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*

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

The Stone Heart: A Graphic Novel Review

*The Stone Heart is the second book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City. This review contains spoilers for book one.*

The Stone Heart by Faith Erin HicksKaidu and Rat are still recovering after stopping the assassination of the General of All Blades. In the wake of the assassination, the Nameless City seems peaceful and there is reason to hope things will stay that way.

The General of All Blades and Kaidu’s father are working to create a council of all the nations that claim the City as their home to stop the constant fighting to claim the City as territory. But not everyone supports the idea of a council and its promise to change the Dao way of life in the city forever.

As conflict begins to fracture the Dao nation from within, Kaidu discovers a formula for a powerful weapon–a secret that has been protected for generations and something Rat might be able to decipher. Sharing the formula with the Dao could mean giving the City’s current conquerors a dangerous edge. Hiding it could make peace even harder to achieve. Kai and Rat already did the unthinkable by becoming friends and saving the General of All Blades. Will they be able to do it again to bring peace to the City before its too late? in The Stone Heart (2016) by Faith Erin Hicks.

The Stone Heart is the second book in Hicks’ Nameless City trilogy which begins with The Nameless City. This review contains spoilers for book one.

The Stone Heart picks up a few weeks after the conclusion of The Nameless City bringing readers back to the City that Rat calls home and the place Kai is coming to care about.

Hicks uses the relative calm at the beginning of this installment to expand the world of the City as Rat shows Kai more of her world and introduces her to several new characters. This expanded view helps to bring the City into clearer focus and situates the story within the larger context of the world Hicks has created based on thirteenth century China (as mentioned in an author’s note which talks a bit about her research process). Hicks’ full-color artwork is as stunning as ever and once again brings Kai and Rat’s story vividly to life.

When the uneasy truce that Kai and Rat helped bring to fruition falls apart spectacularly,  the story moves in an unexpected direction and new villains emerge. Will Kai and Rat be able to save the City? Will the mysterious formula Kai and Rat found fall into the wrong hands? Readers will have to wait for trilogy’s exciting conclusion to see how everything comes together. Recommended for readers looking for a new comic adventure and those who enjoy their adventure served with a side of strong-but-unlikely friendships.

*An advance copy of this review was provided by the publisher for review consideration*

Mighty Jack: A Review and Our Favorite Fairy Tales Blog Tour Post

mighty-jack-blog-ad-1Mighty Jack is my first time reading a Ben Hatke comic (although I’m already a big fan of his picture books) and it won’t be the last as I’m eager to see what Jack, Maddy, and Lily get up to next. As a long-time fan of fairy tales and fairy tale retellings, I am thrilled to be part of the blog tour for Mighty Jack.

Now that I’ve told you how much I enjoyed this fairy tale retelling, I’m also sharing my favorite fairy tale adaption. For me the answer is immediate and obvious: Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine.

My mom got me my copy of Ella Enchanted (a loose retelling of Cinderella) when she was doing freelance data entry at HarperCollins a year or so after the book had received its Newbery honor. I devoured the story and, unlike a lot of childhood favorites, wound up keeping my copy safely on my shelves. Years later I wrote an entire scholarly paper about why Ella Enchanted is such an effective feminist text (and why the movie is not). Being the type of person I am, I told all of this to Gail Carson Levine when I met her a few years ago and had her sign my beloved copy.

Onto the review!
Mighty Jack by Ben HatkeJack is not excited about the summer vacation. While other kid’s are goofing off and hanging out with their friends, Jack has to watch his autistic sister while his mother struggles to make ends meet with extra hours at her two jobs.

Watching Maddy is a lot of responsibility and not always easy since Maddy never talks. When Jack and Maddy accompany their mom to a flea market, Maddy unexpectedly tells Jack to trade the family van for a box of strange seeds.

Jack’s mom is understandably disappointed and upset. But Jack and Maddy go forward with planting the seeds. The plants look normal. At first. But then Jack, Maddy, and Lily (the girl next door) start to notice strange things in the garden like onion babies and seeds that can turn a person blue.

The more Jack learns about the garden, the more he wonders about the seeds and their purpose. With dangers looming behind every leaf, Jack will have to decide how far he is willing to go for adventure–and how much he’s willing to risk to keep his family safe in Mighty Jack (2016) by Ben Hatke.

