Tag Archives: series

YA Graphic Novel Reviews like whoa

After repeated requests from a very picky second grader for “books like Smile and Drama” (full-color, realistic, about girls), I decided it was time to get more acquainted with our YA graphic novel section so I could more easily pull out things for her (we have a couple of second graders who read in that section). So far I’ve only read one book that I would give her, but I already knew the author’s work and would have taken a chance on it. I will persevere – and the results will be here! Four for today:

9780062851062Just Jaime by Terri Libenson
Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Oh how I felt for Jaime. Libenson has a way of hitting the nail on the head with middle school emotions. I was very impressed with Invisible Emmie, her first book in what appears to be this series, but this one lacked the same twist at the end. Nevertheless, it’s a solid read and also solidly in the Drama/Smile camp, all about those middle school friendships that change on you and the popularity games that take over your life. Jaime, who is kicked out of her friend group by stereotypical mean-girl Celia for not being mature, turns out to be more mature and eloquent than Celia. She stops gossiping and becomes friends with some of the kids they used to make fun of. Eventually her best friend, Maya, also leaves Celia and joins her, and they all live happily ever after. I also loved the small storyline with her mom reuniting with an old friend, and one teacher who is very nice to her, which was also lovely. There’s a fair amount of narration in the Jaime chapters (as opposed to the Maya chapters; the narration alternates between the two, in echoes of Invisible Emmie), making it a nice choice for patrons whose parents favor more text.

9781250068163Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

I felt the title was misleading, because other than her brothers (who arguably don’t count as boys who are friends), Maggie’s main friendship in this story is with a girl, Lucy. But let me back up. Maggie has been homeschooled her whole life and is entering high school with her three older brothers, who have each entered as freshmen. Part (or all?) of the reason is that their mom, who did the homeschooling, has left. Maggie is surprised to learn that her brothers are well-established in school, something that is both to her benefit and has surprising repercussions in complicated school drama. Her oldest brother has some beef with some other guys, but being his sister gives her some street cred. Even Lucy, whose older brother is tied up in some of the drama, is aware of him. Maggie’s twin brothers are also well-known and have their own storyline of going through growing pains of establishing individuality. To round out the storyline, Maggie sees a ghost. Her and Lucy’s attempts to get rid of the ghost land them in trouble and mixed up with the older boys. I wouldn’t exactly call the boys friends though (hence feeling misled). Eventually, Maggie rounds up her brothers and they resolve things, and she and Lucy go on their merry way.

Homeschool-to-school transition like: All’s Faire in Middle School

9781416935858Mercury by Hope Larson
Overall: 3.5 out of 5 stars

I found the story a little hard to follow, and not just because it jumped back and forth between two time periods. I was intrigued to re-read my review of another of Larson’s graphic novels, Chiggers, from 5 years ago and see that I also had trouble following that story, which possibly has to do with it being black-and-white (I tend to have more trouble with those than comics that have even one additional color). One story line is of Josie in 1859 in Nova Scotia whose family is taken in by a con man, Asa Curry, who discovers gold on the family’s farm. He intends to marry Josie and when her father won’t allow it, apparently kills him. He leaves Josie with a necklace with something inside it that acts as a metal detector. Meanwhile, in 2009, Josie’s descendant, Tara, finds the necklace. Tara had been homeschooled for a couple of years until her house burns down and her mother moves elsewhere to work, leaving her with her aunt and uncle, who are a little weird about her mom, and same-aged cousin, Lindsay. Tara re-enters school with a bunch of kids who all know her story and joins the track team, which allows her to get to know Ben better, who she apparently looks like and has a crush on. Josie’s story ends with her father’s funeral (and Asa’s death as he is shot trying to escape from jail for the cons and murder) and Tara’s ends with finding some gold, with a touch of magic/magical realism.

Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall

9780385755665

by Jeanne Birdsall
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

Lydia, the youngest of the Penderwick siblings, is now ten and poised for her first visit to Arundel, the summer vacation setting of the first Penderwick book, for her sister’s wedding. There she meets Cagney’s daughter, Alice, who’s her age, and they become fast friends. There’s some drama with the older sisters, and with Mrs. Tifton (Jeffrey’s mother), but in general this one is more good, clean fun – and even lower drama than the other books in the series. I was still pulled in by the same kinds of funny scenarios as the rest of the series.

