Yvain: The Knight of the Lion adapted by M. T. Anderson and Andrea Offermann

Yvain

Information

Goodreads: Yvain: The Knight of the Lion
Series: None
Source: City Book Review
Published: March 14, 2017

Official Summary

Eager for glory and heedless of others, Sir Yvain sets out from King Arthur’s court and defeats a local lord in battle, unknowingly intertwining his future with the lives of two compelling women: Lady Laudine, the beautiful widow of the fallen lord, and her sly maid Lunette. In a stunning visual interpretation of a 12th century epic poem by Chrétien de Troyes, readers are — at first glance — transported into a classic Arthurian romance complete with errant knights, plundering giants, and fire-breathing dragons. A closer look, however, reveals a world rich with unspoken emotion. Striking, evocative art by Andrea Offermann sheds light upon the inner lives of medieval women and the consequences Yvain’s oblivious actions have upon Laudine and Lunette. Renowned author M. T. Anderson embraces a new form with a sophisticated graphic novel that challenges Yvain’s role as hero, delves into the honesty and anguish of love, and asks just how fundamentally the true self can really change.

Review

As a fan of medieval literature, I was excited to see Anderson adapt this story about one of King Arthur’s knights by Chrétien de Troyes for a new audience.  Although I enjoyed Anderson’s take in general, he does make changes to the plot and characters (presumably to streamline the story) that fundamentally change some of the themes explored in the original French medieval romance.  This, I think, does a disservice to Chrétien’s text, which is undoubtedly entertaining but is about so much more than epic battles and encounters with monsters.  Chrétien’s stories tend toward the complex and thought-provoking, and Anderson’s changes do away with some of this in order to present a slightly more digestible tale.

The story that Anderson and Offermann present is one of courage, love, and loyalty lost and regained. Yvain is not always heroic and the outcomes of the adventures are not always happy, but this is the point, and it paints a more complicated version of King Arthur’s times and his knights than readers get from other sources.  (Indeed, there are a lot of medieval texts that paint Arthur or his knights in a less than flattering light, which I think many modern readers are unaware of.) The female characters in particular in this story seem stuck between having power and being unable to wield it to get what they want.  It is a story that asks readers to question social and gender roles, as well as the definition of real power.

Offerman’s illustrations are gorgeous, if a bit lacking in color for my personal taste, and they are often the backbone of the story when Anderson chooses not to use words to explain plot events from his source material. Her art is detailed and based in extensive research, adding a wonderful layer of nuance to the book. This adaptation will make the most sense to readers who have read Chrétien’s version (and I do recommend reading that; Penguin publishes a very accessible translation), but it is a solid introduction to the medieval romance for those who have not read the original.

3 Stars Briana

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The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Wisdom and Wit in the Wild West by Steve Sheinkin

Information

Goodreads: The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey
Series: Rabbi Harvey #1
Source: Library
Published: July 1, 2006

Official Summary

A fresh look at Jewish folktales wise, witty, hilarious.

After finishing school in New York, Rabbi Harvey traveled west in search of adventure and, hopefully, work as a rabbi. His journey took him to Elk Spring, Colorado, a small town in the Rocky Mountains. When he managed to outwit the ruthless gang that had been ruling Elk Spring, the people invited Harvey to stay on as the town’s rabbi. In Harvey’s adventures in Elk Spring, he settles disputes, tricks criminals into confessing, and offers unsolicited bits of Talmudic insight and Hasidic wisdom. Each story presents Harvey with a unique challenge from convincing a child that he is not actually a chicken, to retrieving stolen money from a sweet-faced bubbe gone bad. Like any good collection of Jewish folktales, these stories contain layers of humor and timeless wisdom that will entertain, teach and, especially, make you laugh.

