Author: Jill Adams (page 1 of 5)

Sachiko’s Strength

Reviewed by Yeng Xiong

A few years ago, I was in Japan, sightseeing all the major cities.  One memory that will always stick with me was when I was in Hiroshima.  In the city, they have a park called the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Park, which symbolizes the horrific act of its bombing, but also celebrates the lessons that come from it.  I was walking in that park when there was a classroom full of teenage students standing in front of one of its memorials.  Their teacher was giving a speech that resonated with me even though I didn’t understand what he was saying.  That speech made me reflect on all the sacrifices the Japanese people faced and how they persevered through that dark event to be the nation they are today.

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story by Caren Stelson chronicles the true-life story of Sachiko Yasui.  The book’s preface begins in 2005 at the Lyndale Park Peace Garden in Minneapolis, where the people there were commemorating the end of World War II.  The author of this book, Caren Stelson, was among those in attendance when she saw Sachiko Yasui give her speech on her life.  Stelson was “motionless, listening to Sachiko tell her story about having survived the bombing of Nagasaki” and promised to write her story.  Five years later, she finally got an audience with Sachiko and gained an approval to tell her story, only if Stelson “could look into my eyes.”

Sachiko’s story began a few days before the bombing of Nagasaki.  She was with her family, interacting with her parents and her siblings as they tried to live a normal life under the veil of World War II.  As Sachiko was only six years old, she only had a vague understanding of what was happening around her.  On August 9th, 1945, it was another ordinary day for Sachiko, as she was making mud balls and playing house with her friends.  Suddenly everything changed when the atomic bomb hit Nagasaki, throwing her life and everyone she knew into a spiral of despair and survival.

Stelson adds another element to her book by showing various photos throughout the book.  For instance, there are a lot of photos of Sachiko and her family during the various stages of her life.  Most of them are in black and white, adding an artistic element to the book.  There are also other photos of the devastation and the bleak aftermath of the atomic bomb.  In addition to telling Sachiko’s story, Stelson weaves in extensive notes about the context of the situation.  For example, the book has a section dedicated to the Enola Gay, the airplane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  

Sachiko: A Nagasaki Bomb Survivor’s Story is an inspirational story that everyone should read.  It weaves a narrative that is both gruesome, but at the same time, evokes inspiration and hope.  It tells of the atrocities of the past and how we, as humanity, can learn from our mistakes and move forward.  Like when Ichiro, Sachiko’s brother, tells her to “take care of everyone,” it gives her the strength to bear the atrocities and move on.  Then, after learning to move on, Sachiko’s father tells her to “use your wonderful life to help people in the world.” This book reminds us that we also must not brood on the past and use our wonderful lives to make the world a better place.

Everything, Everything: An Eye-Opening Experience for Everyone Involved

Reviewed by Katrina Grenell

Would you risk dying to fully live? That is the question in which protagonist, Madeline, learns to answer throughout Nicola Yoon’s 2015 young adult novel, Everything, Everything, which was nominated for the category of Best Young Adult Fiction for the 2015 Goodreads Choice Awards.

Before you rush out to see the film adaptation for this novel (which releases to movie theaters May 19), I highly suggest you wait (even if the film does the book justice), and read Yoon’s incredible page turner first. This romance novel is not like others of its kind. Madeline has just turned eighteen, but she’s as close to being an adult as the earth is distanced from the sun. Having a rare disease called severe combined immunodeficiency (known as SCID) that causes severe reactions (including death) to anything in the world outside her home, she’s been isolated for her entire life. The only things familiar to her are her books, as she admits, “I’ve read many more books than you. It doesn’t matter how many you’ve read. I’ve read more. Believe me. I’ve had the time.” Her house consists of items only sterile and white, which often resembles that of a hospital. For the last seventeen years, she’s only been around her mother, who is also her doctor and primary caretaker, in addition to Carla, the nurse that is with her during the day while her mother works. Madeline cannot attend school – she attends online classes and occasionally gets visits from her tutors in person, but only after they’ve gone through an extremely strict decontamination process after entering her home.

