YA Graphic Novel Round-up 3

M is for Monster
by Talia Dutton
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Content: It’s raising a body from the dead, and dealing with issues of identity. it’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

M is Maura, Dr. Frances Ai’s sister, brought back to life. On the one hand, M wants to continue living, so she pretends to be Maura. (Dr. Francis is so desperate to get her sister back that if this didn’t work, she would take M apart and try again. For obvious reasons, M doesn’t want that.) On the other hand, M is bad at being Maura; she doesn’t care about science, hates Maura’s clothes, and doesn’t laugh at Francis’s jokes. She wants to explore fashion and sewing, and just be herself.

This is a really clever twist on Frankenstein, looking at the monster’s point of view, and an exploration of identity and what it means to be a “person”. It’s sweet and charming and absolutely delightful.

Piece by Piece
by Priya Huq
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a hate crime to start the book, and Islamaphobia, as well as some abusive statements by an adult.

Nisrin is attacked on the way home from school – she was wearing a head covering, part of a Bangladeshi traditional costume. She is told that she needs to go back “where she came from”, and that “her kind” are not welcome. She is injured in the attack. The summer passes, and she can’t leave the house. But when school starts again in the fall, Nisrin decides to wear hijab to school, which doesn’t sit well with her mother and grandparents. They don’t understand her decision, and she has some challenges dealing with it. She does, however, find her tribe, and makes up with her best friend, who she had a falling out with after the attack.

It’s a good story, one that I think needs to be told. I appreciated that Nisrin was Bangladeshi, because isn’t a usual nationality for stories about Islam. However, while I felt it was important, I felt like it was missing something I’m not entirely sure what, but it wasn’t quite,, something. Still, I’m glad that it’s out there.

Himawari House
by Harmony Becker
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Content: There is some smoking and drinking, but the kids are all of age. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

Nao was born in Japan but basically is raised in America. She learned to fit in, but she has often wondered what it would be like to find her roots, and go back. So, she takes a year between graduating high school and going to college, and heads to Japan to find out. She moves in to Himawari House and meets Tina – a young woman from Singapore – and Hyejung – a young woman from Korea – who are both learning to find their way in Japan. There are two boys in the house as well, though they are Japanese. The three girls become close friends, ashring in their successes and sadnesses, ads they figoure out who they are and what they want for their future.

Oh, this one was delightful. I loved that Becker captured the challenges and joys of learning to live in a foreign county, and the challenges of being biracial and trying to a way to fit in. Becker gave us the inner lives of all the characters, which was delightful. I also liked that she pulls illustrating styles from manga – there were many frames that strongly reminded me of the manga I’ve read. It was a smart story, compelling, and beautifully drawn. I loved it.

Bloodmarked

by Tracy Deonn
First sentence: “My veins burn with the spirits of my ancestors.”
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Others in the series: Legendborn
Content: There is swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and a lot of violence. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

We pick up where Legendborn left off, so spoilers for that, obviously.

Bri has been chosen as the Scion of Arther, Pendragon, who has woken up after 250 years. The problem is, though, that she’s an outsider (read: black) and the (white, racist) Order doesn’t accept her as what she is: their King. Instead, they gaslight her, drug her, and kidnap her, institutionalizing he. But, her friends are awesome, and they break her free and they all set about doing what needs to be done: training Bri how to better use her powers. This involves meeting new people, facing new dangers, and unraveling a bit more of the corruption behind the Order. Also (and I think we knew this was coming) – there’s a nice love triangle between Nick, Bri, and Sel (the Kingsmage), which is very fitting for an Arthurian tale.

Oh, I love this series. I love the way it plays with race, expectations, and magic. I love the characters (I would do anything for Alice!), and I love the way Deonn has woven different elements – from Bloodwalking, to being marked by demons, to rootcraft, to the aether of the Order – together so effortlessly. The only thing I don’t like is that I have to wait at least a year for the final book in the series.

So much great here.

Audiobook: Four Hundred Souls

Edited by Ibram X. Kendi and Keisha N. Blain
Read by a full cast (too many to list!)
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: It does not sugar coat history. There are mentions of lynchings, rape, use of the n-word, and mild swearing. It’s in the history section of the bookstore.

I’ve had this on my TBR pile (the large one, not the small one by my bed) ever since it came out a year ago. And then I got a great idea from a bookstagrammer: read a little every day in February for black history month. I tried to get it done by the end of the month and almost made it. It was easy to break down into little sections: the book spans 400 years, but every author gets a 5 year period, and the sections are broken up into 40 years chunks. Each individual author gets to choose what they want to talk about: some focus on an event, some on a person, some on an idea. Many chose to relate their essay to the way the country is today. It’s less of a history book and more of a “how history has impacted today” book, which I appreciated. Not all essays were equally interesting, but there was enough for me to keep engaged. That, and the essays were generally very short – less than 5 minutes in audio. The narrators were all really good, for the most part. I think some of the essays were read by the authors, but since the narrators didn’t announce themselves before they began reading, I wasn’t sure. (They do all say their names a the end, but it was hard to match them up. Mostly I was like “Oh, they read? Cool!”)

