Pashmina: A Graphic Novel Review

Priyanka doesn’t feel like she fits in at her high school where she tells everyone to call her “Pri” to avoid any questions about pronouncing her name. She doesn’t feel confident about her artwork even when her teacher nominates one of her comics for an art contest.

At home Pri’s mother refuses to answer questions about her father. When she finds out that her uncle Jatin and his wife are expecting a new baby, Pri isn’t sure what that will mean for their relationship. Nervous that she is being displaced, Pri prays to Shakti.

Pri is guilt-ridden and terrified that her prayers have been answered in the worst way when baby Shilpa is born premature. She finds unexpected comfort in one of her mother’s old pashmina shawls. Wrapped up in the shawl Pri is transported to a colorful and vibrant vision of India that only furthers her interest in the country and her mother’s past.

When Pri’s mother surprises her with a trip to India she is thrilled to have the chance to visit and meet her mother’s sister. Arriving in India is thrilling and offers so many new experiences but as Pri explores more of the country and learns more about her family, she realizes that the visions from the shawl are far from the truth in Pashmina (2017) by Nidhi Chanani.

Pashmina is Chanani’s debut graphic novel.

Chanani’s artwork is whimsical and carefully detailed. The comic uses color to draw a neat contrast between Pri’s real life which is shown in pale neutrals and her fantastical visions of India that are vibrant in rich colors reminiscent of the cover art.

Although Pri is around sixteen (one plot point involves Uncle Jatin teaching her to drive), she reads much younger as a character–something that is also reflected in the story making this feel more like a middle grade story than one about a girl in high school. Some aspects of the plot remain vague (how Pri can travel to India on such short notice for instance) but these pieces do little to diminish the effect of the whole. The plot stops short of exploring some of the more complicated issues like the sometimes strained relationship of Pri’s aunt and uncle in India, although overall this comic is nuanced and thoughtful.

Pashmina is a clever story brimming with positivity. Chanani blends fantasy elements well with accurate and honest portrayals of Pri’s life as the child of an Indian immigrant as well as the hardships, cultural heritage, and beauty that can be found in India.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2017*

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Decelerate Blue: A Graphic Novel Review

In the future the world is obsessed with efficiency. Adjectives are a waste of time. Reading needs to be streamlined. Even conversation is utilitarian with “goes” at the end of every sentence.

Angela’s parents are on board with everything the Guarantee Committee is selling. Why would they do anything to jeopardize their guarantee and its promise of a better life?

Angela isn’t so sure. She wants a chance to slow down. To think. To feel.

After reading a book called Kick the Boot Angela realizes she isn’t alone. Soon she finds herself at the center of a radical movement determined to slow society down in Decelerate Blue (2017) by Adam Rapp, illustrated by Mike Cavallaro.

This standalone graphic novel offers a startling view of a bleak dystopian future where human interaction and contemplation are secondary to speed and efficiency.

Rapp’s fascinating and disturbingly possible premise is dampened by a simplistic plot and world building that falls short of developing many of the story’s most interesting points. Who are the Guarantee Committee? What exactly is a Guarantee? Decelerate Blue is short on answers.

Cavalarro creates some interesting spreads but the impact is often diminished by the comic largely being in black and white. (Blue is a key color to the story–a fact which is often lost given the black and white palette.) Although the comic does some clever things with full color panels contrasted with black and white it isn’t enough to make the artwork cohesive. A blue and white palette might have been more effective.

Angela has a romance with another girl during her (brief) time with the underground resistance. But instead of creating an empowering queer relationship readers instead get yet another tragic lesbian death.

Decelerate Blue takes on a lot of things to create an interesting sci-fi dystopian comic but it doesn’t always negotiate the form well leading to questions of how the story might have functioned with different artistic choices or even as a novel with a bit more development.

Readers looking for an intriguing piece of flash fiction or a superficial treatment of dystopian themes might find what they’re looking for in Decelerate Blue.

