Sunday, April 06, 2014

Susan's Book Review: Smile by Raina Telgemeier

Teeth issues defined Raina’s adolescence and Smile is an autobiographical graphic novel that follows her from 6th grade to 10th grade. When she first found out she needed braces to correct an overbite, she didn’t want them. Then one night after a Girl Scout meeting, she falls and knocks her two front teeth out (well, one was actually shoved up into her gum. *shudder*). Suddenly braces are the least of her problems! Over the next few years, her dentist tries every trick: he fuses her teeth to her bone; they don’t take. He pulls them and gives her fake teeth on a retainer. She gets headgear (she only has to wear it at night, thankfully). She gets braces and they attempt to shift her teeth and make new front teeth. Meanwhile, Raina is desperately trying to be normal and fit in at school, get a boy to notice her, and find friends who accept her for who she is. You know, she’s a teen.

Raina is about a year and a half older than me, so the pop culture of her teen years was also the pop culture of mine. She goes to see The Little Mermaid (although she acts too cool for it) and comes out mesmerized and convinced she wants to be an animator. She breaks with her longtime group of friends after years of small abuses and one unforgivable public humiliation, and that opens her up to finding like-minded friends who encourage her creativity. Raina does a great job of capturing special moments like finding out your passion could be a career, obsessing over a boy who has never even spoken to you, or realizing your friends aren’t really your friends. Her style of illustration is colorful, bold and straightforward. The art and text go together seamlessly, an advantage of being an author-illustrator, I imagine.

I felt sick reading the panels where Raina falls and is rushed to the dentist. Knocking out my teeth is a big fear of mine. Most fears I can manage by avoiding them, like roller coasters or public speaking, but losing my teeth could happen any number of ways! Anyone who knows me well knows that I love teeth. It’s what I look at when people speak and I’m positive I could recognize anyone I know (and most celebrities) from the nose down.  As I read Smile, I kept flipping to look at the author photo in the back and I’m impressed! Everything looks normal. Raina never mentions what anything costs in the book, but I wonder the price tag on her smile. In any case, she turned her dental horror into a great coming-of-age story that won the 2011 Eisner Award for Best Publication for a Teen Audience. I hope she continues to mine her teen years for more awesome graphic novels!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Travis' Book Review: Joker: Death of the Family by Scott Snyder and others

Writer Scott Snyder, whose Batman titles The Black Mirror and Night of the Owls are being heralded as some of the best comic runs ever, came up with the concept of recruiting all the writers in the current Batman universe to write about a single event – the return of the Joker. Having been absent from comic books for over a year, the last appearance of the Joker was in an early run of Tony S. Daniels’ Detective Comics when the Joker allowed another Gotham psycho to cut his face off before he disappeared from the world of The New 52. A year later, the Joker suddenly reappears in Gotham wearing his old face as a mask, permanently revealing both the grit and grin beneath. The Joker also reveals that he has been busy, and by sporting a mechanic’s jumpsuit complete with the nametag Joe (instead of his old purple tuxedo), he shows everyone that he’s a working man. He’s spent the past year plotting his most nefarious and elaborate joke, yet – making Batman stronger. In the Joker’s demented mind, however, making Batman stronger means freeing him from the burden of friends and family. And it’s time for him to go to work.  

A collaboration of 9 different series, each with different writers, Joker: Death of the Family is a lofty undertaking that works much better in theory than in practice. While the premise stays intact within the confines of the nearly 500 pages, the story is jumbled and often jumps around without any continuity. The reader gets to see what happens to Batman and his allies (Batgirl, Nightwing, Robin, etc.), but since the events happened as individual parts of their own story, the compendium lacks any transition between the individual plots. The individual stories of most of the characters have also been edited for relevant information, like exposition. If the reader wants to fully engage with their favorite non-Batman hero, or even villain in some instances, he or she will have to read that character’s series. For most part, reading the compendium is like reading the newspaper headlines and not the articles – you know what happened, but you don’t know all of the details.

Even so, the plot still develops and concludes with enough cohesiveness that the reader sees the big picture – which, in essence, is the goal of any collection. Be warned, though, that the collection, and its parts, can be a bit gruesome and is only recommended for older teens and above. For example, the book includes some crowbars to the head, a little bit of face-removal, and at one point, the Joker even creates a human tapestry reminiscent of The Human Centipede. Quite often, the violence can detract from the story, seemingly only there for shock value. If the writers wanted to use violence to push the demented villain further than he ever has gone before, then some Batman fans, like me, could potentially see the effort as juvenile and even disrespectful to the legacy of the comics. So, Joker: Death of the Family is definitely not for the squeamish. That said, Joker is still a must read for any fan of Batman that lacks either the means or desire to read the separate series, simply to appreciate the magnitude of the event, love it or hate it. For casual comic readers, though, you’ll get just as much from the story by simply reading Batman Vol. 3.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Jennifer's Book Review: The Gallagher Girls series by Ally Carter

Cammie Morgan attends the prestigious Gallagher Academy, an all-girls school for gifted students. Or, at least that’s what the brochure says. What it doesn’t say is that it’s also an all-girls school for spies-in-training. The school invites the best and the brightest girls, beginning in sixth grade, to learn about picking locks, weapons and all forms of espionage. Cammie is a legacy, and her mother is the headmistress.

