Book Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

Book Review: American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

American Born ChineseAmerican Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher: First Second Books
2006

YA, graphic novel

Second-generation child to Chinese immigrants, Jin wants to fit in at school. He perms his hair to look more like the blond curly-haired boys in his class. While Jin’s story is playing out, another story told in the form of a horrible sitcom about white teenager Danny whose Chinese cousin Chin-Kee comes for a visit. Danny is embarrassed by the way Chin-Kee dresses, talks, eats, and acts. And a third story about The Monkey King from a Chinese folktale is being woven throughout.

In the end, the three tales come together, though I don’t want to go too much into this as it is so beautifully done in the book. Jin is discouraged from showing interest in a white girl in his class because he is Chinese. This sets off an extreme need for Jin to want to distance himself from his Chinese friends, his culture, and identity. It is revealed that Danny’s story is really how Jin sees himself after this encounter. He purposefully sabotages his relationships with his friends to push them away. It turns out that one of his friends was The Monkey King in human form come to Jin to help him be true to himself.

This was an uncomfortable read, but an important one. At times I was sickened by the extreme negative racial stereotypes portrayed by Chin-Kee which, I know, was the point. Now that Yang has been named by the Library of Congress as the Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, I felt like I finally needed to get around to reading this.

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Book Review: Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson

Book Review: Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson

Lumberjanes #1Lumberjanes #1 by Noelle Stevenson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher: Boom Box!, imprint of Boom Studios

graphic novel, YA
Jo, April, Mal, Molly and Ripley are five friends at a summer camp for Hardcore Lady Types. They do the things one does at summer scout camp: learn about plants, earn badges… and fight supernatural forces at work around their camp. Wonderfully diverse in look and personality, these girls have the motto “friendship to the max” to get them through the crazy stuff they encounter… including hipster yeti!

It is peppered with references to awesome women (Holy Mae Jemison! and Where the Juliette Gordon Low have you been!)…

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… including one I am embarrassed to say I didn’t know and proud to say I looked up.

This was a super fun and hilarious read that will hopefully get readers looking things up, too.

PS: Definitely going to start saying ‘what the junk’.

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Book Review: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm

Book Review: Sunny Side Up by Jennifer Holm

Sunny Side UpSunny Side Up by Jennifer L. Holm
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher: Graphix

graphic novel, memoir, middle grade

Thanks to Graphix and Edelweiss for an advanced copy of Sunny Side Up. Ever since I heard The Yarn, a podcast by Travis Jonker and Colby Sharp all about the development of this title, I have wanted to read it.

Sunny is a teen girl visiting her grandfather in Florida. Over the course of the story, we find out she is visiting because her older brother has a serious substance abuse problem. Her parents sent her to Florida for a visit so they can seek professional help for her brother. It is a heartbreaking story about how adults gloss over things and hope that children don’t see what is really going on. Children internalize these things and feel shame, embarrassment, and disappointment. They are expected to keep these family secrets without anyone really talking to them about them.

I sympathized with Sunny. I have family members who have smoked for years and was always embarrassed to be around other kids because I always smelled like smoke. The funny thing was that they honestly thought they were hiding it from everyone. I was expected to keep this secret which wasn’t a secret at all. Now I have kids of my own. They have never seen this family member smoking before but it is only a matter of time before this is revealed. And I know exactly how they are going to feel about it. Shocked (why would they do something so bad to themselves?) and hurt (I was purposefully kept in the dark about this).

Only recently did I find out that another close family member had a serious substance abuse problem while I was growing up that I didn’t even know about. Looking back on it, I can see the signs. It seems so obvious. Maybe it was obvious to everyone else? Perhaps I was in denial? Certainly no one talked to me about it. They thought I needed to be sheltered from it… as if I wouldn’t find out later.

At one point in the story, Sunny is learning about Pompeii and how everyone was buried and preserved under the ash. Over dinner a family argument about the brother’s problem erupts and Sunny blurts out facts about the famous volcano, Mount Vesuvius. This immediately reigns the family back in and the rest of their dinner seems almost normal. Matthew Holm includes a wonderful page of panels that capture how Sunny is feeling. The top panel shows everyone laughing, passing plates around the table. The middle panel shows the word FLASH in a burst of light. The bottom panel shows them all still sitting around the table covered in ash, preserved in this state. Stuck the way she wants them to be forever.