This retelling of “Jack and the Beanstalk” blends familiar elements with Hatke’s unique interpretation. The graphic novel remains faithful to the original text with Jack’s dubious trade and the magical seeds growing. This story focuses more on the early parts of the tale as Hatke sets the stage for future installments.

Jack’s responsibilities at home and his complicated relationship with his mother and sister all come through in the text and expressive illustrations. (It’s worth noting that Maddy is never identified as autistic in the story itself only in the jacket copy.) While Jack sometimes resents the pressures of having to watch out for his sister and act responsibly for his mother, the family’s affection and unconditional love is obvious which is refreshing in a story that plays with fairy tale tropes.

Like many comics, Mighty Jack is a fast read. With so much excitement and adventure, readers will be eager to get to the last page (and even more eager for another book to see what happens next). The illustrations feature Hatke’s signature artwork as well as full color illustrations. The text and dialogue throughout is a decent size and can be read comfortably. Recommended for fans of the author, comic readers looking for a new adventure, and readers who devour fairytale retellings.

Possible Pairings: Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale, Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, Princess of the Midnight Ball by Jessica Day George, Kate and the Beanstalk by Mary Pope Osborne, illustrated by Giselle Potter; Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, The Rumpelstiltskin Problem by Vivian Vande Velde

Be sure to check out the other stops on the tour:

Nobody Likes a Goblin: A Picture Book Review

Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben HatkeGoblin lives deep in a dungeon. It seems like a normal day until Adventurers storm the dungeon. They scare the rats, knock over the torches, and plunder the pantry. The adventurers even take everything from the dungeon–including Goblin’s friend Skeleton.

So Goblin decides to head out into the wide world to find his friend. Along the way Goblin finds other creatures wronged by the Adventurers and a lot of people who don’t like goblins.

Luckily, though, Skeleton still likes Goblin and so do other Goblins eager to help deal with those annoying Adventurers in Nobody Likes a Goblin (2016) by Ben Hatke.

Nobody Likes a Goblin is Hatke’s second picture book. The author is also the author of numerous delightful graphic novels for children.

Hatke brings his signature comic style to this picture book that subverts traditional fantasy/gaming tropes in fun ways with an unlikely hero.

Full page spreads and smaller insets add motion to the page and help move the narrative along. Detailed illustrations guarantee that readers will find something new with each reading. Short text and a clean design also make this title an excellent storytime selection.

Readers with a fondness for fantasy books or video games will find this book especially amusing. Nobody Likes a Goblin is delightfully fun. Sure to be a winner for readers of all ages.

*An advance copy of this title was acquired from the publisher for review consideration*

The Nameless City: A Graphic Novel Review

The Nameless City by Faith Erin HicksThe City has many names. Every time a new nation invades, they give the city a new name. Only the natives know that the city is impossible to keep and name. They call it the Nameless City.

The latest group of invaders, the Dao, have held the Nameless City for close to thirty years–longer than anyone else. Kaidu is a Dao who comes to the City to meet his father and to learn more about his own people. Kaidu isn’t sure he’s cut out to join the Dao’s military guard but he does know that he loves everything about the City he is now calling home.

Rat is a native of the City, one of the Named who call this place home regardless of its name or who currently claims it. She hates the Dao and everything they stand for as occupiers of her home. But in spite of herself, Rat starts to like Kaidu as he trades her food in exchange for lessons on how to run across the City’s rooftops.

Kaidu and Rat are unlikely friends. Unlikelier still, they might hold the City’s future in their hands in The Nameless City (2016) by Faith Erin Hicks.

The Nameless City is the first comic in a proposed trilogy.

Following both Kaidu and Rat, The Nameless City thoughtfully explores the thornier aspects of colonialism as part of the City’s larger story. The City is populated by a diverse group of people comprised of natives as well as the many conquering nations. The tension between these groups is nearly palpable as Hicks moves the story toward a climactic conclusion.

This larger arc contrasts well with the smaller but more charming story of Kaidu and Rat’s fledgling friendship. Witty, thoughtful dialogue and carefully drawn illustrations work together here to convey the two protagonists’ complex and changing relationship.

Faith Erin Hicks delivers another stunner with The Nameless City. Her signature illustration style and a unique premise come together to create a delightfully engrossing story. Great for veteran comics fans and readers eager to try the format for the first time.