I thoroughly enjoyed listening to it and learning about the history of Blacks in America. Fascinating well-done book.

Nubia: Real One

by L.L. McKinney and Robyn Smith
Support your local independent bookstore: Buy it there!
Content: There is some violence and an instance of sexual assault. It’s in the graphic novel section of the bookstore.

I’ll be upfront about this: I haven’t loved a superhero comic this much since Ms. Marvel. I love Nubia and everything about her, from her moms, to her desire to do the right thing, to her friends, and pretty much everything.

Nubia knows she’s different, stronger, faster, but she’s always had to hide it her entire life. But now that she’s 17, she is tired of being shut in all the tme. She’s conflicted though: kids who look like her are usually portrayed as perpetrators, not the heroes. But, when her best friend is assaulted, Nubia makes a tough decision to step towards her destiny and embrace who she knows she is.

I loved this one, effortlessly blending the injustices towards Black kids by the police, white anger (and white privilege), and a story about a girl trying to find her way together. The art was sometimes rough, but the story made up for it. I am so happy I finally read this, and I can’t wait for more!

The City We Became

by N. K. Jemisin
First sentence: “I sing the city”
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Content: There is violence, including sexual assault, and many f-bombs. It’s in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the bookstore.

In this universe, cities are alive, not just in the metaphorical sense but literally. There is a “birth” that results in the city being embodied in a person. Sometimes this doesn’t work — New Orleans was a stillbirth, for example — but mostly it does. Except: in the case of New York City, something has gone awry. It’s not a stillbirth, but it’s not alive, yet.

So the city adapts: five other people wake up, one for each borough. Their purpose is to get together, work together, and wake up New York as a whole. But, they meet unexpected problems in the form of an alien entity that is trying to stop this city from ever becoming alive.

Oh, my word this was so good. I think I liked it better than her Broken Earth trilogy. It’s clever, it’s fun, it’s got a Neil Gaiman feel to it. And I adored the characters as well as the way Jemisin played with race and New York stereotypes in the book. It as a joy to read, one that I plowed through incredibly quickly. And while it stands well on its own, I am fascinated to see where Jemisin takes it with the sequels.

White Smoke

by Tiffany D. Jackson
First sentence: “Ah. There you are.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs and some teenage marijuana usage. It’s in the Teen section (grades 9+) of the bookstore.

Marigold is looking for a fresh start. Or, at least that’s what she tells herself. She, her brother, her mother, and her stepdad and step-sister are headed away from California, away from Mari’s mistakes and moving to Cedarville for a fresh start. It doesn’t hurt that her mom got a residency there, with free housing. Except: Cedarville isn’t that great of a place. There’s something… off about it. Mari’s hearing sounds in the house. There are smells, and things go missing. Not to mention that every. single. other. house in the neighborhood is boarded up and decrepit looking. It’s all… very, very weird.

I think the mileage on this one depends on how horror-savvy you are. I’m not, so I found it spooky and intimidating and atmospheric. And I had to put it down often just to drop my anxiety levels. But, I suppose if you are the sort of person who likes horror and reads/watches it often, this one might not have the same effect. I did like that Jackson was exploring the idea of gentrification ad the impact it has on the (mostly black and poor) community. I also liked that she talked about unfair incarceration because of drug laws, and how those laws fall differently for black and white people. This horror story has some meat to it.

And then there’s the ending. Without spoilers, I’ll just say it’s kind of abrupt and weird. I wonder if there’s a sequel, because so much is unresolved. Or if Jackson meant it to be that way. At any rate, I found it a fun enough ride.

Clean Getaway

by Nic Stone
First sentence: “It might sound silly, but to William “Scoob” Lamar, the Welcome to Alabama the Beautiful sign looks… well, beautiful.
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There are some uncomfortable moments. It’s i the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

William “Scoob” Lamar is having a rough year at school. First, he got in trouble for beating up a bully who was making fun of Scoob’s st friends’ younger brother. Then, he figures out how to cheat on a programming quiz, and shows other kids how to do it. He doesn’t cheat, but ends up suspended because he was the “instigator” of it all. He’s at hoe, grounded, with the spring break trip canceled. But, just when all hope was lost, his G’ma sows up with an RV asking him to take a strip with her. So, he does. and leaves his phone at home, so his dad can’t stop him from going.

But, things aren’t what Scoob expected.. While the history of his (white) grandma and his (black) grandpa is interesting — his grandma kept the Green Book that helped them travel safely though the south during the Jim Crow era — things aren’t, well, right. His grandma keeps changing the plates on the RV. She won’t answer calls from Scoob’s dad. She is being super cagey. While Scoob enjoys the history, he’s not entirely sure this vacation is all it’s cracked up to be.

