Scarlett Hart: Monster Hunter

by Marcus Sedgwick and Thomas Taylor
First sentence: “The Academy announced that another monster is on the loose.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some precarious situations, but not much else. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

It’s been a while since I’ve read a graphic novel that was this fun. Scarlett Hart is the daughter of two former monster hunters, who died in the line of duty. Even though she’s underage, and could lose her home to the Academy if they find out, she is a talented monster hunter, and with the help of her trusty butler, Napoleon, has been taking on the monsters in London.

There has been an uptick in monsters lately, though, and the dastardly (which really is the best word) Count Stankovic is out to discredit Scarlett (and get her permanently banned from the Academy). However, treachery lies deeper than that, and soon London is under attack. Can Scarlett stop it before everything is destroyed?

Seriously. This is just so much fun. It’s got a great steampunk feel, with cars and some other great inventions. It’s got a lot of humor — Napoleon and his relationship with his car! — as well as some great action sequences as well. It was just a delight to read. And I wouldn’t mind revisiting Scarlett and her world again!

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March (Book Two and Three)

by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell
First sentence: “Brother John — Good to see you.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there (book 2, book 3).
Others in the series: March (Book One)
Content: There is a lot of violence, and use of the n-word. It’s in the non-fiction area of the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This picks up where March (Book One) leaves off. Lewis is part of student non-violent protests in Nashville in the early 1960s, but soon leaves that to join the Freedom Riders: a group of African Americans who, in 1961-1962, put supposed desegregation to the test. They rode Greyhound buses though the south, stopping at cities in Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, with — as you would guess — pretty disastrous results. They were yelled at, beaten, arrested, thrown in jail, loaded up in cars and left in Klan territory, and the buses were blown up… let’s just say that, in short, white people in the south were TERRIBLE people.

All through this, Lewis (and others) preached the gospel of non-violence (which just makes white people look like terrorists. Really.): they didn’t fight back, they didn’t talk back, they just exercised their right (!) to do what they feel they had a right to do.

The book also follows Lewis through the March on Washington in 1963. (I didn’t know he was there, or even that he spoke! In fact, there’s a side note by him that out of everyone who spoke, he was the only one still living.) It was fascinating, learning about the politics behind that march, and about Robert Kennedy’s change of heart as well.

It’s a well-done graphic novel, one that is still very timely to read. As a white person, it definitely made me more aware of what people went through in the 1960s to get just basic rights, and I’m more aware now of how those rights aren’t still completely equal

March (Book Three) picks up after the church bombing the beginning of 1964 and goes through the march from Selma to Birmingham. My thoughts are pretty much the same as after reading book two: white people are so entrenched in their “way of life” that they can’t abide by change at all. And the thing I kept coming back to was that, in the intervening 54 years, that white people are still entrenched in their “way of life”, we just call it by different things now. It’s still racism. And it still is wrong. This one was difficult to read, and made me think, over and over, that an eye for an eye just makes everyone blind. I hope I’d have the courage to stand up to those who use their power to make others “less than”, those who call others “animals” or “dirty” or “from s-hole countries”, those who want to abuse their power to keep themselves in power… even if it means sacrificing my life. John Lewis and all those who stood by him are true heroes, and I wish there were more people like them now.

Excellent.

My Hero Academia

by Kohei Horikoshi
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some violence. And it’s a manga, so you have to read it backwards which might be a bit of a challenge (it was for me). It would be in the manga part of the graphic novel section of the bookstore, if we carried it.

K has been obsessed with My Hero Academia (though she watches the anime version and reads them online) for a while now, and when I had a chance to read graphic novels for my class, she talked me into reading this.

It’s basically an alternative Japan where everyone has “quirks” (think X-men mutant-type quirks; in fact one of the reviews I read criticized this for being an X-men knock off, which I can see). Everyone, that is, except Izuku, a 15-year-old quirkless kid… who wants to be a hero. He wants to get into the top school — U. A. High School for heroes — he wants to have a quirk. He wants to be like his personal hero, All Might. Except he can’t without a quirk. Things change for him, though, when he does a selfless act, and All Might — who in real life is completely wasted away — gives Izuku his powers. Which means two things: Izuku gets in to U. A…. but he doesn’t quite know how to control his powers. Yet.

This was so much fun! (Once I got the hang of reading a manga. K had to explain it to me.) Seriously. I loved Izuku and some of the other kids he met at U. A.  Horikoshi has created some fun characters, and I’m curious to see what they will be doing next, since volume 1 was just Izuku (called Deku by his friends) getting his powers and getting into school. The whole series was a bit cheeze-tastic, which I don’t mind at all. In fact, I found it charming.

And I think I might pick up the next one. (K’s urging me to do it!)

