Mini-review: SuperMutant Magic Academy

22752445Title: SuperMutant Magic Academy
Author: Jillian Tamaki
Genres: fantasy, graphic novel
Pages: 225
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly
Review copy: Library
Availability: April 28th 2015

Summary: The SuperMutant Magic Academy is a prep school for mutants and witches, but their paranormal abilities take a backseat to everyday teen concerns. Science experiments go awry, bake sales are upstaged, and the new kid at school is a cat who will determine the course of human destiny. In one strip, lizard-headed Trixie frets about her nonexistent modeling career; in another, the immortal Everlasting Boy tries to escape this mortal coil to no avail. Throughout it all, closeted Marsha obsesses about her unrequited crush, the cat-eared Wendy. Whether the magic is mundane or miraculous, Tamaki’s jokes are precise and devastating. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Having read This One Summer and Skim, and absolutely loved both, I knew I had to read SuperMutant Magic Academy — even though I basically knew nothing about it. Summaries and explanations just don’t do it justice. Even by the time I had it in my hands, I still had no idea exactly what SuperMutant Magic Academy was about, or what to expect (other than awesomeness).

My best attempt at an explanation is this — it’s a slice of life, sometimes four panel comic (and sometimes not) graphic novel set in, well, a supermutant magic academy…? There are witches and aliens and students with lizard heads and cat ears. This is all offered without explanation. What you get is a glimpse into their daily lives, with thin threads of plot and continuing relationships running throughout.

The humor is at turns endearing and baffling — but in the best way. When I tried to get a friend to read it, all I could say was “Read it! It’s really weird! But good? Also, did I mention it’s super weird?” I ended up swallowing all 200+ pages of it in one go, and when I stood up afterwards, I just walked about in this haze of serenity and pleasant confusion.

In other words… this is worth a read. Sit down with a cup of tea and just enjoy it from start to finish. Then we can talk about it, mostly through question marks and gushing praise.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

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Works by Gene Luen Yang

At the start of January, author and graphic novelist Gene Luen Yang was named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature! Here’s a look at some of his works:

118944American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

All Jin Wang wants is to fit in. When his family moves to a new neighborhood, he suddenly finds that he’s the only Chinese American student at his school. Jocks and bullies pick on him constantly, and he has hardly any friends. Then, to make matters worse, he falls in love with an all-American girl…

Born to rule over all the monkeys in the world, the story of the Monkey King is one of the oldest and greatest Chinese fables. Adored by his subjects, master of the arts of kung-fu, he is the most powerful monkey on earth. But the Monkey King doesn’t want to be a monkey. He wants to be hailed as a god…

Chin-Kee is the ultimate negative Chinese stereotype, and he’s ruining his cousin Danny’s life. Danny’s a popular kid at school, but every year Chin-Kee comes to visit, and every year Danny has to transfer to a new school to escape the shame. This year, though, things quickly go from bad to worse… [Image and summary via Goodreads]

16277248Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Search, Part 1 by Gene Luen Yang, Bryan Konietzko, Michael Dante DiMartino, Dave Marshall, Gurihiru

For years, fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra have burned with one question—what happened to Fire Lord Zuko’s mother? Finding a clue at last, Zuko enlists the aid of Team Avatar—and the most unlikely ally of all—to help uncover the biggest secret of his life. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

 

 

17210470Boxers (Boxers & Saints #1) by Gene Luen Yang

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.” Against all odds, this grass-roots rebellion is violently successful. But nothing is simple. Little Bao is fighting for the glory of China, but at what cost? [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

9630403Level Up by Gene Luen Yang, Thien Pham

Dennis Ouyang has always struggled in the shadow of his parents’ expectations. His path is laid out for him: stay focused in high school, become a gastroenterologist. It may be hard work, but it isn’t complicated … until suddenly it is. Between his father’s death, his academic burnout, and his deep (and distracting) love of video games, Dennis is nowhere near where his family wanted him to be. In fact, he’s just been kicked out of college.

And that’s when things get … weird. Four adorable—and bossy–angels, straight out of a sappy greeting card, appear and take charge of Dennis’s life. And so Dennis finds himself herded back onto the straight and narrow: the path to gastroenterology. But nothing is ever what it seems when life, magic and video games collide. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

18465601The Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang, Sonny Liew, Chu Hing

The Shadow Hero is based on golden-age comic series The Green Turtle, whose hero solved crimes and fought injustice just like any other comics hero. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity…The Green Turtle was the first Asian American superhero. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

 

 

 

Which of these have you read? And what did you think?

