March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Information

Goodreads: March: Book Three
Series: March #3
Source: Library
Published: 2016

Summary

In the final book of John Lewis’s acclaimed March trilogy John and his friends face increasingly dangerous battles.  They want to try to register voters in the South.  But local law enforcement is against them and the federal government is reluctant to step in.

Review

John Lewis once again gives readers an inside look at the workings of the Civil Rights movement, describing the hopes and the fears, the vigorous debates over strategies, and the tensions that grew between members as well as between groups.  He also seems determined to set the record straight, noting when he spoke for himself and when he spoke as a leader of the SNCC.  Altogether, this is fascinating glimpse at a piece of history that continues to have resonances today.

Lewis makes the past come alive as he honors by name those who fought.  The men and women who worked for change, the ones who died for the cause–they are lovingly memorialized by his words.  He gifts his readers personal reminiscences, discussing his feelings on Malcolm X as well as his thoughts on MLK and Turnaround Tuesday.  He wants people to remember, to remember that there were faces behind the movement.

The artwork is, as always, absolutely stunning.  Powell renders his subjects in black and white, expertly conveying feelings of shock, horror, and loneliness–as well as feelings of determined resistance.  He does not hold back from depicting the tragedy and the violence, instead forcing readers to face the reality of what happened.  It is a powerful work, one meant to be confrontational as well as inspirational.

Lewis’s work is an important addition to the history of the Civil Rights movement, making the past seem immediate and accessible.  The March trilogy will move you, to surprise, to shock, to anger–and then to hope.

5 stars

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Mini Reviews (1)

mini reviews 1

Courage to Soar: A Life in Motion, A Body in Balance by Simone Biles with Michelle Burford

Simone Biles captivated the world in the 2016 Olympics, so I was excited to pick up her biography.  I enjoyed learning more about her fairly ordinary childhood (she and her friends liked to pretend to be the Cheetah Girls), her introduction to gymnastics, and her very supportive family.  Biles shows strength and grace as she transitions from living with her mother to living with her grandparents, struggles to determine if she values gymnastics or a normal high school experience more, and honestly admits that some years she was a complaining teenager just like the rest of us.  The narrative is sometimes choppy and jumps around, but overall I can see many readers enjoying this book and being inspired by it. (Source: Library) Four stars.

The Scourge by Jennifer Nielsen

At times this book feels a little trope-y, with the “feisty” heroine who can’t keep her mouth shut, her lock-picking best friend, the snotty rich girl who is not really as bad as she seems, and the “mystery” surrounding the scourge–a deadly disease that readers know early on is probably manufactured by the villainous government.  In short, I loved it.  It’s engrossing and has a great cast of characters as well as a sweet romance.  What’s not to love? (Source: Library) Four stars.

Orphan Island by Laurel Snyder

This book has been describe as “magical realism” as it features nine children living on an idyllic island that provides all they need and prevents them from getting hurt.  However, a mystery surrounds the island as it seems clear someone–maybe even their parents–are sending them there.  I was disappointed, then, that the mystery of the island is never revealed.  Perhaps it was to keep the book from turning into yet another dystopian novel, but it is a letdown to read a story with a mystery that is never resolved. (Source:  Library) Three stars.

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 6: Civil War II by G. Willow Wilson

Maybe you have to read the other comic books to understand the full scope of Civil War II.  As it was, I found myself disappointed that Kamala and the other characters do not really seem to grapple with the moral issues surrounding the idea of preventative justice.  Still, I love Ms. Marvel and I was glad to spend more time with her.  Especially welcome was her trip to visit her extended family in Pakistan. (Source: Library) Three stars.

All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

Information

Goodreads: All’s Faire in Middle School
Series: None
Source: Library
Published: 2017

Summary

Imogene is ready to become a squire at the Renaissance Faire where her mother runs a shop and her father always plays the villain.  But first she has to prove her bravery by going on the ultimate quest–middle school.  Unfortunately, middle school is more difficult than Imogene imagined.  Mean girls, scary teachers, potential love interests–it’s all too much.  Will Imogene find her way through?

Review

All’s Faire in Middle School is a sympathetic look at how it feels to enter a new school and attempt to navigate the unspoken rules.  Imogene has spent her whole life being homeschooled while her parents work the Renaissance Faire.  So mean girls, scary science teachers, and age-appropriate crushes are all new to her.  Victoria Jamieson, however, does not make Imogene a victim.  Rather, she shows how one girl attempts to survive middle school, but makes mistakes along the way.  Her willingness to allow her heroines to be flawed makes All’s Faire in Middle School both moving and realistic.

Any lover of the Renaissance Faire is sure to fall in love with this book.  A colorful cast of characters fills its pages as Imogene trains on the weekends to become a squire, but struggles during the weekdays to get through school.  Nods to the mud pit, the well wenches, and the turkey legs will surely amuse any Faire goer.  Even better is the banter that fills the pages; Imogene is surrounded by actors who love what they do and just want to give everyone a good time.  Their love and support grounds both Imogene and the book.

However, even those who do not eagerly await the opening of the Faire each year will find a thoughtful story within the pages of All’s Faire in Middle School.  Imogene tries to imagine how a brave squire would defeat the ogres and trolls that walk the halls, but all the rules confuse her.  Why are mean girls popular?  Why does she get mocked both for not fitting in and for trying to fit in?  Why is she allowed to talk to some people outside of school but not inside?  All the contradictions begin to take their toll, until Imogene starts to lose her sense of right and wrong in an effort to have the others accept her.  And yet, Imogene is still lovable.  She just needs a little push in the right direction.

All’s Faire in Middle School brings to life all the confusions and struggles of middle school.  It can be a rough time, and Jamieson acknowledges that.  This is a book both for those still trying to survive middle school and for those who look back on their time and shudder a little.  But, ultimately, it is a hopeful book–one that says families and friendships can always help you through.

