Run: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, L. Fury

Run Book One

Information

Goodreads: Run: Book One
Series: Run #1
Age Category: Young Adult
Source: Library
Published: 2021

Official Summary

The sequel to the #1 New York Times bestselling graphic novel series March—the continuation of the life story of John Lewis and the struggles seen across the United States after the Selma voting rights campaign.

To John Lewis, the civil rights movement came to an end with the signing of the Voting Rights Act in 1965. But that was after more than five years as one of the preeminent figures of the movement, leading sit–in protests and fighting segregation on interstate busways as an original Freedom Rider. It was after becoming chairman of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and being the youngest speaker at the March on Washington. It was after helping organize the Mississippi Freedom Summer and the ensuing delegate challenge at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. And after coleading the march from Selma to Montgomery on what became known as “Bloody Sunday.” All too often, the depiction of history ends with a great victory. But John Lewis knew that victories are just the beginning. In Run: Book One, John Lewis and longtime collaborator Andrew Aydin reteam with Nate Powell—the award–winning illustrator of the March trilogy—and are joined by L. Fury—making an astonishing graphic novel debut—to tell this often overlooked chapter of civil rights history.

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Review

John Lewis’s March trilogy is a powerful read following his involvement in the Civil Rights movement from participating in lunch counter sit-ins to joining the Semla voting rights campaign. That trilogy brings history to life with all its nuances and messiness, while still providing a focal point in Lewis. When I learned that a new trilogy would continue the story, I was beyond thrilled. However, while Run is still educational, it does not quite match the quality of its predecessors.

Run: Book One has a somewhat vague summary from the publisher. Now that I have read the book, I understand why. There seems to be no focal point here, no guiding narrative. The book simply informs readers about events as they unfold. While this may be realistic, the purpose of telling stories is usually to give them meaning. I expected Run to, at the very least, give the events and Lewis’s involvement in them a sense of unifying purpose. The storytellers, however, seem to have no intent to shape the narrative to help readers understand it.

Rather, Run: Book One seems dedicated to cramming in as much information as possible in order to highlight more individuals who worked in the Civil Rights movement. This, of course, is laudable. However, it is not necessarily great storytelling. Dropping lists of names, roles, and dates active is perhaps educational, but not exactly gripping. The March trilogy works because it centers around one man’s life and how he responds to the events happening around him. Run struggles because it tries to expand the scope of the book to well, everyone.

The amount of information contained actually proves a bit overwhelming–a notable feature in a story presented in graphic novel form specifically in an effort to reach more readers. Readers who might not normally read nonfiction or dive into a text-heavy book. But Run: Book One is text heavy! Having large info dumps and then putting a sketch of a bunch of portraits next to it does little to make that text easier to read and makes this book feel more like an illustrated nonfiction than a graphic novel. The understanding of how comics work and what they can do is lacking here.

Run: Book One only really hits its stride in the final pages, when the focus returns to John Lewis and his response to events around him. This is the moment when he is voted out of SNCC and the stakes for him become real. With the focus on one person, readers can more readily access what this moment might mean, not only for Lewis, but also for the movement. Nonviolence is on the way out and more aggressive voices are taking charge. But what will Lewis do? Well, readers have to wait for book two to find out!

I really wanted to love Run because of how much I love March. However, while I think the book and the events it covers are important, I do not think the narrative works very well and I think the creators missed the purpose of telling this story as a comic book. Hopefully, the second installment can improve on this, though. I’ll still be reading it to find out.

3 Stars

Almost American Girl by Robin Ha

Almost American Girl

Information

Goodreads: Almost American Girl
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: 20

Official Summary

A teen graphic novel memoir about a Korean-born, non-English-speaking girl who is abruptly transplanted from Seoul to Huntsville, Alabama, and struggles with extreme culture shock and isolation, until she discovers her passion for comic arts.

For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up in the 1990s as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.

So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated. Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends at home and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily. And worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.

Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.

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Review

Almost American Girl is a moving and empathetic portrayal of growing up and finding one’s place in the world–something made even more difficult when the protagonist, Robin, finds herself unexpectedly uprooted from her home in South Korea and thrown into an American middle school. Unable to find much support from her new classmates and even her new family, Robin experiences plenty of tears, frustration, and anger, until the day her mother enrolls her in a comic class. This could be the start of something new for Robin. But how does one move forward when one’s heart remains somewhere else?

Finding friends in middle school could be its own sub-genre, considering the wealth of graphic novels dealing with this fraught topic. Almost American Girl brings a fresh perspective to a popular theme by depicting the experiences of a girl who leaves her home in South Korea and must learn how to navigate middle school while barely knowing the language, much less the customs, of her new home. Complicating matters is the fact that Robin is experiencing some (justified) anger at her mother, who never warned her of the impending move, but instead told her they were going on “vacation” in America. After her mom marries her new America “friend,” the two just never return home, leaving Robin furious that she cannot even tell her old friends what happened to her. And Robin’s new stepfamily? They are not interested in speaking with her in her own language, or helping her learn how to fit in. In fact, some of her new sisters seem downright delighted to watch her embarrass herself when she does not understand the teachers.