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Review: Seconds

secondsTitle: Seconds
Author: Bryan Lee O’Malley, Nathan Fairbairn (Colorist)
Genres: contemporary, fantasy, graphic novel
Pages: 323
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Availability: July 15th, 2015

Summary: Katie’s got it pretty good. She’s a talented young chef, she runs a successful restaurant, and she has big plans to open an even better one. Then, all at once, progress on the new location bogs down, her charming ex-boyfriend pops up, her fling with another chef goes sour, and her best waitress gets badly hurt. And just like that, Katie’s life goes from pretty good to not so much. What she needs is a second chance. Everybody deserves one, after all—but they don’t come easy. Luckily for Katie, a mysterious girl appears in the middle of the night with simple instructions for a do-it-yourself do-over:
1. Write your mistake
2. Ingest one mushroom
3. Go to sleep
4. Wake anew
And just like that, all the bad stuff never happened, and Katie is given another chance to get things right. But Katie doesn’t care about the rules—and she’s about to discover the unintended consequences of the best intentions. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I went into a pretty strong Scott Pilgrim (the comics! still haven’t watched the movie) phase in undergrad, so I put Seconds on my to-read list the second Bryan Lee O’Malley mentioned it on tumblr. Basically, I’ve been waiting to read Seconds for years, and it was just as awesome as I expected, though the story took a turn I didn’t expect.

Seconds centers on Katie, a chef who opened up the restaurant Seconds. After several years, her life and the people in her life have changed. She’s looking to move on as well by opening up a new restaurant… until something goes horribly wrong,and she discovers a magical way to redo it all again — and again, and again. Naturally, there are consequences and strange things afoot.

The comic has a heavy thread of narration throughout, which lends Katie’s journey a kind of melancholy and enchanting tone. In keeping with Scott Pilgrim, the humor is quirky, relateable, and serves to tell you a lot about even peripheral side characters. One reference to Scott Pilgrim had me grinning in delight (the bread joke, if you know the one). Though the art is fashionable and adorable, the story definitely can get a little chilling. I regret reading it at night (whoops).

The art, of course, is great — the colors, the style, the way little asides and speech bubbles were arranged were all top-notch to me. More than once, I found myself wishing I was nearly as stylish as the characters in Seconds. This is definitely a book that you can admire visually, along with enjoying the story.

Seconds is going to the top of my favorite comic books of all time. Now I have to go and search for Seconds fanart so I can keep living in that world a little longer…

Recommendation: Buy it now! This is a seriously amazing read.

Further reading: Bryan Lee O’Malley on POC representation in his comics

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Review: Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal

Ms Marvel vol 1Title: Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal
Writer: G. Willow Wilson
Artist: Adrian Alphona
Genres: Comic Books/Graphic Novels, Superheroes
Pages: 120
Publisher: Marvel
Review Copy: Purchased
Availability: Available now

Summary: Marvel Comics presents the all-new Ms. Marvel, the groundbreaking heroine that has become an international sensation! Kamala Khan is an ordinary girl from Jersey City – until she is suddenly empowered with extraordinary gifts. But who truly is the all-new Ms. Marvel? Teenager? Muslim? Inhuman? Find out as she takes the Marvel Universe by storm! As Kamala discovers the dangers of her newfound powers, she unlocks a secret behind them as well. Is Kamala ready to wield these immense new gifts? Or will the weight of the legacy before her be too much to handle? Kamala has no idea either. But she’s comin’ for you, New York! It’s history in the making from acclaimed writer G. Willow Wilson (Air, Cairo) and beloved artist Adrian Alphona (Runaways)!

Review: I decided to stray from strictly YA books for today’s review. Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal was my first foray into mainstream American comic books, and I’m thrilled to report that it was the perfect entry point for me. You don’t need to know several decades of comic book history to understand what’s going on; our heroine, Kamala Khan, is engaging; and the writing hits several of the best parts of an origin story.

Kamala is a Muslim Pakistani-American teenager who, in addition to suddenly acquiring shape-shifting powers, also deals with microaggressions, sexism, and a YA favorite: figuring out who you are. While the dialogue occasionally leans toward preachy, particularly in dealing with Zoe’s mix of insensitivity and meanness, there are several great moments where Kamala gains inspiration and support from her religion in order to go forward with various heroic actions. I also greatly enjoyed Kamala’s brand of geekery and humor. Several of my favorite origin story tropes pop up in this volume, including having the first big failure and needing to recoup in order to try again. I also enjoyed the mishaps and mayhem that Kamala inadvertently caused as she was getting used to her powers and superhero life.