Possible Pairings: Feed by M. T. Anderson, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, 1984 by George Orwell, Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick, Uglies by Scott Westerfeld

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Spinning: A Graphic Novel Review

What happens when the thing you’re supposed to love becomes something you hate? What happens when you spend most of your life working toward something only to realize you no longer want it?

For ten years skating was Tillie’s entire world as she spent hours practicing with her synchronized skate team and for her individual figure skating certifications and competitions. Life on the rink was meant to be a break from the real world with bullies, school, and the pressures of her family.

When Tillie’s family moves to Texas all of that starts to change. At her new school Tillie feeds her growing interest in art and starts a fledgling relationship with her first girlfriend. As her world gets bigger Tillie struggles with how to reconcile to herself and her family and friends that it’s time for her to move on in Spinning (2017) by Tillie Walden.

In guise of a book about competitive figure skating, Walden offers a subtle graphic novel memoir about growing up and speaking out. During the sometimes turbulent end to her time as a skater Walden also discovers how to stand up for herself and how to come out to her friends and family. While not everything works out for Tillie and many paths are still uncharted, Spinning is an ultimately hopeful story of new choices and new beginnings.

Walden’s artwork, colored with a purple hue as seen on the cover, is full of motion and pathos as she makes excellent use of the comic panel structure to move the story forward while highlighting smaller moments in the narrative.

Spinning is an excellent graphic novel sure to endear itself to any readers who have ever struggled not just to find their next path but also how to explain that choice to others.

*An advance copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration at BEA 2017*

Wires and Nerve: A Graphic Novel Review

To preserve the unstable alliance between Earth and Luna, Iko decides to hunt down  rogue wolf-hybrids who have been attacking both planets. As an android Iko is uniquely suited to the task. She’s also determined to do anything to help her friends Cinder and Kai heal the rift between their two planets.

Iko’s hunt takes far from Luna as she tracks the wolf packs across earth with help from other friends including Cress and Thorne. Unfortunately Iko is also saddled with an unwanted sidekick in the form of Kinney, a royal guard who has little use for Iko and androids in general.

As they come closer to the rogue wolf’s Iko will unearth a conspiracy that threatens everyone she cares about–a threat so big she might even welcome Kinney’s help this once in Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 (2017) by Marissa Meyer, illustrated by Douglas Holgate.

Wires and Nerve is a new graphic novel series. It picks up shortly after the conclusion of Winter, the final book in Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series. The graphic novel series focuses on Iko, a character who never got her own book in the prose novels. While readers might appreciate a basic knowledge of the novels, this graphic novel series can be read on its own. (I read Cinder when it first came out and later read recaps of the other books in the series. That combined with Iko’s narrative flashbacks was enough for me.)

Iko’s graphic novel story is surprisingly delightful. In the midst of a cross-planetary hunt for rogue wolves Iko has to grapple with what it means to be an android and how she is treated because of it. She has been erased from the Lunar Chronicle adventures largely because she is “just” an android and even some of her allies (like Kinney) question Iko’s ability to care about anything or anyone when she’s not human.

Holgate’s illustrations are in a blue and white palette that is used to great effect and compliments Meyer’s world. The writing is fast-paced with snappy narration from Iko. This volume also uses the graphic novel format effectively with panels that are well designed to create a cinematic feel to the story (check out the spread on page 197 to see what I mean). Wires and Nerve, Volume 1 is some of the best of what graphic novels have to offer. A great choice for fans of the Lunar Chronicles series as well as readers looking for a new sci-fi comic to enjoy.

Possible Pairings: Dove Arising by Karon Bao, The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow, Defy the Stars by Claudia Gray, The Diabolic by S. J. Kincaid, A Confusion of Princes by Garth Nix

*A copy of this title was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Spill Zone: A (Blog Tour) Graphic Novel Review

No entry. No photos. No survivors.

