Graphic Novel Review: Good As Lily

A graphic novel that uses an unusual conceit to discuss coming-of-age and self-growth.

Good As Lily by Derek Kirk Kim, illustrated by Jesse Hamm.
MG/YA fiction (mostly realistic fiction, but with a speculative fiction aspect), 150 pages.
Minx, DC Comics, New York, 2007.
Lexile:  Not leveled.
AR Level:  3.0 (worth 2.0 points)  .
NOTE: While the text is a third grade level, this is written for older children.

On Grace Kwon’s 18th birthday, things get a little weird.  Friends whisk her away, guitar strings break, and a strange accident with an unwanted pinata leads her to leave her favorite present behind in the park.  And when she meets versions of herself at ages 6, 27, and 70, it gets a whole lot weirder.

Good As Lily Cover resized

This is a special review.  See, this is a re-read, but it’s also a book I first read in 2007.  At the time I was devouring graphic novels as fast as I could get them.  However, unlike most of those quick reads, the plot of this one stuck with me for the past decade.  I couldn’t remember the title for a long time, just that it was a Minx book.   After seeing ReGifters on this great list, I suddenly recalled that Lily was in the title, and was able to find the info.  Lily is not the main character’s name, which made it more difficult for me to remember.

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Graphic Novel Review: Monster

If the play didn’t work for you, give this graphic novel a try.

Monster: A Graphic Novel by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims and illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile.
Amistad, HarperCollins, New York, 2015.
Graphic novel, 153 pages.
Lexile:  GN420L  ( What does GN mean in Lexile? )
AR Level:  not yet leveled

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Monster.  I’ll repeat my summary of the novel:

Monster is a complicated novel of a story-within-a-story.  At first glance it is the straightforward tale of a boy who is accused of assisting in a murder during a robbery-gone-wrong, mostly expressed through his recreation of the trial as a screenplay and his diary notes from prison.  But it is also the story of a criminal justice system where the mostly white cast assumes all the power over the mostly black “monsters.”  Then there are also flashbacks that add more information about Steve Harmon and the other characters which call into question his real role in the murder.  Meanwhile, we are seeing all of this through the lens of one desperate young boy – what is the truth?

Monster graphic novel

You might recall my review of the novel Monster, which took me more than six months to read and review (thankfully it was checked out from a library I work at, so I could keep renewing it).  In contrast, this graphic novel took me a few hours to read and is being reviewed instantly – because I can certainly recommend it.

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Graphic Novel Review: Malcolm X

“In the end, the only certainty may be that America had lost one of its most original and outspoken leaders.” page 101

Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography by Andrew Helfer, art by Randy DuBurke.
Serious Comics, Hill and Wang, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York, 2006.
Graphic novel biography, 102 pages plus extras.
Lexile:  not leveled
AR Level:  6.6 (worth 3.0 points)  .

A black and white comic-style graphic novel biography of Malcolm X.

Malcolm X cover resized
Malcolm X: A Graphic Biography by Andrew Helfer, illustrated by Randy DuBurke.

For some time now, I’ve been trying to find a great middle grade children’s biography of Malcolm X.  I’ve gotten some from the library, and purchased a few.  So far none have greatly impressed me, which is why I’m just now getting around to reviewing them.  Children’s biographies of Malcolm X have a tricky balance to strike.  Islam must be included, since it was an important part of his life and work.  His militant views (and later ideas about a more hopeful society) can’t be left out, but should be presented in a way appropriate for children.  It’s a tall order.

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Graphic Novel Review: Malice in Ovenland

An original, #ownvoices can’t-miss middle grade graphic novel.

Malice in Ovenland by Micheline Hess.
Rosarium Publishing, Greenbelt, MD, 2016.
MG speculative fiction, 126 pages including extras.
Not yet leveled.

Lily Brown is not going to camp this summer, or on a fancy vacation.  She’ll be staying home, eating her mom’s new ‘healthy’ organic cooking, caring for their plot in a community garden, and doing extra studying.  Her mom goes away for a weekend and Lily’s almost done with her chore list when she loses an earring inside the oven and discovers a magical world where they aren’t too happy about the sudden lack of grease in her family’s kitchen.

Malice in Ovenland cover resized
Malice in Ovenland by Micheline Hess.

There’s no way that my summary has done this book justice.  There are so many things going on here, and everything is wonderful. This is a book that kids love to read, and that parents can feel good about their kids reading.

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Graphic Novel Review: Fun Home

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel.
Mariner Books Imprint, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, New York, 2006, my edition 2007.
Graphic novel memoir, 232 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTE: This book is intended for adults, not children.

After reading a good portion of this, it felt familiar.  I think I read at least part of it before either as a library checkout, or an excerpt posted online or put in another anthology.  This was published at about the time I went through a lot of graphic novels, so it’s conceivable I read this and either did not finish or simply forgot it because of the volume of books I was reading at the time (once upon a time I used to finish a book every day).

This story explores both the author’s understanding of her sexuality and gender expression as well as her father’s death.  Bechdel comes to terms with being a butch lesbian raised in a small town by brilliant but self-absorbed parents.  She writes about how she learned about her own sexuality, coming out to her parents, being drawn to men’s clothing even as her gay father tried to feminize her, making her wear dresses and do her hair a certain way.

Fun Home cover
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel.

Shortly after her mother asks for a divorce, her father jumps into the path of a truck while Bechdel is away at college.  There are some signs it may have been a suicide and others that it was an accident.

The story is even more darkly comedic because the Bechdel family owns the local funeral home.  This part-time job means the kids grow up playing between caskets and see bodies being embalmed at an early age.  The “Fun Home” of the title was the family’s nickname for the funeral parlor.  However the title could also refer to their family home; lovingly restored by her father with little input from the rest of the family, it was a dollhouse in which they still had to live.

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Graphic Novel Review: Johnny Hiro

A unique spin on both superhero life and adulting.

Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero by Fred Chao.
Tor, New York, 2012 (some materials previously published in other formats).
Everyday superhero graphic novel, 190 pages.
Not leveled.
NOTE: This is a work of fiction although I’m not posting it on Fiction Friday.

Johnny Hiro is your average half-Japanese busboy with a knack for running into the absurd on the streets of New York.  He works in a sushi restaurant and dreams of one day being a chef, but is content to come home to his Japanese girlfriend Mayumi Murakami.

Johnny Hiro Half Asian All Hero

This was a fairly random find.  I had never heard of this book, never read a review of it or seen a promotion of it before coming across it at a local used bookstore.  The half Asian in the title and a cursory glance through the pages, combined with the price, was enough for me to purchase this delightfully whimsical book.

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Graphic Novel Review: The Outside Circle

This gorgeous and gritty graphic novel will educate everyone, not just indigenous Canadians, about institutional racism and other topics.

The Outside Circle by Patti LaBoucane-Benson, illustrated by Kelly Mellings.
House of Anansi, Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 2015.
Adult graphic novel, 120 pages.
CODE’s 2016 Burt Award for First Nation, Inuit and Métis Literature Winner.
Not leveled.

Pete and his younger brother Joey only have each other and their drug-addicted mother to get through their violent, gritty urban life.  But when their mother’s boyfriend pushes them too far, Pete ends up in jail and Joey in foster care.  What will happen to their family?  Can Pete’s gang become their new family?

The Outside Circle

This book is about Canadian urban aboriginals.  Because I am American and not indigenous, I was surprised by the way it sucked me in as we read about generational poverty and the systematic dehumanization and institutionalized racism that had affected Pete’s entire family.  So much of what I read applies to so many other groups, and reading about Pete and his family was an easy way to absorb how these things can alter a family for generations at a time.

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