Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #46: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

americanbornchineseLike Tina’s Mouth: An Existential Comic Diary by Keshni Kashyap and illustrated by Mari Araki (of which you can see my review here), this YA graphic novel focuses around one teen’s life in the United States from the perspective of their culture. Tina, the protagonist in Tina’s Mouth, was of Indian descent and in American Born Chinese (you might’ve guessed already by now) the main character, Jin, was of Chinese lineage. Both are born and raised in the US, but their culture and people’s perception of them still factor heavily in their every day lives.

The book has three different sections and jumps back and forth between them. The first part is an inter-weaving parable about where various gods (most specifically the Monkey King) came from, what they went through, and why in the Chinese tradition. The second is from Jin’s pov as he recounts his parents’ opinions on things (and their emphasis on doing well in school, to the exclusion of a social life all the way through college) and his time in school and with friends. The third is a TV show called “Everyone Ruvs Chin-Kee”. If you couldn’t tell by the title, it’s incredibly offensive and, I think, serves to highlight some of the ugly racism that pervades our culture.

A common thread that runs through all three stories is the desire to belong.  How it can blind you, make you weaker, meaner, forget your roots and family.  The Monkey King wants power and respect and works to get faster, smarter, more versatile and skilled.  But in the end, he still can get trapped under a pile of rocks by a higher god.  Jin wants little more than to fit in in school so he turns his back on things that are part of his heritage and wants only to look “normal” and be liked.  Danny, the lead character in the offensive TV show, is constantly embarrassed by his cousin Chin-Kee’s “antics” when in reality, Chin-Kee is an overblown stereotype but who is also being true to himself and enjoying life to the fullest.  

Along the way, each character learns something about being true to themselves, the power that they have over their own life, and the importance of family and friends.  It’s a well-drawn, well-written coming-of-age story that I think should be on required reading lists.



Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #45: Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Legends-of-Zita-the-SpacegirlI came across this graphic novel while just perusing the new graphic novel selections at my local library. The art style and colors were fun, and I’m a fan of any books that feature a plucky, strong, female heroine. Judging by the cover, with Zita in a black and white space costume with a big “Z” emblazoned on the front and a green patchwork cloak, and surrounded by various adorable and evil creatures, I’d say this book was right up my alley. The only thing I wished I’d known going in was that it was technically the second in a (so far) three part series about Zita. But while the book did make mention of Zita’s previous adventures, I don’t think reading the first book was necessary because this one stands pretty well on its own.

The story is basically about an Earth girl named Zita who somehow (I guess that was probably covered in book one) became a super hero spacegirl for saving a planet called Scriptorius. On a triumphant space tour, a sad, broken little clonebot called an Imprint-o-tron, does some doppleganger robot magic to look like Zita. The Real Zita welcomes this so she can sneak off and be normal for a little bit. So while she sends FakeZita to take her place at a meet n greet, RealZita mysteriously gets tickets to the circus which she attends with her giant mouse friend named Mouse. There she sees the awesomeness that is Lady Madrigal. However, nearby, the imprint-o-tronZita is beginning to get her own ideas and wants to stay Zita, so she manages to boot the RealZita from her ship as it leaves the current planet and take her place on the tour. RealZita, a reluctant heroine, knows that she has to get back to her ship if she has any hope of getting home eventually.

Add to this that these stick figure Cousin It creatures have asked FakeZita to save their planet, and that RealZita’s guardian Piper and some of her travelling companions can kind of tell they’re not dealing with the right Zita, and that the space government is after RealZita because she stole a ship to go after her real ship and you’ve got one helluva madcap space adventure!

I love the way it’s drawn, the assorted fantastical robot and space creatures, but my favorites are Zita, Madrigal, and Piper. I very much want to read more about this whole crew. In the end, FakeZita sacrifices herself to help the stick figure Cousin It clan’s planet by defending it from being attacked by these…evil hearts? Yeah, that happened. And it was adorable.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #44: Bone #5 – Rock Jaw: Master of the Eastern Border by Jeff Smith

Bone_Rock_JawThis installment of Bone begins with Smiley and Fone Bone on their trek to bring the baby rat creature to the mountains to reunite him with his clan of stupid, stupid rat creatures. Which I hate, because I want them to keep the rat cub because they could raise him to be awesome instead of the aforementioned stupid, stupid. (I’m not fond of the phrase, per se; it’s a “thing” in the book that the rat creatures make some really questionable choices and get called “stupid, stupid rat creatures” on occasion.) But it makes sense that they should probably get him back to his own people (I guess) and Jeff Smith thinks so, too, so we begin the book there. Also, Phoney has named him Bartleby. Because adorable.