Be Prepared

by Vera Brosgol
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some awkward pranks, some light bullying, and some kissing. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Loosely based on Brosgol’s youth, Be Prepared follows 10-year-old Vera to Russian camp, nominally so she can “fit in”. Being Russian, she doesn’t quite mesh up with her friends at home, so she figures she’d have a better chance to fit in at a camp where everyone is Russian. Except, once she gets there she finds out that being the new kid isn’t any fun. Everyone already knows the camp traditions, rules, and has friends. She’s perpetually the third wheel and is often pushed around, especially by the older girls she bunks with.  It’s awkward and embarrassing, and Vera just wants to go home.

I can completely empathize with the feeling of not fitting in, feeling awkward, and not knowing how to make friends, and Brosgol captures that perfectly. But, thankfully, she manages to figure things out by the end of camp, mostly by being herself, which is always a good thing for kids to read about. She manages the awkward with humor — there are some laugh-out-loud moments! — and she makes even the annoying kids and the bullies be multi-dimensional.

There is a bit of a cliffhanger at the end of this one, so I hope Brosgol gives us a sequel!

All Summer Long

by Hope Larson
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 1, 2018
Content: There’s a little bit of romance, and just some themes of growing up in general. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore, but the sweet spot for this one is 6-7th graders, I think.

It’s the summer after 7th grade, and Bina’s not looking forward to it. Her best friend, Austin, is off to soccer camp for a month, and Bina’s afraid that summer will be boring without him. They’ve always spent the summer together, making their own fun, but they seem to be… growing up. And things aren’t the same.

Though, eventually Bina finds her own things to do: she makes friends with Austin’s older sister, Charlie, gets some babysitting gigs, and practices her guitar. It’s not the way it was with Austin, but it doesn’t suck.

The underlying conflict in the book is Austin and Bina’s friendship: they’ve been friends forever, but Austin’s been getting some grief from other boys (toxic masculinity is the worst!) for being friends with a girl, and so he attempts to push Bina away — which is part of the reason he’s been acting weird toward her. Larson treats all this with kindness and humor, and puts across a message that it’s okay to be friends with whomever you want to be with. Period. It’s wonderful.

And Larson also captures what it’s like to be young and faced with a long summer of doing… nothing. I like that the parents are concerned and responsible, but not hovering (they also change the Netflix password, so Bina can’t just watch TV all summer… that’s not a bad idea!) and Bina has some freedom to go out and find her own fun, but within reason.

It’s really a delightful graphic novel.

Black Panther, Book 1: A Nation Under our Feet

by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Illustrated by Brian Stelfreeze
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There’s some violence (of course), but nothing else. I’d give it to a middle schooler or higher who’s interested in it. It’s in the Graphic Novels section of the bookstore.

I honestly didn’t know what to expect heading into this one; Black Panther isn’t a superhero I was really familiar with until the movie trailers started playing. But, it looked cool, and I thought I’d give it a try.

What I got was a really intriguing, somewhat complicated, very deep story about King T’Challa who comes back from being away (he was off fighting with the Avengers) and finding his country in chaos. He’s not sure if he can be a leader, or even really sure how to be the leader his people want. And it doesn’t help that there are two distinct groups rebelling against him. One has a mind-controller (I think) involved, and that’s the one T’Challa is most concerned with. But there’s this other one (to be honest, I liked their story better), a couple of women soldiers who go renegade and start punishing men for treating women badly (timely, no?) and decide that no one man should lead the country.

As I said, it’s a complex, fascinating story about what it means to have power, what it means to be a citizen of a country, and the dichotomy between holding on to one’s traditions and moving toward the future. There was a lot to think about in these four issues, and it kind of makes me want to continue the story, just to see what happens to T’Challa and Wakanda, in the end.

Lighter Than My Shadow

by Katie Green
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There’s some disturbing images and language, as well as depictions of sexual assault. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This is a graphic memoir depicting Green’s journey and experience with eating disorders. She frames it as reflections from an adult perspective, looking back on her childhood, teens, and twenties as she struggles with anorexia and binge eating. It’s a very frank look — both at the way she perceived herself, but also the small things others around her, from her family to her friends to other students, said that contributed to her negative self-image.

Green tries many treatments, from the hospital to therapy to alternative therapy, but nothing seems to work. She thinks she’s “cured” at one point, but it’s really just a different manifestation for her need for control, which is the root problem.

Green’s not saying that her experience is typical of all anorexic’s experiences. But, that there is something of value in telling her story. And I think there is. I could see some of myself in her; while I have never been anorexic, I do have an inherent dislike of my body, and while I try not to pass that on to my girls, there are times when I’m afraid I have through little things I have unintentionally said.  I want them to have a healthy relationship with food, with their body, and reading books like this help me figure out how to help them have that.

I also really liked how the art reflects the story; Green does amazing things with darkness and shadow and fading images. It not only helped tell the story, it intensified it, giving a depth to this particular story that wouldn’t have come through in a prose book.

A very, very good book.