Surprisingly, Madeline is a happy girl. She has a lot more substance to her personality than you’d expect for someone who hasn’t had the privileges of most normal, healthy girls her age, which is what makes her character so relatable yet also so unique. Yoon also creates Madeline’s character with a touch of diversity – Madeline is half African American and half Asian, which speaks to Yoon’s passion for bringing diverse books into the forefront for the Young Adult genre. Madeline doesn’t like it when people feel bad for her, since she knows that her life may end short and she’s already come to terms with it: “I have no patience for books that pretend life has meaning. I have no patience for happy endings.” Madeline, wanting to get down to the knitty gritty, spends most of her time learning new things. Everyday, she learns little facts that are interesting to her about the world outside she longs to see, yet she convinces herself that she’s happy spending her evenings playing board games with her mom.

Everything changes for her when she receives a new next door neighbor: dark, adventurous, and handsome Olly. Madeline has so much to say, since she’s been bottling all of her knowledge up for seventeen years with nobody to share her thoughts about it with. Olly and Madeline have nightly rituals of online instant-messaging, which soon has Madeline pining for more contact, which she gets with the help of her trusted nurse and advocate, Carla. “He’s not safe. He’s not familiar. He’s in constant motion. He’s the biggest risk I’ve ever taken.”

The real lesson begins when Madeline realizes that these rebellious, limited visits from Olly, where they have to sit across the room from each other and aren’t supposed to touch, can’t last forever. She either has to go back, or move forward. She makes a choice – which, when you read into find out – will take you on a twisted ride to realize that nothing is ever as it seems. It will have you questioning your own life, and if you’re using it bravely enough.

Along with courage, this novel will make you deeply question the choices you’ve made, and why you made them, like when one character in the novel reflects on his own choices: “They’d try and make me choose. And I wouldn’t choose them. This way, everybody wins.”

Everyone in this novel is dealing with something, whether they’re sick or not, which is what makes the central theme of the book relate to a sort of intersection of struggle for everyone. Olly is trying to protect his mom and sister from his abusive and alcoholic father, Madeline’s mother Pauline has given everything she has to give to protect Madeline from the dangers of the outside world, and Olly’s friend Zach is struggling to become the proud gay rockstar that he wants to be. Written through the wiser-than-you’d-think voice of Madeline herself, this book takes you through many ups and downs (grab the kleenex for sure!), with unexpected twists and turns, while she grows on you more and more through her revealing of little inserted quirks, like her journal pages, drawings (produced by Nicola Yoon’s husband, David Yoon), book spoilers, and random facts. While Yoon’s writing gave me all the feels, it also made me question my own life, and what is worth fighting for.

“In the beginning there was nothing. And then there was everything.”

I Am Malala: An Inspirational Story of Heroism and Hope

Reviewed by Ashley Nesladek

In the book I Am Malala, by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick, Malala’s story begins when she is eight years old. She describes the small village she lives in, Mingora, which is in the Swat Valley in Pakistan. She describes the place she lives as having “tall mountains, lush green hills, and crystal-clear rivers.” She also describes her family, which consists of her two brothers, her mother and her father. Unlike many girls born in Pakistan, Malala explains that her mother, and more importantly, her father are extremely supportive of her. While usually it is not something to celebrate when a girl is born in Pakistan, her family does exactly that- celebrating her birth the same way a family would normally celebrate the birth of a baby boy.

Malala’s father owns a school in their town, which Malala attends. In the beginning, she does this without fear- many girls in Pakistan attend school. She describes how the neighboring country of Afghanistan has been taken over by Taliban rule. This means that girls there are not allowed to go to school and Malala explains how grateful she is that she still has the opportunity to learn. This changes quickly, however, when the Taliban begins to infiltrate Pakistan. Malala describes what it is like when the Taliban brings terrorism to her town: “So every morning, before I rounded the corner on the way to the Khushal School, I closed my eyes and said a prayer- afraid to open them in case the school had been reduced to rubble overnight. This was what terrorism felt like.” Suddenly, Malala’s right to an education is threatened and she and her family must decide to retreat or fight back.

