easily other astronauts, the public and other countries pitched in to help him (at such cost!) and how Mark never showed mental deterioration during his time trapped on Mars. Even though sex was just a quick mention, Mark is guaranteed some lovin’ when (and if) he gets back home due to the public’s rapt attention to his struggles. Taken in parts, the book has it’s weaknesses, but as a whole the story is great and I enjoyed listening to the audio edition.

Although I read this book by Andy Weir two years ago, I am currently listening to his second novel Artemis, and figure both sci-fi books match our blog’s theme of geeky awesomeness.


My Boyfriend is a Monster #1: I Love Him to Pieces

Tsang, Evonne, and Janina Gorrissen. My Boyfriend is a Monster #1: I Love Him to Pieces. 2010.

This was one of those things I was checking in at work one day and decided, “Why not?” I was intrigued by the covers and even though I’m not a horror fan, the premise and variety of the few I checked in were enough to pique my interest.

Dicey Bell and Jack Chen are parents – of an egg for their health class project. They have to coordinate taking care of their egg between Dicey’s baseball practices and Jack’s tabletop gaming nights. They manage to work it out, and become friends over the course of the project. But maybe… they both want to be more than friends. They go out on a date soon after the project is completed – only to have their first date interrupted by a zombie apocalypse. As they fight their way through the ever-increasing horde, Jack is bitten. Can they find a cure in time – and maybe have time for their first kiss?

After the cover was in color, I was a little surprised to open it and find it in black and white. It was a change of pace for me, though, and didn’t really mind when I got going. It was very clean and helped with the gorier parts. There isn’t anything in here that is over the top bloody and disgusting, which was good otherwise I would have stopped. The dialogue got super cheesy at times but I was kind of charmed. It was funny and a little tongue-in-cheek (multiple instances of making fun of zombie apocalypses even as it’s happening) and overall, I liked it.

– Kathleen

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!


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!


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

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