Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #32: Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks

Friends With Boys by Faith Erin Hicks
This was a great read; I loved the art, I adored the main characters, and the pacing was good. However, by the end, I was kind of confused about why it’s called Friends With Boys because the story seemed to center around the main character, Maggie, and her making friends with a boy and a girl. Granted, she does have three brothers that she learns better how to relate to over the course of the book, and I guess that could be considered becoming friends with them, but I was just expecting something other than the sweet coming-of-age tale of a teenager who’s mother used to home school her and her brothers but mysteriously ran off one day.

Another thing I wasn’t expecting? That Maggie is haunted. This storyline was interesting in many ways because it never really went into why she’s haunted and it wasn’t something that got resolved. Lots of times in stories, a ghost is still around because of “unfinished business” and while they did explore that a little, ultimately, that wound up not being resolved, which I appreciated. It also served to be a neat detail of interest for Maggie’s new friend, Lucy. The girl is punk, but not sterotypically so. She’s obsessed with maritime lore and legend, really bouncy, and slightly socially awkward, and I LOVE that about her. I greatly appreciate stories with strong, unique female characters like Maggie and Lucy.

The guys in the story were pretty varied, too, which was awesome. One of Maggie’s brother’s, Daniel, is a theater geek and a little on the large side (and constantly made me cast Jack Black in the role whenever his character made an appearance) while her other two older brothers, Zander and Lloyd, were more involved in this weird twin sibling kill-each-other thing. But it was obvious that they cared a lot about their little sister and each other. It was a realistically drawn broken but functioning family with some great friends to boot, and as such I highly recommend this graphic novel.

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Polyphonist’s #CBR5 Review #31: Amelia Rules! #5 – The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular by Jimmy Gownley

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A few years ago, I came across the Amelia Rules! series. It looked cute and a bit snarky, which I prefer my YA reading to be.  The series didn’t disappoint. When I was looking through graphic novels in my local library, I saw a new Amelia Rules! and promptly scooped it up. Thankfully, Jimmy Gownley’s still got it. Great art with varied art styles as homages to other artists, fantastically developed characters, and snarktastic and nifty writing.

This particular book centers around the titular Amelia and her friends as they navigate popularity and social interactions in elementary school. This story opens with Amelia and her sometimes friend Rhonda running from the riot they incited at school. And we’re talking full-blown, being-chasing-through-the-town-straight-up-a-tree-until-the-sun-goes-down, riot. What could be so bad that an entire student body goes against them? Well, I recommend reading the book but let’s just say it involves tweenage social pressure, an overly heavy dose of honesty, and homemade space suits. How Amelia and her friends deal with this fallout is the best part, though, and includes a hilarious fake book called The Tweenage Guide to Not Being Unpopular. There are many gems in this “book.” For instance, the chapter on makeovers alone is worth the price of admission (for a library book…yeah, I think I misused that metaphor…anyway):

Phase Two: MAKEOVERS

Face it. We live in a country where 83% of all citizens are obese and the other 17% have eating disorders. Now, I know I just made those statistics up, but doesn’t change the fact that unless you’re 60% plastic, there’s probably something wrong with the way you look.

Many people misunderstand the point of makeovers. Makeovers are not about making you look good, they are about making you look trendy. Also, they are about making you appear to be something you are not. This works to your advantage, though, as what you are must not be much, or you wouldn’t be reading this book.

If you’re still at a loss for where to start, my rule of thumb is to dress and act as age inappropriate as possible. The chart below should prove to be a useful makeover guide for the rest of your soon-to-be trend-obsessed life.

Ages 12-16 – Dress like an 18-2-year-old, act like a 25-30-year-old.
Ages 17-21 – Dress like a 25-3-year-old, act like a 12-year-old.
Ages 22-30 – Dress like a 16-year-old, act like an old Madonna song.
Ages 31-45 – Dress like a 50-year-old, read your old yearbook a lot.
Ages 46-up – Just try to stay indoors as much as possible.

