Review: This is Where It Ends

This Is Where It EndsTitle: This is Where It Ends
Author: Marieke Nijkamp
Genres:  Contemporary, Realistic
Pages: 282
Publisher: Sourcebooks
Review Copy: My local library
Availability: Available Now

Summary:
10:00 a.m.
The principal of Opportunity, Alabama’s high school finishes her speech, welcoming the entire student body to a new semester and encouraging them to excel and achieve.

 

10:02 a.m.
The students get up to leave the auditorium for their next class.

10:03
The auditorium doors won’t open.

10:05
Someone starts shooting.

Told over the span of 54 harrowing minutes from four different perspectives, terror reigns as one student’s calculated revenge turns into the ultimate game of survival.

Review: Make no mistake, Marieke Nijkamp’s debut novel is a tough read. It is a read that, on my first reading, I sped through in one night because I wanted to know what was going to happen next. I was so caught up in the fight for survival for the characters that I couldn’t put the book down. My heart broke many times during that first read, and I even cried at the end (in fact, I cried at the end a second time). On my second read, while I knew what was coming, I still felt the horrors of the shooting in my gut. This is Where It Ends is the type of novel that will stay with you for a long time after; it’s one of those books where you allow the lives of the characters to linger with you for a few days before you move onto the next book.

This is Where It Ends is told through the eyes four characters who all, in some way, have a relationship with the shooter. Autumn is the shooter’s younger sister, Sylvia (Sylv) is Autumn’s girlfriend whom the shooter despises, Tomas is Sylv’s twin brother who has an antagonistic relationship with the shooter, and Claire is the shooter’s ex-girlfriend.  Autumn and Sylvia are in the school auditorium when Tyler, the shooter, begins his rampage. Tomas and Claire are outside in various locations of the school, hearing the gunshots, and both, in their own way, work to try to save the lives of their classmates and family. The story is a mix of present events and flashbacks as each of the characters reflect on their relationship with Tyler and wonder what they could have done to prevent his current actions, well except for Tomas. All he wants to do is protect his sister, and once he realizes who the shooter is, his focus is on getting people out safely and finding a way to end Tyler’s rampage.

The use of the four narratives worked well in creating realistic portrayal of such an horrific event and was an excellent device to create a full picture of Tyler. While he is clearly the antagonist of this story who betrays the love of his sister and former girlfriend, by seeing him through the eyes of people who knew and loved (and even hated) him, we get a picture of a troubled young man instead of a “mustache twirling” villain. We are also able to have moments of “levity” as we spend time with Claire and Tomas who are outside trying to help. Their terror and fear is different than Autumn’s and Sylvia’s in that Claire & Tomas are focusing their energy trying to help. This positive energy gives the reader a sense of purpose instead of being stuck in a state of terror if the reader were to be with Autumn and Sylv the entire time, because the way Nijkamp writes the auditorium scenes, it is truly terrifying. Tyler shoots without discrimination, without remorse, and characters like that leave a chill down a person’s back.

Marieke Nijkamp’s novel is timely as it allows us, those of us who have only experienced a shooting through the lens of the media, to feel the terror that shooting victims experience, the fear family members face as they wait to hear about the safety of their loved ones, and the betrayal that friends and family members of the shooter feel, for they are victims too. No one is safe in Nijkamp’s novel and the death toll is quite high, but I mourned each and every character’s death. I felt the pain Autumn, Sylv, Tomas and Claire felt and their fear. This is Where It Ends is a moving novel and a reflection of the turbulent times we are living in.

Recommendation: Get it now!

Share

Review: Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Volume 1

Moonshot SOFT CoverTitle: Moonshot: The Indigenous Comics Collection Vol. 1
Editor: Hope Nicholson
Book Layout & Design: Andy Stanleigh
Publisher: Alternate History Comics Inc.
Pages: 174
Format: Graphic Novel/Comic, Anthology
Review copy: Borrowed from the library
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Produced by AH Comics Inc. (Titan: An Alternate History, Delta, Hobson’s Gate, Jewish Comix Anthology) and edited by Hope Nicholson (Brok Windsor, Lost Heroes, Nelvana of the Northern Lights), MOONSHOT brings together dozens of creators from across North America to contribute comic book stories showcasing the rich heritage and identity of indigenous storytelling.