Watching Robin struggle to fit in can be hard, especially when it appears she is not receiving as much support as she should. One English teacher seems willing to listen, and to give Robin assignments that match her current mastery of English. Other teachers, however, get busy and forget that Robin may have trouble understanding them, and keeping up. Even Robin’s mom grows frustrated at her tears, as she thinks only of what a great opportunity she has given Robin, and fails to understand why a transition to a new life could be so difficult for an adolescent. Over time, however, Robin begins to make friends and to find her way. Seeing her transformation feels especially rewarding because readers have also seen what the transformation cost.

Almost American Girl is a powerful portrayal of both the difficulties and joys of moving to a new place, finding new friends, and starting over. Even readers who do not generally pick up graphic novels may want to give this beautiful memoir a chance.

4 stars

When Stars Are Scattered by Victoria Jamieson and Omar Mohamed

When Stars Are Scattered

Information

Goodreads: When Stars Are Scattered
Series: None
Source: Gift
Published: April 2020

Summary

Five years ago, Omar and his younger brother Hassan fled from Somalia to the refugee camp of Dadaab in Kenya. Now eleven, Omar has the chance to attend school. He could even learn English in anticipation of getting a visa for himself and Hassan to leave the camp and find a new home in another country. But can Omar leave his younger brother every day? And how do you hold onto hope when it seems no hope is left?

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Review

When Stars Are Scattered is Omar Mohamed’s story as told to graphic novelist Victoria Jamieson. It begins in a refugee camp in Kenya, where Omar and his brother Hassan have fled after war tore apart their home country of Somalia. Even though it has been five years, Omar still dreams that he and Hassan will see their mother again. He spends most of his days watching Hassan, who speaks little, and whom Omar fears cannot look after himself. When Omar is given the chance to attend school, however, he will have to decide if he can leave his brother long enough to chase a dream. Learning English could be helpful if he and Hassan are ever granted a visa and relocated. But everyone knows that relocation never happens.

When Stars Are Scattered draws attention to an important human rights issue, one that many Americans–not only children–may have only been vaguely aware of. Since the story is told through the eyes of a child, it is appropriate for younger audiences to read, making the book an invaluable asset to a school library or classroom, as well as a fine story in its own right. Readers who are initially drawn to Jamieson’s fun and colorful illustration style will find themselves gripped by Omar’s story–and, quite possibly, eager to help make a difference as a result. The back of the book contains helpful resources and references for those who are interested in learning more about the refugee crisis and Omar’s work with refugees.

Omar’s story is neatly balanced between hope and despair, creating a compelling narrative that seeks to engage readers in Omar’s experience. The book prompts readers to ask themselves, What must it be like to live in a refugee camp for years? What must it feel like to believe that you will never escape? By drawing on the readers’ empathy, the book reminds readers that we are not so different, after all. The kids in Somalia and in Kenya want the same things kids in the U. S. do–a loving family, a stable home, solid friends, and a fighting chance at a brighter future. Even though Omar’s home looks very different–it isn’t, not really. Not in some very important ways.

When Stars Are Scattered is a moving and uplifting graphic novel. One sure to win over the hearts of readers, and inspire them to make a difference.

4 stars

The Truce by Primo Levi, Trans. by Ann Goldstein

INFORMATION

Goodreads: The Complete Works of Primo Levi
Series:  Auschwitz Trilogy #2
Source: Library
Published: 1963

SUMMARY

Primo Levi recounts his experiences in a dislocated persons camp and his journey back home to Italy after being liberated from Auschwitz.  Also translated as The Reawakening.

REVIEW

In this sequel to Survival in Auschwitz (also known as If This Is a Man), Holocaust witness Primo Levi describes his bizarre journey home after being liberated by the Russian army.  Initially abandoned by the retreating Germans to die in the camp hospital, then moved around to various dislocated person camps, and then finally loaded onto a train with no clear destination or agenda, Levi realizes that liberation is also precarious and that he will need all his wits and skill to continue to find food and clothing.  He describes with witty insight the men and women he meets as he travels across Europe, always hoping to find his way home.

Though Levi is still in  many ways fighting for survival because food and resources remain scarce in the days of liberation, the tone of this book is somewhat more lighthearted.  Levi delights in his character studies and he vividly draws the compelling and strange figures he encounters.  From his friend Cesare, whose tricks to get money constantly entertain and amuse the men, to Mordo Nahum who allies himself with Levi but constantly chastises him for his poor survival instincts (such as not having shoes), Levi fills his pages with reminiscences that are often fond, sometimes baffled.  He does not spare the Russians from his observations that they lacked any clear schedule or order, and often likes to muse on the Russians he encounters who seem to have no apparent job.  But, in the end, he is not too harsh.  One senses that he has no strength or desire to be harsh.

