March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell

march-1INFORMATION

Goodreads: March: Book One
Series:  March #1
Source: Library
Published: 2013

SUMMARY

Congressman John Lewis shares his life story, beginning in book one with his youth in Alabama and his activity with the Nashville Student Movement as they protested segregation through lunch counter sit-ins.

Review

March is a powerful book that tells the story of Congressman John Lewis’s life, beginning with his childhood in Alabama and continuing through his participation in the Nashville Student Movement.  No doubt many educators will find this a useful tool to discuss civil rights in the classroom, but general readers will also find themselves by turns saddened, shocked, and inspired.  The book truly makes history come alive, and reminds readers of just how tenuous civil rights can be.

Perhaps one of the more striking aspects of the book is Lewis’s willingness to engage with the nuances of the Civil Rights movement.  The story makes quite clear that, just because a law has been passed, that does not mean all citizens are treated equally.  Brown v. the Board of Education passed, and yet Lewis could not go downtown and be served lunch.  Nor could his white friends if they were with him.  And the local political leaders tried to walk the line by giving verbal support to the law while also maintaining stores had the right to serve whom they liked.

Lewis furthermore digs into the nuances of the responses given by the Black community.  While he and his friends attended training workshops on peaceful protests, were arrested for trying to integrate lunch counters, and refused to pay into the system by posting bail, some Black leaders suggested that simply being arrested was to make enough of a point–they should post bail and go.  Furthermore, some called for the dismissal of James Lawson from his grad school because he led lunch counter sit-ins.  Lewis saw it as a division between the older and the younger generations, and their approach towards reaching equality.  History is more complicated and less linear than the textbooks sometimes suggest.

So whether you’re hoping to learn more about the Civil Rights movement or simply looking for a powerful and moving read, you’re sure to find something in March.  It’s just as eye-opening as I expect Lewis hoped it would be.

5 starsKrysta 64

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

persepolisINFORMATION

Goodreads: Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Series:  Persepolis #1
Source: Library
Published: 2000

SUMMARY

Marjane Satrapi chronicles her life in Iran during the Iranian Revolution, from the age of six to the age of fourteen.  The daughter of Marxists, she speaks out loudly against oppression and finds small ways to show her rebellion.  Translated by Mattias Ripa.

Review

Persepolis is a powerful book that tells the story of the Iranian Revolution through the eyes of a child.  Marjane Satrapi notes in the introduction that she “believes an entire nation should not be judged by the wrongdoings of a few extremists” and so she tells the stories of those who fought for freedom and those who lost their lives for it.  The result is a book that will no doubt be eye-opening to many.

As the daughter of Marxists and the great-granddaughter of a previous emperor, Satrapi has a unique viewpoint and her book is full of demonstrations, meetings with political prisoners and activists, and small acts of rebellion.  She notes how overnight all the rules changed in a “cultural revolution” and how they had difficulty accepting things like the need to wear a head covering at all times, since they had never done so before.  Even as a child she feels the necessity of freedom and finds small ways to rebel through her clothing choices or her questioning of her school’s teachings.  Her rebellion is particularly admirable because she knows exactly what happens to enemies of the state.  She has heard stories of torture and rape.

However, Satrapi still manages to find joy in life and she often brings a sense of humor to the most dire of situations.  Even when being stopped on the street for her attire, she can crack a joke.  Her resilience and her bravery are inspiring, and her story is sure to move you.

5 starsKrysta 64

Watchmen by Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons, and John Higgins

watchmenINFORMATION

Goodreads: Watchmen
Series: None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1987

SUMMARY

Years after the Keene Act  outlawed vigilantism, the old crime fighters who used to dress up in costume are, if not dead or gone crazy, approaching middle age and wondering what it was all for.  Only a few stay active, now working for the government.  Only Rorshach continues to wear his mask and elude the law.  But now it seems that someone might be eliminating the old superheroes and all of them are in danger.

Review

Watchmen is celebrated as a classic comic, a product of the 1980s that questioned the superhero genre and the impetus behind it.  It is easy to latch on to its grittiness and darkness, to think that Moore wants readers to understand that superheroes are not shiny and flawless, but humans who age, drink, sleep around, and even commit atrocities.  However, the story is not all darkness and it would be a mistake to think that everything from here on out must be The Dark Knight in order to be real, “serious” art.  In the end the story still suggests that the individual might find a way to make a difference.

The story focuses on a diverse cast of characters and their reasons for donning funny costumes and fighting crime.  In this world, only one person has super-human abilities.  The rest are ordinary individuals who trained hard to reach peak physical condition or who have the brains to design cool crime-fighting gadgets.  But they aren’t Superman, and that makes the people of their world wonder what drives them.  Why dress up as an owl and go out into the night to punch people?  Is there something wrong with these people?