This is what I wrote for my class (spoilers): “Scoob’s grandfather was arrested for grand larceny and died in prison but in the end we find out that it was Scoob’s grandmother who had stolen the jewelry. She literally let a black man take the fall for her crimes. A person she was supposed to be in love with! That she had a son with! The ending didn’t provide a lot of resolution; instead of getting punished for her life of crime (she had been stealing jewelry for YEARS), she got cancer and died. And then Scoob found her stash and got his dad to drive it to Mexico to bury it. I have NO idea what to think about this. I get the underlying message is that white people are not to be trusted, even if you’re related. That a white person will always find a black person to blame things on.”

Someone in the class pushed back and said they thought the underlying message was more about how our actions can affect more than just ourselves, and maybe that’s a better way to look at the book. It does make it more age appropriate. At any rate, the book did give me a lot to think about.  

How the Word is Passed

by Clint Smith
First sentence: “The sky above the Mississippi River stretched out like a song.”
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Content: It talks about violence toward enslaved people, uses the n-word (in context) and some mild swearing. It is in the Biography section of the bookstore.

Clint Smith has written an absolutely beautiful book. It’s not an easy book to read, though the premise is simple: he visits several historical sites that are connected with the slavery in the United States, and recounts his experiences and analyzes the information presented at the sites. He talks to all sorts of people — visitors, tour guides, the people in charge of the sites — in order to get as wide a snapshot as possible.

He recounts his visits to seven sites: Monticello, Whitney Plantation, Angola Prison, Blandford Cemetery, Galveston Island, New York City, and Gorée Island. Some are delving into their history of enslaving people, others not so much. Smith works to understand and critique an inform the reader not just about the history around the sites, but how their interaction and presentation of the past is affecting and informing us today. In short: in order to reckon with the present, we need to reckon with teh past.

It sounds like a difficult read, and it is at times, but Smith’s writing is so beautiful, it doesn’t feel like a chore to read this. He is a poet, and it shows: his descriptions of the places and people, his journalistic interactions, his presentation all draw the reader in and made me, at least, want to read more.

Possibly one of the more important books I’ll read, but also one of the more beautiful ones.

Audio book: The Bad Muslim Discount

by Syed M. Masood
Read by: Pej Vahdat & Hend Ayoub
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Or listen at Libro.fm
Content: There was some swearing and references to sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Anvar Faris was a child in Karachi, Pakistan, but when unrest started to affect his city, his parents decided to immigrate to the US. They landed in the San Francisco area, where Anvar met the love of his life (Zuha, at least I’m hoping I spelled that right), and realized that no matter how much his mother tried, he was not going to be the kind of Muslim that she wanted him to be.

Safwa grew up in war-torn Baghdad, with a conservative father who was taken and tortured by the US soldiers. She fled, leaving her ailing brother to die alone, something her father could not forgive. They ended up in Afghanistan, where they meet a opportunistic young man who gets Safwa and her father passports to Mexico, and from there they come to the US, ending up in San Francsico.

This book is less about the plot — though there is some tension between Safwa and her father and the young man (whose name I don’t think I could spell, having only heard the audio) and Anvar and Zuha help, in the end. It’s much more an exploration of how people live their religion (or don’t) and the reasons behind what they do and why the do it. Safwa’s father is strict and abusive, but how much of that is his beliefs and how much of that is the abuse he suffered at the hands of the US? The young man is angry and manipulative, and how much of that is his religion, or is it the circumstances of growing up in war-torn Afghanistan? Anvar is lax in his religion, but how much of that is laziness and how much of that is a serious questioning of religion His other brother is strictly faithful, but how much of that is because he believes and how much of that is putting on appearances? It’s an interesting exploration.

It’s also a good look at the variety that Islam has. I think too often, especially here in the US, we tend to paint Muslims as all one thing, when in reality (um, much like every other religion) there is a spectrum.

At any rate, the writing is good, and the narration was thoroughly enjoyable. I liked this one a lot.

Black Buck

by Mateo Askaripour
First sentence: “The day that changed my life was like every other day before it, except that it changed my life.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Content: There is a lot of swearing, including multiple f-bombs, and tasteful on-screen sex. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

Darren is an aimless 22-year-old who has been working his way up the ranks at Starbucks instead of college and a more traditional route. Then one day he does a hard sales pitch on a regular customer and finds himself working for Sumwun, a tech startup. It’s an all-white, elite work environment (Darren is neither of those things) and Darren finds himself being subject to some pretty intense and racist stuff.

And honestly? That’s as far as I made it. I should have known it wouldn’t agree with me when it was being billed as satire. It’s skewering white business practices, and I get it, but satire and I don’t get along. We just don’t. I’ve tried books that are supposed to be funny pokes at things, and I just don’t “get” it. This is why I say this one isn’t for me, and I abandoned it halfway through. Life is too short to read books you just don’t like, even if they’re for book club.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad book. It just wasn’t for me.