Review

The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey is a collection of short humorous stories about a rabbi who leaves school and finds a job in small Western town, quickly earning a reputation for wit and wisdom and his ability to fairly judge any case put before  him.  This background is necessary for the book because Rabbi Harvey’s history is explained only in one of the stories in the middle of the book; if you’re a reader who likes to go into books “blind” without reading the jacket summary, you might be confused, because there’s no introduction; the book simply opens with a story and goes from there.

I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect from this book, but I found it an entertaining collection of amusing, clever tales.  It was in the YA section of my local library, but I think it works well as an upper middle grade book, too, and the brand of humor is something I think could resonate with many middle schoolers.  The stories are not laugh-out-loud funny (at least in my opinion), but they’re quirky and amusing, and it’s great fun to watch Rabbi Harvey answer riddles and out-think others.

The combination of a Jewish community and a Wild West setting is a great one.  I’ve seen some other reviewers express skepticism of this, but I honestly never questioned it, and the book works really well.  There’s a nice combination of Western grit with traditional tales and wisdom, and I don’t think readers need to be particularly interested in either the Wild West or Judaism to enjoy the book.

This was a random find for me at the library. I checked it out because it just seemed so unexpected.  A graphic novel about a fictional rabbi just walking around being clever?  But after reading it, I will definitely be recommending it to others.

4 stars Briana

Malice in Ovenland by Micheline Hess

malice-in-ovenlandINFORMATION

Goodreads: Malice in Ovenland
Series:  Malice in Ovenland Vol. 1
Source: Purchased
Published: 2016

SUMMARY

Lily Brown is expecting to spend the weekend completing the list of chores her mother left–but then she finds a tunnel leading from the back of the oven to a strange new world.  Who are the Oven Frites?  And why do they think Lily’s responsible for their recent grease drought?  Can Lily escape their prison and find her way home?

Review

The clever play on the title of Alice in Wonderland suggests that Micheline, much like Suzanne Collins in her Gregor the Overlander series, is rethinking children’s fantasy so it can star protagonists from the city.  And, of course, Hess is also featuring a girl who looks like many young readers, but who may not often appear in literature–a girl with brown skin, frizzy hair, and glasses.  Lily Brown is the fantasy heroine many have been waiting for.  Adventures aren’t just for Alice anymore!

It’s pretty cool that Lily can find adventure right in her own kitchen.  Unfortunately, however, though the characters are engaging, the artwork delightful, and the plot full of action, the premise is also…a little heavy-handed.  The story revolves around the anger of the Oven Frites when they learn no grease drips from the Browns’ oven anymore because Lily’s mom is cooking healthier meals.  But the Oven Frites don’t want to eat fruits and vegetables.  They want their fried, fatty foods back!

If you can get past the healthy eating message, the book is quite delightful.  There is some good material in here involving a haunted prison cell, a trio of elite Oven Frite rangers, and a charming traitor to the Oven Frites.  They may be kind of standard elements, but they work.  And sometimes a solid fantasy is all you really need.

[As an aside, Micheline Hess has also appeared on some panels and spoken about her art and Black women in comics.  Search her name and you can find her speaking at the Schomburg Center, with Black Enterprise, etc.]

4 starsKrysta 64

The Amazing Crafty Cat by Charise Mericle Harper

The Amazing Crafty CatInformation

Goodreads: The Amazing Crafty Cat
Series: Crafty Cat #1
Source: City Book Review
Published: April 11, 2017

Official Summary

Sometimes school can be scary, and even embarrsing, but not today.  Today is Birdie’s birthday, and everything will be perfect!  Birdie’s panda-riffic cupcakes are beautiful, and there’s one for everyone.  She will be the star of the class.  But then…disaster!  A trip and fall on the way to school means no more cupcakes!  Who can save the day?  Who can make the class smile again?  This is a job for Birdie’s alter ego…the Amazing Crafty Cat!

After a quick transformation, Birdie is ready.  She’s not afraid of sticky paws or paper cuts.  She’s not afraid of anything, not even Anya, the class bully.  It’s time to get crafting!

