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A Season of Change

A Season of Change

posted by:
August 1, 2014 - 7:00am

Cover art for This One SummerCanadian cousins Jillian and Mariko Tamaki team up on This One Summer, a swirling, breathtaking graphic novel that recounts the time in a girl’s life when childhood innocence comes to a crashing end.  Rose, an only child, goes to cottage country north of Toronto every summer with her parents. There, they meet up with another neighbor family, including Windy, who has been Rose’s slightly younger playmate for years. Windy, too, is an only child, and the two find themselves quickly reacquainting and sharing their days together. But Rose’s adolescent leanings, coupled with tension between her parents, mean that this summer will be different.

 

Jillian Tamaki’s purple-blue ink illustrations perfectly capture the churning, confusing and sometimes somber moodiness that Rose endures as the events of the summer pass. From carefree days splashing in the lake and watching slasher DVDs with Windy to dealing with her parents’ marital breakdown, Rose’s progression is clearly defined. Her first crush, on a convenience store clerk (who has troubles all his own), is well-depicted in all its unrequited awkwardness. Mariko Tamaki’s words are equally effective, as many older teens and adults will see their own lives in the thoughts and actions of the young friends. Frank language and mature topics such as depression and pregnancy are handled carefully but without patronizing to the intended age of the readership. Particularly successful is the way the Tamakis choose to tell the tale — without judgment or outspoken morality. The bittersweet conclusion is open-ended and purposely lacking forced resolution, showing that adolescence — and life itself — is a continuum that will go on long past that one summer.

Todd

 
 

Not Always As It Seems

Not Always As It Seems

posted by:
April 30, 2014 - 8:00am

Nisekoi: False LovePhantom Thief JeanneCountless manga series that have been translated from the original Japanese have appeared in the U.S. over the past decade. After a few years of the market becoming flooded with sometimes mediocre products, publishers have become more selective. They are now focusing on the cream of the crop. Two strong, well-reviewed manga for teens that have been recent hits in Japan are arriving here in the U.S.

 

Nisekoi: False Love, by Naoshi Komi, tells the story of Raku, the high school-aged son of a Yakuza gangster. Raku’s father has arranged a “false love” match between the young man and a rival gang leader’s daughter, Chitoge. They get off to an inauspicious start when Chitoge accidentally knees Raku in the face, which in turn causes Raku to lose an important locket. This was the only connection he maintained to a childhood sweetheart, and the search for the lost item causes instant strife between the two newly matched teens. Despite the outrageous plot, this works as a sort of wacky romantic comedy, with gangster elements adding intrigue and surprise. Two volumes are currently available, with the third coming in May.

 

Meanwhile, Arina Tanemura’s Phantom Thief Jeanne is a reincarnation in more ways than one. Originally licensed to another publisher that later went bankrupt, this series has returned with new covers and crisp line drawings reminiscent of Sailor Moon. The other reincarnation is Jeanne herself – a “phantom-thief magical girl” who is the second coming of Joan of Arc. As is the case in many manga, the plot is almost too outrageous and convoluted to summarize, but it involves a battle between angels and devils, chess pieces that unlock the mysteries within the hearts of humans and demons hidden in priceless works of art. All of this is compounded by another story of false love!  The second volume of the series will soon be available. Both of these series are good avenues into the outlandish, fantastical world of manga, as well as peeks into Japanese culture.

Todd

 
 

The Joy of Tasting

The Joy of Tasting

posted by:
May 28, 2013 - 8:01am

RelishComic artist Lucy Knisley reveals that her strongest memories are associated with flavors, from the chalky Flintstone vitamins she snacked on in front of the TV as a kid to the flaky, buttery apricot croissants devoured in Venice as a college student travelling thorough Europe. In her graphic memoir Relish: My Life in the Kitchen, she draws some of her favorite food-related stories, each with specific “taste-memories”.

 

Born in New York City, Knisley (apparently never going through a picky-eater phase) was raised a child of foodies, so her experiences transcend those of an average teen. Her mother worked in restaurateur David Bouley’s kitchen, her godfather was a food critic, and her uncle was the owner of a gourmet food shop. Nevertheless, teens with some interest in cooking (and eating!) will find her to be a likeable, relatable narrator. Knisley’s experiences stretch beyond Manhattan when her parents divorce and she moves to rural upstate New York with her mother. Living in Rhinebeck allows them to have an abundant vegetable garden and a flock of hens that supply a steady stream of fresh eggs, which ultimately gives young Lucy a greater appreciation of where her food comes from. Her first foray into independent cooking comes thanks to a craving for chocolate chip cookies. And since no parent can keep their child completely "pure", she credits a middle school friend for introducing her to such junk food delights as Kraft Macaroni and Cheese and Lucky Charms cereal.

 

What sets this graphic novel apart is its cookbook component. Each chapter relates a particular story, rendered in full color comic panels, that ends with a detailed, easy-to-follow, fully illustrated recipe for an appealing dish. Relish is recommended for both teens and culinary-minded adults. Knisley’s first graphic memoir, French Milk, which tells of a trip to Paris with her mother, is also available. Readers interested in even more of her work can check out her website.

Paula G.

 
 

A Tangled Web

A Tangled Web

posted by:
March 12, 2013 - 8:05am

PeanutChanging schools can be a stressful experience, especially when you are in high school. There are so many things to navigate—teachers, classes, building, and students—not to mention the social cliques. New sophomore Sadie Wildhack welcomes the chance to reinvent herself, and maybe this time be a part of the popular crowd in Ayun Halliday’s graphic novel Peanut, illustrated by Paul Hoppe.

