All’s Faire in Middle School

by Victoria Jamieson
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Release date: September 5th, 2017
Content: There’s some mild bullying and some kissing by background adult characters. It will be in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.
Review copy provided by the publisher.

Imogene has grown up in the Florida Renaissance Faire. Literally: her father is an actor in the permanent troupe, and her mother runs a shop. Imogene has been homeschooled up until now, but has decided that she wants to give middle school a try for sixth grade.

Possibly predictably, Imogene finds out that middle school isn’t a nice place. She’s teased for being homeschooled, for wearing her hand-made leather boots every day. She starts to make friends, but it’s with the “in” group. Which means (also predictably) that there will be conflicts when their desires conflict with the values Imogene has been taught.

Back at the Faire, Imogene has been promoted to be a squire, which means that she’s part of the “show”. Sure, it’s just to scoop poop in the joust and to wander around interacting with the guests, but Imogene loves it. And it seems that she’s making a friend of one of her classmates who comes every weekend.

Sure, the plot is predictable — I’ve read this same story a hundred times before — but that’s not to say that it isn’t enjoyable. Jamieson has a way with art and words and I cared very much about Imogene and her story. (Though I think I liked the minor characters — her parents and younger brother especially — better.) It was fun to read, and fun to see a little inside the workings of a permanent Renaissance Faire.

Spill Zone

by Scott Westerfeld and Alex Puvilland
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Content: It’s got several swear words, including at least one f-bomb. It’s in the Graphic Novel  (the teen graphic novels got absorbed by the regular graphic novels) section of the bookstore.

Addison is living on the outskirts of the Spill Zone, what used to be the city of Poughkeepsie until something happened  that turned it into a wasteland. She’s taking care of her younger sister, Lena, who was one of the kids that got out of the Zone right when it happened. Unfortunately, their parents never made it.

Addison supports the two of them by venturing into the Zone, which is illegal, and taking pictures of the weirdness that goes on there. She has a bunch of rules — never interact, never get off her bike — and she never, ever takes pictures of the “meat puppets”, the people who are still in the Zone.

That is, until a wealthy benefactor pays Addison to go get something from in the hospital…

This is a weird, trippy book. That’s not to say it isn’t good. The world that Westerfeld and Puvilland have created is incredibly compelling. And the art is fantsatical, especially the parts when Addison is in the Zone. It’s (unfortunately) a start of a series (there will be at least a sequel!) so it creates more questions than it answers (like: why does the doll talk to Lena? Why does the doll need to be recharged? What was the “accident” that created the Zone? Why is there a flying North Korean kid? I need answers!). But it’s an incredible start.

Ms. Marvel: Civil War II

by G. Willow Wilson, et al
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Other is the series: No Normal, Generation Why , Super Famous
Content: Violence, mostly. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, but it’s good for teens and up.

I’m not sure if I’m completely up on Ms. Marvel (it’s hard to keep track!)… but I picked this one up, and fell into it. Kamala is having issues at school and as a superhero – she doesn’t have time for her friends much anymore, and Bruno is no longer happy with being her “sidekick”. And then Captain Marvel asks Kamala to be the head of this predictive crime unit, where they take a psychic’s premonitions and then arrest people before they commit a crime. It’s going fine, until one of Kamala’s friends gets arrested for thinking about doing something drastic. Maybe predictive crime prevention comes perilously close to profiling?

Kamala tries to get out of it, but ends up alienating everyone, so she heads off to Pakistan to her family’s home, trying to find herself there. But not everything is quite as simple as it seems.

It helps that each issue is really its own arc, and that you don’t really need to know what went on before, which is good because I’m not sure I remember from issue to issue. That said, this one touched on some really interesting ideas, including profiling, and the costs/benefits of trying to stop crime before it happens. The side trip to Pakistan at the end was interesting, too, as was the Kamala’s parents’ backstory that was threaded throughout the issue. I keep picking these up because I love the story arcs that Wilson comes up with, and this one didn’t disappoint.

Real Friends

by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
First sentence:
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Content: It’s a pretty frank look at friendship and anxiety, and there are some uncomfortable parts. That said, it’s pretty great for 4-6th graders. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I knew, before I even read this, that this was going to be good. It’s Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham, after all. It’s not that they can do no wrong, just varying shades of right.

So, even though this is Shannon’s story (of sorts) of her elementary school years, of trying to figure out friendships and make a space for her in this world, of the ups and downs of anxiety and bullying (both an older sister who was somewhat abusive and with girls at school), this is a story for everyone, really. As the oldest in the family, I found myself focusing in on the older sister character, wondering how my younger siblings saw me. The mother in me wanted to give Shannon a hug and protect her from the awful, even though I know that I can’t. And, yeah, I cried.

