Foiled by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Mike Cavallaro
Official Summary: “A quirky, fast-paced urban fantasy by esteemed author Jane Yolen
Aliera Carstairs just doesn’t fit in. She’s always front and center at the fencing studio, but at school she’s invisible. And she’s fine with that … until Avery Castle walks into her first period biology class. Avery may seem perfect now, but will he end up becoming her Prince Charming or just a toad?”
Foiled by Jane Yolen with illustrations by Mike Cavallaro is the story of Aliera Carstairs, a high schooler with a passion for fencing. She splits her time between school, competitive fencing and role playing games with her cousin who has rheumatoid arthritis. Beyond this, her major activities are being embarrassed by her mother’s love of bargain hunting and attempting to cut the weird, fake gem off of the secondhand sword her mother bought for her. But, when an attractive new boy shows up at her school and ends up as her lab partner, Aliera’s life suddenly seems poised to change.
With its focus on fencing, Foiled avoids many of the cliches that are found in both school sports stories and fantasy novels. Aliera is cast as an unknowing hero who has no idea that a fantastical world exists beside her own, but nonetheless has a rational reason for knowing how to sword fight. Her fencing prowess is also a nice touch since it offers the book a rare opportunity to highlight a strong, athletic and competitive female character who is otherwise just like any other young girl that you might read about. Aliera is relatable despite her unique circumstances. Yolen and Cavallaro make good use of the fact that she is colorblind to portray much of the book in shades of dark blues and grays with only the fantasy elements appearing in brilliant color. I also liked the secondary characters in the book. While Aliera’s parents didn’t appear much in the story, they were well-characterized and her slightly embarrassed view of them seemed realistic for a teen. Including her cousin, who uses a wheelchair due to her rheumatoid arthritis was also a nice touch. The book seems to set up further involvement of her cousin in future stories, which I look forward to.
Overall, Foiled is a quick and fun read that will appeal to fencers, fantasy fans and anyone who enjoys a fun high school story. I would definitely recommend it and I am looking forward to reading the sequel.
Check it Out: Foiled is currently available.
Shall We Play A Game?
This week on The Hub, I wrote about books that have games at their core. Check out the post for a list of books on virtual reality, roleplaying games and more.
Radiator Days by Lucy Knisley
Official Summary: “A collection of journal comics by popular cartoonist Lucy Knisley.”
Radiator Days is a collection of a multitude of short comics by cartoonist Lucy Knisley. The comics run the gamut from autobiographical pieces to graphic diary entries to short stories, but a majority of them relate to Knisley’s life at the time she was creating them. This means that readers gain a particular insight into Knisley’s life during her final year as an undergraduate art student in Chicago and the start of her time in graduate school at the Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. Knisley also offers a window into her artistic and creative process, which will be particularly interesting for those who are cartoonists or who are interested in the art form.
As someone who has read several of Knisley’s other works, I enjoyed this collection. While some of the pieces were uneven, I liked the fact that it collected works of many different styles and that several of the works were those that she had created more quickly, including one that she drew while at her college graduation. The different artistic approaches on display in this collection show the range that Knisley is capable of. The pieces that focus on her work in the cheese department at Fox & Obel in Chicago will be of particular interest to fans of Relish and they also deal with Knisley’s love of gourmet food and her thoughts on working in the food industry. I also particularly enjoyed her short story about a woman who worked in an independent bookstore that was in the process of shutting down.
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend this as an introduction to Knisley’s work, I would definitely recommend it to those who are already her fans. It is well worth tracking down if you want to see the range of styles with which she is comfortable.
Check it Out: Radiator Days is currently available.
The Cute Girl Network by MK Reed, Greg Means and Joe Flood
Official Summary: “Jane’s new in town. When she wipes out on her skateboard right in front of Jack’s food cart, she finds herself agreeing to go on a date with him. Jane’s psyched that her love life is taking a turn for the friskier, but it turns out that Jack has a spotty romantic history, to put it mildly. Cue the Cute Girl Network — a phone tree information-pooling group of local single women. Poor Jane is about to learn every detail of Jack’s past misadventures… whether she wants to or not. Will love prevail?
