Month: December 2016

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

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