I was less fond of the “strict immigrant parents” archetype, but G. Willow Wilson did a good job of giving Kamala’s father non-strict moments that were really quite lovely. I hope that in future installments, both Kamala’s father and mother (and her brother) will be able to branch out from primarily serving as obstacles to Kamala’s story and become better rounded characters. Kamala’s friends also felt a little underdeveloped, though they did have a promising assortment of building blocks for interesting personalities.

Artist Adrian Alphona made a strong showing in this first volume. While I occasionally had difficulty figuring out precisely how Kamala used her powers or movements in action sequences, the artwork enhanced the story. (Kamala has some great expressions, especially in comedic scenes.) Each important character is distinctive, and many of the locations are memorable. Alphona also hides some fun jokes/Easter Eggs in the artwork, and the many details help the world of Ms. Marvel feel grounded despite the shapeshifting heroics.

Recommendation: Buy it now. (In fact, I just bought the second and third volumes and pre-ordered the fourth.) Ms. Marvel, Volume 1: No Normal occasionally leans toward preachy and has some underdeveloped characters, but it is otherwise a delight. It’s a great place to jump into the Marvel comics universe.

Extras
9 Times Ms. Marvel Tackled Real Issues by Sofía Marlasca (spoilers for future issues)

Rebooted Comic Heroine Is An Elegant, Believable ‘Marvel’ by Etelka Lehoczky

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Mini-Review: Into the Dangerous World

Into the Dangerous WorldTitle: Into the Dangerous World
Author: Julie Chibbaro
Illustrator: JM Superville Sovak
Publisher: Viking
Pages: 333
Genre: Realistic, Romance
Review copy: Final copy via author
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: 17-year old Ror comes from the boonies and is tough as nails and all she really cares about is drawing and painting and making art. She ends up in the ghetto that was Manhattan in 1984, where she discovers that the walls, the subways, the bridges are covered with art. Before long, she runs into trouble with Trey, the ultimate bad boy and president of Noise Ink, a graffiti crew she desperately wants to join at all costs.

When Ror falls in love with Trey, she realizes she’ll do just about anything to get up in the scene. She has some decisions to make: she wants to be a street artist but she doesn’t want to get shot by the cops; she wants her stuff in the museum but she doesn’t want to die waiting to become famous; she wants to make money selling her work in a gallery but she doesn’t want to be a puppet at the mercy of a dealer. The book follows her descent into a dangerous world, where her drawings are her only salvation.

Ror’s journey is a seamless blend of words and pictures, cinematic in its scope – a sharp-edged, indelible creation that will live inside your head.

Review: Into the Dangerous World is unique in more ways than one. The format stands out immediately. The text is complemented with illustrations throughout. Most chapters include at least two illustrations and some have even more. The content is also unusual.

Art as a means of healing is not all that unique, but the way that Ror has grown up and how she has practiced art with her father is certainly beyond the norm. Ror and her father shared a bond through art, but their relationship is extremely complicated. Ror spent years walking on eggshells with her father. That has led to her own art being all tangled up with her father and his rigid beliefs. She spends the majority of the novel working out who she is and what her art will be.

I appreciated the look into the world of graffiti in the 80s. I also found the characters interesting and intriguing  even when they were not all necessarily likable. There is a dash of romance, which added a little light to the story, but that story line isn’t the main focus.

Recommendation: Get it soon. With the short chapters, fascinating illustrations and an original storyline, Into the Dangerous World is one that is likely to be popular with many young readers.

Extras:

Book trailer:

Interview with author & illustrator (Kidlit TV)

Into the Dangerous World website

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Crystal’s 2014 Favorites

It’s been a great year of reading for me. Here are some of my favorites and why they stood out for me.

Poetry

howHow I Discovered Poetry by Marilyn Nelson
Dial
My Review

Summary: A powerful and thought-provoking Civil Rights era memoir from one of America’s most celebrated poets.

Looking back on her childhood in the 1950s, Newbery Honor winner and National Book Award finalist Marilyn Nelson tells the story of her development as an artist and young woman through fifty eye-opening poems. Readers are given an intimate portrait of her growing self-awareness and artistic inspiration along with a larger view of the world around her: racial tensions, the Cold War era, and the first stirrings of the feminist movement.

