THE LEAK by Kate Reed Petty, Andrea Bell

the leak - kate reed petty, andrea bellWhen Ruth Keller (precocious, intrepid journalist, 12 years old) stumbles upon a strange substance floating in the waters of the local lake while fishing with a friend, her reporter instincts take over. Suspecting it to be some sort of toxic waste, she sets out to investigate its possible origins, steadily sharing her findings with the subscribers of her newsletter (the ๐™ฒ๐š˜๐š˜๐™พ๐™พ๐š˜๐™พ๐™พ๐™พ๐™ป๐šœ๐™ป๐šŽ๐š๐š๐šŽ๐š›). Thanks to the instruction and insight of Sara, her brother’s new girlfriend who also happens to be an intern at the ๐˜•๐˜ฆ๐˜ธ ๐˜ ๐˜ฐ๐˜ณ๐˜ฌ ๐˜›๐˜ช๐˜ฎ๐˜ฆ๐˜ด), Ruth’s coverage soon starts to get wider attention, bringing with it a slew of obstacles that only make the young journalist’s increasingly dogged pursuit even more complicated. The budding reporter of Twin Oaks is nothing if not determined, however, and is willing to do whatever it takes to leak out the truth and expose those who obscure it.โ €

If you’re still looking for a relevant read for this year’s Earth Day, you really can’t do better than picking up ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ณ๐’†๐’‚๐’Œ. Writer Kate Reed Petty and artist Andrea Bell have produced a truly excellent middle grade graphic novel that deals with a small town’s water crisis analogous to the very real calamity that has been plaguing the Michigan city of Flint for nearly a decade now, and the book is, naturally, dedicated to the people living there.

The bureaucratic nonsense that enables the human rights violation in Flint is too needlessly complex for a single comic to untangle, but the spirit of the city’s local leaders, community organizers โ€” and, of course the persistent journalists โ€” whose work helped put this emergency on a national stage is honored in this work through characters who are similarly willing to stand up and rage against the machine that allows injustices like this to happen in the first place. The Leakย reminds us that voices and stories have power. And it shows us how enough people using their voices to yell out their stories can, if they are loud enough, if they are true enough, change a town. Or a city. Or the world.

One of my favorite reads of 2021 so far. Not only due to Petty’s wonderful writing, but also because of Bell’s artwork, which I ๐˜ญ๐˜ฐ๐˜ท๐˜ฆ๐˜ฅ. I saw it as a mix between Kayla Miller’s style in her ๐˜Š๐˜ญ๐˜ช๐˜ค๐˜ฌ books and Bryan Lee O’Malley’s simplified, practically chibi illustrations in ๐˜š๐˜ฆ๐˜ค๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ด. So good.

SUPERMAN SMASHES THE KLAN by Gene Luen Yang, Gurihiru

superman smashes the klan - gene luen yang, gurihiruThe Lee family has just made the move from Chinatown to the surrounding suburbs of Metropolis thanks to the patriarch’s new job at the cityโ€™s health department. Teenager Roberta has difficulty acclimating to their new surroundings, but her older brother, Tommy, seems to be thriving in the new home, making fast friends with the locals and even trying out for the community center’s baseball team. Tommy shines at the practice, and that gets him on the bad side of a fellow player who storms off the lot in a jealous fit. Later that night, the Lees wake up to find a wooden cross burning out in their front yard, and they realize that old prejudices have come knocking on their door. The Clan of the Fiery Cross, a white supremacist hate group, soon takes credit for the loathsome act, which not only gets intrepid reporter Lois Lane involved, but the famous Superman as well. The group’s influence turns out to run deep, however, and manages to exhibit enough resources to cause even the Superman considerable trouble, notably through the use of mysterious green rocks that seem to weaken the Metropolis Man of Tomorrow…. โ €
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๐‘บ๐’–๐’‘๐’†๐’“๐’Ž๐’‚๐’ ๐‘บ๐’Ž๐’‚๐’”๐’‰๐’†๐’” ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฒ๐’๐’‚๐’, written by Gene Luen Yang and illustrated by Gurihiru, is an important book. It was one already when it was first serialized a couple of years ago, highlighting as it does moments of U.S. history that are either glossed over in contemporary conversation or just plainly, actively suppressed, whitewashed into obscurity. It resonated with an audience that was growing increasingly aware of the prejudice and injustice that is so deeply rooted in Western culture and which, thanks in part to the heated, hateful rhetoric of modern politics, was gaining enough momentum and stimulation to aggressively push itself into the public eye once more. Readers saw movements like Black Lives Matter and similar social justice organizations reflected within. โ €