It’s a funny question to ask when in many cases we take the superhero genre for granted and may not question not only what drives a hero, but also whether what they do can be justified.  Rorshach in particular engages in excessive violence to pursue his personal vision of justice, breaking fingers to gain information from the underworld, and killing people in brutal and uncomfortably creative ways.  Readers may want to sympathize with him and his quest since they receive generous access to his mind through his journals.  He seems like the pov character readers are supposed to like.  But his actions are just as bad, if not worse, than the actions of many of the individuals he wants to punish.  So, the story asks, what on earth is a superhero anyway?  How can we tell the difference between a hero and a villain?

Watchmen is undoubtedly an uncomfortable book, one full of graphic violence, sex, and other material that many readers do not associate with comics, which, for some reason, still seem to carry a bit of social stigma for being “juvenile.”  I won’t engage with arguments about that here, since I think it should be obvious by now that comics are a sophisticated art form and that text isn’t obviously an inherently higher or more intellectual art form or means of communication.  Just suffice it to say that this work is not for children.  But it is a work that will challenge you.

4 starsKrysta 64

Sisters by Raina Telgemeier

sistersINFORMATION

Goodreads: Sisters
Series:  Smile #2
Source: Library
Published: 2014

SUMMARY

Raina always wanted a little sister, but when Amara came, she wasn’t what Raina expected.  She typically wants to play alone and she and Raina are always having fights.  But then they take a road trip with their mother.  Can they find a way to get along and survive the trip?  A companion novel to Smile.

REVIEW

I admit I found this book even less engaging than Smile, even though I recognize that Telgemeier has an excellent sense of humor and that she depicts the relationship between the sisters excellently.  For reasons I find difficult to articulate to myself, I just did not find myself invested in the story.  It doesn’t help that the official summary promises more drama than the book actually contains.  I kept waiting for something major to happen, but it never did.

Sisters is a companion novel to Smile, taking place the summer before Raina enters high school.  The story of  the Telgemeiers’ road trip is interspersed with flashbacks of Raina and Amara’s relationship.  We get to see how Raina longed for a sister, only to have the grumpy and isolated Amara come along.  Worse, Amara ends up being an artist just like Raina.  And Raina feels like her sister is stealing what makes her special.

Sisterhood can be complicated and Telgemeier expertly captures the nuances of such a relationship as the girls argue, tease, storm, and support each other.  But the ending feels all too easy and takes something away from the previous story.  Perhaps it’s because Amara has seemed to be reaching out in various ways all along and it’s not clear why Raina suddenly notices.  Perhaps because it suggests that sisterhood from here on out is smooth sailing, even though readers know it is not.  Perhaps it’s because the cover blurb suggests for reasons unknown that they are banding together to save their parents’ marriage, imparting the final pages with far more significance than the pages themselves seem to suggest.  For some reason, it does not work for me.

Still, I recognize that many readers find this book special and that the depiction of sisterhood is sure to appeal to many.  Fans of Smile will certainly enjoy it.

3 starsKrysta 64

Smile by Raina Telgemeier

smileINFORMATION

Goodreads: Smile
Series:  Smile #1
Source: Library
Published: 2009

SUMMARY

In sixth grade, Raina trips while racing and suddenly her life is filled with dental appointments, braces, fake teeth, and a whole lot of embarrassment.  How can a girl feel like she belongs in high school when she feels like everyone is staring at her mouth?

Review

It’s not difficult to see why Smile won an Eisner award and regularly flies off the library shelf.  Semi-autobiographical in nature, the book tells the story of Telgemeier’s tween and teen years, after she trips during a race and injures her two front teeth.  Faced with the possibility of having a misshapen smile for the rest of her life, or having to wear embarrassing dental equipment, Raina finds herself lacking self-confidence and struggling to fit in at high school.  It’s a coming-of-age story many will surely relate to.

Even so, I admit I did not really see myself in Raina.  I never understood why so many students hate braces because it seems like most people wear them at some point.  And it was difficult for me to understand why Raina took so long to realize that her friends were treating her badly, or why she cared that she had to wear awkward orthodontia at night in the privacy of her own home.  I suppose in many ways I was a much more self-assured and self-confident teen than Raina.  But I think her struggles at fitting in can still be relatable to readers.  Perhaps Raina is self-conscious about her mouth.  Most readers will be able to understand her self-consciousness in some way or another.

I was not totally blown away by Smile, as I expected to be based on its popularity.  However, it’s a nice story about one girl learning to find her way through high school.  And it’s engaging with its bright colors and the well-timed sense of humor.  I understand why younger readers like it so much, even if I didn’t feel particularly invested in the story myself.

