Friday, April 29, 2016

Paper Girls Volume 1 by Brian K Vaughan

Frankly, I did not know what to expect when I started reading this graphic novel. I have read other works from this author that I thoroughly enjoyed, and read it pretty much based on the fact he wrote it.

I also read it because I have a daughter who really likes graphic novels. The problem with that is finding female protagonists that are not just there for drooly teenage boys (in either age, maturity level, or both). That being the case, I try to look for graphic novels with strong female leads.

One of the things I liked about Paper Girls is that with a full set of female characters, Vaughan gave each of them strengths and weaknesses. In other words, he made them realistic. They were also strong and independent, as exemplified by their job--one traditionally thought of as one for boys.

I enjoyed how the story progressed. It started with normal concerns and problems then gradually morphed into the strange. Seeing how these girls handled the growing weirdness they were getting into was interesting and fun.

There is a fair bit of profanity in the graphic novel. This is not gratuitous; it helps in getting a better idea about some of the characters. But, as a seventh grade teacher, it's enough for me to not put it in my classroom library. In that regard, I think it is more appropriate for older readers.

Overall, I would say to give this one a try. It was a lot of fun and I am looking forward to Volume 2 so I can see what happens next.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Practical Applications for Multiverse Theory by Noa Gavin and Nick Scott

This is a wild ride! Scott and Davey hate each other. To Davey, Scott is nothing but an unpopular nerd. To Scott, Davey was a stuck-up, mean girl cheerleader. Their scheduled peer mediation is a few days away, but in the meantime, the animosity just grows and grows.

And so does the weirdness. It starts with a soft drink that changes from one to another and back and a soon-to-be-dissected frog begging for its life. It only gets more bizarre from there. Reality is collapsing and the multiverse is converging on their high school. If they don’t figure out what the heck is going on, reality is over.

The authors use a dual narration between Scott and Davey; that really works for me. Seeing the escalating situations from their two very different points of view only makes this more fun. I have to admit to identifying more with Scott. His desire to just get through high school without being noticed is one I felt pretty often back in my own high school days. While Davey just wants all the craziness to stop, Scott tries to figure out exactly what’s happening.

I laughed out loud more than one reading this book. It is great fun. My only problem with the book is the sheer amount of profanity in the book. It doesn’t really bother me as a reader, but it keeps me from putting it in my classroom library. There is a lot of violence, but it is almost cartoonish in its excess. If you don’t mind a lot of salty language, and you do like a lot of laughs, I’d suggest you give it a try.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Seedfolks by Paul Fleischman

I have to say that I loved this book. It is a series of monologues from different people involved in creating and maintaining a community garden in Cleveland, Ohio.

Through each short vignette, the story is advanced as the different perspectives of those involved are shared with the listener. This book could have diversity as its core value as each narrator was of a different age, sex, and race--from a young Vietnamese girl to a 78 year old man who spent his life working for social justice to a farmer from Mexico who speaks an Indian language only one person can understand. As this was an audiobook, I especially liked that each monologue was given a unique voice by a different narrator.

It touched me. I recommend it. I want to share it with my students.

Friday, April 15, 2016

The House of Daniel by Harry Turtledove

When it comes to alternate history, Harry Turtledove is my favorite author. He has had many interesting takes on what might have been. So, as I always do, I looked forward to reading this new novel from him. I must confess, it was not what I had expected.

This alternate earth is a place of magic—vampires, zombies, werewolves, conjure men—all exist and are real dangers. The magic is understated through most of the book. There is some here and there, but it’s “normal.” It’s part of the background that the main character, Jack Spivey, takes for granted.

Jack is a center fielder for the Enid (Oklahoma) Eagles. He is also a part-time strongman for a local underworld boss, Big Stu. Hey, it’s the Depression (although the tern was never used), a guy has to eat. So he agrees to rough up the kid brother of someone Big Stu has some trouble with. The team is going to the city where the brother lives. He agrees and when he gets to the right address, he finds not a younger brother, but a younger sister. He can’t bear to beat her up, so instead advises her to run away.

Now that he’s crossed Big Stu, going home isn’t an option. So he stays in town and, by chance, gets an opportunity to play for a barnstorming baseball team, the House of Daniel (based on our world's House of David). They have long hair and beards. The core of the team is from a religious commune. They do hire outsiders, though. It’s perfect. The team will take him far away from Enid and Big Stu. He can play ball and make a little money. Even if he does need to wear a wig and fake beard til his own grows in.