Perhaps the most moment, however, is when Levi and the others pass through Germany.  Levi writes of his need to communicate with the people he associates with his  nightmare.  He wants to know–did they know?  Were they complicit?  How could they do it?  And what do they have to say to him now, now that they see him before them?  But the people of Germany will not meet his eyes and Levi leaves unsatisfied.

Many people have read or listened to the testimony of those who have survived the Holocaust.  Levi was one of the first to speak (If This Was a Man was published in Italy in 1947), but he adds to his story a segment that some readers may be less familiar with.  To modern readers, “liberation” sounds celebratory.  We forget that liberation came with its own set of concerns, its own troubles.  Levi reminds us that liberation took strength and resilience, too.

5 stars

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

Three Things to Find Before You Write Your Memoir

 

memoir-min

Find Your (Original) Story

If you’re thinking of writing a memoir, you probably already know you have an interesting story to tell. The next step is figuring out what’s different about your story, and how you’re going to pitch that difference to readers. If they’ve already read six chronicles of life-changing backpacking trips across Asia, what’s the hook that’s going to make them want to pick up yours?

Find Your Focus

When writing about your own life, it’s tempting to start at your birth and keep chugging along until the present-day. However, readers will be more interested if you stick to the most fascinating parts of your life. If your memoir is about your experience touring with a band in the 80’s, you’ll want to set the bulk of your book in that decade, since that’s where the action is. A reference to the fact you were given your first guitar at the age of six might be fitting, but you may not need to dedicate an entire chapter to how you learned to play.

Find Your Audience

Memoirs written by celebrities have a built-in audience, but who is going to be yours? Before you write, you need to decide. How much does your audience already know about baking, or the military, or what it’s like to dredge up ancient treasures from the bottom of the Pacific, and how much do you need to tell them about it? What tone are you going to use—confiding, witty, academic? Are readers going to find your stories as funny or wild as you do, or are some of these events of the “you had to be there to understand” type?

*Based on my experience evaluating manuscripts as a literary agency intern

Briana

Survival in Auschwitz by Primo Levi

Survival in AuschwitzTranslated by: Stuart J. Woolf

Goodreads: Survival in Auschwitz 
Source: Purchased

Summary: Primo Levi, an Italian chemist and Jew, chronicles his year in the Auschwitz concentration camp from February 1944 until January 1945.

Review: First published in Italian as If This Is a Man (Se questo è un uomo), the book focuses less on the horrors of the Holocaust that have, perhaps, become well-known to most schoolchildren and more on the psychological implications of those horrors.  The work distinguishes itself further from the multitude of works on the same subject, however, by not solely focusing on the mentality of those who worked the concentration camps, but also on the changing nature of those imprisoned there.  As time progresses in the book, Levi’s astute observations of those around him ask an increasingly urgent question: can those who have had everything stripped away from them still be considered men?

The question is provocative.  One might expect that a Jew writing about the Holocaust would wish to convey exactly the opposite observation—that these men, women, and children were undeniably human and that the crimes committed against them were thus undeniably outrageous.  The conflict evident in Levi’s thoughts about the matter, however, only serves to underscore the nature of the atrocities committed.  When a man himself begins to question whether he is still a man, then the attempt to dehumanize a group of people is truly complete.

Despite Levi’s inner turmoil, however, the better part of the human spirit continues to break through the darkness.  A particularly moving chapter recounts Levi’s attempts to recall the words of Ulysses to his sailors in Dante’s Divine Comedy—words that encourage them to seek for knowledge and to live as men rather than as beasts (Canto XXVI of the Inferno, if you feel inclined to look it up).  His struggle to recapture the lines has an intense significance he cannot define or understand, especially as he insists throughout the narrative that no amount of skill or intelligence can save anyone in the camps–only luck spares some.  His inability to articulate the meaning of the poetry suggests that it is not the intellect of men that defines that as such, but rather the limitations of that intellect.  The ineffable experience of poetry somehow connects to the senselessness of the camps; the meaning of both proves elusive and Levi can do nothing but struggle through as best he can.  He may feel that he has failed, but sometimes nothing seems so human as failure.

Survival in Auschwitz is a haunting book that raises deep questions through deceptively simple prose.  Self-reflective, it does not content itself with heaping blame on those who perpetuated the crimes at the concentration camps, but takes a long look at the mind of the author as he was during his time in Auschwitz.  What he sees clearly perplexes and sometimes troubles him; he knows he has not descended to the bestial nature of some of the others around him, but also knows that he is never far from falling.  Survival for Levi is not so much a fight to live as it is a fight to retain a sense of his own soul and his own dignity when everything around him suggests they no longer exist.

Published: 1947