Malala decides, at the age of 10 years old, that she will not give up her right to an education without a fight. She resolves to continue to attend school despite the real danger she faces in doing so. Members of the Taliban are regularly beating and killing people who they believe are going against the Quran in her village, and going to school as a woman is one of the things they believe the Quran forbids. Malala’s family supports her decision and do everything possible to show her that support. Her father says to her “I will protect your freedom Malala… Carry on with your dreams”. By the end of the book, Malala comes face to face with members of the Taliban, and she is given the ultimate test in bravery and standing up for what she believes in.

        Malala steps up to this challenge, and then some. From writing candidly about her experiences as a girl in Pakistan suffering from the effects of the Taliban even after her secret identity is exposed, to talking to people all over the world about her experiences, Malala goes above and beyond. She gives a voice to so many who cannot or will not speak about these atrocities. Even in the face of extreme violence, Malala makes sure her voice is heard. At one point in the book, Malala has some internal dialogue about what she would do if she came face to face with the Taliban, and this is what she comes up with: “ ‘Malala’ I said to myself. ‘Just tell him what is in your heart. That you want an education. For yourself. For all girls. For his sister, his daughter. For him.’  That’s what I would do. Then I would say, ‘Now you can do what you want.’ “

This book is extremely relevant to young adult readers in a variety of ways. Malala’s story is inspiring and heroic. Not only is she going through many of the normal coming of age experiences, like fighting with her brothers and critiquing her looks and who she will become in life, but she is doing so under extreme prejudice because of her gender. This book allows young readers to understand just how difficult life can be and may present them with a perspective they would have never experienced otherwise. This will empower young readers, and help them to believe that they truly can achieve greatness if they believe in themselves and their cause.

I am Malala was one of the best books I ever read, hands down. Malala shows a level of bravery that is unfathomable at the age of only ten years old, and she continues to show it throughout the entire book. Toward the end of the book, when she meets the President of the United States, Barack Obama, she says “If God has given you a voice, I decided, you must use it even if it is to disagree with the president of the United States.” She proves that anyone who has a deep enough desire to do so can change the world. Malala describes her journey with humility and grace in a way that is not only inspiring, but also keeps you interested in her story.

The Source of Your Strength: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Reviewed by Zack Martin

It may be difficult to write a novel based on a fictional series of novels memorialized in fictional fan fiction from your last novel without ever asking readers to rely on your own source material, but Rainbow Rowell makes this maneuver look easy.  In Carry On from 2015, Rowell returns to the parallel fantasy world that she had created via a frame in her late 2013 novel Fangirl.  In that book, protagonist Cath is on a mission to write her own ending to the fictional “Simon Snow” series before the eighth and final installment of the series is released in print.  Carry On is that final book.

Carry On is remarkable in its total lack of dependency on either the frame scenario from Fangirl—there is no mention of Simon Snow readership, no Rowell self-reflexivity whatsoever—or on the implied seven years’ worth of story that precedes the eighth (school) year that occupies Carry On.  Rowell’s addicting commentary on source material and fandom is made to exist entirely independently of its own source with the context that informs it remaining just that: external information that enriches the experience of reading but does not interfere with the storytelling.  Add to this the fact that Carry On is an ode to magical chosen ones, to Harry Potter, and to the joy a fan writer takes in lovingly remixing and what if-ing readymade worlds, and it is clear that Rowell has created a survivor.

Carry On recounts the final (and, in its world, optional) year at Watford School of Magicks for main characters Simon Snow, his best friend Penelope Bunce, his roommate and nemesis Baz Pitch, and his girlfriend Agatha Wellbelove.  As such, the novel is just about as dramatic a deployment of in medias res as you can find, with the fact of “carrying on” built directly into its structure.  Leaping into a nominally completed pseudo-series is a fascinating experience as a reader that is, in turn, supported by Simon’s own character.  Simon is a Harry Potter lookalike with a twist.  Whereas many fans and observers might have suspected it of Harry, here it is made transparent: Simon is the worst Chosen One ever.  He is a fluke, a semi-complete mage, and his poor “magick” skills show it.

