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Tag Archives: Graphic Novel

Tournament of Books Round 1: Nimona vs. Zeroes

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson is based upon her web comic, a winner of the Slate Cartoonist Studio Prize for best Web Comic. Quickly we meet a lively, tough, “henimonaroine” named Nimona who appears on the scene ready to kick some butt and become the sidekick to Lord Blackheart, an outcast who is no longer affiliated with the Institution of Law Enforcement and Heroics. (What exactly is that anyway?) However, Lord Blackheart doesn’t want a sidekick or companion despite Nimona’s insistence otherwise and she must prove she can be a valuable ally. In this action-driven narrative, the reader discovers Nimona is a shapeshifter (imagine evolving identities such as wolf, shark, cat, and dragon) determined to join evil Lord Blackheart to bring destruction upon the Institute. The comics are dynamic, bright, colorful and energetic, moving the story along at a rapid pace. At a Science Expo, a mad scientist presents his Anomalous Energy Enhancer that he thinks will change the world. Add this to the mix and you find fantasy and science fiction elements intertwined in this rare battle of evil vs evil. Uncontrolled emotions of anger and despair move the plot along. My big question is “Where is Nimona at the end of the tale?” Will the Institute recover from her destruction and will Lord Blackheart and his foe Goldenloin fight another day? I was entertained, but I wanted more resolution and more back story about these characters.

The second title of this match up is Zeroes by Scott Westerfeld.  Immediately, one is caught up in this suspenseful drama when Ethan, alias Scam, gets mixed up in a drug deal. All he wanted was a ride home! But now he has stolen a car filled with money and he can’t go home. The reader soon discovers that Scam has a super power-a voice inside him says whatever yzeroesou (the listener) want to hear. He is certainly in grave danger. He will need to be rescued by his former friends. (The “voice” tore them apart.) And he isn’t the only one with unusual powers as we soon follow Crash, Flicker, Anonymous, and Bellwether! In alternating chapters, we see the action unfold and follow their struggles.  We meet a sixth teen also blessed or cursed with a super power. As the novel is written from different points of view, it quickly becomes a page turner. Themes include belonging, family issues, self-esteem, and community. There are plenty of contemporary issues that will appeal to teens. “Zeroes” might want to be heroes, but there is a lot at stake and is it worth risking their lives for someone in danger who they don’t even know? I couldn’t put this one down. I was totally hooked from the start.

I vote for Zeroes because I believe it will be a stronger contender in the tournament. I was interested in the interpersonal relations between the characters as much as the exciting adventures. I think teens would be fascinated about the super powers these characters possess. I recognize that Nimona, featuring a comic character portrayed as a shapeshifter, brings a unique story to readers, however I don’t think this story would have as wide an appeal to all readers.

WINNER: ZEROES BY SCOTT WESTERFELD

Reviewed by Ruth Anne Mielke, Bartlett Public Library

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Posted by on January 29, 2016 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Round one: Through the Woods vs Afterworlds

When I first received the two titles I was to read, I couldn’t help but wonder how –if at all- they might relate to each other. One was a graphic novel collection of short stories, the other a hefty tome (containing two stories for the price of one) that might do double-duty as gym equipment or a barricade in the (inevitable) zombie apocalypse. But I plunged in with an open mind and found that, besides getting more than one story out of each, both titles had their fair share of intense moments that left me wanting to know more but gleefully afraid to turn the page for fear of what I’d find.through the woods

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll brings together a collection of spine-tingling stories that harken back to the macabre fairy tales of the pre-Disney long ago. Nestled within the pages are five short horror stories, related by the terror invoked in us by things that go bump in the night and the horrific possibilities of gnarled and twisted woods: a father who disappears within them, leaving his three daughters to survive on their own; a woman chased into them so that she may avoid the terrors of her home; a brother killed within them out of jealousy; a thoughtless joke, discussed inside them, turned haunting; and a nesting place for the creatures of your nightmares. Borrowing hints and elements from such classics as Bluebeard and Little Red Riding Hood, Carroll rather deftly combines vintage images with modern stories that have a feeling of timelessness. As I was working my way through the stories, I was filled with an unending sense of dread and despair; in my heart of hearts, I knew, as in old-school fairy tales, there would be no happy endings within these pages. The imagery itself is at times striking with its highly contrasting black and white with streaks of red – weaving blood and gore throughout the stories- while managing to effectively use soft, smoky styles to contrast with the sharpness of the violence. With all that said, if there is a weakness to be found in this collection, it was that I had to read it in multiple sittings to avoid the feeling of sameness and the occasional predictability of the stories.