In this graphic novel from Greg Means, Americus author MK Reed, and Joe Flood, the illustrator of Orcs, comes a fast, witty, and sweet romantic comedy that is actually funny, and actually romantic.”
The Cute Girl Network, written by MK Reed and Greg Means with illustrations by Joe Flood, opens with Jane, who is new in the area, and Jack, a food cart operator, “meeting cute” in the manner of romantic comedies. She falls off of her skateboard right in front of him, prompting some banter and by the time she leaves, both Jane and Jack realize that they might be interested in something more. But, as they slowly move towards a tentative relationship, Jane is approached by a representative of the local “cute girl network,” a group of girls who mobilize to share information about men they know and have dated to prevent other women from making the same mistakes that they have made. At first, Jane is willing to listen to them. But, how should other women’s experiences inform Jane’s own choices? And, what about the other side of the story?
The Cute Girl Network is a humorous story that tackles, and mocks, everything from the sexism of skateboard shop customers, to popular teen vampire romances, to sex education. The characters, and particularly Jane, are a lot of fun. Jane is a strong protagonist who deals with the way people treat a female skateboarder as well as the expectations of her female friends in ways that feel believable and convey her conflicted emotions. Jack sometimes feels a bit like a caricature, but he is given an opportunity to develop a bit over the course of the book and in many ways the authors use him to make a larger point through his exaggerated behavior. While the points that the book makes may not be hugely controversial, they are topics that are rarely addressed in graphic novels and Reed and Means handle them in a way that readers will enjoy. This book is worth a read.
Check it Out: The Cute Girl Network will be released on November 12th.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.
Tune: Still Life by Derek Kirk Kim
Official Summary: “In the second installment of the TUNE series of graphic novels, our hapless hero Andy Go is settling into life in an alien zoo…as one of the exhibits. It’s not so bad: the food is good, and his environment is a perfect copy of his house back on Earth. But everything falls to pieces when Andy realizes he’s been tricked: there will be no weekend visits back to Earth, as he was promised, and his contract doesn’t last one year…it lasts a lifetime.
Funny, sweet, and incredibly goofy, TUNE is Derek Kirk Kim writing at the top of his talents. Tune: Still Life introduces artist Les McClaine, who brings a new level of sensitivity to the story. Fans of the first volume will be delighted by this new entry in the series.”
In Tune: Still Life, Derek Kirk Kim picks up just where the first volume ended. Andy Go is now fully ensconced in the replica of his parents’ house in the Praxians’ zoo far from Earth or even the dimension in which Earth exists. As he wakes up for the first time in his new “home” and discovers that the zoo’s visitors can see his every move (yes, even in the bathroom), he realizes that he may not have fully thought out this plan. Desperate to contact Yumi to tell her where he has disappeared to, Andy makes numerous requests for a phone call, but as he learns more about the nature of this zoo and Praxian culture more generally, his hopes begin to dwindle. Maybe the offer to make $250,000 a year to sit around and do nothing but relax and draw really was a bit too good to be true.
This volume is the second collection from Derek Kirk Kim’s web comic Tune. As such, it opens with a bit of a refresher about what happened in the first volume, but readers will nevertheless want to read that volume first to fully understand the story. In this collection, Les McClaine has taken over the illustration duties from Kim, but the style remains true to that found in the first volume and still makes for a great juxtaposition between the cute almost cartoonish style of the characters and the deeper subjects about art, freedom and even contract negotiation that are discussed. Here readers of the first Tune book will find some of their questions answered, but Kim does a good job of continually raising new questions to leave you satisfied that you have figured out some elements of Andy’s predicament and yet still want to know more. While this book does introduce a new setting with the zoo, Kim nevertheless takes the time to more fully develop all of the characters from the first volume and those that are introduced here, which makes this feel like a much more character-focused segment of the story.