So the boys are running out of food on the trail to the mountains and while taking a nap (well, Smiley and Bartleby take a nap while Fone is reading his favorite book, Moby Dick, because of course.) the two quiche lovin’ rat creatures ambush them. While running from them, they run right into Roque Ja, the mountain lion Master of the Eastern Border. For the first few pages, I thought his mannerisms and speech made him seem remarkably similar in flavor to the dragon. Dry, sly, witty. But it quickly turns out that Roque Ja (or Rock Jaw, as the Bones start calling him) is not on their side. He’s on his side.

Meanwhile, elsewhere the possum kids are joined by the orphan menagerie (as I like to call ’em) Roderick and some forest animal kids whose parents were eaten by rat creatures. Sad. They try to help the Bones and Bartleby get away from Rock Jaw and wind up in a cave that turns out to be an old rat creature temple. Weird. They get ambushed again by the two rat creatures who then all get ambushed by Kingdok, and a chase ensues. However, we learn more about the magic of these parts (read: they’re on a ghost circle) and Kingdok may’ve been a locust hallucination. Y’know, like you do.

Once this all resolves, the rat creatures seem to be making nice and travelling with this madcap little brigade of travellers. They agree, for the sake of working together, to call a temporary halt to eating small mammals like the band of animal kids that make up a good 50% of their group. You know this can’t last long, but it’s heart warming to see. One of my favorite parts was when they decide to start moving again and Smiley sticks his head in one of the rat creature’s mouths saying, “Checking for small mammals. Anybody in there?” Made me giggle.

But danger isn’t far behind, this time in the form of Rock Jaw again. But then danger gets even more dangier when Kingdok shows up again. It’s unclear whether he’s real or a locust hallucination, but it seems he’s real because he and Rock Jaw are talking like Rock Jaw was planning to turn over the group to Kingdok. I’m sure he was thinking there’d be a reward, but turns out when you deal dirty with crooks you gets crooked. Kingdok lunges at Rock Jaw, the merry band of misfits tries to make a run for it…but they’re two short because the rat creatures have reverted back to their true nature and turned on them. Ruh roh. End scene. Er, book.

While there were some amusing parts, and I really love Bartleby and the orphan menagerie, I missed Thorn and the Red Dragon in this one. I kept wondering what was going on with them. I’m sure we’ll get back to them in the 6th book, but being an entire book without them felt weird. However, I loved seeing the rat creatures working with instead of against the main characters for once. I don’t know why, but I keep thinking they’d make good allies. Maybe it’ll go that way eventually. I look forward to finding out.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #41: Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield

tyrannyAs someone who’s dealt with various eating disorders throughout her life, Tyranny grabbed my attention right away. To the best of my knowledge, there aren’t many (if any) graphic novels out there about eating disorders and this one brings the disorder itself to “life” in the form of a manic doodle being named, appropriately, Tyranny.

While I’ve never had the body dismorphia, anorexia, bulimia, and tremendous pull to be thin that the author battled, she shows us how pervasive messages about being thing are in our culture, in our families, in our workplace, in our friendships. It’s a slim, quick read, but it packs a punch through a hip, engaging drawing style (and garishly frightening style when it comes to the Tyranny illustrations) and a stark, brave depiction of the author’s battle under the anorexic and bulimic regime of Tyranny.

One part that hit me harder than I expected was when the author makes friends with a model named Cynthia, who is so pressured to be thinner that she winds up dying from complications of bulimia. In a particularly heart-wrenching set of panels, Cynthia tells Fairfield how her hair is falling out, her teeth are eroding, and she can’t stop throwing up even when she doesn’t want to. This was roughly a week or so before Cynthia wound up going into the hospital and then dying.

Throughout the book, Tyranny, a squiggle-drawn, demeaning creature keeps telling Lesley that she’s no good, she’s too fat, she shouldn’t eat, and other dangerous thoughts. It’s fascinating to see one person’s embodiment of that negative voice in their head and I’d have to say that Tyranny sure lives up to his/her name. The best part of the book, though, was when the author sought treatment for her disorders in an attempt to reclaim her life. The last three pages, when Tyranny is told that their reign is over and they need to go away, is fantastic. Watching Tyranny unravel is a beautiful thing.

Jael’s #CBR #5: The Story of My Face by Kathy Page

After much procrastinating, I’m finally going to get my reviews done.                                                        Image

The Story of My Face is the story of the past and present of Natalie Baron.  When she was thirteen, she became involved with a religious sect that followed the teachings of Thomas Envall.  Neglected by her mother, Natalie grows close to Barbara and her family, who invite her to an Envallist retreat.  Natalie is clearly an outsider there and her presence leads to conflict and division amongst the church members.  It also stirs up painful memories for Barbara, which eventually lead to the tragedy that disfigured Natalie’s face.

