Mini-Review: In Real Life

20575446Title:   In Real Life
Author: Cory Doctorow & Jen Wang
Genres: graphic novel, realistic fiction
Pages: 196
Publisher: First Second
Review Copy: the library
Availability: October 14th, 2014

Summary: Anda loves Coarsegold Online, the massively-multiplayer role playing game that she spends most of her free time on. It’s a place where she can be a leader, a fighter, a hero. It’s a place where she can meet people from all over the world, and make friends. Gaming is, for Anda, entirely a good thing.

But things become a lot more complicated when Anda befriends a gold farmer – a poor Chinese kid whose avatar in the game illegally collects valuable objects and then sells them to players from developed countries with money to burn. This behavior is strictly against the rules in Coarsegold, but Anda soon comes to realize that questions of right and wrong are a lot less straightforward when a real person’s real livelihood is at stake. [image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Not gonna lie… I picked up this book because of the awesome art and it did not disappoint. The colorful art is beautiful and well-drawn and five kinds of amazing. The actual story, on the other hand, did disappoint. The first half of In Real Life sets up an interesting story about Anda, who gets into playing Coarsegold Online and then befriends a Chinese teen who gold farms for a living. Issues such as feminism, poverty, and worker exploitation are brought up… and then later tossed aside.

In the second half of In Real Life, the story pacing goes haywire, speeds up rapidly, and ties up the entire conflict in a way that smelled really, really strongly of the white savior trope. Little time is given to the perspective of the Chinese gamers that are so central to the plot. It was disappointing to see the story take such a problematic turn. The art is stellar, and the graphic novel does present some interesting food for thought on feminism, economy, gaming and exploitation… but the problematic resolution was ultimately off-putting.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday

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New Releases

hero

It’s finally here! The Shadow Hero’s release date is this week. I reviewed it back in March and have been waiting impatiently for the release ever since. This was one of the best books I have read so far this year. Even if you aren’t a graphic novel, super hero kind of reader, this one is worth a try.

Title: The Shadow Hero
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
Publisher: First Second

Summary: In 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. — Cover image via Goodreads, summary via publisher

wings

Another book being released is Dirty Wings by Sarah McCarry. Kelly Jensen wrote an excellent review here. It’s the second book in a series, but Kelly explained that it could easily be read on its own.

Title: Dirty Wings (All Our Pretty Songs #2)
Author: Sarah McCarry
Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin

Summary: A gorgeous retelling of the Persephone myth, Sarah McCarry brings us the story of Cass and Maia–the mothers from All Our Pretty Songs–and how their fates became intertwined.

Maia is a teenage piano prodigy and dutiful daughter, imprisoned in the oppressive silence of her adoptive parents’ house like a princess in an ivory tower. Cass is a street rat, witch, and runaway, scraping by with her wits and her knack for a five-fingered discount. When a chance encounter brings the two girls together, an unlikely friendship blossoms that will soon change the course of both their lives. Cass springs Maia from the jail of the only world she’s ever known, and Maia’s only too happy to make a break for it. But Cass didn’t reckon on Jason, the hypnotic blue-eyed rocker who’d capture Maia’s heart as soon as Cass set her free–and Cass isn’t the only one who’s noticed Maia’s extraordinary gifts. Is Cass strong enough to battle the ancient evil she’s unwittingly awakened–or has she walked into a trap that will destroy everything she cares about? In this time, like in any time, love is a dangerous game. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Review: This One Summer

this one summerTitle: This One Summer
Author:
Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki (Illustrator)
Genres:
graphic novel, contemporary
Pages
: 320
Publisher:
First Second
Review copy:
the lovely library
Availability:
May 6th 2014

Summary: Every summer, Rose goes with her mom and dad to a lake house in Awago Beach. It’s their getaway, their refuge. Rosie’s friend Windy is always there, too, like the little sister she never had. But this summer is different. Rose’s mom and dad won’t stop fighting, and when Rose and Windy seek a distraction from the drama, they find themselves with a whole new set of problems. It’s a summer of secrets and sorrow and growing up, and it’s a good thing Rose and Windy have each other. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: Ever since I picked up Skim at the local library a few years back, I’ve been a huge fan of Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki… So, of course, picking up This One Summer pretty much made my day. (And there was a heat wave, so it felt like summer the whole time I was reading…)

This One Summer details the summer of Rose and Windy, two  girls whose families vacation at Awago Beach every year. The two are close friends, and it’s obvious from the start that they have history together.  There’s more to their summers at Awago Beach than just carefree vacation time. An undercurrent of quiet sorrow runs through the story as Rose and Windy goof off and live out their summer vacation.

The art and the story are a perfect match for either, and both work to convey the certain endless — yet fleeting — feeling of summer that comes with being young. The friendship and back-and-forth between Rose and Windy feels authentic, as does the familial bonds. And, as is obvious by the cover, the art is incredibly gorgeous. I had to keep pausing while I read, just so I could stop and admire the beautiful backgrounds.