This is a fun new take on alien abductions and a book that manages to sneak in some larger points about the importance of art, the media’s role in the society and even relationships. I would definitely recommend it with the minor caveat that, as with the first book, it ends on a cliffhanger, which may disappoint some readers.
Check it Out: Tune: Still Life will be released on November 12th.
Readalike: If you haven’t already read the first volume, Tune: Vanishing Point, it is definitely worth starting with that book. Readers who enjoy Kim’s style will also want to read Kim’s first graphic novel, Same Difference, and his collaboration with Gene Luen Yang, The Eternal Smile: Three Stories.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge
Official Summary: “Paige Turner has just moved to New York with her family, and she’s having some trouble adjusting to the big city. In the pages of her sketchbook, she tries to make sense of her new life, including trying out her secret identity: artist. As she makes friends and starts to explore the city, she slowly brings her secret identity out into the open, a process that is equal parts terrifying and rewarding.
Laura Lee Gulledge crafts stories and panels with images that are thought-provoking, funny, and emotionally resonant. Teens struggling to find their place can see themselves in Paige’s honest, heartfelt story.”
Page by Paige by Laura Lee Gulledge follows Paige Turner as she arrives in her new hometown of New York City. Her parents are excited to be living in their dream city, but Paige is much more apprehensive about the move. She misses her friends, she misses having space and nature around her. But, she is a budding artist and resolves to start sketching more regularly as she travels around the city visiting museums and acclimating to her new surroundings. As the story proceeds, readers see Paige become more comfortable with New York City. She starts at a new school and makes a core group of friends who share her artistic sensibilities. Over the course of the year Paige grows in confidence, matures in her relationship with her family and finds happiness with her new friends.
Paige makes for a charming main character who is tackling many problems that will seem familiar to those who are in high school or remember their time there. Her insecurities about moving to New York, about making new friends and about her artwork ring true, while her relationship with her parents and her grandmother also feel very believable for a teenager struggling to be an extrovert. While this makes the book sound like a fairly standard coming-of-age story, it transcends its basic plot structure through Gulledge’s creative use of images that go beyond a standard graphic novel. She represents Paige’s interior thoughts and feelings through sprawling images that are visual metaphors and puns and provide readers with an additional level of insight into Paige’s thought process. This impressive integration of art into the core of the plot makes this book a much better read than a simple description makes it sound. This book is an enjoyable read for any fan of art and graphic story telling.
Check it Out: Page by Paige is currently available.
The War At Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks
Official Summary: “Zombies Calling creator Faith Erin Hicks brings her manga-fueled art style and pop-culture sensibilities to girl’s boarding schools in her latest book The War at Ellsmere. Jun is the newest scholarship student at the prestigious Ellsmere girls’ boarding school - but to a lot of the privileged rich girls, scholarship student is just a code for charity case. Fortunately, Jun has an ally in the quirky Cassie, who tells her legends of a beautiful creature that lives in the forest outside of the school. Between queen bees and mythical beasts, Jun has quite the school year ahead of her.”
The War At Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks is set at a fancy girls’ boarding school. Juniper, better known as “Jun,” is both the new kid at school and the latest scholarship student to join the students’ ranks. But, she immediately finds that the transition to her new school will not be as seamless as she may have hoped. Before any of the other students even arrive, she has discovered how imposing the school itself can be and once she meets her classmates she quickly discovers that they may not all be thrilled to share their classes with scholarship students. While she is able to give as good as she gets when the most popular (and one of the richest) girls at the school decides to mock her, she may not be able to handle the enemy this means that she has made within her first few hours. As the school year progresses, Jun must navigate the politics and machinations of her new high school while helping her roommate to increase her own comfort at the school.
