EMG Graphic Novel Roundup 5

A-Okay
by Jarad Greene
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Content: It’s a very “middle school” book, with crushes and friendship issues. It’s in the middle grade graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Jay is starting 8th grade with a face full of acne. This is a problem, mostly b because he is very self-conscious of his looks, and he thinks that his friends won’t like him anymore. He tried everything, but nothing seemed to work until he goes to a dermatologist and got on a heavy course of medication. The only problem is that it gives him mood swings and makes him sweat a bunch. On top of that, his best friend is more interested in hanging out with his new band members and Jay feels alone. He tries to make new friends, but it doesn’t go terribly well. And one more thing: he’s just not interested in a couple of his classmates the way they are in him.

I liked that this book dealt not only with the way boys feel about their appearance but also with the lack of feelings of attraction to people. I think there are more of these coming out now, normalizing not “liking people”, which I really appreciate. It’s not a really great graphic novel, but it is a good one, and one that I think kids will find valuable.

The Flamingo
by Guojing
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Content: there are very few words, so this works as a beginning chapter book, a picture book, or a graphic novel. It’s in the Middle Grade graphic novel section of the bookstore, but it can definitely go younger.

The simple story of a city girl who goes to visit her grandmother in an unnamed (but presumably Asian) country. They spend days on the beach, and at night, her grandmother telles==s her the story of how she came to have a flamingo wing. It’s a simple story, one that is meant to delight as well as entertain, and when the girl returns home to the city, she draws the flamingo adventure for her grandmother.

There is not much to this book, but man, it was absolutely gorgeous. The art is so so evocative, you can’t help but fall in love with the characters from the girl and her grandmother to the flamingo. It’s absolutely stunning.

Living with Viola
by Rosena Fung
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Content: It talks pretty frankly about anxiety, and implies suicidal thoughts. It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

Olivia is a sixth grader, and her parents have transferred her to a new school, one with a better reputation so she can get a better education, which means starting completely over. That’s shared enough, but Livvy has pretty bad anxiety, which she personifies as “Viola” Sometimes Livvy can keep Viola at bay, but often Viola becomes so big that it’s overwhelming. Livvy does make new friends, but there are friendship struggles and struggles with her immigrant parents as well as with her extended family. Overarching it all is Viola, and her insistence that Livvy is just no good.

This is an excellent graphic novel for a couple of reasons. First, it’s great that it shows anxiety as something “other” – it was a little weird to get used to at first, but eventually, I did. I think it’s beneficial because kids will realize that anxiety is not “them” but something outside of their control. At least by themselves. At the end of the book, Livvy goes to see a therapist who gives her some tools to help keep Viola at bay better. The book doesn’t get into medication, but it does provide hope that anxiety isn’t something to be ashamed or afraid of. I liked that Livvy felt like a sixth grader, aught between friends who want to “grow up” and Livvy wanting to carry around her cute plush unicorn. That pretty well sums up sixth grade. I also enjoyed Fug’s exploration of Livvy’s Cantonese heritage, from the microaggressions of kids at school (why does your food smell, why don’t you speak Chinese) to Fung choosing to make every time a character speaks in Cantonese in red. It’s a clever, good, well-drawn graphic novel and I enjoyed it quite a lot.

Button Pusher
by Tyler Page
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Content: There is some domestic violence, as Tyler’s dad has a temper. There are also allusions to swearing (but they are @#!!). It’s in the Middle Grade Graphic Novel section of the bookstore.

In this graphic memoir (sort of), Page relates his history of having ADHD during his childhood, and his path to his parents not only getting him diagnosed but also the ups and downs of medication. There is also family drama: Tyler’s dad has an explosive temper and is pretty misogynistic towards Tyler’s mom (and his boys, too, really). Page doesn’t sugarcoat the contention at home, and even recalls the times when his mother had had enough and wanted to leave (but chickened out). There is a lot of “it gets better” in this book as well, as Page is looking back on his childhood.

It’s well-drawn, and I liked that Page spent time trying to explain what ADHD is, and how the brain of a person with ADHD works (and doesn’t work). It may be a bit advanced for kids, but I found it fascinating. And I think the purpose of the book is to not only try and illustrate what a kid with ADHD looks like (though, as Page notes near the end, it’s different for everyone), and to create awareness. I don’t think the problems at home had much to do with the ADHD (except maybe Page’s dad was undiagnosed? I felt like he was bipolar, but that’s me being an armchair doctor), but Page was trying to be as honest as possible about his childhood. A really good graphic novel, though maybe not as much for kids as it is for their caregivers.