With words like “at last” in the title, I was expecting this book to feel like a final book in a series, but it didn’t, for a few reasons. One is that you don’t get to experience the wedding, which was a weird letdown. Another is that there’s no closure to the Batty/Jeffrey situation. Lydia’s parents are largely absent, which seemed odd. It all just makes me wonder if this really is the final installment. One thing I really loved was that at one point they’re talking about how Mrs. Tifton thinks one of the Penderwicks wants to marry Jeffrey, and 16-year-old Ben says “I didn’t think any of us wanted to marry Jeffrey”! LOVE.

Missy Piggle-Wiggle and the Whatever Cure by Ann M. Martin

9781250071699

by Ann M. Martin
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

In this updated version of the children’s classic series Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, veteran author Martin teams up with the original author’s great-granddaughter, Annie Parnell, to revive this series for a modern audience. I was disappointed to re-read the originals, which I had loved as a kid, and find that they were incredibly dated and found myself longing for an update. (Housewives stayed home; doctors made house calls, etc.) So I was cautiously thrilled to see that Martin had read my mind!

Martin’s version gives Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle’s great-niece a cell phone but keeps the problems and the solutions as timeless as ever. I found myself incredibly critical of the parents, and at one point Missy also addresses a set of parents after also curing their kids, which was nice. In the end, the most outdated thing about the book was the completely predictable and shallow romance between Missy and Harold the bookstore owner. But overall, the magic – and the magic – is still there!

Double Review: Graphic Novels

9781632291035

Beyond the Western Deep, Volume 1
by Alex Kain and Rachel Bennett
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars

A graphic novel seems an interesting medium for this fantasy story, which required a few pages of worldbuilding to catch the reader up on the history needed to understand the plot. There are four (or five?) peoples, in each of the four directions, and they live in an uneasy truce with each other. Our heroes, some sort of anthropomorphic animals, set off on a quest at the end of the book. Honestly, I was a bit overwhelmed with all the unfamiliar names (maybe I’m just out of practice with reading fantasy?) to really dig into the story. As with often happens when I read graphic novels, I had a lot of trouble telling the characters apart, but at least this one is in color, so that was mitigated a bit. It’s a Very Serious Story, and I just didn’t connect with it. But it would probably be ideal for 4th graders (or strong 3rd graders) who are into Redwall or the Warriors series.

9780385386173

Hilo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth (Volume 1)
by Judd Winick
Overall: 4 out of 5 stars

After the utter seriousness of the first graphic novel, I thoroughly appreciated the humor of Hilo, who falls to Earth with amnesia and immediately meets D.J, who greets him with an “AAAAAH!” and takes him in. Hilo adopts the greeting and uses it to great comedic effect throughout the book, to my delight. I didn’t 100% follow the storyline of Hilo’s origin and the conflict on his home planet, but I was so entertained that I didn’t care. D.J.’s old friend Gina also moves back to town and very little about either of them has changed so they fall right back into their friendship. D.J.’s family is large and loud (he’s right between two older brothers and two younger sisters and feels like he doesn’t do anything especially well) and Hilo’s appearance livens up his and Gina’s otherwise humdrum lives in a sleepy small town. Hilo’s irrepressible nature is catching, as is his favorite adjective, “outstanding!”

Great for fans of: Big Nate, Calvin and Hobbes, and the Flying Beaver Brothers

The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue

9780545925815

by Emma Donoghue
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

Sumac Lottery comes from a large family – 7 kids (she’s #5) and 4 parents. The parents, two homosexual couples of various races and ethnicities, were already close friends when they won the lottery and decided to buy a mansion and acquire all their kids (some through adoption, some through other means – IVF? it’s a bit unclear). Despite their wealth, they are very environmentally-minded and don’t buy a lot of extra things just because. The story starts when one of the grandparents, the one living that none of the kids knows, comes to live with them. He is very conservative and racist and clashes a lot with his son’s family and quickly earns the nickname Grumps. He displaces uber-helper Sumac from her room and thus begins her internal struggle. Grumps is deeply unhappy about all the changes in his life and takes them out on the family, but also comes around eventually (even being rescued from the airport where he’s attempting to get back to his old home).