 

Somehow Sadie has decided that having a peanut allergy will give her special attention, and increased social status. She orders a medic alert bracelet online, and writes her required introductory essay on the perils of having a life-threatening condition. Sure enough, Sadie’s “peanut allergy” is enough of an icebreaker to earn her some new friends, a spot at a lunchroom table, and even a boyfriend. Christopher Suzuki, “Zoo”, christens her “Peanut”, writing her adorable, origami-folded notes since he avoids communicating through modern technology.

 

But faking a peanut allergy requires much more vigilance than Sadie bargained for, especially since her mom is not in on the ruse. Author Halliday has created a likable, angsty protagonist whom teens can readily identify with, even as they shake their heads at the problems her deception creates. And Zoo is the understanding, thoughtful, cute and attentive boyfriend girls wish they had. Halliday perfectly captures teen banter, as well as the dialogue of the adults that populate this graphic novel.  Paul Hoppe’s line illustrations evoke not only the nuances of the characters, but also the classrooms, cafeteria, and locker-lined hallways of a high school that could be any high school. Hoppe’s art is rendered in grayscale, with the notable exception of Sadie’s shirt (and a single rose provided by Zoo), always a bright red hue. Peanut is highly recommended for teen readers and adults who remember the struggle to both fit in and stand out.

Paula G.

 
 

Another Opening, Another Show

DramaFans of graphic novelist extraordinaire Raina Telgemeier will be thrilled to get their hands on a copy of her latest work, Drama. Seventh grader Callie’s life revolves around the annual school theater production, and this year it’s the musical Moon over Mississippi. Callie’s not an actress; she’s all about the set design. Told in a traditional comic panel style and rendered in vivid full color, Drama follows Callie and her production crewmates as they navigate relationships both onstage and off. Intended for a slightly older audience than the autobiographical Smile, this graphic novel addresses not only the complexities of boy-girl relationships, but also those of boy-boy.

 

A former high school drama performer herself, Telgemeier stays in touch with her inner theater geek, perfectly capturing the immersive nature of working on a school production. Can inexperienced Callie pull off an incredible set design (including a real working cannon and a leaf-shedding tree) on a bare-bones budget? What will the new guys at school, twins Jesse and Justin, lend to the show? And will Callie ever find her very own leading man?

 

Drama is rife with in-the-know backstage details, from the somewhat creepy costume vault to the lighting cues and the set change challenges. Callie is a likeable, fully-realized girl who readers can’t help but root for. Telgemeier populates Eucalyptus Middle with a diverse group of passionate, relatable friends. Her drawing style portrays both expression and depth, realism layered with comic conventions. Drama stands out as an appealing, addictive graphic novel, a book that will no doubt be read, re-read, and passed from friend to friend.

Paula G.

 
 

Once Upon a Time in the West

The Best Shot in the West Born into slavery in Tennessee in 1854, Nat Love left home to seek work when he was just a teenager, hoping to send money home to his large family. Patricia and Frederick McKissack's The Best Shot in the West: the Adventures of Nat Love describes how his skill with horses, willingness to work hard, and a fair amount of bluffing led to a career as an expert roper and marksman. He also became an acquaintance of Wild West legends such as Bat Masterson and Billy the Kid. This fictionalized biography is based on his memoir, published in 1907 after he had retired from the cowboy life and was working as a Pullman porter. Exciting episodes include bucking broncos, runaway horses, and Apache raids, not to mention his capture by hostile Native Americans, the drunken theft of a cannon from a U.S. Army fort, and the cowboy competition that gives the authors the right to call Love “The Best Shot in the West.”

 

Randy DuBurke’s muscular, colorful art features flying bullets, billowing dust, and driving rain. Panels tend to be large, the better to depict the wide open spaces of the Great Plains and the cattle, horses, and buffalo that Love lived and worked among. Exciting and picturesque, Nat Love’s life makes for a great graphic novel.

Paula W.

 
 

Coming of Age, with a Graphic Twist

The Year of the BeastsIn the format-bending new teen novel The Year of the Beasts, we meet fifteen-year-old Tessa and her younger sister Lulu. The two have always been close, until one summer when Lulu starts dating town heartthrob Charlie – who just so happens to be Tessa’s biggest crush. Tessa wants to be happy for Lulu, but for the first time in her life she begins to feel bitter pangs of jealousy toward her sister. Fortunately, Tessa develops an unexpected romance of her own with the mysterious but sweet outcast Jasper and learns to appreciate the unconditional bond she shares with Lulu. 

 

Meanwhile, every other chapter picks up Tessa’s story several weeks later in graphic novel form, where we gradually learn that a tragedy has changed the characters’ lives forever. In a striking counterpoint to author Cecil Castellucci’s realistic prose, Eisner Award-winning illustrator Nate Powell re-imagines Tessa and her friends as mythological creatures such as medusas, centaurs, minotaurs, and mermaids. At first it isn’t exactly clear how the graphic and prose chapters relate, but everything merges so brilliantly in the end that readers will want to explore the book a second time to discover the cleverly placed foreshadowing and symbolism. Rather than being two separate narratives, these alternating chapters build off of each other to form one emotionally powerful story.

 

The Year of the Beasts is a poignant novel about sibling conflict, grief, and young love. The alternating prose-and-visual storytelling makes this book utterly unique and an excellent choice for reluctant readers or those looking for their first foray into graphic novels.

Alex