Didn’t finish: Besties.

The Agathas

by Kathleen Glasgow and Liz Lawson
First sentence: “Alice Ogilvie is crazy.”
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Content: There is some swearing, including 3 F-bombs, some mention of teenage drinking, drug use, and sexual activity.

Alice Ogilvie is persona non grata in Castle Cove: last summer, she disappeared for five days. Everyone in town panicked and sent out searches for her. And then she reappeared, much to everyone’s chagrin, and refused to talk about her summer. She’s trying to get back into school – after being on house arrest for two months – and is failing at it.

Iris is trying to get her and her mother away from her abusive dad. This means she needs money. So, when the school counselor hirs her to be a tutor to Alice, she’s a little wary, but needs the $3,000 enough to take it on. But when Alice’s former best friend, Brooke, goes missing and then turns up dead, Alise is determined to get to the bottom of it. Iris is just along for the ride, and for the reward money. The question is: can two teenage girls figure out the mystery?

If you can’t tell from the title: this is really a straight-up murder mystery, the kind Agatha Christie used to write. It hits all the mystery beats: a dead body, a falsely accused person, and so on. And it did it all really well. I liked the voices of Alice and Iris, and the way the story was told through both of their eyes. I liked that the mystery was just high enugh stakes that I woudl fl a sense of danger when Alice and Iris get into questionable situatons It’s a strong story ad a fun one. Definitely recommended.

The Honeys

by Ryan La Sala
First sentence: “My sister wakes me with a whisper.”
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Release date: May 3, 2022
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and descriptions of sexual assault and rape. It will be in the Teen (grades 9+) section of the bookstore.

Mars is a twin, the undesirable twin, the one who lives in the shadow of Caroline, the Chosen One. He/they is gender fluid, doesn’t quite fit the norms of the rich, societied life his parents set out for him. Especially when it comes ot the summer camp, Aspen. Mars had a falling out years ago at the camp, when he pushed back against the gender norms and roles at the camp and hasn’t been back since. So when his sister unexpectedly shows up in the middle of the night, crazy and delious, attempting to kill Mars and then dying herself, he knows something is up. And that something has to tdo with the Honeys.

The Honeys, as he finds out when he goes back to Aspen, are a clique of girls, set apart, yet welcoming to him. At first, seems heavenly, to be accepted and understood by people who also knew and loved Caroline. But the farther he gets in, the more sinister it becomes.

I really had no idea what to expect when starting this. There’s a lot about bees and the way the hive works (most of which I knew from reading The Bees). But it’s also about societal expectations and the ways in which conforming to those hurts individuals. I have a theory that the hive/honey is Capitalism, but it could also be greed and power, both of which teen girls, even white ones from weathly families, have little of. It’s a fascinating study of groupthink and the power of suggestion, and how sometimes good things go bad.

I don’t know if it’s a book for everyone, but it’s a good book, one that will lead to fascinating discussions. I will be thinking about it for a while.

Audiobook: Olga Dies Dreaming

by Xochitl Gonzalez
Read by: Almarie Guerra, Armando Riesco & Inés del Castillo
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is a lot of sex, on-screen and off, a lot of f-bombs and swearing, and one (implied) rape scene. It’s in the Adult Fiction section of the bookstore.

Oh, this one is a hard book to sum up. Olga is a 40-year-old, single, wedding planner whose mother left the family when Olga was 13. Her older brother, Prieto, is a congressman for their Brooklyn district, and a closeted gay man. They’re basically trying to survive and deal with both the gap and the shadow that their revolutionary mother has created. It’s a process – Olga dealing with latent trauma and working with the ultra-rich, and she hits a breaking point when Hurricane Maria hits. As does Prieto. It’s very much a sibling book, a growing up book, a making your own way out of the shadow of your parent’s expectations book.

That doesn’t begin to cover the book, or how it held me spellbound, especially on audio. It was smart, interesting, informative (I did learn a bunch about Puerto Rico’s history), and fascinating. The narrators were all excellent, and I was completely engrossed in the story. I had feelings about the characters, and I wanted to spend more time with them (Mateo is really the best). An excellent book and one I’m glad I took a chance on.