As is recounted in his own lore, Simon is the first known mage to have ever come from non-magical stock—there are no “half-bloods” in Rowell’s world of mages, a deviation from the Potter source material.  Carry On is full of such revisions, which Potter aficionados will collect and savor.  These changes are important, and they often reflect the times and the issues of power and class that J. K. Rowling developed as Potter progressed.  Wheres Potter’s Hogwarts students were invisibly waited upon by an army of indentured service elves, early in Carry On Simon notes/explains that “nobody’s spoiled at Watford.  We do our own cleaning and, after our fourth year, our own laundry” (36).  As readers are made aware, the 2015 Watford wizarding community is caught up in an identity conflict about access: just how much latent power or ability should an individual need in order to be considered worthy of an education?

Simon’s candid, humble voice shines through this novel, and it is his growing self-awareness that permits him to defy expectations and survive.  As the novel progresses–and Simon keeps on living–he begins to assert the possibility of himself.  Simon’s fatalist mythology has been perpetuated from above by the Mage, the Headmaster and uncertain mentor figure to Simon, and from Simon himself by his penchant for violent magickal explosions and his magnetic attraction to baddies.  It unravels as he begins to understand that life could, just could, go on after the warm embrace of Watford ends.  In a touching and hopeful aside after Agatha opens up to Simon about her own uneasiness over the foregone conclusion that is Simon, he insists to himself that “(You have to pretend that you get an endgame.  You have to carry on like you will; otherwise, you can’t carry on at all)” (143).

Persisting against all odds and resisting interpretations of yourself that would hold you back are at the heart of the intra- and interpersonal teen conflicts in Carry On and dovetail well with the predilection (read need) for young adult literature to embrace identity construction.  Maybe that is why Carry On is so queer-affirming: in order to navigate turbulent environments, Watford’s young adults discover their own sexual expressions with honesty and self-assertion.  And maybe that is also why the novel offers up, in its ending, such a touching representation of persisting as a community member even when it might appear that your right to belong has been revoked.  You do the best you can with what you’ve got, Rowell seems to say, and Carry On certainly lives that truth.

The Ghosts Among Us

 

We all have our secret hopes and fears, those things we hide from even our closest family and friends. And those hopes and fears are bigger, bolder, and more dramatic when we’re adolescents. Sometimes they seem to take on a life of their own.

That couldn’t be more true for sisters Cat and Maya in Ghosts, the latest graphic novel from award winning author Raina Telgemeier. Cat longs for a normal, uninterrupted life, free to hang out with her friends and not have to worry about Maya. She does worry, though, anxiously watching over her younger sibling and shying away from engaging life. Maya, terminally ill with cystic fibrosis, has her own cherished dreams and silent misgivings. But unlike Cat, she chooses to embrace life, throwing herself heedlessly forward, sometimes to her own detriment.

The two sisters get a chance to face their fears and wishes in a very real way when their family moves to the little Northern California town of Bahia de la Luna. The townsfolk here celebrate the Day of the Dead in a big way, with the ghosts of their ancestors showing up to party with them! Cat must suddenly face her worst fear come to life – the dead – and the knowledge that her sister will someday be among them.

Maya is surprised by the opportunity for her deepest wish to be realized – to talk to someone who can tell her what it’s like to die. But circumstances get complicated when Maya has a bad breathing spell before the festival. The two sisters will have to work together to overcome fear and make dreams come true.

This book approaches a difficult topic with warmth and hope. The story glows with moments of humor, poignancy, and compassion. The artwork illuminates those occasions with its vibrant, accessible style. At one point, local boy Carlos is leading the sisters up a hill to the nearby abandoned mission, with the hope of encountering a ghost. Carlos, assessing the windy weather, declares, “This is great ghost-chasing weather!” Maya’s big eyes and huge, happy smile are comical next to Cat’s downturned look of concern and misery. Colorist Braden Lamb infuses the moment with the perfect balance of spooky darks and muted but cheerful brights. The girls come to life through these expressive drawings, as their hope, fear, joy, sorrow, courage, and love are vividly and skillfully displayed.