Like Skim, This One Summer is at once poignant and thought-provoking, and fun to read. I can only cross my fingers and hope for more to follow.

Recommendation: Buy it now — this is pretty much perfect for summer reading…

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Review: The Shadow Hero

heroTitle: The Shadow Hero
Author: Gene Luen Yang
Illustrator: Sonny Liew
Publisher: First Second
Genres: Action/Adventure, Fantasy
Format: Graphic Novel
Pages: 176
Review Copy: Netgalley
Availability: July 15, 2014, but digital issues are being released monthly until then.

Summary: In 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. Cover image via Goodreads, summary via publisher

Review: After reading an interview with the creators of The Shadow Hero, I couldn’t wait to get it into my hands. Fortunately, it turned up on Netgalley so I only waited two months. The Shadow Hero was worth every bit of that time though.

Yang and Liew have taken a super hero from the past and built a backstory for him that combined Chinese American culture, a tiny taste of the supernatural, and a rather colorful mother. She is not the most nurturing person, but she had other strengths. She certainly provided comic relief. I have seen women keep money, keys or other random things down their shirts, but this was my first experience with storage of pork buns in that particular location. We get to know her early in the story because Yang starts the backstory way back – before the boy who would become The Green Turtle is even born.

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. I have not been a reader of many superhero comics. That just never was my genre of choice, but Yang and Liew are winning me over. This comic was extremely entertaining.

Like Yang’s previous work, there are some potentially offensive racial slurs, but they make sense for the time and place. The mother is also quite  exaggerated, but she grew on me in spite of her obsession and dangerous single-mindedness.

As for the illustrations, Liew wowed me. I am relatively new to the comic/graphic novel scene, but it seemed that Liew used a color palette pointing to an earlier time. That would make sense with this resurrection of a superhero from the 1940s, but it could just be his style. There were many shades of brown and most colors appeared a bit muted especially in the beginning when they were setting the stage. It made me feel like I had stepped back into time. The artwork was also fantastic. The reason I didn’t read a lot of comics in the past was that pictures slow me down. I am a plot fan and want to know what happens next. Right now. I zip through the words and tend to ignore illustrations. These pictures required me to take my time and pay attention, but I didn’t mind in the least. Liew added so much life and personality to each of the characters and the surroundings were rich in detail. To see for yourself, there is an excerpt available here. Gene Luen Yang also provides some background on the creation of the book here which includes the text, rough sketches, and final images of the first few pages. Sonny Liew also gives some background information on his blog.

Finally, as an added bonus, the hardcopy includes a section at the end that provides facts and rumors about the original comic that was created back in the 1940s. It also includes pages from the original. I have to admit, I enjoyed the updated version significantly more, but I appreciated the history involved.

To hear about this collaboration, watch this video.

Recommendation: Buy it now or at least as soon as it is possible. The first issue is available now digitally and the second issue will be released on March 18th. The digital copies look amazing so I would recommend them as they are released. Otherwise, get the hardcopy in July. I will be singing the praises of The Shadow Hero for quite some time and I hope that this is not the last we see of the Green Turtle.

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Review: Romeo & Juliet

romeoTitle: Romeo & Juliet
Adapted by: Gareth Hinds based on the play by William Shakespeare
Genres: Romance, Historical, Tragedy
Format: Graphic Novel
Pages: 134
Publisher: Candlewick
Review Copy: Local library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Gareth Hinds’s stylish graphic adaptation of the Bard’s romantic tragedy offers modern touches —
including a diverse cast that underscores the story’s universality.

She’s a Capulet. He’s a Montague. But when Romeo and Juliet first meet, they don’t know they’re from rival families — and when they find out, they don’t care. Their love is honest and raw and all consuming. But it’s also dangerous. How much will they have to sacrifice before they can be together?In a masterful adaptation faithful to Shakespeare’s original text, Gareth Hinds transports readers to the sun-washed streets and market squares of Shakespeare’s Verona, vividly bringing the classic play to life on the printed page. — Cover image and summary via IndieBound

Review: When I saw the cover, I wondered what angle Gareth Hinds had as he crafted this adaptation. Was this going to be a West Side Story type? Hinds definitely meddled with the culture of the Montagues and Capulets, but otherwise, he left things alone for the most part. Other than omitting lines, Hinds stayed close to the original text and he kept the setting in historical Verona. He explains at the beginning in a note to the reader, “I chose to cast my retelling of Romeo & Juliet with multiracial characters in order to reflect how universal this story is. It is not a statement about racism or racial conflict.” There is no alteration to the storyline as a result of this cosmetic change. If you could not see the illustrations and only heard the text, you would have no idea that Juliet’s family is Indian. It made me wonder if this graphic novel could  ever be made into an audio book because the pictures add so much to this adaptation. The illustrations allowed for a bit more personality to be shown with the characters and of course inserted cultural identifiers. It also allowed me to keep the names straight from the very beginning since the cast of characters included pictures.

