Tag Archive | graphic novel

Chopsticks – Jessica Anthony & Rodrigo Corral

ChopsticksSixteen-year-old Glory Fleming is a piano prodigy. When Jessica Anthony and Rodrigo Corral’s hybrid novel – more about that in a moment – opens, Glory is missing. Then the story flashes back eighteen months to help us understand how her life has gone off the rails.

Chopsticks is a quick read, but that’s because much of the story is told through pictures: drawings and photographs.

For example, we learn about Glory’s childhood by flipping the pages of a family photo album. Pictures of her parents Victor and Maria, and baby pictures of Gloria and ‘pasted in’ cards and programs, give us a glimpse into a tight family unit.

Victor is a music teacher and Glory is his star pupil. After the accidental death of her mother, Glory throws herself into her music until she is so accomplished that The New Yorker calls her “The Brecht of the Piano.” Glory is known for her “innovative performances of classical pieces alongside modern scores.”  Soon, she is playing sold-out shows at Carnegie Hall.

 

And it’s all good until Francisco and his family, Argentinian immigrants, move into the house next door. Chopsticks gives us the same insight into Frank’s character by showing us cards from his parents and his diary in which he writes: “She is the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. She invited me over and played Chopin on her piano.”

The pair form a friendship;  it seems as though Glory hasn’t actually had too many over the years. Although it’s completely natural,  their bond deepens and as she pulls away from her father and her music, Victor tightens his hold on his daughter. Frank isn’t without his own problems. Although he comes from a wonderful family, he has trouble fitting in at school and with the exception of art, and music, isn’t excelling academically.

In an effort to separate the teens, Victor plans a European tour for his daughter. Text messages, post cards and photos mark this period. But, of course, by this time Frank and Glory are in love and the time apart only heightens their feelings for each other.

Chopsticks is a beautiful book to read – each page is visually interesting and the story of Glory and Frank, each of whom want to find their own way out from under parental expectations and to discover their own path,  is certainly one most teens will relate to.

I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while and it did not disappoint.

Through the Woods – Emily Carroll

throughwoodsJust in time for Hallowe’en comes Canadian author Emily Carroll’s book, Through the Woods, a collection of chilling short stories. The stories would be quite enough on their own, but Carroll ups the ante with amazing art work. As far as graphic literature goes, Through the Woods goes to eleven. (Yes, yes I did just use a Spinal Tap reference.)

There are five stories in Carroll’s collection and each one of the stories feels vaguely old-fashioned. The monsters that live on these pages have been around for a very long time.

In the first story “Our Neighbor’s House,” Mary is left in charge of her two younger sisters, Beth and Hannah, while her father goes off to hunt. Their father tells them “I’ll be gone for three days…but if I’m not back by sunset on the third day, pack some food, dress up warm, and travel to our neighbor’s house.” When their father fails to return, things go from bad to worse in short order.

In the final story, “The Nesting Place, ” Bell, short for Mabel,  spends her school holidays with her older brother, Clarence, and his wife, Rebecca, at their isolated country house. Bell is a solitary child and she takes little interest in socializing with her brother. The only other person at the house is the housekeeper who warns Bell not to venture into the woods because she could easily become lost as Rebecca once had, “found three days later at the bottom of a cave…three days all alone in the dark drinking water out of a fetid pool to stay alive.” Rebecca, as Bell is soon to find out, has been deeply changed by that experience. And not in a good way.

woods

The stories between the first and last are every bit as unsettling. Dreams and teeth and blood and beasts loom large in this collection.Carroll’s illustrations are saturated with primary colours: blood-red moons and sapphire blue rivers. I don’t know much about art, but Through the Woods is a beautiful book to look at – if slightly macabre.

See more of Carroll’s work at her website.

 

 

Friends with Boys – Faith Erin Hicks

friends I didn’t know that the author and illustrator of the graphic novel Friends with Boys, Faith Erin Hicks, was  from Halifax until I finished the book. I am not going to let the fact that we are practically neighbours (well, by Canadian standards we actually are!) influence my thoughts about Friends with Boys.

…which overall I liked (although I am by no means an authority on graphic novels and have really only started to read them in any number since I started building my classroom library.) I did feel the novel missed some great opportunities and had some structural problems – but, yeah, liked it.

So, Maggie is starting grade nine. This is a pretty big deal because she has been homeschooled her whole life. She’s super nervous about it. When her dad asks how she’s feeling she says  “It’s only my first day of high school. Nothing to be nervous about. I’m not nervous. I’m not.”

Maggie’s three older brothers, twins Lloyd and Zander and Daniel have already made the transition to high school and as Daniel admits to Maggie, he likes being at school better than learning at home. Of course he’s been there a few years, and is well-known and liked.

School isn’t the only thing complicating Maggie’s life – her mother has left home. Her father says “It’s exactly seventeen years since your mom started homeschooling you lot,” to which her brother Zander replies “Yeah and to celebrate she took off.” There is all sorts of unspoken angst in this situation, which is never satisfactorily dealt with.

And she has a ghost. An actual ghost that she met when she was a kid and whom occasionally follows her around. We never quite find out what the deal is there, either.

Then there’s Lucy and Alistair, the brother and sister who befriend Maggie.  At least we learn why Alistair is a social piranha.

That’s a lot of stuff on the plate of a fourteen-year-old and any of it would could have made a rich and compelling story on its own. I was intrigued by the ghost, loved Maggie’s older siblings and wondered what had happened to the mom. Ultimately, though, I felt like Hicks only scratched the surface of all these stories.