Review

To be clear from the start: this book is not actually about a cat.  Yeah, I was disappointed, too.  Crafty Cat is the imaginary alter ego of our human protagonist Birdie.  And while I have no idea why imagining herself as a cat of all things gives Birdie confidence or why she must envision herself as a cat whenever she does crafts to try to creatively problem solve, I grant that it works for her.  The story centers on Birdie/Crafty Cat’s quest to save an in-school birthday celebration that keeps going horribly wrong.

I really liked that this book centers around a very normal and relatable activity for a lot of children: bringing cupcakes in to share with their class on their birthday.  (Though Birdie’s class seems to have a rule that you can do any birthday activity of your choice; you don’t need to bring in snacks.)  Things go wrong for Birdie throughout the course of the school day, and while I recognize some of these things as relatively “trivial” problems as a adult, I also know I would have been equally upset/mortified as Birdie is if some of these things had happened to me when I was younger.  (Mom can’t drop everything she’s doing and bring something I forgot to school?!  Crisis!)  Chraise Mericle Harper really gets into Birdie’s mind and envisions a book that will appeal to children.

Birdie is also a very realistic character. She’s kind and creative and cares about her friends.  But she also gets grumpy when things don’t go her way and has reasonable flaws.  The side characters are also nicely outlined, considering how little page time they get in the story.  I would have only liked to see more of Anya the bully, or at least more resolution of her role in the story.

The artwork is pastel and somewhat sparsely drawn.  Personally I tend to be a fan of more lavish artwork, things I can spend a long time looking at and still find more detail to appreciate. However, the art here is clean and easy to follow.  There are also a few whimsical touches in the background.

It took me awhile to get into the story and I think the structure could be stronger, but the plot is very relatable and Birdie is a realistic protagonist.  There are also some fun panda crafts in the back of the book, so readers can be more like Birdie.

Briana

Saints by Gene Luen Yang

INFORMATION

Goodreads: Saints
Series:  Boxers and Saints #2
Source: Purchased
Published: 2013

SUMMARY

Abused by her family, a young peasant girl flees her village and becomes a Christian convert.  Now named Vibiana, she struggles to understand her calling in light of the visions she sees of Joan of Arc. When the Boxer Rebellion arrives at the gates, Vibiana will have to decide how strongly she believes in the faith she has adopted.

Review

Drawn mostly in sepia tones, Saints is a more reflective volume than its longer predecessor, Boxers.  In a parallel story, it follows a girl from Bao’s village as she leaves her unloving family and becomes a Christian convert–initially because she thinks Christians are “foreign devils” and that she is assuming the demon nature her family has ascribed to her.  As the story progresses and the Boxer Rebellion gains in intensity, however, Vibiana must choose if she really values the faith she has been living.

Saints is a thought-provoking story, though its use of humor might obscure it reflectiveness for some readers.  Vibiana does not convert out of any spiritual or intellectual conviction, and her growth seems from the outside a little rocky.  She has a habit of asking questions that annoy some of the adults (though others appreciate her thirst for truth and knowledge) and she sometimes seems a little flippant about the faith, to the the despair of the priest who burns himself with an intensity others find uncomfortable.  The wide range of Christians depicted, however, ultimately suggests that there is room for all in the faith as they struggle on trying to find their way and trying to become better.

Also intriguing are the visions of Joan of Arc, a figure Vibiana does not recognize and whose unfolding story intrigues her as she gets to live it.  Joan inspires Vibiana with a desire to be like her by picking up a sword and fighting for her country.  Juxtaposed with Bao’s own visions of the opera gods and his seeming ability to transform into them on the battlefield,  Joan appears enigmatic.  Is she real?  Is Vibiana really seeing her?  Ultimately,  Vibiana must decipher for herself the message Joan brings and what that means for her own future.

Together, Boxers and Saints form a thoughtful look at the Boxer Rebellion, the motivations that drive people to commit acts of violence or acts of great sacrifice, and the ways in which war can distort one’s perception of what is right and what is wrong.