From traditional stories to exciting new visions of the future, this collection presents some of the finest comic book and graphic novel work in North America. The traditional stories presented in the book are with the permission from the elders in their respective communities, making this a truly genuine, never-before-seen publication. MOONSHOT is an incredible collection that is sure to amaze, intrigue and entertain!

Here are some of the talented writers and artists who have contributed to MOONSHOT:

Claude St-Aubin (R.E.B.E.L.S., Green Lantern, Captain Canuck), Jeffery Veregge (G.I. Joe, Judge Dredd), Stephen Gladue (MOONSHOT cover artist), Haiwei Hou (Two Brothers), Nicholas Burns (Arctic Comics, Curse of Chucky, Super Shamou), Jon Proudstar (Tribal Force), George Freeman (Captain Canuck, Aquaman, Batman), Elizabeth LaPensee (Survivance, The Nature of Snakes, Fala), Buffy Sainte-Marie (Fire & Fleet & Candlelight, Coincidence & Likely Stories), Richard Van Camp (Path of the Warrior, Kiss Me Deadly), David Robertson (The Evolution of Alice, Stone), David Cutler (The Northern Guard), Menton J. Matthews III (Monocyte, Memory Collectors, Three Feathers), Jay Odjick (Kagagi: The Raven), Ian Ross (Heart of a Distant Tribe, Bereav’d of Light, An Illustrated History of the Anishinabe), Lovern Kindzierski (X-Men, Wolverine, Incredible Hulk, Thor, Spiderman), Arigon Starr (Super Indian, Indigenous Narratives Collective), Michael Sheyahshe (Dark Owl, Native Americans in Comic Books), Fred Pashe (SpiritWolf) and more!

Review: The cover art for Moonshot is simply stunning. When I saw that image, I knew this was a must read. So yes, I did judge the book by the cover, but this powerful painting is just a hint of the treasure hidden within the pages. The many images are vivid and pack a punch. This was a collaboration between Native and non-Native contributors resulting in a spectacular collection of stories from indigenous voices. The art and stories contained in this volume are at times breath-taking, chilling, thought-provoking, amusing, and just plain entertaining.

Hope Nicholson, the editor, explains in the foreword, “There is no single, homogenous native identity and MOONSHOT is an extensive exploration of the vast variety of indigenous storytelling in North America.” In this volume there are many different voices sharing stories that represent their heritage. In his introduction, Michael Sheyahshe (Caddo) explains that there are many stereotypes about Natives in mainstream comics. “The MOONSHOT collection, and perhaps others like it, provide a wonderful venue for indigenous storytellers to shrug off these misrepresentations and amplify our collective voice: here we are.”

With collections, the stories are often hit and miss, but here, each piece was a solid contribution. The words and artwork combined to make a feast for the eyes, heart and mind. I really appreciate the mix of stories. They included tales from the past explaining how things came to be, contemporary stories, steampunk and futuristic science fiction too.

I applaud the design of the book. Every page is used to communicate and tell stories even if there isn’t a single word there. Opposite the table of contents there is an illustration featuring caribou. Opposite the foreword, there is a picture done in blues titled “Water Spirit.” You may see both illustrations on the publisher’s website. Before the first official story, there is a two page spread by Jeffrey Veregge showing a basket weaver. There is a story within decorations on the basket, but animals are also flowing out of the basket into the sky. A brief explanation is included, “Weaving images into the material is a way to capture and preserve their stories and culture.”

The first comic is the story of Maya Lopez, also known as Echo. It’s an excerpt from the Daredevil Vision Quest series. Maya is deaf and she shares how she developed ways to communicate. The comic itself uses many ways to deliver the story. There is text, but there are also representations of sign language and unique ways of manipulating the text and images. There are many layers in the graphics and it reinforces the idea that there are countless ways to communicate our stories. The rest of the collection proceeds to demonstrate this thought.

The stories have entertainment value, but may also share things like history and truth. Coyote and the Pebbles is one example. It shares how something came to be (history) in a slightly amusing way (entertainment), but also delivered a truth: people often find it easy to see the selfishness of others, but overlook it in themselves.

In this collection readers will find tales of love, terror, transgressions, forgiveness, loss, and more.  There are thirteen stories surrounded by vibrant images that also speak volumes. The title of the book came from the song Moonshot by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree) and the lyrics are featured after the final story. On her website, Sainte-Marie notes Moonshot was “Written after a conversation with Christian scholars who didn’t realize that indigenous people had already been in contact with the Creator before Europeans conquered them.” The song shatters stereotypes and embodies the purpose of this collection. A sketchbook section adds a deeper look into some of the illustrations. Brief biographies of contributors are also provided.