In a lot of ways I’m kind of sad that [Superman Smashes the Klan] hit like this. A story from 1946 shouldn’t be as relevant as it is.

โ€” Gene Luen Yangโ €

Fast forward only a year, and the recent, disturbing onrush of heinous, cowardly attacks against Asian American and Pacific Islander communities have now given the story a renewed relevance, and an alarmingly greater sense of urgency. โ €
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The range of topics Yang manages to pack into this relatively slim volume is wide and impressive indeed: racism (both outer and inner); classism; identity; code-switching. These are all themes you’ll find within the pages of this book, and they are handled with prudence and proficiency (Yang is nothing if not a master storyteller). But what engaged me the most was the story’s exploration of identity, because of how well it tied to both the Lee family and to the character of Superman himself. A running motif throughout the book has to do with the characters constantly concealing facets of themselves in order to fit in and blend with the world around them. Roberta and Tommy’s father chides his wife for speaking Cantonese around their children, prefering to immerse them in an English-speaking world, an edict that extends even to their traditional names (๐˜™๐˜ฐ๐˜ฃ๐˜ฆ๐˜ณ๐˜ต๐˜ข rather than ๐˜“๐˜ข๐˜ฏ-๐˜š๐˜ฉ๐˜ช๐˜ฏ). Tommy, to his sister’s chagrin, constantly cracks jokes about their race with the locals in the hopes of being more readily accepted. Superman himself โ€” who is, lest we forget, an immigrant โ€” holds back on his own powers and represses his extraterrestrial identity, fearing the response of the public were they to find out. Not calling attention to one’s self is often an intrinsic part of the immigrant experience, something that Superman creators Joe Shuster and Jerry Siegel, being the sons of European Jewish emigrants who also changed their names once they reached the States (from Shusterowich and Segalovich, respectively), would have understood, as they, consciously or not, imbued their creation with the same concerns in mind.โ €
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Itโ€™s why so many writers over the years โ€” from contemporary ones like Yang and Grant Morrison, to those from way back in the forties who wrote the original radio play on which Smashes the Klanย was loosely based (a fact that surprised me to no end) โ€” have often depicted Superman as the ultimate defender of the disenfranchised and the oppressed: because he’s someone who can easily imagine what being powerless would feel like, and has the power to do something about it.โ €

I’m guessing that the Superman writers knew on a visceral level, three years out from WWII’s end, that pursuing a peaceful future in America requires tolerance โ€” the willingness to respect, be good neighbors to, and invest in those who do not look like us or live like us.

โ€” Gene Luen Yang

Itโ€™s important to remember that Superman is, and always has been, a warrior for social justice.

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As it often happens with stories that reflect the trying times of the real world, one wishes things were different: that the events depicted in the pages of these books are just things of the past, human failures that we outgrew and overcame and which bear no resemblance to the reality of today. Sadly, we live in no such world. Which is why we still need these types of books: to reflect our current condition, yes, but also to distort and transform it, to allow us to see what could be. These stories are hope, distilled. โ €
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๐‘บ๐’–๐’‘๐’†๐’“๐’Ž๐’‚๐’ ๐‘บ๐’Ž๐’‚๐’”๐’‰๐’†๐’” ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฒ๐’๐’‚๐’ is then ultimately a book full of hope. As well it should be. It’s a Superman book, after all.โ €
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This also means that, despite the weighty subjects this story touches upon, this isn’t a heavy-handed book at all. Again, this is a Superman book, and it contains all the colorful, flashy fun that this implies. Yang has a wonderful take on the character, writing an earnest Boy Scout figure of endless charm in such a way that somehow never veers into schmaltzy overbearing territory. The rest of the cast are distinguished as well, in particular Roberta, who acts as our daring protagonist. Her role in the radio play was relegated to a single line in a single episode that didnโ€™t even bother to give her a name โ€” here, she gets a spectacular stand-out scene where she gets to call out Superman for endangering those around him by inhibiting his own abilities. Itโ€™s one of the crucial, central acts of the book, and one that also happens to fit so well with the overall Man of Steel mythos (which is yet another thing Yang handles wonderfully well here).โ €
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In terms of art, I love the work that Gurihiru, the Japanese design team consisting of penciller Chifuyu Sasaki and colorist Naoko Kawano, did here. They brought an anime aesthetic that’s not usually found in the world of Western superhero comics, but that lends itself wonderfully to a Superman story. They have produced a beautiful, beautiful physical object.โ €
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The book ends with “Superman and Me”, an essay by Yang that connects various threads of history: that of Superman and the original โ€œClan of the Fiery Crossโ€ radio play; of anti-Asian racism in the United States; of the author’s own experience with prejudice. The result is a deeply compelling read that not only enriches and puts into greater context the fictional story that precedes it, but it’s also strong enough to stand as its own invaluable history lesson. Yang ends the personal piece with the following appeal:โ €

Superman is one of our nation’s โ€” and the world’s โ€” most enduring icons. He seems to have always been there, and he’s not going away anytime soon. Ever since defending a Chinese American family in 1946, he’s stood for tolerance, justice, and hope.โ €
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Even today, the immigrant from Krypton challenges us to follow his example more fully and more perfectly.โ €
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We have to meet this challenge.โ €
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After all, though our yesterdays may be different, we all share the same tomorrow.

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In the spirit of a tomorrow full of tolerance, justice, and hope, Iโ€™ve compiled a small list of relevant resources that I encourage you all to check out.โ €

RAINA TELGEMEIER: AN APPRECIATION

04 raina booksSo it’s been a minute! I’ve been mostly MIA lately, dealing with tedious adulthood type stuff. The sort that requires entirely too much of my energy and attention. And although thankfully none of that has really stopped me from reading, it’s been definitely draining any desire to sit down and write anything of note. Tragic, I know.โ €
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It’s also caused me quite a fair bit of stress! Which is probably why I’ve resorted to picking up a bunch of middle grade books these past few weeks. They’ve long been a comfort read for me, so of course they’ve helped with winding down and staving off concerns.โ €
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It’s sort of funny, then, that the first few books I went to were Raina Telgemeier’s graphic memoirs, which are all about the peculiar anxieties of childhood. โ €
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I started reading Telgemeier’s work only a couple of years ago, but she quickly turned into one of my favorite authors. She writes the types of books I wish my younger self would have been able to read, which is something I say about every excellent modern middle grade book I read these days but it happens to be particularly true in the case of these graphic novels: they may me about incredibly specific events that happened to a white girl growing up in the West Coast during the late eighties and early nineties, but I still manage to see my life reflected in these pages. Still see the same childhood concerns and the adolescent angst that I went through as an anxious brown kid growing up in the Caribbean in the nineties. They make me feel seen in a way, and that brings me comfort. โ €
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Stories, you guys โ€” the way they work never fails to amaze and astound me.โ €
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Anyway.โ €
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I got my copy of ๐˜Ž๐˜ถ๐˜ต๐˜ด right when it was released so of course there’s no Eisner Award sticker on the cover. Telgemier is an unstoppable talent, though, so if you purchase the book today it will be there.

THE FIRE NEVER GOES OUT by Noelle Stevenson

03 the fire never goes outReading Noelle Stevenson’s ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ญ๐’Š๐’“๐’† ๐‘ต๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’“ ๐‘ฎ๐’๐’†๐’” ๐‘ถ๐’–๐’• was a cathartic affair. I picked it up during a particularly demanding week, emotionally speaking, in my life, and found a lot of the emotions I was experiencing at the time (good, bad, unseemly) echoed in this book. It helped give many of these messy feeling some semblance of shape and form, which in turn made me feel less like a vulnerable blob just floating in the void.โ €
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It was also a slightly surreal experience in the sense that this book is essentially a candid glance behind the curtains of a career and life of someone whose work has provided you with a great deal of amusement and delight over many years and, despite knowing that compassionate and lively art can come from grief and hardship, seeing it depicted in such a frank and vulnerable manner can still be somewhat of a shock to the system. The raw, intimate vignettes collected in this volume are as surprising and startling as they are engaging and illuminating.โ €
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๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ญ๐’Š๐’“๐’† ๐‘ต๐’†๐’—๐’†๐’“ ๐‘ฎ๐’๐’†๐’” ๐‘ถ๐’–๐’• is a portrait, and a work in progress at that, in the truest sense of the term. It’s honestly been a privilege to watch Stevenson’s work grow all these years, and hope I get to see it evolve even further.โ €
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๐˜๐—ฟ๐—ถ๐—ด๐—ด๐—ฒ๐—ฟ ๐˜„๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—ป๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด๐˜€: ๐˜€๐—ฒ๐—น๐—ณ-๐—ต๐—ฎ๐—ฟ๐—บ, ๐—ฏ๐—ผ๐—ฑ๐˜† ๐—ถ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐—ด๐—ฒ ๐—ถ๐˜€๐˜€๐˜‚๐—ฒ๐˜€, ๐—บ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜๐—ฎ๐—น ๐—ต๐—ฒ๐—ฎ๐—น๐˜๐—ต ๐—ฑ๐—ถ๐˜€๐—ฐ๐˜‚๐˜€๐˜€๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜€, ๐—ต๐—ผ๐—บ๐—ผ๐—ฝ๐—ต๐—ผ๐—ฏ๐—ถ๐—ฎ, ๐—ฟ๐—ฒ๐—น๐—ถ๐—ด๐—ถ๐—ผ๐˜‚๐˜€ ๐—ฐ๐—ผ๐—ป๐˜๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜, ๐—บ๐—ฎ๐˜€๐˜€ ๐˜€๐—ต๐—ผ๐—ผ๐˜๐—ถ๐—ป๐—ด ๐—บ๐—ฒ๐—ป๐˜๐—ถ๐—ผ๐—ป

THE VISION by Tom King, Gabriel Hernรกndez Walta, Jordie Bellaire

02 the vision

Well this seems like the perfect time to revisit this most surreal superhero comic.โ €
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Along with seemingly the rest of the world, I caught the first two episodes of ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ over the weekend. And I thought they were fine! A little clunky, perhaps, although I suppose it’s to be expected given that the show is the MCU’s opening stride into uncharted territory. But I love the concept of the thing, which is weird enough and new enough for me to not support the endeavor.โ €
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It helped that the series definitely seems like it’s inspired by the 2015 run of ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฝ๐’Š๐’”๐’Š๐’๐’ by Tom King, Gabriel Hernรกndez Walta and Jordie Bellaire, which still stands as one of my favorite comics in the last few years. Like ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ, it views our titular character through a domestic lens, although the effect in the book feels more immediately uncanny and sinister: Vision has created a family in his own image, part of his continuing efforts to become more human (more “normal” as he frequently puts it), a venture that is destined to end in catastrophe as the ominous opening captions in the very first issue candidly, wickedly declare.โ €
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The comic has been hailed as “๐˜™๐˜ฆ๐˜ท๐˜ฐ๐˜ญ๐˜ถ๐˜ต๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ๐˜ข๐˜ณ๐˜บ ๐˜™๐˜ฐ๐˜ข๐˜ฅ with rฬทoฬทbฬทoฬทtฬทsฬท synthezoids,” which also means that it’s not exactly what you might call a happy book. Much like that story and those it inspired (like ๐˜”๐˜ข๐˜ฅ ๐˜”๐˜ฆ๐˜ฏ), ๐‘ป๐’‰๐’† ๐‘ฝ๐’Š๐’”๐’Š๐’๐’ is a dark, cerebral, meticulous tale of melancholy, anxiety, and the sheer harrowing grace of human nature โ€” viewed through the eyes of an artificial superpowered being who may just be exactly like us.โ €
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It’s also a book that perfectly illustrates the notion that you can tell literally any and every type of story with superhero comics. If ๐˜ž๐˜ข๐˜ฏ๐˜ฅ๐˜ข๐˜๐˜ช๐˜ด๐˜ช๐˜ฐ๐˜ฏ explores even a modicum of the terrain laid out in this comic book, then we are in for a curious, wild treat indeed.

๐–๐–†๐–‘๐–‘๐–”๐–œ๐–Š’๐–Š๐–“ ๐–Ž๐–˜ ๐–Š๐–™๐–Š๐–—๐–“๐–†๐–‘

October is my best reading month. I’m a very seasonal, themed-oriented reader, and Hallowe’en, more than any other holiday, lends itself to these qualities pretty perfectly.ย  I cut loose and read books that are a bit more fun than my usual fare, which makes it really easy to pick up book after book after book, something that I definitely don’t do in any other month of the year.

This particular Hallowe’en, however, felt a little off. It was to be expected considering, well, everything, but I guess I was just confident the holiday would lift my spirits up. It did during the harrowing aftermath of Hurricane Marรญa, after all. But as tragic as that event was, this pandemic is obviously so much worse and I foolishly ended up underestimating just how much it would affect my mood.

Add to that the fact that I decided to go all in on my bookstragram for Hallowe’en, wanting to put out pictures and reviews on a more or less consistent manner throughout the month. I succeeded, too, and I’m happy and proud I did it, but it was draining, and that sucked a bit of the fun out of it a bit.

I still ended up having a tremendous amount of fun, though, and I read a lot of damn fine books. I’m sad to see the spooky season go, but we all know that โ„Œ๐”ž๐”ฉ๐”ฉ๐”ฌ๐”ด๐”ข’๐”ข๐”ซ ๐”ฆ๐”ฐ ๐”ข๐”ฑ๐”ข๐”ฏ๐”ซ๐”ž๐”ฉ anyway. Continue reading “๐–๐–†๐–‘๐–‘๐–”๐–œ๐–Š’๐–Š๐–“ ๐–Ž๐–˜ ๐–Š๐–™๐–Š๐–—๐–“๐–†๐–‘”

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY: APOCALYPSE SUITE by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bรก

27 the umbrella academyMy partner and I have been enjoying the Netflix adaptation of The Umbrella Academy, the comic book seriesย by Gerard Way and Gabriel Bรก. It’s a fun ride, the show, reveling in its chaotic, irreverent energy. We’re it. And it finally made me want to pick up the source material, which I had been aware of for ages but never really felt compelled to read.โ €
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The show and the comic are definitely different beasts, though, similar only in the way they both embrace the extravagant essence of the story. The show is bolstered up by the performances of its actors, who clearly seem to be having fun with their roles. The comic takes delight in the sheer fact that it is a comic, convoluted connotations and all.โ €

It goes like this:

In an inexplicable worldwide event, forty-three extraordinary children were spontaneously born by women who’d previously shown no signs of pregnancy. Millionaire inventor Reginald Hargreeves adopted seven of the children; when asked why, his only explanation was, “To save the world.”

These seven children form The Umbrella Academy, a dysfunctional family of superheroes with bizarre powers. Their first adventure at the age of ten pits them against an erratic and deadly Eiffel Tower, piloted by the fearsome zombie-robot Gustave Eiffel. Nearly a decade later, the team disbands, but when Hargreeves unexpectedly dies, these disgruntled siblings reunite just in time to save the world once again.

2020-09-12 10_49_05.158This was Gerard Way’s first mainstream comics project and his enthusiasm for the medium is apparent in the way he wholeheartedly embraces its inherent anarchic nature. There’s no gentle, gradual introduction to the world and the characters that fill it. You’re simply thrown into the deep end, and are expected to keep up. The Eiffel Tower is attacking Paris! The Umbrella Academy is coming! There’s a monkey! Now we’re in space! Back on Earth! In the future!โ €
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It’s fun, if a little disjointed. You definitely get the sense that Way is heavily inspired by the Grant Morrison’s earlier, more psychedelic work โ€” and, honestly, who could blame him? The similarities here are mostly superficial, though: we get the liveliness and playfulness, but lack the compassionate core that drives most of Morrison’s work. It’s a cold story. Still โ€” Way’s talent is evident (Morrison would eventually take him under his wing of sorts) so perhaps the series only gets better in its subsequent volumes.

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Gabriel Bรก does the art and will get no complaints from me. I love his work and style in general, and here he channels Mike Mignola โ€” another favorite artist โ€” at his most playful. The book just looks effortlessly cool. And as much as I enjoy the show I do wish it had implemented more of the comic’s aesthetic. Bรก’s designs are just more fun, especially in the case of Luther (known mostly as Spaceboy in the comics), because the rubber suit of the show just doesn’t work at all, a fact I never fail to mention anytime the character walks on screen.โ €
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(Speaking of the art: they got the inimitable James Jean to do the covers, which is always an excellent idea.)

Comics!

THE GIRLS OF SUMMER PART II

26 summer graphic novels

I read both Click and its sequel Camp, one right after the other, pretty much in a single sitting. It’s something I rarely do, even with other graphic novels, which I tend to read through fairly quickly. Which should help show just how much I enjoyed them. One of the things I’m always on the lookout for in middle grade books โ€” and especially in middle grade graphic novels โ€” are elements that remind me of the stories I used to love as a kid. This charming โ€” so charming โ€”series by Kayla Miller about a young girl trying to find a place in the world gave me major Pepper Ann and Doug vibes, both of which were some of my favorite animated series, so of course I dug these books as well. I probably enjoyed Camp just a tad more, but only because I love stories with remote, singular settings.


Lucy Knisley’s Stepping Stones didn’t remind me of anything in particular except for other Lucy Knisley books. Which is a good thing because I am a fan. Knisley is not only a great artist, but also probably one of the strongest memoirists working today. Skills that she brought out in full force for this book about a young city girl moving to the country with her mother and her new stepfather. Stepping Stones was advertised as Knisley’s first work of fiction, and when I finished it I was left feeling very impressed, thinking that as far as first steps go, this was a particularly skillful stride โ€” but then in the back matter of the book Knisley writes of how the story is heavily inspired by her own childhood experiences. Which is sort of a cheat! At the end of the day, though, I won’t begrudge an artist for drawing from the well of a rich, storied life. Especially when it results in work of this quality. It’s still an impressive and auspicious debut, and I enjoyed reading it immensely. (Stepping Stones is supposed to be the first in a planned series, too, and I look forward to reading these future entries.)

THE OKAY WITCH by Emma Steinkellner

theokaywitchI began my Hallowe’en reading as gently as possible with Pumpkinheadsย by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks. I’d figured I’d finish it the same way, and Emma Steinkellner’sย The Okay Witch seemed liked the perfect โ€” and perfectly pleasant โ€” bookend.

This middle grade graphic novel tells the story of Moth Hush (the best name), an upbeat but lonely teenage outcast growing up in a small, tight-knit colonial town, who, shortly after turning thirteen, finds out she comes from a long line of witches. Her mother has eschewed magic, however, and is unwilling to talk to Moth about witchcraft, preferring to leave history behind. This is, of course, not acceptable to our teenage protagonist, who is only too eager to find out more about the thing that might make her feel like she belongs. Her exploration into the past mostly spells out trouble, though, and soon stirs up old grudges and grievances.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is my favorite Studio Ghibli movie (and also, if we’re being honest, probably my favorite film full stop). I love pretty much everything about: from the story to the setting to the oh-so-lovable characters. It’s a movie that perfectly showcases the kind of everyday, commonplace courage that Miyazaki is so fond of portraying. I got major Kikiย vibes fromย The Okay Witchย and that was the main reason I picked it up. And there are similarities, to be sure: they are both endearing and intensely charming stories about young women trying to figure out where they fit in the world.ย The Okay Witch does its own thing with the premise though, and tells an effective story about prejudice โ€” and, indeed, pride โ€” with characters who deal with the haunted past in varying ways: the townsfolk, who hold it to the highest regard; the witches, who endured years of bigotry and persecution, and understandably wish to leave it all behind; Moth’s mother, Calendula (another best name), who believes in change above all.

And then there is Moth, prepared to push the bad aside, yearning to embrace the good, and perfectly willing to build a better world out of it all. And, like Kiki โ€” one of her literary predecessors โ€” she’s got the kind of courage to deliver it to us, too.

GHOSTS by Raina Telgemeier

ghostsGhosts is the story of sisters Maya and Catrina (Cat) as their family moves to the fictional Northern California town of Bahรญa de la Luna. The move is spurred not only by their father’s new job, but also because of Maya’s health. She has cystic fibrosis, and the salty air that blows in from the sea, it is thought, might benefit her. The sisters soon discover that the coastal city is host to a large population of ghosts, however, and the story is informed by their individual reactions to this revelation.

This was a bit of a bittersweet read for me as this was the first of Raina Telgemeier’s books that I didn’t just completely and utterly loved. Don’t get me wrong, I still liked it well enough. Like the rest of Telgemeier’s work, it’s a charmer of a read, full of lovely and relatable characters, and bursting at the seams with gorgeous artwork.

And it’s the art that I found most engaging. This is, I believe, Telgemeier’s strongest book in terms of artwork. Given that this story deals with the Day of the Dead this shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, seeing as how Mexican culture is such a veritable wellspring of visual inspiration.

Setting is something in which Telgemeier particularly excels at, and Bahรญa de la Luna (based on the actual Northern California town of Half Moon Bay) is her most realized and beautiful one yet, full of detail and character and atmosphere. She is helped here with colors by Braden Lamb, who delivers with a palette that is somehow both morose and upbeat, which is, again, appropriate for a story dealing with the Day of the Dead.

I don’t celebrate Dรญa de Muertos, so I can’t judge as to whether or not Telgemeier did an admirable job representing the holiday, although the back matter of the book mentions all the research material that Telgemeier went through while producing the book, and it seems fairly cohesive. It also talks about the research done into properly representing cystic fibrosis, something which I believe she did accurately and respectfully. This aspect of the story, however, informs the main issue I had with it, which is Maya’s characterization. Maya begins the story as a great character, quirky and optimistic and full of life. But she very quickly pushed to the sidelines of the story, straight into tropey territory, and spends the latter half of the book mostly as a source of motivation and inspiration for her sister. It’s a decision that rubbed me the wrong way, and left me thinking that maybe the story should have been hers to tell all along, with Cat as the supporting character. Middle grade and young adult novels are still full of differently abled characters whose stories are told by their able-bodied peers, and this is something that we should work harder to change.

That issue aside, I did love how all the elements of the story tied into the theme ofย breath: ghosts cannot talk unless they are given breath by a living person (usually in the form of a kiss, which is just charming); Maya’s cystic fibrosis makes it difficult for her to breathe, and she needs the aid of medical equipment; Cat herself is dealing with anxiety, which often manifests itself into her being often short of breath; and of course, the wind is forever gusting in from the sea, breathing life into the story.

I’ve completely fallen in love with Raina Telgemeier’s books, regardless of small gripes. She’s doing important work, and I will happily read anything and everything that she puts out.