Starfish

by Lisa Fipps
First sentence: “I step down into the pool.”
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Content: It’s in verse, so good for reluctant readers. Though her mother is… not great.. which may be triggering for some. It’s in the Middle Grade section (grades 3-5) of the bookstore.

This is a book about Ellie. Ellie, who has been called “splash” since her 5th birthday party, when her older sister christened her that, after a huge cannonball into the pool. Ellie, who is bullied mercilessly at school by, well, pretty much everyone. Ellie, whose mother is constantly nagging Ellie about what she eats, how much she weighs, and lamenting that Ellie’s life would be better if she was just, well thinner.

This is a book about Ellie learning — through the help of a therapist (yay!) — that she has worth as a human being, no matter what she weighs; that she can stand up for herself at school and to her mom; and that true friends will have your back always.

Oh my heart, I loved this book. I loved Fipps poetry, the way she made Ellie three-dimensional as a character, though everyone else from teachers and kids at school to her siblings and mom (except her dad; there’s probably a whole essay on why it was her mom that was always picking on her weight and not her dad) kept trying to define her by how she looked. It says so much about society that we can’t see fat people as anything but “fat”, and not as people, and I think Fipps hits upon that. It’s always age appropriate — Ellie is in 7th grade, and she feels like a 7th grader — but Fipps is dealing with bullying, self-acceptance and self-love, and confidence no matter what “people” say about you.

It’s an incredibly rewarding book, which I thoroughly loved.

Playing the Cards You’re Dealt

by Varian Johnson
First sentence: “The house always wins.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 5, 2021
Content: There is talk of addiction in adults, some bullying, and a mild “relationship”. It will be in the Middle Grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

AnthonyJoplin — Ant to his friends, but don’t call him little — comes from a family of serious Spades players. His grandfather, his father, his brother, were all really great at it, winning the local tournament (and then some). But Ant can’t seem to get in the game. He’s “weak”. Or that the way he feels, especially around his dad, his brother, and his friend. That he needs to be stronger, better. He needs to win the tournament, for starters.

He and his friend make a good team, but when his friend is unexpectedly unable to play, Ant turns to the new girl – Shirley – as a partner. Which is its own set of problems. Add to that his father is acting weird, staying up in the middle of the night playing online poker, and Ant is just confused about what he really is supposed to expect out of life.

I love that Johnson gets the middle grade audience, tackling touch subjects like addiction and masculinity without talking down to his readers. I love that he gives us characters that are interesting and complex, which makes them and their problems seem more real. I love that he sprinkles his books with humor, so they are not depressing, but rather reflect life’s ups and downs.

The only think I didn’t like about this book was the narrator: I liked the folksy aspect of it, with the slang and the way it felt like someone telling a story, but I often felt the narrator — who was a character in their own right — got in the way of the story.

But it was’t enough to turn me off of this book. Definitely another very good read!

A Constellation of Roses

by Miranda Asebedo
First sentence: “My hand slips into the woman’s gaping purse like it’s my own.”
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Content: There is some teenage drinking, talk of addiction, and three f-bombs. It’s in the teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Trix has been on her own for a while ever since her mother walked out on her. They weren’t exactly living in the best circumstances, wandering from hotel to hotel while Trix’s mom tried to scrape together money to keep them alive (and feed her addiction). Since she disappeared, Trix has been stealing and moving trying to stay alive. That is until the police catch up to her and give her an ultimatum: jail time or move in with an aunt Trix didn’t know she had in a small town in Kansas, and graduate. Trix takes the deal and heads to Rocksaw, Kansas to learn about this family she didn’t know she had.

It’s an adjustment: small-town life versus city life, a family, people who want her to participate instead of run away, and Trix isn’t always successful at making the adjustment.

It’s a sweet little book; the magic realism was light enough that it didn’t bother me, and I appreciated the way Asebeo revealed Trix’s and her mother’s past. It highlighted the good things about small towns, like how everyone cares a lot about each other (which can also be stifling). But mostly it’s a sweet little family drama about forgiveness, and one I liked a lot.

Audio book: Fable

by Adrienne Young
Read by Emma Lysy
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There is some violence and some off-screen, implied sex near the end. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It’s been four years since Fable watched her mother die in a storm that sank the ship that they, along with Fable’s father, were on. And four years since Fable’s father dumped her on a god-forsaken island, abandoning her to her fate. Now, she’s found a way off the island on a ship captained by West, a young trader who has bought her gems for the past couple of years. And Fable is determined to take her place in her father’s crew.