Most of the rest of the book details the travels of Jack and the team. Especially the games they played. All of them. Sometimes in exhausting detail. I am not a baseball fan myself, but I can see the loving care that Turtledove put into recreating the old time games.

I was a little disappointed in the lack of action and the downright mundaneness of the magic. I was hoping for more—Turtledove’s books are usually pretty tense. This one, not so much.

I liked it okay, but found some of the coincidences a little far out. It did do a good job depicting what life was like for a baseball bum in that era, but was a little slow-paced. If you’re not a big fan of baseball, this one may not be for you.

Wonder Woman: Earth One Vol. 1 by Grant Morrison

It is hard to keep track of all the new and various retellings of the DC superheroes’ origins. In this variation on the Wonder Woman theme Morrison modernizes the story. Instead of Diana coming to the “world of men” during WWII, she comes today. Most of the story is told in flashbacks at Diana’s trial. She disobeyed her mother and took Trevor back to the world of men. There she had several adventures and became more and more distressed with the state of the world. She submitted to her mother for trial to try and convince her that the world needs the Amazons—and the Amazons needs to the world. Through the course of the trial the Lasso of Truth is used to not only compel truthful testimony, but as a translator, as well. Using the Lasso, Hippolyta unveils a millennia old lie—one that explains much about Diana’s own character.

Sexuality plays a role in this story. Hercules was a misogynist and a rapist. The Amazons were depicted as lesbians. I guess that makes sense when they were all alone on that island for over 3,000 years. Morrison does not make a “big thing” about it, but it is not left as subtext either. It’s just the way it is. Diana had a lover on the island. Apparently they had been together for thousands of years. I think the very fact that Morrison includes that bit of information without making a big deal over it worked. It comes across as natural and understandable.

Steve Trevor is an African-American in the version; this sets up a scene where Diana makes a tremendous faux pas without realizing it. He is pretty much all that is right with the world of men. He is honest and honorable, truthful and brave. His character as well as his testimony make a big impression.  Etta Candy is back, as a bisexual sorority party girl. She is still a big, beautiful woman and is proud of it. When one of the Amazons tries to body shame her, she shuts that down fast. I really liked her character a lot. Under the party girl exterior there was a core of steel.

I enjoyed the artwork. I am not an artist, just a fan who enjoys good work. This counts for me. The most jarring thing—aside from the teenage boys’ fantasy of the Wonder Woman costume—was how young Diana looks. Even though she is thousands of years old, at times she seems like a teenager herself.

I look forward to seeing where this Earth One version of Wonder Woman goes from here.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Martian Manhunter Vol. 1: The Epiphany by Rob Williams

This is a revamp of a favorite DC hero. And, for me, it didn't work too well.  It was extremely confusing, and I don't often find myself lost in novel.

The artwork was good, and the story was ambitious. It was just a bit hard to follow and way outside of what I was looking for in a Martian Manhunter title. Change is good, but the amount of change wrought on this character left me reeling. 

Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

I don’t want to say that this is just another YA dystopian novel with a female main character. In a way, of course, it is. And after reading the Divergent series and the Hunger Games series, I was a little hesitant to read another of this type of novel. But, in some important ways, it is more than just another YA dystopian novel with a female lead.

There were many things that Westerfeld, the author, did that I appreciated. For one, he clearly states what it was that led to the collapse of the previous civilization (ours). I thought it was pretty clever and maybe a little too likely to be thought up by someone in the real world.

The premise of the society that evolved from that collapse seemed thin at first. That at 16 everybody was given an operation to make them, “Pretty.” The Pretties were beautiful, but vapid. The sense that she lost her best friend, Peris, after he became Pretty was the first hint of trouble in Paradise. But as the novel continued, there proved to be more layers to this new order that were even hinted at originally. Slowly the layers were peeled away as the truth started to emerge.

The way that this society seemed so perfect to the main character, Tally, made me wonder what could cause some people to reject it and choose to live on their own and reject becoming Pretty. To Tally the thought of remaining an “Ugly” was a major motivation to many of her actions. And what exactly about people rejecting being Pretty made it such an existential threat to the people who ran the society, the Specials? All these people apparently wanted was to be left alone.

It is a pretty interesting read. The end setting up the next book in the trilogy. I now need to put Pretties on my to read list.

I’d recommend this book. It is different enough from the other dystopias to make it distinct. And the questions it raises are good ones. I’ll look for a copy to put in my classroom library.