From the beginning, I was expecting this one to be too over the top about the hippy-dippy diversity, but it actually worked. I had a really, really hard time connecting to the fact that this book took place in Toronto – I had gotten it into my head that they lived in Hawaii! (I think because their house sounded a lot like the 13-Story Treehouse.) The kids are all homeschooled and are named after trees; eventually they mostly crystallized but I felt like some details were missing (like Sic’s name came from a tree somehow but I missed how – maybe Sycamore? And another kid is just straight up named Wood?). Probably details of their births and races and even intellectual abilities/disabilities were omitted to show that they’re not really important to Sumac, but it didn’t help me understand her family.

The one thing that irked me was that the four-year-old sibling, whose original name was Briar, decided they wanted to be called Brian and not be called a girl throughout the story (though at the end they claimed to be a brother and a sister to their siblings), and the rest of the family kept referring to them as she. While this seemed necessary to create confusion for the grandfather and make one particular scene work, it seemed both insensitive generally and also out of character for this family in particular, which is so diverse and perfectly accepting in all other ways.

It reminded me of The Family Fletcher in noise level and busyness, too, so if you liked that one, you’ll probably like the Lotterys! I spent a while looking to see if this was the second book in a series, since it seems to jump right into an established story, but it doesn’t appear to be the case. (Though the author’s website indicates it’s to be the first in a series, so I guess stay tuned!)

Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

9780316363181

by Svetlana Chmakova

Overall: 4.5 out of 5 stars

Chmakova has done it again! We are back in the universe of Awkward, with a different focus this time. It’s Jensen’s turn to tell his story, and it focuses mainly on bullying. He is sort of peripherally part of the Art Club crew, but isn’t really included on stuff like their preparations for a school Art Fair, with graphic novel authors he’s never heard of. He is intrigued by the newspaper crew and tries to join them but mostly gets used, at least by Jenny who’s in charge. Jenny’s best friend is Akilah who is actually much kinder and gentler than Jenny. The two of them are doing a research project for which they want to interview Jensen, who gamely agrees without actually reading the preparation handout they give him. So when he shows up for the on-camera interview and discovers it’s about people who have been bullied, he has the very natural reaction of “but that’s not me.” As he continues through his day, he thinks of the checklist Jenny and Akilah have given him, and comes to realize that almost everyone, from his two actual bullies (who turn out to be bullied themselves) to Tessa in Art Club, puts him down in one way or another. It’s actually the teacher he hates the most, his math teacher, who turns out to be helping him by requiring him to go to after-school tutoring (where the bullying continues, but at least he’s no longer failing math). The other bright spot in his day, aside from Art Club, turns out to be English, where he’s doing a group project with a big jock-looking kid named Jorge who ends up being really nice.

My one complaint was that I didn’t really like Jensen as a person. He lives in his head and loves video games, imagining himself to be a hero but really doing very little to achieve hero status. He really half-heartedly does nearly everything – he wants to be an astronaut but can’t get into math even though he knows it’s important; he wants to be accepted by the other art club kids but can’t follow-through to read the graphic novels whose authors are coming to the art fair. You can sort of see him wishing he had more motivation, but it was frustrating to watch him. In the end, though, he does get some help with the bullying and it starts a school-wide conversation that changes the culture of the school.

The third book in the series is Crush and apparently it focuses on Jorge. Can’t wait to read it!

Shadowshapers by Daniel Jose Older

9781338032475

by Daniel Jose Older
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars

The older white ladies in my book club generally did not like this book. One of the big obstacles was the language – both the “urbanness” and the Spanish made it hard for them to get into. On top of that, the action was hard to follow, and they just didn’t get the point of the shadowshapers themselves. To round it off, they felt there were too many characters.

Well, I had no problems with the Spanish, and the rest of the language made sense to me.  It did take me a couple of tries to get into, but once I did I enjoyed it. I agreed that sometimes the action was hard to follow, so I ended up re-reading parts to make sure I wasn’t missing things, but when it slowed down and the characters talked to each other and revealed big important things, I was right there with them. I thought it was paced nicely, revealing just enough at the right times to not give everything away but keep the tension perfectly. I was right with Sierra when she was distracted by thoughts of a potential traitor in her group of confidantes, and then perplexed when that wasn’t the case.

A fellow book clubber said that Sierra’s big extended family and community made sense to her, being from a big Catholic family and working in a school full of kids from big-family, close-community type backgrounds. For my part, I didn’t so much mind that I couldn’t follow every single step or recap it very clearly for the group. I did very much like that the evil outsider villain-guy, a white man who infiltrated their community and tried to take over power, was a strong metaphor for Sierra, her community, and people of color generally.