Compass South: A Graphic Novel Review

Compass South by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca MockNew York City, 1860: When Alexander and Cleopatra’s father disappears, the twins are soon forced into service for the Black Hook Gang to try and survive. Facing jail time after a heist goes awry, Alex and Cleo inform on the gang in exchange for tickets out of the city.

The twins hatch a plan to head to San Francisco impersonating the long-lost sons of a millionaire. But like most cons, nothing goes quite right.

When they meet Silas and Edwin, another set of twins with the same con in mind, tempers flare and trouble forms leaving Alex and Edwin shanghaied on a ship heading to San Francisco.

While Alex and Edwin try to find their way on the ship, Cleo and Silas reluctantly join forces to reunite with their brothers in Compass South (2016) by Hope Larson, illustrated by Rebecca Mock.

Compass South is the start of a projected graphic novel series.

Cleo and Alex are orphans being raised by their uncle (known to them as their father) with only two mysterious treasures–a watch and a knife–as their family legacy. The larger mystery of the knife and the watch begins to unfold as Alex and Cleo’s madcap trip to San Francisco begins.

Silas and Edwin serve as a nice contrast to Alex and Cleo with different priorities and outlooks during the course of their journeys. Larson’s nappy dialogue (in easy to read speech bubbles) works well with Mock’s carefully detailed full-color illustrations.

This story, filled with a variety of moving parts, subplots, and characters, comes together nicely in a fun introduction to the indomitable Alex and Cleo. As might be expected in a story with two different sets of twins, sometimes it’s difficult to gauge who is being shown in frame however visual clues and dialogue help to quickly clear up any confusion.

Compass South is a fast-paced graphic novel filled with action and adventure. Sure to appeal to readers of all ages looking for an exciting piece of historical fiction, and of course to comics fans. Readers will be clamoring to see what comes next for all of the characters and eager for future installments.

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Planesrunner: A (Rapid Fire) Review

Planesrunner by Ian McDonaldPlanesrunner by Ian McDonald (2011)

I liked a lot of things about the basic premise of this story. It seemed to have a lot of potential–a book about many worlds and a device to navigate them? Cool! A thoughtful main character who likes to cook and play video games? Rad. De facto diversity? Awesome! Even with some fairly obvious hints to Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld and the TV shows Sliders and Stargate, Planesrunner sounded like a good time.

Unfortunately this one never quite hit the mark. MacDonald seemed to have an idea of what a teen narrator should do and think and seemed to be checking marks off as Everett does all of these strange things in the narrative with random sound effects and a really annoying habit of providing a nickname for literally every character Everett meets.

I tend to be wary of adult authors trying to transition into YA writing because more often than not something gets lost on the way as if the author is so used to writing older characters that they are unsure how to transition. I really felt that here. Everett’s behaviors and decisions were very erratic–either too mature or too immature for his given age.

Uneven pacing and odd writing choices made for an uneasy read. The plot picked up significantly in the second half but problems remained as the story continued to feel like two books slapped together. What I mean is there is a very clear direction in the first half of the story and then priorities and focus shift very suddenly in the second half. (Speaking of the second half, McDonald also includes Pallari in the latter part of the novel which is really interesting but requires a lot of glancing at the dictionary in the back.)

I can see this book appealing to fans of pure science fiction as the plot here hits all the marks. Fans of A Confusion of Princes may also see some appeal here. That said, Planesrunner isn’t the smoothest read and it isn’t always easy to connect with Everett though I’m sure readers who finish the story will be rewarded and likely look forward to continuing with the series.

Ship Breaker: A (rapid fire) Review

Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (2010)

Ship Breaker by Paolo BacigalupiThis book was shortlisted for the 2010 Cybils which is why (as a round 2 judge) I read it.

It was also the winner of the 2011 Printz Award (given by the American Library Association to a book with high literary merit written for teens).

This book has already gotten tons of attention which is why I don’t feel bad doing a rapid fire review of it instead of a full, traditional one. It was a lot of fun to read it during the Printz announcements and I actually enjoyed it a lot more than I had expected (I thought I was burnt out on dystopian novels but this one was really interesting).

I liked the writing and the characters and I can see why it caught the Printz committee’s attention. I liked that the characters were diverse with people of all colors and cultures and even half men like Tool. I liked the writing style and the pacing. I thought the premise was interesting and there was a lot of action. I like the malleability of names, how Nailer was also Lucky Boy. I also thought the pervasive nature of luck in Nailer’s life was interesting. The family dynamics and the idea that family is what you make of it not just blood was also great.

That said, I also had some problems with the book:

I noticed there were a lot of repeated phrases like every time Nailer got hurt, something seemed to be blossoming with pain or a bright blossom of pain, etc. Which is fine–it’s a good phrase. But it started to appear A LOT.

I also thought the book got a little philosophical, not necessarily in a bad way but kind of in a “this looks like someone trying really hard to drive home a point” kind of way.

I thought the author’s world building was pretty well done but I also had a lot of unanswered questions. On the one hand I respect that the story wanted to throw readers right into the action. On the other hand there really were a lot of questions and some of them would have been easy to answer.

For  instance SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER:

(SPOILER!)When Nailer’s back gets infected Pima says Nailer needs to take pills three times a day for ten more days. But then he and Lucky Girl run away. Did Nailer take the pills with him? Did he take them on the train? If he didn’t do either of those things did the infection come back? It was a big part of the story and I would have liked to not have it dangling. Because, frankly, in real life–especially in Nailer’s lousy world–he should have died without the meds. It was weird to have that be such an obvious fact. Only to be left hanging.
(END SPOILER)

I also wanted to know more about the dynamics of Bright Sands Beach. There’s light crew and heavy crew. But are those the only options? If you aren’t crewed up are you as bad off as Sloth? What happens if you get too big for light crew but too small for heavy crew? It seemed weird that there was nothing else mentioned. Couldn’t some of them have worked at Chen’s noodle shop or something?

I also wished there was a little more about the crew tats. Like do you just keep them if you get too big for light crew (as opposed to getting thrown off)? Are there other tattoos for heavy crew?

Basically I enjoyed the book and I thought it was really interesting and deserving of all of its praise. But I was frustrated that there were not more details and background and, for me, can’t say it’s a book I absolutely loved (but I did like it).