The story told in Scott Westerfeld’s Afterworlds is two-fold: first there’s the story of Darcy Patel, a newly-signed 18 year-old author desperate to prove herself as a “real” writer in New York City, and then there is the story –as written by Darcy for NaNoWriMo- of Lizzie Scofield, the 17 year-old lone survivor of a terrorist attack. After Lizzie wills herself to appear dead in order to escape execution by the terrorists, she finds herself crossed over to the underworld where she meets the smoking hot Yamaraj and begins her transformation into a psychopomp. Did you get all that? Good. The two stories are artfully woven together by Westerfeld, told in alternating chapters that do a surprisingly good job of complementing each other rather than clashing the way one might expect such different stories to do. Coming in at a total of 599 pages, Afterworlds both looks and feels daunting until you start reading it; once you’re in, the pages practically turn themselves in this realistic meets paranormal romance YA novel. Not to be outdone by Through the Woods, Afterworlds has at least a few scenes that are sure to make even the most stoic reader think twice about dangling body parts over the edge of their bed at night. Darcy’s insecurity can be a bit much at times and Lizzie’s relationship with Yamaraj comes across as suffering from an acute case of insta-love, but when all is said and done, I could not stop reading because I had to know how things would resolve themselves, particularly where Lizzie was involved.

Call it a case of growing up in an era of “Happily ever after”s, but ultimately, it was the moments of happiness in Afterworlds that won me over. The unwavering, leaden dread that sat heavy in the pit of my stomach while reading Through the Woods simply did not provide enough variety and thus did not evoke a strong range of emotions or reactions within me. The highs and lows, the build-up of suspense and the quiet relief of crises averted in Afterworlds made it seem as though it literally and figuratively has more to offer.

Winner: Afterworlds by Scott Westefeld

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Posted by on February 13, 2015 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Round one: The Winner’s Curse vs. This One Summer

In The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkowski, readers are introduced to a world wherein the nation of Herrani had not very long ago been conquered and then enslaved by the Valorian army. Kestrel, our seventeen year old main character, is the daughter of a Valorian army general, and is on the cusp of having to make a huge life choice because at the tender age of twenty, Valorian citizens are forced to either enlist in the military – or get married.winner's curse

Kestrel, of course, wants nothing to do with either of these options, preferring to devote her life to the piano rather than follow in her father’s footsteps or raise a litter of children. Music, however, was highly esteemed in Herrani society, and while it is acceptable for Valorians to enjoy, it is not permitted for a Valorian to play an instrument, sing, or otherwise make music in any way or form.

When the book began – and, honestly, based off of its summary – it reminded me of a strange combination between Wuthering Heights and Footloose, a correlation which was only strengthened by one of the characters, Arin Smith, and his resemblance to a younger, more verbose Heathcliff. But I digress – the book picks up remarkably once it delves into Smith’s revolutionary plans, and, even better, Kestrel grows a spine (apparently political intrigue suits her).

The Winner’s Curse also falls within the romance genre, and there is of course an obligatory love-triangle, which was for once not that obnoxious – all three characters are pretty well-developed, amusing, and well-written. On top of this, the world building was excellently handled; there was no info-dump, everything (society, rules, the culture, etc.) made sense and was explained naturally through the course of the book, and the political plot is, in a word, amazing. There were portions in the story where the plot was transparent, but it is an overall enjoyable journey that even featured awesome background characters.

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki is, first and foremost, a piece of breathtaking artwork. I mean, the art for this graphic novel is seriously A+, 10/10 would recommend. This One Summer is about a young girl named Rose Abigail Wallace. Rose has gone on a family vacation to the same each in the same town and played with the same friend (Windy) since she was five, but this summer – THIS summer – it’s different. This summer Rose’s parents are fighting.

There are other kids at the beach, locals and vacationers like Rose and Windy, and everybody seems to know everybody in a small-town kind of way – which would be great, but apparently RThis-One-Summer1ose’s parents’ fight has also caused Rose to feel the need to act out in cruel little vindictive ways girls do – especially when aimed at other girls.

