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.

 

 

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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

Amuler-v-2-thestonekeeperscurse
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

amulet-v-1-thestonekeeper
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.