A first-person account of African-American history, this is a book to study, discuss, and treasure.

* From my review: “Reading How I Discovered Poetry is like looking through a photo album with a loved one while they share memories. Here a laugh, there a tear, sometimes even an admission of mischievousness. Marilyn Nelson has crafted fifty sonnets that begin with the simplicity of a pre-schooler and progress to the complexity of the early teen years.”

Brown Girl DreamingBrown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson
Nancy Paulsen Books
My Review

Summary:Jacqueline Woodson, one of today’s finest writers, tells the moving story of her childhood in mesmerizing verse.

Raised in South Carolina and New York, Woodson always felt halfway home in each place. In vivid poems, she shares what it was like to grow up as an African American in the 1960s and 1970s, living with the remnants of Jim Crow and her growing awareness of the Civil Rights movement. Touching and powerful, each poem is both accessible and emotionally charged, each line a glimpse into a child’s soul as she searches for her place in the world. Woodson’s eloquent poetry also reflects the joy of finding her voice through writing stories, despite the fact that she struggled with reading as a child. Her love of stories inspired her and stayed with her, creating the first sparks of the gifted writer she was to become.

* From my review: “Story is a ribbon running through the book as she tells the stories from family members and of how she herself breathes stories. In her author’s note she explains that this book is “my past, my people, my memories, my story.” Most readers will be tumbled into their own memories along the way.”

danceA Time to Dance by Padma Venkatramen
Nancy Paulsen Books
My Review

Summary: Padma Venkatraman’s inspiring story of a young girl’s struggle to regain her passion and find a new peace is told lyrically through verse that captures the beauty and mystery of India and the ancient Bharatanatyam dance form. This is a stunning novel about spiritual awakening, the power of art, and above all, the courage and resilience of the human spirit.

Veda, a classical dance prodigy in India, lives and breathes dance—so when an accident leaves her a below-knee amputee, her dreams are shattered. For a girl who’s grown used to receiving applause for her dance prowess and flexibility, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she starts all over again, taking beginner classes with the youngest dancers. Then Veda meets Govinda, a young man who approaches dance as a spiritual pursuit. As their relationship deepens, Veda reconnects with the world around her, and begins to discover who she is and what dance truly means to her. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

* From my review: “Venkatraman’s writing brought me to tears, but also gave me many opportunities to smile. Above all, as Veda found out more about herself and explored her beliefs, readers will be likely to think about their own beliefs and spiritual life.”

noNo Matter the Wreckage by Sarah Kay
Write Bloody Publishing

Summary:Following the success of her breakout poem, “B,” Sarah Kay releases her debut collection of poetry featuring work from the first decade of her career. No Matter the Wreckage presents readers with new and beloved work that showcases Kay’s knack for celebrating family, love, travel, history, and unlikely love affairs between inanimate objects (“Toothbrush to the Bicycle Tire”), among other curious topics. Both fresh and wise, Kay’s poetry allows readers to join in on her journey of discovering herself and the world around her. It’s an honest and powerful collection.

* I didn’t actually review this for Rich in Color because it wasn’t marketed as a young adult book, but it would certainly appeal to readers of YA. Sarah Kay is a young author and many young adults are familiar with her spoken word poetry. I was fortunate enough to see her in Chicago this year and get a signed copy of No Matter the Wreckage. She has a way of stringing the words together in powerful ways. Here’s a sample:

Defying Genre Labels

dreamingDreaming in Indian by Lisa Charleyboy
Annick Press

Summary:A powerful and visually stunning anthology from some of the most groundbreaking Native artists working in North America today.

Truly universal in its themes, “Dreaming In Indian” will shatter commonly held stereotypes and challenge readers to rethink their own place in the world. Divided into four sections, ‘Roots, ‘ ‘Battles, ‘ ‘Medicines, ‘ and ‘Dreamcatchers, ‘ this book offers readers a unique insight into a community often misunderstood and misrepresented by the mainstream media.

Emerging and established Native artists, including acclaimed author Joseph Boyden, renowned visual artist Bunky Echo Hawk, and stand-up comedian Ryan McMahon, contribute thoughtful and heartfelt pieces on their experiences growing up Indigenous, expressing them through such mediums as art, food, the written word, sport, dance, and fashion. Renowned chef Aaron Bear Robe, for example, explains how he introduces restaurant customers to his culture by reinventing traditional dishes. And in a dramatic photo spread, model Ashley Callingbull and photographer Thosh Collins reappropriate the trend of wearing ‘Native’ clothing.

