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 #43: Bone #4 – The Dragonslayer by Jeff Smith

Bone_The_DragonslayerIn this book of Bone, we find Thorn, Gran’ma Ben, and Fone Bone travelling to Barrelhaven, and speaking the Inn, the regulars there are slowly changing sides from Lucius to Phoney Bone. On the way to the Inn, Gran’ma gets a bad gitchy (it’s like a paralyzing bad feeling on overdrive…complete with cartoon head bubbles) and they get attached by rat creatures and Kingdok. Kingdok puts a hurt on Gran’ma, which upsets the hell out of Thorn, so she grabs a sword and goes all ninja warrior on him and cuts off one of his arms. GO Thorn! After the battle, Thorn learns more about who she is and what’s happening regarding an uprising with the rat creatures to free the Locust. Thorn gets a bit upset by all this. Understandable. First she finds out she’s a princess, that dragons are real, and now the Locust King’s might be freed…in a ritual that Thorn might be courted for to make happen. She takes off on her own with Fone Bone hot on her heels. They make it to the Inn…after getting through the barricade Phoney had the townspeople had put up.

See, Phoney has now managed to convince the townspeople that dragons are real…and that he’s a dragonslayer. He plays this against their fears, which means they give him lots of stuff to “protect” them. His logic is that since dragons are peaceful, he’ll have an incredibly easy time protecting them and is simply raking in the dough. (Literally in some cases, since the town uses a barter system that includes livestock and food as currency.) Somehow, a random toddler rat creature finds its way into town and Fone and Smiley adopt him (and name him Bartleby…adorable!). They know that rat creatures (no matter how adorable) and people don’t mix, so they come up with a plan to return the baby rat creature to the mountain to his “people.” Meanwhile, the townspeople have decided they want some actual results (re: dead dragon) from the “dragonslayer” they’ve been paying. When Lucius tries to talk sense into them and expose Phoney as living up to his name, the way Phoney turns it back on him is a frustrating yet effective exercise in shaming and manipulation. Phoney concocts a scheme to get out of town an also bring all his new riches with him by saying he’ll go out and slay a dragon, all the while planning to make a break for it and return to Boneville.

Because it’s Phoney, this plan doesn’t go…well, as planned. Things happen, like a dragon showing up and the townspeople urging Phoney to kill him, rat creatures coming to thank Phoney for delivering the red dragon right into their hands (and tied up, to boot!), Thorn getting near her Turning (I’m guessing a coming of age thing where she comes into her powers) and coming to help fight off the rat creatures…and then everybody sees that it looks like the town is one fire because the town is under siege. Oy.

This was a good installment in the Bone series. I loved seeing Kingdok’s arm getting cut off cause i can’t stand kingdok. Meeting the baby rat creature was a definite highlight. I’m glad to see he’s in book 5. Phoney’s infuriating, as usual, and I can’t wait to see him get his comeuppance because he just has to. Seriously. Also, the appearances of the red dragon were quite humorous. I love his snarky, classy aloofness. I picture him being voiced by James Earl Jones were a Bone movie ever to be made. Jeff Smith’s art style continues to amuse and intrigue me and I look forward to the next installment of this wonderful series.

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.

Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #38: Bone #3 – Eyes of the Storm by Jeff Smith

bone-volume-3-eyes-storm-jeff-smith-paperback-cover-artThe third book in the Bone series gets darker, both in tone and literally in overall color of the story. Two of the main rat creatures are in hiding from their leader, Kingdok. Thorn’s having more nightmares and they’re longer and more detailed, giving her the better sense of her childhood, which Gran’ma Ben gets upset about because she subscribes to the Ignorance is Protected Bliss school of thought. The displaced Bones find themselves split up soon into the book. Smiley and Phoney go with Lucius into town to help work off the damage they did during the great cow race, and Fone decide to stay with Thorn. And therein the darkness begins.

Lucius and the boys get attacked by a herd of rat creatures on the road, Gran’ma Ben learns that Thorn has discovered meaning in her dreams, they get attacked by some rat creatures in the dark, and Thorn learns that she is actually a royal descendant. We learn that the mysterious hooded leader of all rat creatures answers to a strange dark matter, Lucius and Phoney make a wager about the loyalty of Lucius’ patrons and who can run a bar better. And lastly, Gran’ma Ben receives word that things have changed and they need to leave. So Thorn, Gran’ma Ben, and Fone pack up and set out to end book 3.

While this book gets a bit darker, it’s still by turns compelling and comical, and I really want to know what’s going on with the rat creatures and the hooded person, not to mention the nebulous, sentient blob. Curious, too, to see how things go down in the bar as it looked like the tide was turning for Phoney last we saw. And lastly, I can’t wait to see where Gran’ma Ben, Thorn, and Fone are headed. This story, like the others before it, is charming, mysterious, fun, and even when it gets dark, it’s still brimming with joy.