5 stars

Persepolis 2: The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

Information

Goodreads: Persepolis 2
Series: Persepolis #2
Source: Library
Published: 2001

Summary

Marjane has gone to France, but she finds that not everyone there welcomes a girl from Iran.  Throughout her school years she starts to rebel, becoming involved with drugs and boys.  At last the pressure is too much and she returns home.  But living abroad has changed her and Marjane is no longer sure she has a future in Iran.

Review

Marjane Satrapi recounts her adolescence with a sense of bittersweet recollection.  She describes many hardships as she tries to acclimate to a new culture and to find acceptance in a country where people equate her homeland with evil.  Even so, she manages to find some spots that are, if not bright, at least formative or maybe even transformative.  From her first glimpse at an undressed man to her experiences dealing drugs at school, Marjane holds little back, inviting readers to consider the incredible versatility of the young.

The content, it should be noted, is adult.  Satrapi recounts her experiences with men and her experiences being high with a degree of frankness some might find uncomfortable.  Likewise, she is not shy about announcing her beliefs that she ought to be able to do with her body whatever she wants.  Progressive women in Iran, she mourns, are often still not accepting of her decision to sleep around.  Perhaps because the restrictive laws laid down are so often bound up with sexuality–the women must wear longer head scarves, they must not run in case someone notices their rear, etc.–Satrapi often seems to equate sex before marriage as true freedom.

I must admit, however, that I found Satrapi’s other stands more moving.  When she defiantly asks how she is expected to learn to draw a man while looking in the opposite direction, or why wide trousers are forbidden since they cover everything, Satrapi is fiery and sharp.  One begins to wish that logic could be enough to effect change.  And one begins to see what Satrapi so earnestly seems to desire her readers to see–that even though the people of Iran might outwardly conform, in private they are often rebellious.  They are not brainwashed at all, but hoping for a better day.

Satrapi effortlessly entwines her own story of growing up with the story of her country, illustrating how her own awakening allows her to speak up for herself but also ultimately forces her to leave her home.  The price she has to pay for her personal freedom is not lost on her.  And she suggests that the price for collective freedom might ultimately be high.  Her own ending, however, subtly suggests she thinks the price is worth paying.

5 stars

March: Book Two by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Information

Goodreads: March: Book Two
Series: March #2
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

Following the Nashville sit-ins, John Lewis is now committed to helping the Freedom Riders integrate the buses.  Despite experiencing beatings and other violence, Lewis and the other activists continue to fight.  But the federal government is only willing to lend so much support.  And local law enforcement is often fighting against them.

Review

March: Book Two continues the powerful story of John Lewis’ involvement in the Civil Rights movement, picking up after the Nashville sittings and focusing on the struggles of the Freedom Riders.  Lewis’ words leave much of the violence to the imagination, fading away tellingly.  And yet the art does not allow readers to escape.  The violence, the brutality, the ugliness of it all is presented to readers so that they might not forget.

Lewis’ presentation of history is always compelling because he does not seek to provide an easy or straightforward narrative.  Rather, he discusses the internal politics of the Civil Rights movement, noting how the principles of non-violence that he believed in were questioned and ignored over time.  He acknowledges that he understands the frustration, but also suggests that there are some paths he simply cannot choose to take.  His version of history is not the textbook version, but the lived version.  And readers are privy to all the setbacks and maneuverings, as well as to the triumphs.

March: Book Two makes an obvious addition to any classroom library, but it is not a dull “educational comic.”  It is not a textbook with illustrations.  It is a vibrant living story that brings the reader from the past into the present, daring them to remember the struggles that came before–and to keep on fighting.

5 stars

Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside by Cameron Stewart et al.

Information

Goodreads: Batgirl, Vol. 1: The Batgirl of Burnside
Series: Batgirl, Volume 1V #6
Source: Library
Published: 2015

Summary

Barbara Gordon is ready to start over.  She’s moving into Gotham’s coolest neighborhood, working on a thesis her advisor thinks could be great, and reinventing Batgirl.  She’ll have a new outfit, new equipment, and a new image–carefully curated for social media.  But Batgirl has enemies and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to steal her spotlight.

Review

Batgirl of Burnside is an intriguing mix of a Barbara Gordon who seems to be simultaneously living too fast like she’s desperate to be “cool” and “grown-up” and a Barbara Gordon caught up in drama reminiscent of high school.  The parties go late, the memories (and the hookups) fade under the influence, and adult responsibilities are forgotten in favor of pursuing both love and social media stardom.  It might not be a mix for everyone.  But I will say it’s a mix I have seen far too often in college students in real life.

I really appreciated this candid look at college life.  Stories often seem to divide characters into the “party girls” and the “studious students,” and yet many students straddle both lines.  It may be inconceivable to some that their darling girl, star of the field hockey team and member of an honor society, sometimes drinks until she passes out–and yet there it is.  Batgirl of Burnside is the university uncensored.  It doesn’t feel the need to pretend that its characters are perfect.

When it comes to Barbara’s other life however–the life she leads as Batgirl–the story does feel admittedly weak.  The villains are kind of laughable and certainly not powerful.  And too often they feel like a message.  Batgirl is literally fighting the urge to put her entire life on social media and pursue “likes” instead of focusing on what is really important.  Talk about heavy-handed.

Fortunately, the artwork is very good.  (Though I did grin a little because it’s just too much that every character here always looks sexy at an given moment–even after waking up with hangover!  And who stands with their butt and hips sticking out all the time?  But I digress.)  I enjoyed reading the story even when the story fell a little flat.  I’m not dying to get my hands on the next volume, but I’d be willing to see where it takes Batgirl.

3 Stars

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