This One Summer is, at its heart, a coming of age story. The story is tied with a meditation on divorce and its possible effects on the children caught between feuding parents, but it is mostly about that period in life where a child teeters on the edge between youth and their teenaged years – and you can literally feel the teetering here, it’s excellent. On one side, Rose is very ambivalent towards growing up; all Rose really wants to do is relax at the beach with friends she’s had for years. On the other hand, however, this summer Rose is obsessed with the lives of the older teens at the beach, and is also experimenting with the words they use (sluts! boobs!) and the things they try (bullying! sex! cigarettes!).

The characters in This One Summer are achingly familiar to anyone who has grown up. The artwork is beautiful and the characters are lovely and bittersweet in their awkward transition towards adulthood. The story was very real and did not pull punches with either content or language.

The Verdict: This was a challenging round to judge for me. Not only is judging between two mediums is always going to be difficult, but I equally adore graphic novels and the Fantasy genre, so attempting to choose between the two was a strain. As much as I love myself some High Fantasy and world building, The Winner’s Curse was at heart a Romance and did not have a strong enough female protagonist for my tastes, never mind the whole casually treated background issue of war and enslavement of the conquered society. This One Summer, however vivid and beautiful, was just so horribly negative – though essentially a bildungsroman, the entire story was filled with girls hating on other girls (spoiler: there’s slut-shaming).

I honestly thought I was going to like This One Summer best, but it turns out the winner is…

Winner: The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkowski

 
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Posted by on February 12, 2015 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Of Boxers, Saints and Dream Thieves

I had the task of deciding between two very different challengers, Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints and Maggie Stiefvater’s The Dream Thieves.  It was hard to compare one to another since Boxers & Saints  are historical fiction graphic novels with a touch of fantasy and The Dream Thieves is a blend of realistic fiction and paranormal fantasy.  (Actually now that I’m reading through this again they’re kind of similar with how pieces of fantasy are intertwined in the story, but I feel it has a much bigger role in The Dream Thieves’  story building)

Boxer & Saints were well-crafted graphic novels, detailing the events of the Boxer Rebellion in China from two boxers and saintsdifferent perspectives.  The choice in topic really made the books stand out because I can’t think of one fictional YA book that focuses on the Boxer Rebellion (not saying that another doesn’t exist).  Plus the graphic novel format makes the topic much more approachable and engaging for some teens.  Along with detailing the two sides of the rebellions, I really liked the personal development of both of the main characters.  Both characters had flaws and difficult decisions to make throughout their journeys and the right answer wasn’t always clear.  Added bits of humor throughout the story help lighten some of tougher issues addressed in the book.  I enjoyed how Gene Luen Yang connected the two stories together by having characters from each book show up in the other story and sometimes even taking a critical role.  Overall, I appreciated the unique views that the two books provided on the Boxer Rebellion and how it deeply divided the Chinese people. While the experiences of the main characters were fantastical at times, both characters had relatable experiences, whether they were the complications of falling in love, family issues or where one’s loyalties lie.

The Dream Thieves is the second installment of a planned four book series by Maggie Stiefvater. If you had a chance to read the first book in the series The Raven Boys, you may have wondered how its storyline would spread out over four books especially since the ending (or what seems like the ending) is revealed at the beginning of the first book. The Dream Thieves makes it clear how this complex and interesting story can develop into a series.  Maggie Stiefvater impressed me by focusing much of this book on the dark and moody Ronan, which was a shift from the character focus in The Raven Boys. In The Dream Thieves, Ronan learns more about his ability to pull actually things from his dreams and he also starts to piece together secrets from his past. At the same time Adam is still trying to figure out his place in the world. Blue is struggling with her relationship with Adam and her visions of Gansey, and Gansey is still in search of a dead king, Glendower.  The story is told through alternating viewpoints, each is well developed. The characters are very deep, and more layers are revealed as you progress through the book, even with secondary characters.   Written beautifully with enchanting descriptions of dream worlds and reality The Dream Thieves keeps you transfixed and leaves you gleefully awaiting the next book in the series.

After much internal debate, I decided the The Dream Thieves is the winner.  The excellent writing and spellbinding story kept me turning the pages to the end.  It was one of those books that you’re sad to finish because you know you’ll have to go back to reading just- okay books for a while.