This is a truly brilliant book. The story leaves us wishing that we could know these sisters in real life. It inspires us to dig deep and follow their example, finding within ourselves the strength to face our fears and pursue our hopes – together.

-Written by Kate Jordan, Metropolitan State University of Denver student

Nimona, A Different Kind of Hero

Did you ever wish that you could be something else for a little while?  Maybe turn into a cat and spend your day sunning yourself and demanding food and affection?  Or maybe you could grow long, scaled wings and become a powerful, fire breathing dragon?  How cool would that be?  Well, the character Nimona–who possesses the ability to shape change into any creature–casually changes from a teenage girl into a shark, into a cat, into a dragon, and then back into a girl as easily and more often than we change clothes.

The graphic novel, Nimona, portrays Nimona as a tough girl with a sassy attitude, dominant personality, and ability to say exactly what she’s thinking.  She’s an empowering female character that we don’t always find in the comic book/graphic novel world, and she doesn’t need a Barbie doll figure and long flowing hair to make her admirable.  Instead, her tough exterior, defensive wall against feelings, and need for a type of parental figure, make her more relateable for teenage readers.

Noelle Stevenson, who is both writer and artist, created Nimona, which began as a web comic, in 2012.  She has worked on both Marvel and DC comic book titles, and her graphic novel Nimona is a National Book Finalist.  Stevenson, who attends Cosplay events dressed as male characters, wanted her character Nimona to have a more butch look.  She succeeded in making a strong female character that is capable of being a role model to girls of different body types as well as sexual orientations.

Nimona is set in medieval times with a twist of science integrated into the world.  The co-protagonist is the evil Ballister Blackheart, who isn’t your average super villain. He doesn’t kill, he goes out of his way to keep civilians safe, and he doesn’t like making a mess or causing a lot of destruction.  Nimona, who wants to be a villain, becomes Blackheart’s sidekick.  She soon discovers that instead of killing his enemies and causing destruction across the kingdom so that he can become absolute ruler.  Blackheart’s goal is to out The Institution, the organization that supposedly trains heroes for the lowdown, sketchy operation they truly are.  His character has more depth than most villains, and he is constantly reminding Nimona of the rules–or values–that he lives by and insists she must live by as well if she wants to remain his sidekick.

There are many comical moments between Nimona and Blackheart, who are trying to find tactics they can agree on to achieve Blackheart’s goal.  Blackheart’s old comrade in arms from The Institution, Ambrosius Goldenloin, plays the role of  hero.  In keeping with the backwards theme of the book, he comes off as more of an overbearing, stuffy bad guy.  Nimona, who doesn’t like anyone she feels is Blackheart’s enemy, does her best to make Goldenloin look like a fool.  At one point, she changes into a news reporter (yes they do have television in this medieval realm) and announces, “Coming up next, an expose on Sir Goldenloin’s codpiece!  What’s he hiding under there?  Does he really expect us to believe that his junk is THAT impressive?”  It’s naughty humor without going too far.

The relationships in Nimona are touching but not always clear.  Blackheart is very paternal and protective of Nimona, and they quickly develop a close relationship.  The friendship that Blackheart and Goldenloin shared in their youth is touched on a few times in the book and an even deeper relationship is subtly hinted at.  The story could have penetrated their affection for each other further, but the artwork does do a good job of showing that there’s something going on between the two.  There are also hints about Nimona’s past which remain mysterious.  Flashbacks tell some of her history, but these memories are drawings with no dialogue and obscure pictures that make it difficult to decipher her real past.  It is my hope that Nimona’s tale will eventually be continued in another graphic novel, so that readers are not left wondering what her real story is.

The fact that this isn’t just another typical superhero verses super villain story makes this book uniquely appealing.  Nimona would have been a sidekick in any other story, and even though that’s how she’s introduced in this one, it’s quickly apparent that she’s the star and she’s running the show.  I can see this graphic novel appealing to all ages as well as types of people. Like Nimona herself, there’s more to it than meets the eye, and deeper messages can be found that will make you take another look at how you view the world and the people in it.

-Written by Maria Muller, Metropolitan State University of Denver student

A Wild Time with Wild Robot

When you browse a bookstore’s young adult section, you see a lot of variety on display. From romance novels to dystopian sci-fi, there’s a spot on the shelf for just about any book.  Peter Brown’s The Wild Robot is a bit harder to label under a specific genre. While it definitely bears similarities to stories such as The Jungle Book, Brown’s tale of a robot stranded in the wilderness has a unique enough premise to make it stand out from the crowd.

What is that premise? The Wild Robot tells the tale of Roz, a newly-manufactured robot who makes it through a shipwreck and finds herself (as female is her prescribed gender) accidentally-activated on a deserted island. It’s a far cry from the cozy home-life Roz was built for, and she has to learn how to adapt and survive in the unusual environment. It isn’t long before Roz’s survival programming directs her to try and communicate with the wildlife, and soon she’s able to do so fluently. Being the stranger on the island, she is feared by the animals. They call her a monster, and generally don’t like or trust her.

The inclusion of talking animals can be a little off-putting if a reader isn’t expecting them, as what seems like a science fiction story suddenly gets a dash of the whimsical. But it’s this blending that makes Roz’s story work. She’s an outsider in every sense of the word, meant for a completely different environment than the one she has found herself in. Can she survive? Will she be able to adapt to this strange, unfitting world?

These are the same type of questions that might run through the mind of, say, a teenager in a new high school. As Brown himself said in an interview with Barnes & Noble:  “I made Roz an outsider trying to fit in to a new community, which is an experience most people have at some point.”

This is what makes Roz and the story she’s part of so interesting and unique. Despite the oddity of the situation, Roz is still someone many people can relate to. Seeing a robot surrounded by wild animals may feel strange, but it helps to highlight just how truly out-of-place she is.  It’s a feeling that many teenagers can relate to, and as such they may find something of value in this book.

After all, Brown’s story isn’t just about a robot’s struggle to survive. It’s about self-discovery, and the importance of accepting and embracing your own defining qualities. It’s by doing this that Roz slowly gains the trust of her animal neighbors and, eventually, finds her place within their society. Such a lesson can prove invaluable for those who struggle to fit in.

This is what makes The Wild Robot shine. A book with such an odd blending of sci-fi and fantasy may seem out of place amongst other young adult books, but by embracing its own qualities, it still finds a place to fit in.

-Written by Kendall Lancaster, Metropolitan State University of Denver student

Trashed: An Ode to the Crap Job of All Crap Jobs by Derf Backderf

Each American makes almost three pounds of trash each day (after recycling and composting, of course).  This daily total is slightly more than it was forty years ago when the population in the United States was 181 million.  Today, our population is 321 million.  Each individual in our country creates 2.81 pounds of trash each and every day (it is also important to note that the Environmental Protection Agency notes that this estimation is a “ridiculous underestimate”).

These facts—and more—are a part of Derf Backderf’s new graphic novel, Trashed:  An Ode to the Crap Job of All Crap Jobs.  Backderf has created a piece that focuses on something that many people don’t care much about:  garbage.  After reading this book, people certainly will care and may even contemplate how to limit their own consumption or how to effectively talk neighbors into recycling.

Backderf himself was a trash collector for two years in northern Ohio.  He writes and draws about these experiences in this follow-up to the award-winning My Friend Dahmer, which chronicled Backderf’s high school days when Jeffrey Dahmer was a classmate.

Trashed, a slice-of-life tale, follows garbage collectors and their challenges of managing their route—as well as local crazies and bureaucratic managers–each day.  It is clear that the garbage they collect just doesn’t come in pails.  The book also introduces readers to valuable and intriguing facts about waste collection and landfills.

Ultimately, though, this is a book that will make you think.  You will marvel at how disgusting some aspects of the job are and will laugh at loud at unique moments the garbage collectors find themselves in.  These situations are contrasted with startling facts about…well, trash:  …the higher the income bracket, the more trash someone generates or the fact that recycling is on the rise but hasn’t made a dent in the size of the waste stream.

