Hey Kiddo

by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
First sentence: “C’mon, get behind the wheel.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content:  This is not a light graphic novel. There’s swearing, talk of drug use and abuse, and bullying. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore, but it might appeal to younger teens as well.

I was told by my publisher rep that this one was incredibly powerful. I trust her judgement and opinion, but I didn’t fully appreciate what she meant.

In this graphic novel that was initially inspired by his TED Talk , illustrator and author Krosoczka puts down into pictures — grays and browns with a splash of orange — what his childhood was like. He was the grandson of  Polish immigrants — Joe and Shirley, the hardworking types who mostly showed tough love more than actual love. He was born to their second daughter (they had five children in all), and went to live with them  when he wa about three because his mother couldn’t take care of them. He writes about how this effected his life: the not knowing nothing about his father — not even his name — or much about his mother, where she was, or whether or not she’d show up. He talks about addiction and how it played a role in his life — not as a user, but as someone who loved a user. But, for me, it wasn’t just about his mother, it was about his grandparents as well. How they struggled to raise him (and their other children; Jarrett’s mom wasn’t the only teenage pregnancy in their family) and how they tried to make it day-to-day. Krosoczka doesn’t hold anything back, and I appreciated that. The through line was his art. And one of the things his grandparents did right was support his passion and talent for drawing. Even though they weren’t always the kindest to him, and even though it was weird being raised by his grandparents (it was the 1980s/1990s after all), it came through how much they loved him.

It also was nice that he didn’t pass judgement on his mom in the book. He could have railed on her for abandoning him, for never being there, for not being able to conquer her addiction to heroin. But he didn’t. He was honest about his feelings towards her — the times in his life that he craved her attention as well as the times when he was angry with her — but he didn’t pass judgement on her. I found that refreshing. It’s good to have stories of kids who are living with their grandparents because their parents can’t handle it. It’s good to have stories of forgiveness (because he does, eventually forgive his family for not being perfect). And it’s good to have stories about kids of drug addicts where the kids turn out okay.

It’s definitely worth reading.

 

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Flocks

by L. Nichols
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher.
Content: There is some mild swearing and two f-bombs, plus some drinking and self harm and illusions to sex. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I’ll be up front: Nichols is a transgender man who was assigned female at birth in Louisiana and raised in a very religious Southern Baptist family.This is his story.

It’s not just a story of feeling out of place in a religious society — he tried very very hard to pray the gay away from the time he was young — but also feeling out of place in his own body. The only place he felt at home and at peace was in nature. He graduated from high school and went to MIT (the first in his family to go to college) where the sense of displacement both increased and decreased. Decreased because he was among friends who accepted him and cared about him for who he was; increased because he loathed his body — he began cutting himself — and couldn’t figure out why (that is, until he had a realization that it was because he wasn’t male enough). It’s a very personal story, as one would expect from a memoir, but one that raises some interesting questions about religion and community.

I loved Nichols’ art as well. Everyone is drawn fairly realistically except him, and he’s in this doll-esque shape, which I loved because it allowed him to not only be the gender he was assigned at birth (while simultaneously demonstrating his obvious discomfort with himself) but it allows the reader to empathize more with him as a character. It’s quite clever, and I loved it.

I also loved that this made me think, not just about trans people, but about how communities include and exclude others and the benefits and disadvantages of that. I appreciated his (inadvertent) critique of religion vs. God and it made me want to be more open and kind to others. We’re all struggling here, why add hate to the pile?

Excellent.

Cancer Vixen

by Marisa Acocella Marchetto
First sentence: “What happens when a shoe-crazy, lipstick-obsessed, wine-swilling, pasta-slurping, fashion-fanatic, single-forever, about-to-get-married big-city girl cartoonist (me, Marisa Acocella) with a  fabulous life finds… a lump in her breast?”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content:  There is swearing (no f-bombs), some tasteful nudity, and lots of naked breasts (it is about breast cancer, after all).  It would be in the adult graphic novel section of the bookstore, if we had it.

The first sentence of this one kind of says it all: Marchetto, a cartoonist who works for Glamour and the New Yorker, had a fabulous life with a new Italian boyfriend she was planning on eloping with, when she — out of the blue, because what other way does cancer happen? — is suddenly diagnosed with cancer.