Recomendation: Buy it now particularly if you enjoy comics and graphic novels. Even if you don’t typically read that format, I highly recommend this volume to anyone who loves a good story.

Extras:
Selected images may be seen here.
Review (including many images) at Indian Country Today
7 Indigenous Comics Creators… (includes more images)

Share

Book Review: On the Edge of Gone

goneTitle: On the Edge of Gone
Author: Corinne Duyvis
Genres:  Speculative Fiction, Dystopian
Pages: 456
Publisher: Amulet Books
Review Copy: ARC from publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: January 29, 2035. That’s the day the comet is scheduled to hit—the big one.

Denise and her mother and sister, Iris, have been assigned to a temporary shelter outside their hometown of Amsterdam to wait out the blast, but Iris is nowhere to be found, and at the rate Denise’s drug-addicted mother is going, they’ll never reach the shelter in time.

A last-minute meeting leads them to something better than a temporary shelter: a generation ship, scheduled to leave Earth behind to colonize new worlds after the comet hits. But everyone on the ship has been chosen because of their usefulness. Denise is autistic and fears that she’ll never be allowed to stay. Can she obtain a spot before the ship takes flight? What about her mother and sister?

When the future of the human race is at stake, whose lives matter most?

Review: I was talking to a co-worker about The Walking Dead and why he doesn’t watch it, and he remarked that he hates to read/see stories that has our worlds in ruins, that it hurts him, It was in that conversation I realized just why I was so sad about Corinne Duyvis’s new novel. It’s not that the novel was bad (because it wasn’t) or that it wasn’t a page turner (because it was) but what made me so sad was that it was the story of the destruction of our world, and having that knowledge made me really sad. In books like Hunger Games, where the dystopian future is man made, you root for the hero to overcome systematic oppression. In On the Edge of Gone, the disaster is a natural one and our hero, Denise, is just trying to survive in a brand new dangerous world, and that is what made me so sad. Which is, in a sense, a bit ironic because I’ve always wanted a book that dealt with the disaster in the moment, not years later, which I got, but it also broke me.

Let’s look at the first line shall we, “The first time my future vanished was July 19, 2034.”  Talk about a punch to the gut from the start; and the novel never lets up. It opens with Denise’s reaction to the announcement about the comet, and then fast-forwards to the day of, specifically 30 minutes before the comet is supposed to hit. Denise and her mother have not left the house yet, and it will take them about 45 minutes to get to the shelter. Logically, I knew that Iris would survive the blast, however, Duyvis writes Denise so well that I felt her panic, and frustration at her mother’s lack of urgency to get to safety. I wanted to scream at her mother as well. In fact, there were many times I was frustrated with a number of characters, but when your world is ending how rational is one really going to act? When it comes to matters of survival, won’t we often look out for our own?

And that is the main question that Denise faces throughout the book as she tries to get a spot on the generation ship for not just herself, but for her mother and her sister. She struggles with trying to help others survive, yet look out for her family as well. I love that Duyvis explores Denise’s guilt and turmoil over the desire to save her family versus her desire to help others because the inner conflict made the novel very true. Denise is a caring person, evident in her love of cats so much that she works at a animal shelter, but yet is learning how to deal with others in the worst scenario possible. Denise’s world, er everyone’s world, has been shattered and Denise must work a little harder, due to her autism, to adjust to life after the comet.  Denise is fully aware of how she can be perceived (which also hurt when Duyvis didn’t hold back on the micro aggressions Denise faced) yet she makes an active effort to adjust her behavior to be accepted on board the generation ship. Denise uses this opportunity to prove, not only to everyone else, but mainly to herself what she is truly capable of.  And in the end, well, I don’t want to give it away, but Denise does find that her future vanished as she knew it on July 19, 2034, but she got a new one by learning more about herself, and her ability to survive, than she ever thought possible.

Recommendation: Buy it now!

P.S. While we here at Rich in Color focus on characters of color, I’m glad that Duyvis wrote a character who, in addition to being bi-racial, is autistic. I’ve had, and currently have autistic students and love that there is a book where they can see themselves reflected in a novel, where they get to be the hero. Many people think there is only one type of way a person with autism interacts with the world (a micro aggression that Duyvis brings into the book) and those of us who work with students who have autism know that they are completely different and unique in how they perceive the world. Denise is a perfect example of the broadness of the autism spectrum and how a person with autism’s mind works.