4 stars

Black Hole by Charles Burns

black-holeINFORMATION

Goodreads: Black Hole
Series:  None
Source: Purchased
Published: 1995

SUMMARY

It’s the 1970s in Seattlel and an STD known as the bug is devastating a local high school.  The bug can manifest as anything from an extra mouth to a lizard tail to webbed fingers, but once you have it, society doesn’t want you.  Black Hole follows several teenagers who either have the bug or are about to contract it as they navigate high school, trying to fit in but knowing they’re not like their “normal” peers.

REVIEW

I have to admit this is not the type of book I normally enjoy and the story here simply did not resonate me.  Why a bunch of teenagers would sleep with each other, knowing they will contract the bug and likely end up homeless in the woods as a result, is beyond me.  Surely one’s urges are not so strong that they’d lead one to choose voluntary mockery, degradation, and social isolation?  Isn’t this book doing a bit of a disservice to teens, suggesting many of them simply “cannot control themselves”?

It’s true that many of the teens can control themselves, but simply choose to contract the bug because they are attracted to someone else.  I still find it odd that another party would voluntarily transmit the bug to someone else, if they cared about that person.  Individuals with the bug, once they can no longer hide it and “pass” are eventually driven out of society.  In Seattle, there’s a homeless camp in the woods where the teens live in filthy tents.  And they know there’s a murderer on the loose out there, too.

Certainly the book provides a strong message about ostracizing those who are different, and the feelings of isolation and not fitting in will be familiar to many readers and especially teens, who can see themselves reflected in the young protagonists.But I’m not sure if this is a particularly effective way of talking about what constitutes “normal.” Questions about why teens would voluntarily cause each other to suffer because they “love” each other are all I can think about.

Plus it’s easy to get distracted by Burns’ apparent personal challenge to make everything and anything visually resemble female genitalia.  This is a very graphic novel–I mean, an adult novel.  With adult content.  And sometimes the books seems so caught up with trying to be provocative and titillating that it loses sight of its own message.

I really do not feel that I got anything out of this book that I could not have gotten more profitably elsewhere.  A deeper message about teenage years or fitting in.  Without a cast of characters devoted to nothing but getting high and sleeping around.  As I said, it’s not the type of story I enjoy.

2 starsKrysta 64

Drama by Raina Telgemeier

dramaINFORMATION

Goodreads: Drama
Series:  None
Source: Library
Published: 2012

SUMMARY

Callie is so excited to be the set designer for her middle school’s production of Moon Over Mississippi.  But now she’s having trouble getting the cannon to fire and, even worse, it seems like half the cast is involved in drama over dating.  Can the show go on?

REVIEW

I enjoyed Drama mainly for its quirky protagonist and its lovable cast of characters.  The drama of Drama, however?  Not so much.  Raina Telgemeir crams in so many crossed loves that the book feels more like a soap opera than the story of a seventh grader’s involvement in school theatre.  In some cases, less really is more.

YA has become somewhat infamous for love triangles, but here we have what seems to be a love pentagon. Maybe even a hexagon.   It’s hard to keep track of who likes whom because none of them apparently know what their feelings are, either.  The kids are all kissing and dating each other in what almost seemed to be some sort of incestuous muddle as half the characters seem to be semi-involved with each other throughout the course of the book.  But isn’t it normally a bit of a taboo to kiss someone right after they’ve broken up with someone else, or to start dating someone the week after a break-up?  Isn’t there usually some sort of unspoken rule about that?  I kept waiting for a character to get upset about their previous girlfriend moving on so fast, or finding out that they were a rebound, but generally no one cared.

Aside from the weird romantic dynamics, however, the story is engaging.  I loved seeing someone write about the people who usually stay behind the scenes during a show.  Their enthusiasm for tech and theatre is contagious, and the characters themselves are quite endearing.  I wanted to join Callie’s circle of friends because they always seem like they’re having a good time.  It’s a shame the plot didn’t quite live up to the characters.

3 starsKrysta 64