The book also suggests ways we can tackle this problem:  The only way to significantly reduce our waste?  Change our lifestyle.  Reverse 60 years of throwaway culture.  Choose common sense over convenience.  So yes—this is a book that is all about garbage.  It’s so much more than that, though.  Hop on with Derf, and he will take you on a ride that will twist, turn, and amaze.  You’ll never look at trash the same way again.

Monster: A Graphic Novel, written by Walter Dean Myers, adapted by Guy A. Sims, and Illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile

The Young Adult Literature classic, Monster, by Walter Dean Myers has recently been transformed into a beautiful graphic novel by Guy A. Sims and Dawud Anyabwile.  The black and white visuals striking depict the classic storyline:  Steve Harmon is a teenager who is on trial for murder and robbery.  Written in the screenplay format, the reader is able to experience the events with Steve:  The movie is more real in so many ways than the life I am leading. No, that’s not true. I just desperately wish this was only a movie.

Steve is making this film for one of his classes, and the themes of the graphic novel—guilty by association, impact of decisions—is the same as WDM’s classic, award-winning (it won the first Printz Award in 2000 and was also a Coretta Scott King Honor book and National Book Award finalist) novel.  As Steve notes:  Sometimes I feel like I have walked into the middle of a movie. Maybe I can make my own movie. The film will be the story of my life. No, not my life, but of this experience. I’ll call it what the lady prosecutor called me … Monster.  Striking imagery makes the court scenes more vivid and seemingly real.  The graphic novel format also helped me keep all of the individuals in the court room straight.

This wonderful adaptation must have been a challenge, for the screenplay format limits a lot of the information given in a traditional novel.  Creators Sims and Anyabwile (who are brothers) also had to contemplate what to emphasize and leave out from the book.  The filming thread is heightened in the graphic novel, and the court scenes became more impactful for me.

The timely topics brought about by this novel are ones that everyone should be discussing today, and this book is one way to broach the topic with teens.  Although I think that reading both the novel and its graphic novel version would be preferable, I realize that Walter’s provoking novel can be powerful in either version (although I’m not sure I would have caught everything that happened at the beginning of the novel if I hadn’t read the book first.)  Be sure to check it out.

My favorite interviews with Myers:

http://www.npr.org/2011/06/17/137223046/a-writer-and-his-father-and-a-barrier-between-us

http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/07/03/327854809/the-late-walter-dean-myers-wrote-in-the-language-of-teens

The Marvels by Brian Selznick

“You either see it or you don’t.”

The Marvels starts out much like its two predecessors, The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck, with amazing, expressive visuals.  This artwork propels the reader through the first half of the book (around 387 pages) and introduces us to Billy Marvel in 1766, who is aboard a ship that later sinks in a storm.  Billy’s older brother perishes, but Billy survives and has found himself on an island.  Just after he buries his brother, a great fire overtakes the island and Billy is rescued by another vessel that sees the flames.  When Billy returns to London, he is widely known as the shipwrecked survivor.  He eventually finds his home in the Royal Theater, and his descendants go on to have an amazing legacy in the theater for generations.

Selznick’s story shifts into the narrative form and introduces us to Joseph in 1990.  Joseph happens to be running away from his boarding school.  His parents are overseas, and he is looking to find his uncle, Albert Nightingale.  Albert lives in a beautiful, ornate home in London and seems preoccupied with Joseph not touching or disturbing anything in his home.   Joseph is intent on figuring out the mystery about the house, his unusual family, and where he really belongs.  Albert doesn’t always help him with this endeavor, however: “Stories aren’t the same as facts!” Joseph shouts. “No,” Albert reasons, “but they can both be true.”  This fantastical adventure story’s two plotlines eventually do fuse together in a somewhat unanticipated way.

This is a beautiful, innovative book.  Although this book didn’t quite capture my heart like The Invention of Hugo Cabret, my mind relished the narrative mystery and the overall complexity of artwork and text.  Based partially on a true story, this imaginative book about family, friendship, family, love, tragedy, grief, art, and more.  It’s evident that Selznick keeps pushing his talents to the next level, and you’ll enjoy taking this journey.  It is definitely a marvel worth checking out.

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