I have read Romeo and Juliet at least five times as a play for classes or for fun. What I loved immediately was the novelty of reading this story as something other than a script. With the illustrations, stage directions are unnecessary and names aren’t required along with every bit of the dialogue. The text flows more easily this way. He also kept the clothing of the families color coded. The Montagues are wearing shades of blue and the Capulets are in various shades of orange. This made the relationships easier to follow especially during the action scenes. The graphic novel format is one step closer to seeing the play acted out. This adaptation will be very accessible for the reluctant Shakespeare reader whether they are a young adult or a not so young adult.

As Hinds pointed out, he wanted to show that this is a story that transcends cultures. Star-crossed lovers can be found anywhere and anytime. Mixing up the culture a bit certainly does help demonstrate that everyman quality. I wasn’t sure how to take that though. It seems to be an example of the “casual diversity” that Betsy Bird spoke of recently. It’s not an issue in the story, it just exists. But it makes me wonder. Are cultures that easy to swap out and should they be? In this instance, as an illustrator he is adding diversity to a text that he didn’t want to alter. It also reinforces his theory that this tragedy could happen to anyone regardless of religious background, skin color, culture or age.

For Romeo’s family, skin tone and hair styles were basically the only racial or cultural markers. They appeared to be of African descent. What I appreciated was that Hinds did not have everyone in the family look pretty much the same. There is a wide variety of body types, faces, and hairstyles. He provided diversity within the culture. With Juliet’s family, Hinds included a few more clues beyond skin tone and facial features, but this was mainly in the area of clothing. The most obvious being that Capulet wears a Sikh turban and Lady Capulet has a head scarf, but there were others. The only truly jarring note was the mishmash of modern and older dress. The younger characters like Juliet were sometimes in more contemporary clothing like her short skirt. It would jerk me out of the story more than any of the other things that were going on in the illustrations. That the time periods of the costumes were not matching was a bit disconcerting. It didn’t stop me from enjoying the story though.

Overall, the illustrations were rich and truly brought out the emotions of the story. I know that I would have loved to have this as an option when I was first reading Shakespeare as a teen. It will likely draw new readers to Shakespeare.

My Recommendation: If you are a graphic novel or Shakespeare fan, I would get this one soon. Otherwise, I would still recommend that you check it out sometime. It is a gorgeous way to experience Romeo & Juliet. You may preview it here.

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Review: Chasing Shadows

chasingTitle: Chasing Shadows
Author: Swati Avasthi
Genres: contemporary
Pages: 320
Publisher: Knopf Books for Young Readers
Review copy: the library
Availability: September 24, 2013

Summary: Before: Corey, Holly, and Savitri are one unit—fast, strong, inseparable. Together they turn Chicago concrete and asphalt into a freerunner’s jungle gym, ricocheting off walls, scaling buildings, leaping from rooftops to rooftop. But acting like a superhero doesn’t make you bulletproof…

After: Holly and Savitri are coming unglued. Holly says she’s chasing Corey’s killer, chasing revenge. Savitri fears Holly’s just running wild—and leaving her behind. Friends should stand by each other in times of crisis. But can you hold on too tight? Too long?

In this intense novel, Swati Avasthi creates a gripping portrait of two girls teetering on the edge of grief and insanity. Two girls who will find out just how many ways there are to lose a friend…and how many ways to be lost. [Image and summary via Goodreads]

Review: I can’t say often enough how much I enjoy friendship stories. That being said, Chasing Shadows was a completely different creature than I am used to. Reading Holly and Savitri’s story of friendship, loss and grief was definitely a different experience.

Holly and Corey are twins; Savitri and Corey are dating. The three are a close trio of friends who face risk headlong by freerunning all over the city, off high buildings and through alleyways. When Corey is killed, Holly and Savitri’s friendship is put to the test as Holly seeks closure and vengeance, while Savitri tries to decide her future college path. Both grieve in their own ways, as shown by the two unique perspectives in Chasing Shadows.

Both girls’ grief is affected by more than Corey’s death. Holly’s grief begins to spiral into insanity as her reality begins to blend with the Leopardess comics she loves to read. Savitri’s grief and outlook on life is influenced by her cultural background and the story behind the name Savitri. The blending of influences is illustrated through comic pages interspersed throughout the narrative. While this approach to storytelling felt fresh and different, it also felt at odds with the flow of the story. That, combined with the stylized writing meant to depict Holly’s gradual breakdown, made immersion in the story difficult.

Chasing Shadow‘s innovative approach to storytelling is its main draw and also, at times, its weakness. This is a great book for anyone who enjoys psychological stories, or just wants to read about freerunning.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday.

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