No one has been allowed in the Poughkeepsie Spill Zone since the night of the Spill. Addison Merrick was out of town and came back to a town she didn’t recognize, missing parents, and a sister who hasn’t spoken since.

With nowhere else to go she’s kept herself and her sister near the border of the Spill in their family home. From there it’s easy for Addison to periodically sneak into the Spill and snap photos of the weird aftermath to sell to art collectors.

No one knows what happened the night of the Spill but when Addison receives an offer to venture farther into the Zone than she ever has, she might be closer to finding out–whether she wants to or not in Spill Zone (2017) by Scott Westerfeld, illustrated by Alex Puvilland with color by Hilary Sycamore.

Spill Zone is Westerfeld’s latest graphic novel and the start to a new series. You can find a copy at your local library, buy a copy, or you can read the entire comic online with neat blog posts from Scott and Alex talking about their process at thespillzone.com.

Spill Zone starts with Addison getting ready to venture into the Spill Zone to take another batch of photos. By this point Addison has the process down from sneaking through the border to how to get out of the Spill in one piece and protect herself and her sister while selling the highly illegal photos to art collectors like the owner of the Vandersloot Gallery (which you can find online). It’s risky but, thanks to Addison’s meticulous rules, it’s manageable.

Inside the Spill is dangerous and eerie. No one knows what happened. Time doesn’t seem to work the same way. Dangerous creatures are everywhere. Even colors are different. When Addison receives an offer she can’t refuse she’s forced to travel even further into the Spill Zone and confront dangerous truths about that night and the aftermath. The combination of Westerfeld’s story and Puvilland’s art keeps the tension taut throughout this volume as it builds to the dangerous climax and, of course, leaves readers with more questions.

Spill Zone is a fascinating and fast-paced story perfectly situated to appeal to both fans of speculative fiction and comics. Spill Zone is a deceptively fast read that packs a punch–guaranteed to reward multiple reads and close examination of each panel. Highly recommended.

As part of the Spill Zone Blog Tour I also have an exclusive photo from inside the Spill Zone!

This photo was taken by artist Alex Puvilland during his research for this book in Poughkeepsie. Spill Zone has had a lot of fun publicity that started well before its publication including the Spill Zone site where you can read the entire comic (and cool blog posts about Scott and Alex’s writing process) and also a web presence for the Vandersloot Gallery which displays some of Ms. Vandersloot’s impressive collection of Addison’s photos from inside the Spill.

Be sure to check out the rest of the blog tour for more exclusive photos. You can find the full schedule here: http://fiercereadsya.tumblr.com/post/160085874816/no-entry-no-photographs-no-survivors-three-years

Giant Days, Volume 1: A Comic (Chick Lit Wednesday) Review

Giant Days, Volume 1 by John Allison, Lissa Tremain, and Whitney CogarDaisy Wooton has been homeschooled for her entire life. Her worldview as she starts college verges on painfully naive and dangerously sweet.

Ester De Groot is a statuesque consumptive who continues to conjure unprecedented levels of drama at university thanks to her personal drama bubble.

Susan Ptolemy is a no-nonsense young woman at college to learn and move on to better things. If she happens to save Daisy and Esther from themselves (several times) along the way, so be it.

Susan, Esther, and Daisy are unlikely friends but somehow work remarkably well together as roommates during their first term as college freshman. All three are hoping for a fresh start at university where Daisy is eager to finally find herself (whoever that may be), Esther is looking for love (in all of the wrong places–as usual), and Susan is hoping to leave her past behind (especially McGraw who, unfortunately, shows up on campus soon after the start of term.

With drama, friendship, romance, and pesky classes vying for their attention, Susan, Esther and Daisy are sure to have an exciting first semester in Giant Days, Volume 1 (2015) by John Allison, Lissa Treiman (illustrator), Whitney Cogar (colors).

Volume 1 is a bind-up of the first four issues of the popular comic Giant Days.