But things are not what they seem in this cutthroat world of trading and selling. And West is not everything he seems. Can a girl — even one who was raised the daughter of a captain and who has special gifts — make her own way in this world?

I really enjoyed the world that Young built here. It’s rich and lush, and very Pirates of the Caribbean-y. Which, in my book, is a good thing. There’s magic, of a sort, but it’s very slight. I liked Fable’s journey getting off the island, and the slow reveal of her past and her place in her father’s empire (of sorts). The romance was a bit out of nowhere (all of a sudden they were kissing, and while I don’t mind that, it did feel a bit, well, unearned.) but it wasn’t the focus of the book, which was a relief. I did feel Young did a bit too much telling rather than showing, but it’s the first in a duology, and she needed to set up the world, and I’d rather some telling all along than a big infodump at the beginning.

Lysy was good as a narrator, even if she did over-emphasize her Ts at the end of sentences. (Once I noticed it, I couldn’t unhear it.) She kept me engaged and kept the story moving forward. I think I enjoyed this a lot more on audio than I would have otherwise.

And the book ended on a bit of a cliffhanger (there got to a be a point about 3/4 of the way through where I kept expecting something bad to happen. And it did. In the last chapter.) so yes, I’ll be checking out the sequel.

Furia

by Yamile Saied Méndez
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Content: There is swearing, including two f-bombs, and some suggestive content. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Camila Hassan has a lot going on in her life. On the one hand, she’s a dutiful daughter of an abusive father, going to school and learning English in her Argentinian town. On the other hand, she’s la Furia: an fútbolera, playing soccer with all her heart. The thing is: she’s got talent on the pitch. And the team she plays on has made the Sudiamericano championships. Camila wants — with all her heart — to follow the dream she has of playing soccer professionally. Possibly in the United States, even.

Complicating things (abusive an sexist father aside), her childhood friend (and possible boyfriend?) Diego is back in town after a successful season with a professional Italian soccer team. He’s the sweetheart of the barrio, and Camila doesn’t even know if he remembers her, let alone wants to have a long-distance relationship.

This is not just an excellent portrait of an ambitious girl striving to make the most out of her life in a place where the decks are stacked against her. Which it is; I loved how Méndez included race and colorism as well as sexism as part of the story, highlighting all the various things influencing Camila’s life and decisions.

It’s also a swoon-worthy romance, but one in which the relationship isn’t the main focus of the book. I thoroughly enjoyed having it be a part of the book, but not the main focus. On top of everything, I think Méndez is a fantastic writer and definitely one to watch. I’m looking forward to reading more books from her.

Fire and Hemlock

by Diana Wynne Jones
First sentence: “Polly sighed and laid her book face down on her bed.”
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Content: There’s some intense situations and mild swearing. It’s in the YA section (grades 6-8) of the bookstore.

It took me a bit when reading this to remember that it was a re-read. But I hit a point – maybe about a third of the way in — where it felt familiar, and I looked it up. Sure enough: I had read it before.

Since I already did a thorough review, I’m just going to jot down my thoughts revisiting this book 11 years later. First: Polly’s parents are terrible. Absolutely terrible. So, no wonder she attaches herself to Tom. He’s a father figure, an older sibling, a friend who believes in and humors her rather than shutting her down all the time. And then, in the end, he becomes a romantic interest? Honestly? I found that creepy. He’s at least 15 years older than her, and he’s been with her since she was 10. Creepy.

That said, I did like Polly and Tom’s adventures, and Polly trying to figure out as a 19 year old why she had two sets of memories. I don’t think Jones does romance terribly well, but then, I don’t think this was supposed to be a “romance”. I really appreciated the essay at the end of the book where Jones explained where the idea for Fire and Hemlock came from, and what she was attempting to do. Namely: have a girl be the heroic protagonist of a book. We kind of take it for granted that girls can do that now, but back when Jones was writing (this came out in 1985; I don’t know how I missed it, it would have been perfect for me back then), there just wasn’t a lot with girls playing the hero.

What this did make me realize is that I’ve only ever read two Diana Wynne Jones books, and that is something I should probably fix.