4 starsKrysta 64

Avatar: Smoke and Shadow (Graphic Novel Review)

Avatar Smoke and ShadowInformation

Goodreads:  Smoke and Shadow
Series: Smoke and Shadow (3 volumes)
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

Although it has been awhile since Zuko took control of the Fire Nation, he continues to face opposition from citizens still loyal to Ozai.  Then mysterious dark spirits demand Zuko’s death.  The price if the people fail to remove him: their children will disappear.  Zuko and Aang must address this new threat fast, before everything they worked to build crumbles.

Review

Avatar Smoke and Shadow

Disclaimer: I checked out all three volumes of the story from the library and read them at once, so my review is focused on discussing the overall story, rather than evaluating each volume for pacing and such individually.

Smoke and Fire is the fourth graphic novel trilogy set after the events of the Avatar TV series.  It drops readers into the heart of the Fire Nation, revealing some of the nation’s history while showcasing the threats Zuko continues to face as the new Fire Lord.  Like any Avatar story, however, the focus here is often on family and friendship, not just an action-packed plot.

While fans might be skeptical that the graphic novels would have the heart of the show, their fears will be unfounded.  One only has to read the characters’ dialogue with their voices and personality quirks from the animated series, and the books immediately come alive.  Katara and Sokka make only a brief appearance in this series (though I’m okay with that, considering how mushy Katara and Aang can be together), but just about every other fan favorite character will be back. Iroh particularly is the start of this installment, in my opinion.

Though the graphic novels sometimes seem to rely too heavily on creating conflict between Aang’s and Zuko’s ruling styles, the plot in Smoke and Shadow seems believable to me in a way the plot of The Promise did not.  It’s quite reasonable that Zuko would face opposition from citizens who were loyal to Ozai or who simply are resistant to change and feel things must have been better for the Fire Nation before.  The conflict here is real, and this time the reasons Zuko and Aang disagree with how to deal with it also seem plausible, rather than a cheap attempt by the writers to create some drama.

I enjoyed learning more about Fire Nation history and seeing some of my favorite characters spring into action once again.  These, rather than The Legend of Korra, are the sequels fan of The Last Airbender will want.

Briana

Nancy Drew: Vampire Slayer Parts I and II by Stefan Petrucha, Sho Murase, and Sarah Kinney

Nancy Drew

Nancy Drew Vampire SlayerInformation

Goodreads: Nancy Drew: Vampire Slayer
Series: Nancy Drew: The New Case Files #1 and #2
Source: Library
Published: 2010

Summary

The latest vampire film has River Heights obsessed with the supernatural, so when a dark and handsome stranger arrives in town, immediately gossip circulates that he’s a vampire himself!  Nancy Drew, girl detective, believes otherwise, but then why does his living room have a coffin?

Review

I grew up with Nancy Drew and admired her for her intelligence, compassion, and love of adventure.  These new graphic novels, however, seem to use the name of Nancy Drew without understanding who Nancy is.  Nancy is not just any girl with curiosity or who enjoys mysteries.  Nancy is independent, caring, smart, sophisticated, and sometimes just a little reckless.  She is not air-headed, oblivious, and forgetful.  Those are not the traits that solve mysteries and, aside from ruining the character of Nancy Drew, they simply do not make a lot of sense as characteristics of any successful detective.  Without a signature Nancy to distinguish this mystery from the many others I could have read, this book simply fell flat for me.

Nancy herself obviously disappointed me on many levels.  She has a habit of forgetting to do things like charge her phone or her hybrid car, which seems to be an easy way to complicate the plot.  If readers think Nancy can easily solve her problems by calling for help or getting out of there–surprise!  Nancy conveniently went on a mission without preparing anything!  She also has a strange inability to read people or their emotions.  Or, at least Ned’s.  Nancy seems very intuitive about the handsome new guy in town, but somehow misses Ned’s obvious signs of jealousy.  Furthermore, her emotional intelligence is so lacking that she cannot comprehend why her boyfriend would be upset at her ignoring him for weeks to go out to dinner and movies with another guy while holding his hand.  After all, the hand holding is for, um, solving the mystery?

The focus on Nancy’s odd love life overshadows the main mystery, which apparently is meant to circle around whether or not mysterious Gregor is a real vampire.  Of course he is not and Nancy never even tries to solve that mystery, so the plot summary is rather misleading.  Luckily, in the second book Gregor reveals that he has a different mystery to solve–one which Nancy resolves rather by accident after doing almost nothing constructive.  She does not have to investigate anything or solve any clues–because there are no clues.  The answer to the case just walks into her.

After finishing the books, I was rather confused.  This Nancy Drew mystery not only features a completely unrecognizable Nancy, but also fails to feature a real mystery.  If readers want to see Nancy and Ned relationship drama, this is the book for them.  Otherwise, it really, I am sad to say, has little to recommend it.  Nancy Drew deserves better.

Krysta 64