Susan’s pragmatic attitude and tough-talking feminism temper the near-absurdity in various points of the plot particularly in relation to Esther. Readers who have survived college will find a lot of familiar moments here from overwhelming classes to freshman plague. And even some familiar faces (two of my closest college friends could be Susan and Esther).

Readers looking forward to that experience will find a thoughtful, humorous, and highly entertaining preview of things to come.

Giant Days is funny, smart, and delightfully entertaining. Highly recommended.

March: Book Three: A Graphic Novel Review

March: Book Three by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate PowellThe March trilogy is a graphic novel series telling the story of John Lewis’s involvement with the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s. When March: Book Three (2016) by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell begins in September 1963 with the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham.

Although this novel focuses on Lewis’s experiences with him as the narrator and, of course, biographical information from his own life, this story also takes a wider lens to look at the movement as a whole. Lewis is the head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) whose younger members are feeling disillusioned with the more mainstream activists who often take credit for SNCCs moves while sidelining their role. SNCC is on the verge of fracturing from within, and violence is increasing in the south as Lewis and others make plans for Freedom Vote and the Mississippi Freedom Summer.

March: Book Three is a thoughtful and engrossing conclusion to a trilogy that is already being hailed as a modern classic. This final installment was the 2016 National Book Award Winner for Young People’s Literature and the 2017 Printz Award winner.

Although it is the third part of a trilogy, most of this story makes sense on its own. Readers with a basic knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement and history of the time may have an easier go diving into this story than those without that background. Because this book is so visual, I will admit that I had a hard time identifying key characters early on which, I think, is partly from coming to this book without reading the earlier installments.

Lewis and Aydin have worked together to create a narrative that focuses on Lewis’s life experiences and his own changing feelings about SNCC and the movement as a whole. At the same time, the scope and breadth of the movement–the far-reaching hopes and the devastating violence–are also emphasizes both with the narrative text and with Powell’s moving illustrations and dynamic panel layouts.

The black and white illustrations work extremely well to highlight the injustice the Civil Rights Movement was fighting. The lack of color in the illustrations also has the interesting effect of flattening a lot of the skin tones and underscoring how similar we all are. Powell does a good job filling each panel and page with movement and action. Some of the panels are a bit frenzied but it’s a deliberate choice at key moments.

Having March: Book Three framed as a story told in retrospect was also a very effective choice. Readers go into this story knowing that Lewis makes it through–he survives–and also seeing immediately how far things have progressed (and how much work remains). Reading this story through a different lens with more immediacy to the narrative would have been unbearable and often devastating in the wake of the loss and danger faced by Lewis and everyone else in the Movement. I read this graphic novel near the 2016 election and it was very poignant and bittersweet to see the power of the vote in action while also realizing how much was undone in 2016 and how much still must be done.

While this book functions as a larger history of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement, it’s also important to remember that this series is also an autobiographical text in many ways. Because of that, this story does set aside and gloss over certain moments. This selective focus is a flaw of any biographical text and it makes sense in the context of this series as the focus is clearly and deliberately on the main events and players of the Movement. That said, it is interesting to note the way Stokely Carmichael’s comments about women’s only position in SNCC being prone was glossed over. I am sure it was seen as a joke by a lot of people then (and still) but the way it was sidestepped here just highlights how anyone, even with the best intentions does have an agenda and bias in terms of scope and how events are presented. It’s also worth noting that this story stops short of SNCC’s dissolution and Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination.

March: Book Three is a powerful conclusion to a trilogy everyone should read. This series deserves every bit of praise it has received. It is a rare series that occupies the space between academic reading for school and pleasure reading quite comfortably. Recommended.

Possible Pairings: Before We Were Free by Julia Alvarez, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose, We Are the Ship by Kadir Nelson, X: A Novel by Ilyasah Shabazz and Kekla Magoon, The Port Chicago 50: Disaster, Mutiny, and the Fight for Civil Rights by Steve Sheinkin, Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley, Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein