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Book Review: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Publisher’s description

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:

Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride—or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia—the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances—one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend? Jen Wang weaves an exuberantly romantic tale of identity, young love, art, and family. A fairy tale for any age, The Prince and the Dressmaker will steal your heart.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

princeI so enjoyed this graphic novel.

Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium doesn’t always feel like a prince. Some days, he looks at himself in the mirror, wearing his traditional “boy” clothes, and feels just fine. Other days, that doesn’t feel right at all. He’d rather wear dresses and feel like a princess. He’s completely uninterested in finding a wife (something his parents are fixated on). He’s 16 and harboring this secret—he doesn’t exactly feel ready for a relationship, where he’d likely need to reveal parts of himself that he isn’t yet ready to. Instead, he hangs with his new seamstress (and new best friend) Frances, who barely blinks when she learns her new client is a prince wanting to wear dresses. She’s just excited to make some wild designs and maybe be discovered. Sebastian dons her dresses and enjoys a nightlife as the popular, trend-setting Lady Crystallia. He appears happier than he’s ever been, but he still has to deal with the fact that his parents are on a wife-hunt and that he’s living a secret life. When Frances’s designs do get her noticed, she finds herself possibly getting the break of a lifetime. But pursuing her dreams may mean Lady Crystallia’s real identity getting out, a risk that Sebastian can’t take.

Sebastian’s story is, at times, difficult to read. Living a secret life, hiding who he is, is both heartbreaking and exhausting. He’s unhappy and lives in fear. He is so certain he won’t be accepted. The story also includes a pretty unpleasant scene of him being outed. That said, it’s important to know that Sebastian is eventually embraced and accepted by his family and friends, even once they know the truth. The scene surrounding this moment, a fashion show, is pretty epic. Readers who may feel some of the same self-loathing, secrecy, and fear especially need to see this happy resolution. Wang’s gorgeous artwork is well suited to depict a story filled with decadence and high fashion. The characters are so expressive and dynamic—we see Sebastian absolutely come live as his alter ego, Lady Crystallia, and generally appear so miserable when he’s out of those beautiful dresses. Though their relationship has some growing pains, the supportive and loving friendship between Frances and Sebastian is lovely. Fans of graphic novels will be drawn in by the lush and lively art. The strong storytelling and fantastic characters will keep readers engaged, making sure they pay attention to all of the details in the art that add to the story. Though Sebastian’s road to being able to show his real self isn’t easy, it’s wonderful to see him loved, embraced, and supported in the end. Let’s hear it for happy endings! 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626723634
Publisher: First Second
Publication date: 02/13/2018

Collecting Comics: February 2018 by Ally Watkins

Happy February! Here are some comics and graphic novels that your teens and tweens will be asking for this month.

collectingcomics

Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, illustrated by Emily Carroll (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, February 6). This is a graphic novel adaptation of the award-winning novel Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Melinda is working through something that happened to her over the summer, but no one will talk to her, much less listen to her after she got a party busted up by the cops. Through her work on an art project, she starts to come to terms with what happened to her. Carroll is an Eisner-award winning illustrator.

speakgraphicnovel

Scales & Scoundrels Volume 1: Into the Dragon’s Maw by Sebastian Girner, illustrated by Galaad (Image, February 13). Treasure hunter Luvander is tired of being a penniless adventurer, so she sets off on a journey to a fabled labyrinth of a dungeon, at the end of which is rumored to have endless wealth…or certain doom. Along the way, she collects a merry band of companions, each of whom have their own motives and secrets. Collects issues #1-#5 of the comic series.

The Backstagers, Vol. 2 by James Tynion IV, illustrated by Ryan Sygh (BOOM! Box, February 13). Jory and the rest of the Backstagers only want to put on the best show possible, but that’s hard when weird things are happening backstage. When an actor goes missing, the Backstagers must band together and keep the balance of the theatre! Collects issues #5-#8 of the comic series.

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (First Second, February 13). Frances is a dressmaker pulled into a dazzling world–making dresses for the Crown Prince Sebastian of Belgium as he spends his nights dazzling Paris as Lady Crystallia! But Frances is Sebastian’s secret, which means she can’t pursue her own dreams. Will they ever be realized?

Princeless: Raven the Pirate Princess Book 4: Two Ships in the Night by Jeremy Whitley, illustrated by Xenia Pamfil (Action Lab Entertainment, February 20).  A night of revelry takes a sharp turn and Raven and her crew are taken off guard. Can they fight off invaders and keep their ship on course?

Lumberjanes, Vol. 8 by Shannon Waters and Kat Leyh, illustrated by Ayme Sotuyo (BOOM! Box, February 20). The Roanoke cabin Lumberjanes are distressed to find that their Zodiac cabin pals have all been turned to stone! Can they find out what caused it without looking the wrong thing in the eye and turning to stone themselves?

Cucumber Quest: The Ripple Kingdom by Gigi D.G. (First Second, February 27). After a surprise attack at sea, Cucumber finds himself in the Ripple Kingdom, where a giant terrible squid monster is holding his friends hostage! Can he save them?

Book Review: Is This Guy For Real?: The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman by Box Brown

Publisher’s description

Comedian and performer Andy Kaufman’s resume was impressive—a popular role on the beloved sitcom Taxi, a high-profile stand-up career, and a surprisingly successful stint in professional wrestling. Although he was by all accounts a sensitive and thoughtful person, he’s ironically best remembered for his various contemptible personas, which were so committed and so convincing that all but his closest family and friends were completely taken in.

Why would someone so gentle-natured and sensitive build an entire career seeking the hatred of his audience? What drives a performer to solicit that reaction? With the same nuance and sympathy with which he approached Andre the Giant in his 2014 biography, graphic novelist Box Brown takes on the complex and often hilarious life of Andy Kaufman.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

is this guyLast May, Box Brown was at Teen Lit Con, an amazing event I am lucky enough to keep getting asked to speak at. My son, a huge fan of comics/graphic novels, and I went to Brown’s session, which was when I first heard about this book on Kaufman. I have been desperately waiting for it ever since. (Side note: If you haven’t read any of Brown’s books, you should fix that. His book on Andre the Giant was phenomenal.)

 

I had a pretty good working knowledge of Kaufman going into this. At 40, I was too young to witness any of Kaufman’s actual fame/antics, but I certainly grew up seeing lots of reruns of things with him and hearing about his personas and ways of messing with people (and, of course, wondering, like everyone else, if maybe he faked his death). Brown takes us back to Kaufman’s youth, showing his interest in Mighty Mouse, Elvis, and wrestling. Kaufman loved to imitate his heroes and always rooted for the bad guy. We see how he became a party entertainer at a young age, his interest in drumming, and his growing interest in subverting expectations and screwing with reality. Kaufman believed in being in character offstage as well, a move that helped him confuse the heck out of people who eventually could never tell if he was putting on an act or being serious. Much of the story is focused on Kaufman’s wrestling career, with Brown taking us through Kaufman arch-nemesis Jerry Lawler’s backstory, too. Throughout it all, we see Kaufman as not just a larger-than-life character who wrestled women and befuddled viewers, but as a sensitive guy into yoga and transcendental meditation. Kaufman, who blurred reality and enjoyed blowing people’s minds, loved playing the negative, hated characters. It was just more interesting to him.

 

Fans of the absurd will enjoy this book, whether they’ve heard of Kaufman or not. For an older audience, for anyone who looks at this and can immediately picture Kaufman lip-syncing to the Mighty Mouse theme, or Tony Clifton, or Latka Gravis, this look at Kaufman will be a real treat. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626723160
Publisher: First Second
Publication date: 02/06/2018

Book Review: I Love This Part by Tillie Walden

Publisher’s description

Two girls in a small town in the USA kill time together as they try to get through their days at school.

They watch videos, share earbuds as they play each other songs and exchange their stories. In the process they form a deep connection and an unexpected relationship begins to develop.

In her follow up to the critically acclaimed The End of Summer, Tillie Walden tells the story of a small love that can make you feel like the biggest thing around, and how it’s possible to find another person who understands you when you thought no one could.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

love this partI was sent this by Avery Hill Publishing, in the UK. This is a hardcover rerelease of Walden’s 2015 book. It’s still available in the US in paperback and comes out in March in hardcover.

This book will take you all of five minutes to read, but the art is lovely and the brief story is heartbreaking. The little summary up there tells you all there is to know about the sparse story. While the narrative is spare, the expansive art, full of cities and outdoor landscapes and open spaces, contributes so much to the tone and feel of this short look at love and heartbreak. This is the kind of book that, for older readers, will make you think of breathtaking and devastating first love—how it encompassed everything, how every connection felt so significant, and how it could hurt like nothing you could imagine. Younger readers experiencing their first crush or heartbreak will see themselves reflected in this brief, beautiful look at love. Emotionally resonant despite its brevity. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781910395325
Publisher: Avery Hill Publishing
Publication date: 03/01/2018

Book Review: I Am Alfonso Jones by Tony Medina, Stacey Robinson, and John Jennings

Publisher’s description

alfonsoAlfonso Jones can’t wait to play the role of Hamlet in his school’s hip-hop rendition of the classic Shakespearean play. He also wants to let his best friend, Danetta, know how he really feels about her. But as he is buying his first suit, an off-duty police officer mistakes a clothes hanger for a gun, and he shoots Alfonso.

When Alfonso wakes up in the afterlife, he’s on a ghost train guided by well-known victims of police shootings, who teach him what he needs to know about this subterranean spiritual world. Meanwhile, Alfonso’s family and friends struggle with their grief and seek justice for Alfonso in the streets. As they confront their new realities, both Alfonso and those he loves realize the work that lies ahead in the fight for justice.

In the first graphic novel for young readers to focus on police brutality and the Black Lives Matter movement, as in Hamlet, the dead shall speak—and the living yield even more surprises.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

What a phenomenal graphic novel. I was completely wrapped up in the world of Alfonso and the ancestors for this story, alternately cheering for activism and hope and crying for injustice and discouragement.

Alfonso is feeling pretty good about life. He loves playing his trumpet, acting, attending his arts high school, being a bike messenger, and flirting with Danetta. The best thing in his life, though, is that his father, who has been incarcerated Alfonso’s entire life, is being released, finally exonerated of a crime he did not commit. But while out shopping for a suit to wear to meet his father, Alfonso is shot and killed by a white off-duty cop. Once dead, Alfonso joins a group of ghosts on a train. These ghosts are the ancestors who are seeking justice and rest. Alfonso learns about their lives and the ways they were killed by police while also going to see scenes from his past as well as what he’s missing in the present. Alfonso is able to see how his parents are coping, to follow the white police officer who killed him, and to see how his name lives on in the media, the justice system, and the many large protests that spring up after his death. An Ancestors Wall at the end lists the names of victims of police violence. This look at the prison industrial complex, the Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, and the various systems of violence and oppression that have always existed in this country is devastating and important. 

 

ISBN-13: 9781620142639
Publisher: Lee & Low Books, Inc.
Publication date: 10/15/2017

Book Review: Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani

Publisher’s description

pashminaPriyanka Das has so many unanswered questions: Why did her mother abandon her home in India years ago? What was it like there? And most importantly, who is her father, and why did her mom leave him behind? But Pri’s mom avoids these questions—the topic of India is permanently closed.

For Pri, her mother’s homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew.

In this heartwarming graphic novel debut, Nidhi Chanani weaves a tale about the hardship and self-discovery that is born from juggling two cultures and two worlds.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

This had been on my TBR since I first saw it and then I bumped it up when I started looking for books to read with the fifth grade girls’ book club, as many of the girls are Indian-American. I absolutely loved this book. Priyanka, who prefers to go by Pri, is a teenager living with her single mother. She doesn’t know much about her mother’s past. She doesn’t know anything about her father, about why her mother left India and refuses to ever go back, or about why she no longer speaks to her sister. But when Pri discovers a magical pashmina, everything begins to change. Suddenly, Pri is transported to India, where two animals take her on very picture perfect tourist guide stops around India. A shadow seems to be following her, beckoning to her. When Pri takes the pashmina off, that world evaporates and she’s back at home in America. The distinction between these two worlds and experiences is very effectively portrayed through vibrant colors in India and dull purples for her life at home. An unexpected phone call from her aunt sends her on a real-life trip to India, where Priyanka begins to learn about her mother’s past and put together the pieces that have always felt missing.

 

This is a wonderful story of searching and longing—a story of discovery, secrets, living in two cultures, and women’s choices and pressures. Readers 10 and up will enjoy this adventurous and thoughtful look at truth and family. Beautifully done. 

 

ISBN-13: 9781626720879
Publisher: First Second
Publication date: 10/03/2017

Book Review: Piper by Jay Asher, Jessica Freeburg, and Jeff Stokely

Publisher’s description

piperLong ago, in a small village in the middle of a deep, dark forest, there lived a lonely, deaf girl named Maggie. Shunned by her village because of her disability, her only comfort comes from her vivid imagination. Maggie has a gift for inventing stories and dreams of one day finding her fairy-tale love.

When Maggie meets the mysterious Piper, it seems that all her wishes are coming true. Spellbound, Maggie falls hard for him and plunges headfirst into his magical world. But as she grows closer to the Piper, Maggie discovers that he has a dark side.

The boy of Maggie’s dreams might just turn out to be her worst nightmare…

With striking illustrations from Eisner-nominated artist Jeff Stokely, mixed with Jessica Freeburg’s work on historic and legendary horrors, Piper is an exciting new departure for Jay Asher that deftly touches on the same themes of truth, guilt, and redemption that made Thirteen Reasons Why a beloved bestseller.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

My first thought when I finished this was that I want someone to write about disability in this book. There are interesting things going on with Maggie, who is deaf and can read lips (even, apparently, without always looking at the person, if the art is to be believed), and the deaf rat, and “the boy with the crippled leg,” the only child to escape the piper. That person is not me, because I don’t think I have the insight to fully explore that topic, but someone should look at this.

In Hameln, rats are destroying the grain harvest and storage as well as biting residents and spreading disease. The local rat catcher can’t get a handle on it, so when a stranger appears who claims to be able to play music and control the animals, the town reluctantly agrees to his terms in hopes of finally being rid of the rats. The piper and Maggie, a deaf girl used to being tormented, form a bond. He shares a bit with her about how to find a common song to control creatures. He’s interested in accountability, justice, and consequences. Maggie believes in forgiveness, acceptance, and finding the value in everyone. While the piper eventually does what he says he will do, the town’s leaders are always wondering if he’s a fraud, or has some kind of dark magic, or brought the scourge on himself. Fed up with their reluctance to pay to him, the piper eventually leads the children out of town, positioning Maggie to become the new story’s hero.

This dark story of trust, control, and revenge is a quick read with great illustrations that add so much to the story. Readers unfamiliar with the Pied Piper story will be particularly engaged in this tale, curious to see where it goes. A good addition for reluctant readers and graphic novel fans. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780448493664
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/31/2017

Book Review: Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.

Publisher’s description

ra6What happens when an evil queen gets her hands on an ancient force of destruction?

World domination, obviously.

The seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they’ll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight.

Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour?

Sure, why not?

Adapted from the popular webcomic series, Cucumber Quest, The Doughnut Kingdom is the first graphic novel of a clever, adorable, and hilarious four-volume heroic adventure that is sure to make you hungry for sweets and action.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

cucumber questThe colors in this book are just bonkers. So bright and dramatic and thematic. I can picture this flying off the shelves simply because of how vibrant and dynamic the illustrations are.

Cucumber just wants to go to school, but suddenly his father NEEDS him to go on a big, important mission. Cucumber doesn’t want to and is not equipped to. Good thing he has a precocious and skilled little sister who doesn’t listen to everyone saying that girls and little sisters are not heroes of stories. Almond sure is. Cucumber, Almond, and some new friends they make along the way go off in search of certain items and people, and while practical Cucumber finds a way very early on to just be done with the whole scenario, Almond knows the fun is in the quest. The joyful illustrations of confectionery lands and characters add so much to this whimsical story of adventure. Good fun.

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626728325
Publisher: First Second
Publication date: 10/10/2017
Series: Cucumber Quest Series , #1

Book Review: Cast No Shadow by Nick Tapalansky and Anissa Espinosa

Publisher’s description

ra6Greg has lived in Lancaster his whole life. The town’s always had its quirks, and being born without a shadow means he’s counted among them. When Greg discovers an old mansion in the woods just outside of town, he didn’t expect to meet a smart, beautiful, funny, and…very dead teenaged girl named Eleanor.

Yeah. He’s in love with a ghost.

And before he knows what’s happening, Greg finds himself at the wrong end of a history lesson when the town’s past, and his own, threaten to pull the two of them apart permanently!

From acclaimed comics writer Nick Tapalansky and phenomenal newcomer artist Anissa Espinosa, Cast No Shadow is a teen romance with humor and heart.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

cast noI always love books from First Second, but this one was not nearly as engaging as I had hoped it would be. The premise is cool—boy with no shadow falls in love with girl ghost only he can see—but the execution is lacking. A lot of things are kind of glossed over entirely or not fleshed out enough to really make an impact. Greg, who has no shadow, is best friends with Layla, who enjoys punching people. When she starts to date a boy Greg loathes, the two grow apart a bit. He can’t understand how she can like that guy and Layla thinks that Greg has just made up a ghost girlfriend (Eleanor) out of jealousy. Greg is also coping with his feelings about his dad’s girlfriend moving in. A ghost girlfriend whom Greg falls into insta-love with seems to be just the ticket to help him feel less crappy, but when they kiss, his shadow pops out and escapes, bringing chaos to Greg’s life and the town at large. Greg has to figure out how to stop his shadow and how to help Eleanor move on—to wherever it is she needs to go.

 

I definitely did not need the “this house was built on an Indian burial ground!” part of the story, even if the characters call out racist and inaccurate depictions when dealing with this fact. The inclusion of the “magical” burial ground is lazy, offensive, and nearly enough to make me want to skip this book altogether. 

 

While I dug the art and the concept of the story, I just wanted more from it. It kind of felt like we were just supposed to go with the story, without thinking harder about the plot holes or completely absent explanations. I had to go back and make sure I didn’t miss things, because I was often left wondering, wait, what? Readers who don’t mind a not fully fleshed out story but are into the concept may still find this interesting, but those looking to understand more about the relationships and the nuance of the plans carried out will be left dissatisfied. A surprising miss from a publisher that usually churns out really great graphic novels. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781596438774

Publisher: First Second

Publication date: 10/10/2017

Book Review: Spinning by Tillie Walden

Publisher’s description

ra6Ignatz Award winner Tillie Walden’s powerful graphic memoir captures what it’s like to come of age, come out, and come to terms with leaving behind everything you used to know.

It was the same every morning. Wake up, grab the ice skates, and head to the rink while the world was still dark.

Weekends were spent in glitter and tights at competitions. Perform. Smile. And do it again.

She was good. She won. And she hated it.

For ten years, figure skating was Tillie Walden’s life. She woke before dawn for morning lessons, went straight to group practice after school, and spent weekends competing at ice rinks across the state. Skating was a central piece of her identity, her safe haven from the stress of school, bullies, and family. But as she switched schools, got into art, and fell in love with her first girlfriend, she began to question how the close-minded world of figure skating fit in with the rest of her life, and whether all the work was worth it given the reality: that she, and her friends on the team, were nowhere close to Olympic hopefuls. The more Tillie thought about it, the more Tillie realized she’d outgrown her passion—and she finally needed to find her own voice.

 

Amanda’s thoughts

spinningThere are never enough stories about girls in sports, are there? Also, I don’t know that I’ve read any story where competitive ice skating is not just part of the story but almost all of the story. There are plenty of teens who are involved in very intense, competitive, high level sports, so this book is a nice addition to YA because it represents a life many teens lead (not necessarily ice skating, of course) but we don’t often see much of.

 

This graphic memoir follows Tillie from New Jersey to Texas, where she moves after fifth grade. She hopes to be able to escape the bullying and bad grades that plagued her in New Jersey, but Texas just provides more of the same. She feels like an outsider at the skating rink, too. She doesn’t bond with the other girls and she stands out because her parents never come to any of the competitions. Tillie is driven and wants to be the best, but she also doesn’t seem to actually really enjoy skating and mostly does it because it’s routine. She gets her first girlfriend, which briefly makes her feel like at least something in her life is satisfying, but that doesn’t last, and coming out to some of the people around her doesn’t go well, either. She looks to her coaches and teachers for the affection and attention she isn’t receiving, but eventually realizes that even that is not worth sticking with skating, and she quits the summer before her senior year in high school.

 

While the subject matter is appealing and unique and the illustrations really capture Tillie’s feelings, especially her loneliness and exhaustion, the overlong story suffers from uneven pacing. Some things that could use more exploring are just sort of skipped over, missing a real opportunity for adding depth to the story. This quiet look at the pressures of competitive sports and at feeling like an outsider will appeal to teens who connect with either of those storylines. The graphic format will catch the attention of readers who may not otherwise gravitate toward this story. 

 

Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9781626729407

Publisher: First Second

Publication date: 09/12/2017