As an adult Natalie becomes a lecturer in religious history.  She goes to the birthplace of Envallism in Finland, to research Thomas Envall.  There is still tension between Natalie and the Envallists, who remember the trouble that was caused in the past.

I was interested in this book as I studied religion and am interested in stories about extreme sects.  And it partially takes place in Finland, which you don’t get in many books.  I was curious to find out what had happened to Natalie’s face, and why she had such an uncomfortable relationship with the Envallists.  The tension is slowly built throughout the book until everything finally unravels at the end.

I wish the author had gone into some more detail about a few things.  When Natalie is thirteen, she just walks up to Barbara off the street, and is suddenly like part of their family.  I thought it happened too quick, and I re-read that part to make sure I hadn’t missed anything that explained why she went to them or why they were so accepting of her.  There weren’t many details about what the Envallists believe, other than that they ban pictures.  There is also a seduction that comes out of nowhere.  Despite these minor complaints, I did enjoy the book.

3 stars

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #30: Amulet #2 – The Stonekeeper’s Curse by Kazu Kibiuchi

In volume two, Em and Navin are in their great-grandfather’s house…which is also their mode of transportation. (I want a house that can walk!) Navin is learning to drive the house and everyone is worried about Em and Navin’s mom (whom they were able to save from the freaky octomonster – the “arachnopod”) because in the rescue, she was stung by the arachnopod. They need to take her to the City of Kanalis to see a doctor so they can know how to heal her. Once they do, they’re sent off to the edge of Demon’s Head Mountain (that sounds like a warm and fuzzy place to go) to get fruit from the Gadoba tree.

While at the Doctor’s, the house gets raided because apparently the elves in this story aren’t as nice as in Tolkien’s world. They’re after the new Stonekeeper (what the keeper of the amulet is called) and in the raid, Em decides it’s best if she and Navin split up. Emily tells Navin to stay with their mother while Emily and new fox friend Leon head to get the Gadoba fruit. The trees reminded me of the Ents from Lord of the Rings, which was awesome.

This book is basically the second installation of a this new world, Em and Navin coming into their own, fighting bad guys, and trying to decide what’s right on the fly without adult supervision and with the advice of sentient mechanical beings and anthropomorphic animals. The elves aren’t making it easy to fight back, but so far Em and Navin have emerged victorious. Can’t wait for book 3!

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #29: Amulet #1 – The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi

Okay, “they” say you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover…but this book had this perplexed and slightly scared pink bunny on the cover next to two kids and an amulet. Color me intrigued. Thankfully, the book lived up the cool cover and then went beyond that coolness to deliver an engaging adventure with Emily, her little brother Navin, and their mom.

The book opens with a heartbreaking family tragedy and even though I’d just been introduced to Emily’s dad, losing him within the first 10 pages was horrible. This terrible event cause Emily’s mom to pack up her two kids and move to their great-grandfather’s house. It becomes clear quickly that this is not just any house. It’s too simple to say it’s haunted, but there are otherworldly inhabitants. While poking around, Emily stumbles upon an amulet. Which, we later find out, can talk and has a spirit and mind (and agenda, it would seem) of its own.

Soon, Exciting (and Scary) Things Happen, and Emily’s mom gets taken by a large deranged octopus looking creature and Emily and Navin go after her to save her. In the process, they meet Miskit (the bunny from the cover!) and the rest of their great-grandfather’s mechanical coterie, who help Em and Navin get their mom back. Along the way, they learn they’re in a different world, with different rules, and a whole political structure that’s currently in a state of unrest. Most of this book is laying the groundwork for this world and Kazu Kibiuchi does it beautifully.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #26: Bayou v. 2 by Jeremy Love

Bayou-v-2In Bayou v. 2, we learn more about Lee’s mother through a dream that Lee has about her and later on in the book, we learn even more about how all the people (and anthropomorphic animals) are tied into her mother’s story. Or maybe it’s how her mother was tied into their story. Either way, there’s much more going on in the bayou than a weird monster kidnapping little Lee’s white friend Lily.

