Summertime and the living is easy…

This One Summer. Art by Jillian Tamaki.

Art by Jillian Tamaki

Title: This One Summer

Author: Jillian Tamaki (art) and Mariko Tamaki (text)

Publisher & Release Date: First Second, May 2014

The Hook: Gorgeous, gorgeous artwork. Two friends spending summer at the beach.

The Lowdown (from jacket): “Rose and her parents have been going to Awago Beach since she was a little girl. It’s her summer getaway, her refuge. Her friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had, completing her summer family.

“But this summer is different.

“Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and Rose and Windy have gotten tangled up in a tragedy-in-the-making in the small town of Awago Beach. It’s a summer of secrets and heartache, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other.”

Overall Impressions:  I already mentioned the amazing artwork, right? Because I had to pause and just stare at some of the pages – walking through woods, racing into the ocean, Windy’s body movements as she’s showing off her new dance skills. It’s beautiful. I want to attach so many scans in this post.

This story made me remember family trips – weeks at my great-grandparents and family camping – spending time with cousins and the activities that become traditions.

Tamaki and Tamaki (cousins) capture that uneven transition between childhood and teen in Rose – the year and a half she has on Windy really shows in their reactions and interests. They giggle over words for breasts as they discuss their developing figures, watch local teens warily from the sidelines, and Rose develops a crush on one of the older boys who works at the local video/everything store. They spend practically every day together happily, but the two girls also fight and get touchy about various topics. At one point, Windy wants to dig a giant hole in the sand and Rose has to readjust her thinking and remember that can be fun too.

They also capture that painful feeling of knowing something is wrong in your family, something you don’t know, and not knowing how to respond to it. And how easy it is to lash out when you’re hurting

The Highs: Rose and Windy’s expressions as they watch horror films – at one point, they’re both hiding under a blanket and the reader can just make out the screen of the laptop through the fabric. The first one they rent kind of by accident, but after that, it’s deliberate.

The four pages (spreads?) showing the range of activities Rose and Windy have during the day, from the remains of a lazy breakfast to standing up in swings, mini-golf to racing bikes to shucking corn.

I love that Rose’s body is tall and tomboyish and Windy is shorter and rounder; both are very comfortable with their bodies and very active. Nobody is the book is a supermodel, not even the older teen girls or the young man Rose has a crush on.

The adult female friendships.

Buzzkills:  I understand why this happens -it’s effectively done and it makes sense- but it saddens me that watching the horror films and drama of the older teens, Rose decides the bad situations people are in are the fault of the females’ actions.

Also for possible trigger warnings (spoilers!), highlight the next bit: Miscarriage, potential drowning, 

The Source: Copy provided by publisher at library conference.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate nor a summer cabin near the beach was provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Belief is in the Eye of the Beholder

Title: Boxers & Saintscovers

Author: Gene Luen Yang

Publisher & Release Date: First Second, September 2013

The Hook: If you haven’t heard of Yang’s American Born Chinese, welcome to the world of graphic novels! We have a lot of fun here. In November, Boxers & Saints was named a National Book Award Finalist. BoxersSignedYang is an advocate for comics in education and is just generally all kinds of awesome – check out how he signed my copy (eeee!):

The Lowdown (from jackets): “China, 1898. Bands of foreign missionaries and soldiers roam the countryside, bullying and robbing Chinese peasants. Little Bao has had enough. Harnessing the powers of ancient Chinese gods, he recruits an army of Boxers – commoners trained in kung fu – who fight to free China from “foreign devils.”

“An unwanted and unwelcome fourth daughter, Four-Girl isn’t even given a proper name by her family when she’s born. She finally finds friendship – and a name, Vibiana – in the most unlikely of places: Christianity.”