Of course, it’s done way over the top to make create a clear juxtaposition of what healthy vs. unhealthy beauty and self image standards. But it’s done well and with a big dose of humor. But what scares me is that the dress guide is fairly accurate for some people. I know 30-year-olds who dress like they’re 16 and kinda act like an old Madonna song. We all do. That’s why Comics Buyer’s Guide says that Jimmy Gownley has a “a timeless manner to which readers young and old can easily relate.” There are things in here for the kids, and for the parents and relatives of the kids that will hopefully read this to/with them.  For example, one of the chapters is called “Juliana Hatfield vs. Dr. Bones McCoy.”  Not necessarily a reference you’d expect in a “normal” YA/children’s graphic novel.  Unless the graphic novel and/or the kids were AWESOME.  Like this graphic novel is.

Side note: a few years ago, when I first came across these books, my ex-husband was able to get some for free through work and when I realized we had duplicates, I sent them off to his cousin, a school teacher, mother with a daughter the perfect age for these graphic novels, and AWESOME. She thanked me profusely, saying she and her daughter greatly enjoyed them.  See?  Awesome.

ElCicco #CBR5 Review #48: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: A Novel by Sherman Alexie

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The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is Native American poet Sherman Alexie’s semi-autobiographical novel about a Spokane Indian teen from the reservation. Arnold Spirit (aka Junior) is different from the other kids on the reservation, and not just because of the condition he was born with. Arnold is different because he has hope and dares to leave the rez to attend the all-white high school in town. Filled with humor, sadness, hard truths and enduring hope, this YA novel, which won a National Book Award last year, is an inspiration for those who feel different and alone.

Arnold was born different. As an infant he had hydrocephaly, and he has had medical and speech problems through his life, problems that made him an object of bullying on the reservation. Arnold likes to read, draw (illustrations by Ellen Forney) and play basketball with his pal Rowdy, also from the rez and a really tough kid. When Arnold starts his freshman year in Wellpinit high school on the reservation, his frustration with the poor, outdated resources at the school causes an incident that ultimately leads to his decision, with his parents’ support, to attend the white kids’ public school in town. Arnold’s decision causes anger and resentment on the reservation, especially from his friend Rowdy, but others like his sister and his dad’s friend Eugene seem to understand and admire his drive to live his dreams.

The novel covers Arnold’s first year in high school, which turns out to be eventful and surprising in both good and bad ways. Arnold spends a lot of time alone and learns to handle it. He also finds some surprising allies at his new school Reardan, gains some confidence and discovers skills he hadn’t realized he possessed. One of the powerful messages of the book is the importance of parents and adults in developing young people’s self confidence. If expectations are high and the adults in your life show that they believe in you, it’s amazing what you can do.

At the same time, though, Arnold struggles with the loss of his friendship with Rowdy and a series of tragic deaths. In one chapter, Arnold addresses Tolstoy’s idea that happy families are happy the same way but sad families are sad in different ways. Arnold disagrees and the reader learns that sad statistics about alcoholism and deaths on the reservation. Arnold observes that on the reservation, they were all drunk and unhappy in the same way. Another powerful chapter deals with the basketball rematch between Wellpinit and Reardan, where Arnold has become a star. It becomes a bittersweet showdown for Rowdy and Arnold.

Alexie’s message for his YA audience (and it’s appropriate for anyone) is to make sure that you don’t let others define who you are or make you fit in some narrow category. Instead, recognize all the tribes you belong to and try to expand them. In an interview at the end of the book, Alexie says that you should be prepared to be lonely, as Arnold was when he made his decision, but Arnold found with time that the people he expected to shun him completely were part of his tribe. Arnold says, “If you let people into your life a little bit, they can be pretty damn amazing.” It’s a moving story with a great message.