Wow, a lot of this review has been about me… but all of that is to say that I completely related with Sunny as many teens will. It is unfortunate that so often we don’t talk about these difficult family problems. This could help someone who is struggling with a similar issue, thinks they are alone, and feels that shame or embarrassment. This is a very important book to have on your public library shelves!

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Book Review: Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson

Book Review: Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson

Ms. Marvel, Vol. 1: No NormalMs. Marvel, Vol. 1: No Normal by G. Willow Wilson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

“My name is Kamala Kahn. And I’m here to take out the trash.”

Kamala is a pretty kick ass character. Like so many teenage girls, she is struggling with anonymity from her overbearing, traditional family and what face to show the world. Only in this instance, she isn’t sure if she should shape-shift into Captain Marvel or wear a mask when she is wielding her new-found powers.

I have an embarrassing lack of knowledge of the history of Ms. Marvel which tends to be my problem with superhero comics. I don’t read them because I feel like I need to go back and start at the beginning or get there back story and then get overwhelmed by how much content there is! Most of my graphic novel experience has been memoir. But first Muslim headline character seems too important not to pick it up.

So now I have started a journey with Kamala Khan and have no excuse not to keep up with her now. This was very enjoyable and I can’t wait to see how she grows as a character.

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Book Review: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Book Review: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

SmileSmile by Raina Telgemeier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher: Graphix (Scholastic)

middle grade graphic novel memoir

Will Eisner winner

This was my first Telgemeier title and it certainly won’t be my last.

I loved hearing her on The Yarn podcast and immediately wanted to check out her work.

Smile is based on Telgemeier’s own childhood experience with extensive dental work after an unfortunate accident knocked out her two front teeth. Our main character, Raina, navigates through middle school and into high school while experiencing many levels of dental nightmares. She gets retainers with fake teeth, root canals, braces, fixes an over bite AND a cross bite, and has her entire mouth reconstructed to bring the top teeth closer together to fill the holes left by the two missing top teeth. Never having experienced even braces, I cannot imagine the pain she must have felt!

On top of all of this added anxiety, she is figuring out how the world works as one does in middle and high schools. Bad friends, boys, puberty… you know, the worst stuff ever. But the last panel shows her smiling, fixed teeth and all, for a school photo with a good group of friends showing that it is possible to get through some of the toughest years of our lives.

Telgemeier does a great job hitting all of the important topics for middle graders while telling her unfortunate dental history. And the art work is beautiful.

I can’t wait to check out more of her work and other memoir middle grade graphic novels.

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Book Review: Legends of Zita, Book 2 by Ben Hatke

Book Review: Legends of Zita, Book 2 by Ben Hatke

Legends of Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl, #2)Legends of Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher: First Second Books

2nd in the series

middle grade science fiction

Though this second in the series didn’t have quite the polish as the first in the series (what second book ever does?), Hatke still does a great job continuing the story of Zita’s adventures in space. Though taking place on other worlds and flying through space, Zita deals with some typical middle grade problems such as competitiveness and helplessness. My favorite panel is one without text where Zita gives her look-alike robot a high five.

Zita is a brave and smart heroine that I love to follow. Looking forward to the last installment in this series.

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Book Review: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Book Review: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl (Zita the Spacegirl, #1)Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Zita the Spacegirl, #1
by Ben Hatke
First Second Books

graphic novel, middle grade science fiction

There are two ways of getting home; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place. ~ G.K. Chesterton

Hatke opens with this appropriate quote from Chesterton. Two friends are ripped out of normal childhood activity after stumbling upon a device that opens a portal to another planet. They lose each other in this raucous new world and Zita spends her time trying to find her friend. She meets many new friends and makes some enemies along the way. Oh, and she and her friends save the planet.

I am actually rereading Zita right now because I recently recommended it to someone seeking out middle-grade science fiction. I read it previously and gave it four stars then. But upon rereading it I bumped it up to five stars.

This is a great read that explores science fiction themes in an nonthreatening way for young readers. There are touching moments between friends, silly sidekick characters, and I am always a sucker for a good female lead. Even better, Zita could have been ambiguously gendered and nothing would have changed. Hatke gives her depth by showing her fear and strength. He shows silence and movement beautifully in his illustrations.

I would purchase this title for a public library collection and definitely recommend it (again) for anyone seeking out middle grade science fiction!

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