Share

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!

Share

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

Share

Book Review: Consent

ConsentTitle: Consent
Author: Nancy Ohlin
Genres:  Contemporary
Pages: 320
Publisher: Simon Pulse
Review Copy: ARC from Publisher
Availability: Available Now

Summary: In this sexy and intriguing novel, an intense—and passionate—bond between a high school senior and her music teacher becomes a public scandal that threatens the reputation of both.

Bea has a secret.

Actually, she has more than one. There’s her dream for the future that she can’t tell anyone—not her father and not even her best friend, Plum.

And now there’s Dane Rossi. Dane is hot, he shares Bea’s love of piano, and he believes in her.
He’s also Bea’s teacher.

When their passion for music crosses into passion for each other, Bea finds herself falling completely for Dane. She’s never felt so wanted, so understood, so known to her core. But the risk of discovery carries unexpected surprises that could shake Bea entirely. Bea must piece together what is and isn’t true about Dane, herself, and the most intense relationship she’s ever experienced in this absorbing novel from Nancy Ohlin, the author of Beauty.

Review: To be honest, I was hesitant to read, let alone review, Consent due to the subject matter of a teacher-student romantic relationship because being a teacher these stories tend to make me really uncomfortable. I know these relationships are, unfortunately, all to common and I often wonder what propels these teachers to cross that line. On the flip side, I do know of students who also take it to far in their affections for their teachers (I once came across a site that was about what girls would do to get their male English teachers to notice/date them. It was very disturbing.) With that in mind, I decided I would get over my discomfort and read Nancy Ohlin’s Consent with an open mind and I’m thankful I did.

Consent is a morally complicated novel that explores how Bea and Dane’s relationship is even able to develop. It starts of innocently enough with the connection that many student-teachers have when a teacher sees the potential in a student and helps them see that potential. Bea does acknowledge her attraction to Dane, but stifles it because he is her teacher. The same can be said for Dane as in their interactions, he often realizes he’s about to cross that line and takes a huge step back. I love that Ohlin made the relationship a slow burn, and had both parties recoginize how a relationship between them would be wrong. At no point does their relationship feel salacious, as Ohlin focuses on the conflict between what their heart’s desire and what is the right thing to do. In fact, when they do actually become intimate, the moment makes sense. They are both caught up in the emotion of a successful day, where Bea had auditioned for Dane’s former, very famous, teacher at Juliard, and well, begin their romantic relationship. Ohlin makes their relationship brief, as they decide to wait until she actually turns 18, but end up being discovered anyway. The rest of the novel then focuses on the fall out of the discovery of their relationship.

The fact that Ohlin chose to make the relationship brief, and focus on the build up, and the fallout is what makes the novel work, for me. Bea and Dane’s story becomes real, true, because relationships, particularly student-teacher relationships, are complicated. Bea is at a moment in her life where she is in need of guidance as she is on the cusp of adulthood, and Dane is the person who opens her eyes to a path that she had convinced herself that she couldn’t travel down. Bea’s relationship with the men in her life (her father and brother) is a tense one, and at one point Bea even wonders if her fascination with Dane is because she has daddy issues. It is this thoughtful analysis that Bea has with her relationship with Dane, before they become intimate, is why I greatly enjoyed the novel. Bea is a character is who is fully aware of her issues and owns them. At no point is she pulled into the relationship with Dane; she enters an intimate relationship with him fully acknowledging all the risks and the consequences should they be found out. Olin did a masterful job in her creation of Bea, as she is a character we can relate to, and understand how and why she becomes involved with her teacher.

Despite my hesitation at the beginning, I really ended up enjoying Consent. Bea’s voice pulled me into the story and I connected with this girl who was hiding a large part of herself in order to please her family. Her relationship with her teacher does allow for Bea to find herself, to grow, and become the person she always wanted to be and for me, that is what made the novel, what made me accept Bea and Dane’s relationship.

On a side, much funnier note, Bea and her friend Plum call Dane “Kit Harrington” after the actor from Game of Thrones because Ohlin describes him in that manner. As a fan of Game of Thrones and Harrington’s character, I had a clear picture in my mind of what Dane looked like and every time either girl called him Kit, I couldn’t help but giggle. If you don’t know who Kit Harrington is, google him. You won’t be disappointed.

Recommendation: If you love morally complicated novels, go buy this book!

Share