Again, the style is frequently creepy but also sumptuous and inviting. You want to know who these talking animals on the chain gang are. Why are they on a chain gang and why does one not want to be freed? One of my favorite parts of the book was when Lee and Bayou go to a juke joint looking for answers and a large, adult bear hits on ten year old Lee. His wife bursts in with a surprising exclamation of, “REVEREND BEAR!” So much for men of the cloth. And it just gets worse when the bear tells his irate, jealous wife that Lee came onto him. AND SHE BELIEVES HER HUSBAND. She turns to Lee, calling her a heifer and asking her if she was trying to steal her husband. It’s ludicrous, but you know things like this have happened before in dive bars before and this type of visceral depiction just brought it all home. Shortly thereafter, the juke joint gets hit by a magical tsunami that was meant to wash Lee down to a creature who would devour her, and Reverend Bear turns his philandering scumbaggery into him being the new Noah sent to lead the patrons of the dive bar through the floods. When his wife hits him and tells him to, “shut the hell up, heathen!” I totally laughed out loud.

Through it all, Bayou is there to protect Lee as she gets closer to finding out just what it was that took her friend and how it fits into a much larger world than she ever could’ve imagined. The ending of the second book, though, finds her jumping a train after witnessing the reality of Jim Crows attacking her beloved Bayou. The way symbolism and history come to life in these books is rather amazing. Can’t wait to read volumes 3 and 4.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #25: Bayou v.1 by Jeremy Love

Bayou-v-1This is a gorgeous and disturbing graphic novel that deals with race relations in the deep South by giving the reader a heap of magic to both temper and incite discomfort. In the beginning of this first volume, we’re introduced to little ten year old Lee as she’s tromping through the bayou because “Sheriff Somerset paid [her] and [her] daddy three dollars to fish Billy Glass out the bayou.” Billy was a young black boy, not much older than Lee. We don’t find out what brought him to the bottom of the bayou until v. 2 (which is my next review), but given the deep South and Lee’s misgivings, you can guess.

Shortly after this happens, we’re introduced to Lee’s friend, a little white girl named Lily. While the girls are playing, a hand from the bayou snatches the necklace right off her neck and disappears. Lily is beside herself, knowing her mother will punish her for losing her necklace. She tries to get Lee to help her find it, but Lee has to go home when she hears her father calling. Lily, not knowing what else to do, lies to her mother and tells her that Lee stole her locket. The police come and and it’s decided that Lee’s going to work off the locket “she stole” because there’s no denying a white woman’s claim against a little black girl. You’d think life would go back to normal then. And it might’ve, if the man the bayou hand belonged to didn’t come back while Lily and Lee were looking for the necklace and snatch Lily. The people in town freak and think Lee’s father kidnapped and hurt Lily, so they arrest him and naturally (for this setting) talk of lynching starts right up.

And so ten year old Lee goes on a mission to find the people who will help her get her friend back from the crazy bayou monster that stole her, and thereby clear her daddy’s name. While on her hourney, Lee meets Bayou, a gentle monster that wants to help Lee. He’s creepy, with his weirdly dead-but-alive eyes, but he’s also genuinely sweet and his interactions with Lee are very sweet. He’s kind of like Swamp Thing meets Forrest Gump, cause he’s also a little slow. The journey just gets underway in the first book as Lee seeks out those who will help her find the thing that stole her friend, but also might help her understand what happened to her family and the world around her.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #23: French Milk by Lucy Knisley

french milk - Lucy Knisley
A few years ago, a friend recommended I check out Lucy Knisley’s work and it was something that went in my mental bank for after then. Which turned into now, since my library had a copy and I’ve been on the hunt for some good graphic novels. This one is not your typical story-based graphic novel, but more of a travel diary told through narration, photos, and illustrations by the author.

In January of 2007, the Lucy and her mom spent a month in Paris to celebrate her mom’s 50th birthday and get some good mother/daughter bonding in. (Man, I want to go to Paris to celebrate a big birthday like that. I’d love to go with my sister, because that would be AWESOME.) Since the author is also an artist, she decided to keep a journal of her time just before and in Paris. The title of the book (reference to actual milk that Lucy almost obsessive feelings for, but that doesn’t really show up until near the end of the book) should be a clear indication that there would be a heavy emphasis on food and drink. Much of the entries recorded what the Lucy and her mom ate and drank, and where they did so.

The entries that weren’t focused on food and drink talked about the shopping they did at boutiques and flea markets they hit, the art museums (oh god, I want to visit Paris for the museums alone!) they went to (and Lucy includes sketches of her favorite works of art, which was cool in that meta way), and in general their experiences while there. Peppered throughout all this were some photos that either Lucy or her mom took, some background of various important friends and family, and the artist’s general struggle as she grows and figures out her place in the world while taking a holiday abroad.

Fans of travel journals, Paris, art, and food will more than likely appreciate Lucy’s fun style and interesting take on the city and it’s offerings (including, of course, French milk). I know I did.