Whether addressing the effects of residential schools, calling out bullies through personal manifestos, or simply citing hopes for the future, “Dreaming In Indian” refuses to shy away from difficult topics. Insightful, thought-provoking, and beautifully honest, this book will to appeal to young adult readers. An innovative and captivating design enhances each contribution and makes for a truly unique reading experience.

* Here I feel like I’m cheating. I’ve only just begun to read this, but I am still claiming it as a favorite. I’m taking this one slowly and savoring it. The many different voices and perspectives are vivid and speak truths using words, art, and other means. It is visually stunning and I’m thankful that so many people shared their stories.

Graphic Novel

heroThe Shadow Hero by Gene Luen Yang
First Second
My Review

Summary: n the comics boom of the 1940s, a legend was born: the Green Turtle. He solved crimes and fought injustice just like the other comics characters. But this mysterious masked crusader was hiding something more than your run-of-the-mill secret identity… The Green Turtle was the first Asian American super hero.

The comic had a short run before lapsing into obscurity, but the acclaimed author of American Born Chinese, Gene Luen Yang, has finally revived this character in Shadow Hero, a new graphic novel that creates an origin story for the Green Turtle.

With artwork by Sonny Liew, this gorgeous, funny comics adventure for teens is a new spin on the long, rich tradition of American comics lore.

* From my review: “What I love is that The Shadow Hero has such a nice balance of action, adventure, humor, seriousness, and flirtation. There are action sequences in each issue and several doses of comedy. I didn’t want it to end.”

Contemporary

To All the Boys I've Loved BeforeTo All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
Simon and Schuster Books for Young Readers
Audrey’s Review

Summary: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before is the story of Lara Jean, who has never openly admitted her crushes, but instead wrote each boy a letter about how she felt, sealed it, and hid it in a box under her bed. But one day Lara Jean discovers that somehow her secret box of letters has been mailed, causing all her crushes from her past to confront her about the letters: her first kiss, the boy from summer camp, even her sister’s ex-boyfriend, Josh. As she learns to deal with her past loves face to face, Lara Jean discovers that something good may come out of these letters after all.

* This was a very fun story at a time when I was needing just that. I even got to have a bit of a twitter conversation with Jenny Han about one such bit of fun. I wrote about that here.

howHow it Went Down by Kekla Magoon
Henry Holt and Co.
My Review

Summary: When sixteen-year-old Tariq Johnson dies from two gunshot wounds, his community is thrown into an uproar. Tariq was black. The shooter, Jack Franklin, is white.

In the aftermath of Tariq’s death, everyone has something to say, but no two accounts of the events line up. Day by day, new twists further obscure the truth.

Tariq’s friends, family, and community struggle to make sense of the tragedy, and to cope with the hole left behind when a life is cut short. In their own words, they grapple for a way to say with certainty: This is how it went down.

* From my review: “This wasn’t an easy book to read. There are many moments of pain to be found and experienced. The worst part is that our news headlines contain similar situations. The story seemed all too possible.”

GreatestWhen I Was the Greatest by Jason Reynolds
Atheneum Books for Young Readers
Our Group Discussion – with spoilers

Summary: In Bed Stuy, New York, a small misunderstanding can escalate into having a price on your head—even if you’re totally clean. This gritty, triumphant debut captures the heart and the hardship of life for an urban teen.

A lot of the stuff that gives my neighborhood a bad name, I don’t really mess with. The guns and drugs and all that, not really my thing.

Nah, not his thing. Ali’s got enough going on, between school and boxing and helping out at home. His best friend Noodles, though. Now there’s a dude looking for trouble—and, somehow, it’s always Ali around to pick up the pieces. But, hey, a guy’s gotta look out for his boys, right? Besides, it’s all small potatoes; it’s not like anyone’s getting hurt.

And then there’s Needles. Needles is Noodles’s brother. He’s got a syndrome, and gets these ticks and blurts out the wildest, craziest things. It’s cool, though: everyone on their street knows he doesn’t mean anything by it.

Yeah, it’s cool…until Ali and Noodles and Needles find themselves somewhere they never expected to be…somewhere they never should’ve been—where the people aren’t so friendly, and even less forgiving.

* The strength in this book for me was the strong relationships between friends and family. There are rough patches, but the relationships are key. It doesn’t hurt that there was knitting in the book too. I’m a sucker for knitting books.

What were some of your favorite books this year?

Unless otherwise noted, cover images and summaries are via Goodreads.

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