Popcultureboy’s #CBR5 Review #90: More Than This by Patrick Ness

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Hard to believe that a year ago, I couldn’t have picked Ness or his books out of a line up and now I can’t get enough. His latest, a YA novel about a teenager whose suicide does not go according to plan (to say the least) is epically gorgeous and you should all read it. Full review is on my blog here

pyrajane’s review #26: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews

A NOTE FROM GREG GAINES, AUTHOR OF THIS BOOK

I have no idea how to write this stupid book.

Can I just be honest with you for one second?  This is the literal truth.  When I first started writing this book, I tried to start it with the sentence “It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.”  I genuinely thought that I could start this book that way.  I just figured, it’s a classic book-starting sentence.  But then I couldn’t even figure out how you were supposed to follow that up.  I started at the computer for an hour and it was all I could do not to have a colossal freak-out.  In desperation I tried messing with the punctuation and italicization like:

It was the best of times?  And it was the worst of times?!!

What the hell does that even mean?  Why would you even think to do that?  You wouldn’t, unless you had a fungus eating your brain, which I guess I probably have.

Me Earl and the Dying Girl

This is how long it took me to realize I was going to have to force myself not to stay up all night and read this book in one go.  I mean, come on.  This voice?  I didn’t even know who Greg was, but I was in.  Honestly, I was probably in at “I have no idea how to write this stupid book.”  So many questions!  Why is he writing it then?  Is he being forced to?  What happened that was so important or awesome or scary or whatever that he decided to sit down in front of a computer and force himself to think of words while at the same time acknowledging that he might have a brain fungus?

And then I got to page 2.

I do actually want to say one other thing before we get started with this horrifyingly inane book.  You may have already figured out that it’s about  girl who had cancer.  So there’s a chance you’re thinking “Awesome!  This is going to be a wise and insightful story about love and death and growing up.  It’s probably going to make me cry literally the entire time.  I am so fired up right now.”  If that is an accurate representation of your thoughts, you should probably try to smush this book into a garbage disposal and then run away.  Because here’s the thing: I learned absolutely nothing from Rachel’s leukemia.  In fact, I probably became stupider about life because of the whole thing.

Again, I don’t know who Greg is, but I’m in.

Read more about how awesome this book is over on my blog.  It’s one of my favorites this year.

Siege’s #CBR5 #8: It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini

Craig Gilner is fifteen, and he wants to kill himself.

He feels like he’s under pressure from every direction, and no one–not his parents, not his teachers at his pre-professional high school, not his best friend to whom everything comes easily, not the girl he has a crush on–seems to understand. The “tentacles” of responsibility and social obligation are tangling through his life and he gets to the point where he can’t even manage to sleep or keep food down. Finally, when it all gets to be too much, Craig checks himself into the psych ward to try and get some help.

I actually saw the movie version of this first, and enjoyed it quite a bit. While the film focuses entirely on Craig’s time in the mental hospital, the book adds in a lot of the time leading up to that. It definitely shows just how Craig ended losing it, but it also expands the role of his family and friends. The first half of the book was basically a lead-up to the second half, which is the time he actually spends in the hospital.

On the whole, I liked this a lot — the main character’s voice is really likeable and seemed authentic to me. I also enjoyed the secondary characters, though I felt like some of them could have been a little more three-dimensional, particularly Noelle, the love interest. She occasionally came out with some interesting dialogue, but I didn’t feel like I got a good sense of her as a person. It’s a good YA book with some interesting turns — but I actually prefer the movie. The character played in the film by Zach Galifianakis, Bobby, is much less important in the book, and I missed him. Craig needed a foil, which the book doesn’t necessarily provide.

Caitlin’s #CBR5 #56: Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell

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Here is the newest book from Rainbow Rowell, who writes much better than I’d expect from someone whose name is Rainbow. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that name!) This one focuses on new college student Cath. She is away from home for the first time, and separated from her twin sister Wren. Wren goes out drinking with her new roommate, while Cath is an introvert who spends her weekends writing fanfiction for the Simon Snow series.

Once again, Rowell has written a funny and charming YA book. I love Cath, because she is like me, but my favorite character was Levi. He has the best lines. Read this book, it’s amazing.

You can read my full review here.