Winner: The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater

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Posted by on February 28, 2014 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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Boxers & Saints vs. Far Far Away

As I write this up, I have a confession: Like Brandi before me in her decision regarding Fangirl vs. In the Shadow of Blackbirds, I don’t know which book I will pick yet. I’ve always been someone who has to talk things out before I can come to a decision and until I finish this post, I will be in as much suspense as you are right now reading this – except I can’t scroll down to the last paragraph to peek at the final answer! Enough delay, on to the analysis.

eye-in-woundI think I will analyze in the order I read these, so let’s begin with Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang with coloring by Lark Pien. I read these for the first time back in October and loved learning about a part of history that I knew next to nothing about (and the little bit I do know is from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so it doesn’t count, right?). If you can untangle it from the magical realism, Yang has packed a ton of historical detail into both the story and the illustrations. After reading both volumes, I felt I had a fairly clear picture of the causes and course of the rebellion. Yang isn’t just talking history though. Boxers & Saints has a lot to say about faith, loyalty, belonging and compassion. Choosing to make this a duology strengthens every theme Yang explores because we see how those themes thread through both Bao’s and Vibiana’s very different journeys. What struck me the most on this first read through, in fact, were full page spreads that echoed one another in each volume – on pg. 282 of Boxers and pg. 158 of Saints. In each case, that full page spread stops you dead in your tracks. In Boxers, it’s a portrait of “Guan Yin, the Goddess of Compassion – the goddess with one thousand eyes to look for suffering and one thousand hands to relieve it.” In Saints, it’s a portrait of Jesus as he speaks to Vibiana and commands her to “Be mindful of others as I am mindful of you.” Each figure is surrounded by hands that all have an eye in a center of their palm – an image that speaks strongly of compassion – and each portrait is surrounded plotwise by events that lay bare the lack of compassion that war requires.

On my second read, I mostly found myself contemplating two things that Karyn Silverman over at Someday My Printz Will Come (http://blogs.slj.com/printzblog/2013/11/25/boxers-saints-or-what-defines-book-anyway/) commented on. One was whether Bao and Vibiana are actually seeing visions of Gods and Saints or if they are simply a little crazy. Are they just trying to find comfort and direction and, without any reliable adults to turn to, creating their own spirit guides from the corners of their minds? I doubt this reading would ever have occurred to me on my own, but, for me, it deepened the themes of faith and belief. The other think Karyn mentioned was Lark Pien’s coloring and on the second time through – the coloring is brilliant. The majority of the panels in both volumes are done in muted, sepia tones. In Boxers there are pops of color for when the Boxers become Gods, blood, and occasional pivotal panels – one of soldiers in uniform, another of Bao backed by fire. Then comes Saints, and the only color pops are the gold that Pien has used for the spirits Vibiana sees – bringing home the contrast these ghostly visits bring to Vibiana’s cramped, narrow, bleak life.

But enough about Boxers & Saints. What about Far Far Away by Tom McNeal? I faced a bit of a conundrum far far awaywhen reading this one – I had read so much about it online that I already knew major plot points, most importantly, the identity of the villain, the Finder of Occasions. I was worried this would ruin the suspense of the book for me, but it turned out not to bother me in the slightest. In fact, I loved seeing the clues that had been laid to the Finder’s identity all along – piecing together the puzzle of how the Finder came to terrorize Never Better. I had read a lot about how many weren’t sure this was suitable for under a certain age, and, while the Finder’s methods are certainly disturbing, I was relieved that there was not appreciably gory violence involved. Far Far Away contains elements from two of my favorite genres, mystery and fantasy, so I went into this match expecting it to walk away the easy winner. However, fairy tales form the backbone of this book and, in the end, I think that’s why I didn’t connect with it as much as I had hoped. The characters didn’t feel full except for Jacob Grimm and Jeremy and while that wouldn’t bother me so much in fairy tales, which are constructed around archetypes, in a novel it bothers me much more. The women in particular seem to be either perfect (Ginger, Jenny Applegarth) or terrible (Jeremy’s mother). McNeal has written a great book here, but since I have to pick only one winner, the flat characters knock this one out for me.

So, there you go – I’ve talked myself to a winner: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang for the successful meshing of fantasy and history in service of theme and for that brilliant coloring by Lark Pien.

Winner: Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang, coloring by Lark Pien

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Posted by on February 14, 2014 in Book Review, Tournament of Books

 

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