Much of the book is a detailed blow-by-blow of Marchetto’s cancer treatment, and how that affected her life and  relationships. I found it interesting — I’ve never known anyone who’s gone through this before — but I wasn’t enamored with the story. It was very much “it girl” New York: all the right clothes, all the right friends, all the right things. (Though, she had a LOT of friends, which is a great thing!) I was more interested in her body image issues, especially regarding the models who kept throwing themselves shamelessly at Marchetto’s fiance, Silvano. But Marchetto didn’t really dwell on that; she brushed past it as part of her “negativity”. There was also an undercurrent of evidence why universal health care is needed: she was uninsured when she was diagnosed, and was in a panic about having to pay out of pocket for the treatment. Which turned out to be nearly $200,000. But, she didn’t dwell on that, either. It was very self-centric, and, honestly, I didn’t really care for her. (I feel bad saying that, though.) The art was a bit meh, as well, though I understand why she chose to draw it slightly cartoony; if it were more realistic, it’d be a lot more disturbing. This way, Marchetto was able to keep it from getting too dark while remaining honest about the ups and downs of cancer treatment (and her life).

Not bad, but not my favorite, either.

Audiobook: Al Franken, Giant of the Senate

by Al Franken
Read by the author
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Content: There are six f-bombs in one chapter, mostly because there are two in the title of something Franken wrote and he said it three  times. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

I suppose, if you don’t know who Al Franken is, you probably won’t have any interest in this book. That said, I knew who he was, but wasn’t a huge fan.  But, I’d heard enough good about it that I decided to download the audio book.

Franken is in his second term as the junior senator from Minnesota, a former writer for Saturday Night Life, and a very, very smart writer. This book is basically a memoir of his time at SNL, his family life, his first election, and his thoughts on being in the Senate as a whole.

It’s a very smart book. And while it’s not always hilarious, it IS very funny. And insightful. Be aware that Franken is a Democrat, and so there’s definitely a partisan flavor to it (he blames Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Mitch McConnell for the current state of politics), but he also recognizes a need to work together, and has some good things to say about many Republicans (just not Ted Cruz). It’s insightful, interesting, and incredibly engaging.

And on audio? Very delightful. I loved listening to Franken read his words (I often enjoy celebrity memoirs more in audio) and thought it was a definite value-added to the book. He kept me engaged in the book, and I looked forward to turning it on whenever I got in the car.

A very, very good read.

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.

Audio Book: Good Clean Fun

by Nick Offerman
Read by the author
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Content: There’s some mild swearing. It’s in the humor section (I think) of the bookstore.

This is, basically, Nick Offerman’s homage to Offerman Woodshop, his woodworker’s collective in L.A. It’s a portrait of the craftspeople who work there, as well as those people Nick has come across in his “career” (the acting just pays the bills) as a woodsmith.

So, no, it wasn’t the best book to 1) start reading Nick Offerman (I think I’m going to try Paddle Your Own Canoe next) or 2) listen to in audio. That said, Nick is delightful to listen to read a book (not as delightful as Neil Gaiman), and there were lots of delightful anecdotes about Nick’s colleagues, as well as his opinions about working with your hands (pro: I felt justified, since I really enjoy canning) and the joy of working with wood, specifically.

I do have to say that while listening to this, I kind of wanted to learn how to build things (not a new desire for me; I should have taken shop class). I enjoyed Offerman’s enthusiasm for the art of woodworking, and his sense of humor. Even though I wish it has more of a narrative, I still found it enjoyable to listen to.

Audiobook: The Princess Diarist

princessdiaristby Carrie Fisher
Read by the author and Billy Lourd
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Content: There’s about a dozen f-bombs and other mild swearing, plus  some talk of sex (but nothing graphic). It’s in the Biography section of the bookstore.

I downloaded this to listen to on audio soon after Carrie Fisher died, thinking that I might as well find out what everyone’s been talking about (well, maybe not everyone, but people I trust) when it comes to her writing.

First of all, she’s a delightful narrator. She’s sardonic and funny (not just in the writing, but also READING the book), and I loved listening to her gravely voice reminisce about her experience in making Star Wars. And while the gossip (of sorts) about her and Harrison’s affair was interesting, it really wasn’t, for me, the highlight of the book. (In fact, the actual diaries, which Billy Lourd reads, were kind of, well, lame.) No, the highlight was Fisher. I’m sure I would have enjoyed this book in print, but hearing her read this was like sitting in a room and listening to her reminisce. It was delightful and fun, and while not perfect, highly enjoyable.

Probably much like Ms. Fisher herself. (I imagine anyway.)