 

Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq – Mark Alan Stamaty

aliaMark Alan Stamaty’s graphic story will resonate with anyone who has ever visited a library. Its simple black and white drawings tell the story of Alia, a woman who lives and works in Iraq during Saddam Hussein’s reign. Iraq is on the verge of chaos as Britain and the U.S. are planning to invade the country and remove Hussein from power.

Alia is the head librarian at the Basra Central Library. We are told that “ever since she was a little girl, books have been a source of happiness and adventure for her.”  When she reads the story of how the Mongol Invasion destroyed the Baghdad library resulting in the loss of  “irreplaceable treasures” Alia worries that something similar could happen to her beloved library. alia1 When the fighting starts in Iraq, Alia feels compelled to save the books in the library. When she can’t get her own government to help her, she starts moving the books herself.

Alia’s Mission: Saving the Books of Iraq is a simple story, geared for younger readers.  It only took me about ten minutes to read, but don’t let that deter you from checking it out. Alia’s story proves what book lovers already know: books are worth fighting for.

The Lost Boy – Greg Ruth

lostboyGreg Ruth has a successful career as a writer and comic book artist and has worked for Dark Horse Comics, DC/Vertigo and even illustrated Barack Obama’s picture book Our Enduring Spirit.

I saw The Lost Boy sitting on a shelf at Indigo and thought it looked and sounded interesting and as I am always on the hunt for graphic novels to add to my small but growing collection, I added it to my shopping bag.

The Lost Boy is the story of Nate who moves to a new town and a new house with his parents. His father tells him that he gets to choose any room he wants and upon a desultory inspection of the rooms upstairs Nate finds an old tape recorder under a loose floor board. Even more strange, there’s a note with his name on it which simply says: Find him.

The tape recorder belongs to Walter Pidgin and when Nate presses play he hears the voice of Walter, a boy about the same age as Nate.

“These are the facts,” Walter’s voice says. “Six dogs and three cats have gone missing in the past ten weeks. The pattern is too deliberate to be coyotes.”

Walter tells his tape recorder that something ‘unnatural’ is at work in Crow’s Woods and it turns out he’s right.

lostboy2 When Nate meets Tabitha, a girl down the street, she’s able to tell him that Walter went missing many years before and when the ‘otherworld’ starts encroaching on the real worl, Nate and Tabitha decide that they need to go into the woods to find out just what happened to Walter.

I found myself getting confused by the players – and maybe that’s because there’s this complicated world which is unveiled by talking dolls and bugs. Cool, but a perhaps too convoluted for one reading. I liked the art in The Lost Boy better than I liked the story, actually – although the story had a lot of potential.

Nevertheless, a worthy and intriguing additiong to my classroom library.

A Family Secret – Eric Heuvel

family secretEric Heuvel is a Dutch comic book artist, so A Family Secret, a story which takes place in Amsterdam during the second world war, is perhaps a topic especially close to his heart.

Jeroen is looking for items to sell at a flea market held on Dutch Queen’s Day. He decides to head over to his grandmother’s house, hoping to score some good stuff without actually have to visit with his grandmother. Snooping through the attic, he comes across a scrapbook filled with items marking the German occupation of Holland.

“I”ll tell you why I started this scrapbook,” his grandmother tells him. Jeroen is thinking: I hope this doesn’t take long. It turns out, though, that her story is riveting.

When I was twelve or thirteen I read Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl. It was one of those turning point books for me, as I am sure it was for many other young people. Here was a real teenager, coping with typical teenage problems but under extraordinary circumstances. Decades later, while visiting Amsterdam, I was priviledged to visit the house where she and her family were hidden away. I can’t begin to explain to you the feeling of stepping behind the hidden door and heading up the stairs to the annex where she spent just over two years of her short life.

A Family Secret tells another one of the, I suspect, hundreds of thousands of personal stories about that horrific time in history. Jeoren’s grandmother tells of her father, a Dutch police officer, forced to make choices she doesn’t understand until years later, about her brothers, one who joins the resistance and one who joins the Nazis and of her childhood friend, Esther, a  German Jew who fled with her parents to the safety of the Netherlands…only to discover there was no safe place for them.

The graphic novel format of this particular story makes it a perfect read for reluctant readers, but all readers should get something meaningful out of the personal choices the characters are forced to make in times of great distress.

These atrocities continue to be written about, as they should. We should never be allowed to forget.

Stitches – David Small

I am not a graphic novel aficionado, but David Small’s Stitches  has been on my tbr radar for a while. Small’s memoir of growing up in 1950’s Detroit with an older brother, a radiologist father and a bat-shit crazy mother (although the discovery of her secret life makes her a tad more sympathetic) has won a slew of accolades and was a finalist for several major awards including the National Book Award.

I can’t comment on the quality of the art – or how it compares to the art of other graphic novels because I don’t have any frame of reference. All the pictures are simple and black and white, but they were very effective drawings.

The story of David’s life begins at six. The reader learns a little bit about his family, his absent father, his cold and distant mother.  Memoirs aren’t meant to dissect an entire life; rather, this is the story of one life-altering moment. A growth on David’s neck, discovered when he is 11, must be removed. The diagnosis: a cebaceous cyst. It takes David’s parents three and a half years to organize the surgery – not just one operation, but two. When David wakes up from the second operation, he discovers that his vocal chords have been severed and he is, for all intents and purposes, mute.

I read Stitches in an afternoon. It’s a sad tale, made darker because of the author’s muted drawings. For anyone wondering whether it is possible to have a worthwhile life after a craptastic childhood, Stitches is proof-positive.