This book will appeal to fans of Hicks’ other works. The art style is similar to her other works and is perfect to create the settings of this book, from the imposing interiors of Ellsmere to the foreboding elements of the forest on the edge of the school’s campus. The storyline might seem familiar to those who have read other boarding school stories, but the characters that Hicks has created helps the story to transcend the plot’s familiarity. In particular, Jun and Cassie work perfectly as roommates and are both relatable and entertaining characters. Later in the book some fantastical elements are injected into the book somewhat unexpectedly, but readers who are not put off by the supernatural will forgive this seemingly sudden change in the story.
While this book may not be the first that I would recommend to those who haven’t read any of Hicks’ other works, it is a very entertaining story and another great example of her work. It is definitely worth reading.
Check it Out: The War At Ellsmere is currently available.
Readalike: If you enjoy this book, try one of Faith Erin Hicks’ other books such as a Zombies Calling or Friends with Boys. Alternatively, for another perspective on boarding school life that combines drawings and text, try Winger by Andrew Smith.
Battling Boy by Paul Pope
Official Summary: “The adventure begins in the new graphic novel by comics legend Paul Pope.
Monsters roam through Arcopolis, swallowing children into the horrors of their shadowy underworld. Only one man is a match for them - the genius vigilante Haggard West.
Unfortunately, Haggard West is dead.
Arcopolis is desperate, but when its salvation comes in the form of a twelve-year-old demigod, nobody is more surprised than Battling Boy himself.
IT’S TIME TO MEET AN ELECTRIFYING NEW HERO.”
Battling Boy by Paul Pope opens in Acropolis, a town under threat of supernatural villains who keep the populace living in fear and periodically kidnap children and adults alike. The city’s last line of defense against this danger is Haggard West, a mysterious figure who fights back against the villains with the help of his daughter and his gadgets. But, when his efforts to save a kidnapped citizen fail and he is killed in the process, the city is left unprotected. At the same time elsewhere in the universe, Battling Boy is coming-of-age and is being sent on his “ramble” to Acropolis where he is responsible for protecting the populace as part of his traditional coming of age process. But when he arrives in the city, he finds that the threats go beyond what he had even imagined. Will Battling Boy be able to save the city? And, how will the citizenry, and Haggard West’s daughter who hopes to take over for her father, react to his sudden and unexpected presence?
Battling Boy is a fun superhero story that sets up an interesting universe. While the book doesn’t resolve all of the questions that it asks and ends on a cliffhanger that may frustrate some readers, it does introduce several characters that will make readers eager to see what happens next. Unlike many superhero stories, the main focus of this graphic novel rests on two teens who are just coming into their own. Each is the child of a famous hero, with Battling Boy living in many ways in the shadow of his father just as Haggard West’s daughter lives in the shadow of her father. This will make the story relatable to audiences of all ages while the artwork will impress both casual and serious fans of the genre. Both readers who have been eagerly waiting for Pope’s new work and those who have not previously encountered his books will enjoy this story, which does not require previous knowledge of the earlier Haggard West.
This was a fast-paced and fun superhero story that will particularly appeal to younger readers given its focus on young superheroes. I can’t wait to see what will happen next for Battling Boy and Acropolis.
Check it Out: Battling Boy will be released on October 8th.
Note: Review based on ARC from publisher.
Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill
Official Summary: “Neil Barton just wants to read in peace. Unluckily for him, some local Christian activists are trying to get his favorite fantasy series banned from the Americus public library on grounds of immoral content and heresy. Something has to be done, and it looks like quiet, shy Neal is going to have to do it. With youth services librarian Charlotte Murphy at his back, Neil finds himself leading the charge to defend the mega-bestselling fantasy series that makes his life worth living.
This funny, gripping, and relatable tale of life and local politics in middle America is currently being serialized online at saveapathea.com.”
Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill takes place in a small town in Oklahoma. Neil Barton has lived in the town his entire life, but he’s never felt as though he fits in. All he wants is to have a chance to read his favorite series of fantasy books and discuss them with his best friend, Danny, and with Charlotte, the local teen services librarian. But, when Danny’s mother finds him reading the latest book in the series, she condemns it as a blasphemous abomination and demands that the book be banned from the library. To make matters worse, she not only organizes a group of parents to go before the library board to fight the inclusion of the book in the library’s collection but also sends Danny away to military school when he disagrees with her about the book. As Neil prepares for the transition to high school on his own without his best friend, he and Charlotte also gear up for the battle to keep the book on the library’s shelves and as they do, Neil begins to find his place in the town.
Americus is the perfect graphic novel for Banned Books Week as it tackles important issues about censorship, separation of church and state, and the struggles that libraries frequently face. Neil is a likable character who readers will relate to and, as a librarian, I also enjoyed Charlotte’s character. The book uses the battle over the Apathea book as its jumping off place, but it also covers a lot of other ground, including religion, divorce and the trials of high school, particularly in a small town. Readers may feel that the sides of the debate over the book are a bit over-simplified, but overall, the story captures the tenor of efforts to ban books from public libraries. It was a fun read that fantasy fans will no doubt relate to in a personal way.
Check it Out: Americus is currently available.
Readalike: If you enjoy this book, you will want to watch for MK Reed’s upcoming work, The Cute Girl Network, which will be released in November. For another graphic novel take on libraries and censorship, try the manga series Library Wars by Kiiro Yumi.
Level Up by Gene Luen Yang with art by Thien Pham
Official Summary: “Smackdown!
Video Games vs. Medical School!
Which will win the battle for our hero’s attention in Gene Luen Yang’s new graphic novel?
Dennis Ouyang lives in the shadow of his parents’ high expectations. They want him to go to med school and become a doctor. Dennis just wants to play video games—and he might actually be good enough to do it professionally.
But four adorable, bossy, and occasionally terrifying angels arrive just in time to lead Dennis back onto the straight and narrow: the path to gastroenterology. It’s all part of the plan, they tell him. But is it? This powerful piece of magical realism brings into sharp relief the conflict many teens face between pursuing their dreams and living their parents’.
Partnered with the deceptively simple, cute art of newcomer Thien Pham, Gene Yang has returned to the subject he revolutionized with American Born Chinese. Whimsical and serious by turns, Level Up is a new look at the tale that Yang has made his own: coming of age as an Asian American.”
Level Up by Gene Luen Yang with art by Thien Pham follows Dennis Ouyang as he discovers video games, much to the dismay of his father who wants nothing more than for Dennis to become a doctor. In fact, not just a doctor, but specifically a gastroenterologist. When his father dies just before his high school graduation, Dennis initially continues down the path towards video game expertise to the expense of his academic career. When he reaches the point where he is about to flunk out of college, four angels approach him to force him back onto the track to his “destiny.” At their behest, Dennis gives up all video games and redoubles his efforts to get into medical school and become a doctor. But, is his father’s dream enough to trump Dennis’ desires? And, is he cut out to be a doctor?
Drawn in a spare style that will be familiar to fans of Thien Pham’s other work, this book tackles familiar issues about cultural differences, familial expectations, grief and video games. But, this is not to say that it is an overly serious book. The creators manage to balance their dark themes with humor and fun characters that will keep readers turning the pages to find out what Dennis finally decides to do with his life. At times the side characters seem a bit overstated, but because this complements the stylized approach seen in the book’s artwork, it contributes to a cohesive book rather than taking readers out of the story.
I really enjoyed this quick read and would recommend it to any graphic novel fan. Whether you are already a fan of Gene Luen Yang and Thien Pham or not, Level Up will make you want to read more of their works. It packs a great deal of meaning and a good message about finding oneself into a fun and cute book that will be relatable even if you aren’t a gamer or a medical student.
Check it Out: Level Up is currently available.