Overall Impressions:   Yang has tightly wrapped myth, belief and history around a very raw humanity. Before reading this, I only had a very vague idea of what happened in the Boxer Rebellion, and it was sad and maddening to see the human faults on both sides – roving lechers and looters, the greedy, the opium addicts, and people too blinded in their own faith to recognize the value in others‘.  Family obligation, pride and mercy drive the characters, too, though, in ways that will still resonate with a modern reader. This was a hard review to write, in fact, because I want so much to convey how much I love this set.
Little Bao steps from role to role as a little brother, a son, a leader, and a warrior. He has a boyish eagerness to prove himself, to claim the blessings of the gods and see justice done, and in the beginning his journey with the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist (the eponymous ‘Boxers’) does seem to be blessed. As the fighting gets more serious, Little Bao exhibits a disturbing ruthless streak – the reader is still rooting for him, but now to find the right path to save his people without sinking into the dark vision of the brutal first Emperor.
Vibiana, as the scorned youngest daughter in a wildly biased societal system, channels her rage and frustration into her conversion to Christianity. Her initial choices are naturally childish and selfish, but she slowly finds her way after receiving visions of Joan of Arc. She never loses her prickliness and pride, but her actions during the attack of the Righteous Fist speak loudly to her growing compassion.
The collision of the two separate arcs give each other context beyond what Little Bao and Vibiana individually experience. Both struggle with their role in life, reaching for the idealistic vision presented to them initially and then left holding the often brutal consequences, where good and bad are found on both sides, sometimes even in the same person. 

The Highs: These are nuanced people, not cartoons (ironically) – there’s more emotional depth in seemingly simply drawings than other authors give characters with whole paragraphs of description backing them.

Learning aspects of Chinese society in snippets of conversation rather than being subjected to walls of explanatory text.

The parallels that are drawn between the journeys of Little Bao and Four-Girl/Vibiana as they struggle with society’s expectations and their own beliefs.

The art:   I’ve always liked Yang’s clean lines and expressive characters, and he achieves a wonderful balance here – the art being as much a part of the storytelling experience as the words. Colorist Lark Pien relies heavily on muted tones of brown and red for dull peasant life, with the effective use of color to highlight the supernatural visions of Little Bao and Vibiana. It’s really a pleasure just to hold.

And finally, the small piece of hope left even as everything is burning.

Buzzkills: It’s a grim time in history, and judgments aren’t clear or easy; if you want clearly defined heroes and villains, you’re not going to find them here.

The Source: Green Bean Books, Portland, during the Wordstock conference.

Disclaimer: Neither chocolate or visions of glory were provided by the publisher in exchange for this review.

Robots are a girl’s best friend

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong coverTitle: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

Authors: Prudence Shen and Faith Erin Hicks

Publisher & Release Date: First Second (:01), May 2013

The Hook: This book was definitely on my radar because of the creators but it jumped to the top of the pile when I saw their Unshelved guest strip. Main characters Nate and Charlie rec’d Gordon Korman’s awesome MacDonald Hall series and I wanted more of their narration right away.

Originally published as a webcomic.

The Lowdown (from the jacket): “Charlie is the laid-back captain of the basketball team. Nate is the neurotic, scheming president of the robotics club. Their unlikely friendship nearly bites the dust when Nate declares war on the cheerleaders and the cheerleaders retaliate by making Charlie their figurehead in the ugliest class election campaign the school has ever seen. At stake? Student group funding that will either cover a robotics competition or new cheerleading uniforms – but not both.”

Overall Impressions: Shen and Hicks created a contemporary, rather zany story that left a big grin on my face. Poor Charlie and the members of the Robotics Club get dragged along into ever escalating warfare between Club President Nate and the terrifying cheerleaders; the principal is unimpressed with everyone’s behavior. And then they have to work together in a Plan R. R for Robot Rumble.  The story felt a bit like an homage to Bruno and Boots and their adventures at MacDonald Hall -I have deep, intense love for them-  but it also felt like its own thing. Shen really appreciates the genre she’s working in and has some fun with clique and geek tropes.

Charlie’s also dealing with divorced parents – a geographically distant mother he doesn’t want to talk to and a father who’s often gone.

Hicks’ art is energetic and pulls you into the story – I was especially impressed with the basketball game, the Robot Rumble, and Charlie’s phone call while he’s jogging. The characters look like real people, not superheroes, and wear realistic clothing. The drawings are black, white and shades of gray, crisp and nuanced. She draws excellent puppy dog eyes and excellent intimidation eyes. I’d be kind of curious to see her do a Western.

Romance, unless it involves robots, is very low-key – refreshing! But what there is is sweet.

The Highs: The party that gets thrown at Charlie’s house. Please note, Charlie does not do the throwing.

Joanna. Joanna, Joanna, Joanna. Her eyes are clear, her fingers are deft, her love for robots (specifically, The Beast) is pure. And her fellow Robotics Club members respect her skills, knowledge and righteous anger. She’s the awesomest. She’s comfortable in her own skin.

The racially diverse student body.

The Robot Rumble itself.

Buzzkills: None.

Source: Bought at my local indie bookstore.

No chocolate or cash was exchanged for this review.