Part of the reason I read this (I would have anyway!) is because I had school visits (and a small author event) scheduled with Shannon and LeUyen. And at the small author luncheon, they said something interesting: how this story, maybe because it’s so specific to Shannon, is universal. LeUyen found herself in it, even though her family were Vietnamese immigrants in California and not white Mormons in Utah. And there is a lot of truth to that. Shannon also mentioned that there’s a built-in happy ending: she, obviously, has turned out okay. She is happy, she is healthy, she has friends and a successful career. And, she said, that’s a message of hope to kids: you can, in fact, make it through.

I’ve passed it on to K, who loved it. And to C, who has been going through a rough patch of her own. And I do want to give this to every 4-6th grader I know.

As an aside: Shannon and LeUyen are as fantastic and delightful as I thought they would be.  It was wonderful being able to share them with kids and adults here.

5 Worlds: The Sand Warrior

by Mark Siegel, Alexis Siegel, Xanthe Bouma, Matt Rockefeller, Boya Sun
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: May 2, 2017
Content: There’s some intense action moments. It will be in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

This came into the store, and I passed it off to K, since she’s the graphic novel aficionado in the house. She took it, read it, and came home raving about it. Made me sit down and read it (while she read it again over my shoulder!) pretty much right then.

And she’s right: this one’s a winner.

Oona is a sand dancer on one of the five worlds. She’s learning to control the sands, and perhaps see the Chosen One, the one who will fill the prophecy and light the beacons. (Though lighting the beacons is a source of contention: not everyone in the worlds thinks that will save the dying worlds…) Oona’s not a star student by any means; she finds she can’t control the sands. And so when Oona receives a letter from her sister who left a year earlier, she decides, on the eve of Beacon Day (when they choose the Chosen One), to ditch everything and see her sister.

And that’s where the adventure starts. Through a series of accidents, she meets An Tzu, a boy from the slums who has a knack for getting out of tough situations and Jax Amboy, a famous starball player who has a couple  of secrets. Together, the three of them set out to figure out the prophecy and find someone to light the beacons.

That doesn’t do it justice, really. It’s fun, it’s packed full of suspense and adventure, and I love the mythology and lore that the authors have created. I also really liked the different worlds and creatures they’ve created. It’s a inventive story while retaining a sense of familiarity (I mean, how many times have we read a Chosen One story, after all?).

It’s really one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in a while, though.

Yvain: The Knight of the Lion

yvainby M.T. Anderson, illustrated by Andrea Offerman
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Content: There’s some violence and some more mature themes.  Plus it’s based in medieval times. It’s in the teen graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I have an affinity for all things Arthurian (or I used to at least), and so when our Candlewick rep mentioned that the new graphic novel by M. T. Anderson was based on one of the lesser known Arthurian tales, I jumped at the chance to read it.

It’s the story of one of Arthur’s knights of the round table, Yvain. He is challenged by the other knights to go find the magical spring and fight the mysterious knight that defends it. And so Yvain does. And defeats the knight. Which widows the knight’s wife, and sets off an… interesting chain of events. Which includes Yvain falling for the wife, her maid falling for Yvain, Yvain marrying the wife, a year-long bout of jousting in which Yvain forgets he has a wife, an exile in the forest, and then tricking the wife (with the help of the maid) into taking him back.

Definitely an Arthurian tale. It’s odd, to say the least.

The art by Andrea Offermann, however, is stunning. She tries to play up the role of the women (which isn’t much, considering this is a Medieval story) but she also manages to capture the era — both the renaissance faire feel as well as the seedy, realistic underbelly — as well.

Did I like it? Kind of. It was good enough to finish, but wasn’t enough to wow my socks off.

One Trick Pony

onetrickponyby Nathan Hale
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Release date: March 14, 2017
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There are some scary bits, but it’s pretty tame overall. It will be in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Aliens have invaded, and their primary goal is not to destroy the humans but to gather the technology. Everything and anything that can be considered tech — from forks and knives to guns to computers and robots — is gobbled up by the aliens, whom the humans have taken to calling Pipers.

On the outskirts of one of the “hot zones” (places where there is lots of piper activity) there’s a mobile community — the Caravan — of people whose main goal is to keep the tech — and thereby “civilization” — alive. Then one day, a few kids from the Caravan uncover a robot pony in the middle of the hot zone. Suddenly pipers are after them, and it ends in a confrontation that will either result in the loss of humanity or its salvation.

It’s an intriguing story, and I loved the way Hale told it. So very good.