 The series is an amusing, fast-paced and totally unrealistic read. Cammie and her friends manage to solve international crimes and mysteries that adults can’t, and they generally outsmart any baddie they come up against. While the adventures get more and more dangerous as the girls age (from 15 to 18), the contents do not “age” with the character as some other series do. The romance is minimal (moving from flirting to handholding to chaste kisses[1]), and while there is some violence, it’s not very detailed (Cammie does kill two people in self-defense and witnesses the deaths of other people). It is important to read this series in order because it has an ongoing adventure throughout the series—the mysterious secret society the Circle of Cavan wants Cammie dead, and she’s determined to discover why.

This book isn’t without its faults. It definitely has its fill of token (geek, minority) characters who serve as Cammie’s sidekicks. Most characters are completely one-dimensional, and the girls in the school, except for level-headed Cammie, all act like annoying stereotypical teenage girls when in the presence of boys and handsome professors. Additionally, the premise is not very believable. Training girls from the age of 12 up to become spies (and having them perform actual, deadly missions in their upper teens) is unlikely, so warn potential readers that they will be required to suspend their disbelief!

Despite these issues, the series is a fun action-adventure romp, with just a small bit of romance sprinkled in. It ends on a happily-ever-after note, and the series could easily be transformed into a Disney TV show or movie. I’d recommend this to middle-grades teens who are looking for a laugh-out-loud, easy-to-read series.



[1] The most risqué thing in the final novel is this line: “But Zach’s hand was warm in mine, and I didn’t feel the chill, even when he stopped me on the stairs, pressed me against the wall, and kissed me. Softly at first, then more urgently, hungrily. It was like he hadn’t eaten in weeks.” And that’s it. They pull apart, and talk. And that’s only in the last book…the earlier books have even less. p.s. Does it sound like he’s trying to eat her face to anyone else? Seriously…like he hadn’t eaten in weeks? Ick.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Teen Tech Week Contest!

To highlight the many great tech resources available at your local library, we’re having a fun and easy contest! During the month of March, visit this www.facebook.com/scplteens and post your favorite library tech resource OR something you’ve learned to DIY because of the library.* Tag your post with #TTW14.

On April 1st, we’ll draw a winner at random to win a $50 Amazon gift card.

If you’re not on Facebook, you can email your entry to teens@infodepot.org, and we’ll post it for you. For teens ages 12-18 or in grades 7-12.

Heather's Book Review: Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries, Volume 1 by Hey-Jin Jeon

Lizzie Newton is equal parts Agatha Christie and Sherlock Holmes, a budding mystery writer who does more than write mysteries—She solves them, too. No one wants to believe this of her, though, because this is the Victorian era, after all, and women don’t do that sort of thing. This is why Lizzie must hide her talents behind a masculine pen name and send her deductions through her lawyer-in-training fiancé, Edwin. But this doesn’t stop her from traipsing onto crime scenes as she sees fit, prodding corpses, and showing up everyone who thinks she’s wrong with a cute grin and the power of logic and science.

I didn’t expect much of Hey-jin Jeon’s Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries Volume 1 simply because I’d never heard of it before. Now that I’ve finished it, I can’t help but wonder why. It’s a true gem of a comic.

What’s most impressive about Lizzie Newton is the number of things that could have gone wrong in the comic compared to the number of things that it did very well. The illustration on the cover—wide-eyed Lizzie, smiling sweetly in a frilly dress—led me to expect the adventures of a vapid girly-girl who stumbles clumsily but adorably into her solutions because that’s what happens in manga where the protagonist is a cute girl. Lizzie is anything but. While she is absent-minded, it’s in an intellectual way—She’s so distracted by the thrill of solving a mystery that it never occurs to her that it is NOT OK to poke her finger into the bullet hole in a corpse’s head before the police even arrive to investigate the scene. And though she is, for all appearances, a cute Victorian lady with limited practical sense, there’s a real brain behind that bonnet, and a personal collection of books and scientific equipment to back it up. She’s a perfect combination of “feminine” cuteness and “masculine” logic, without being an exaggeration of either. Her relationship with Edwin is also refreshingly positive. Edwin himself is a capable (as opposed to amusingly bumbling) companion. Though he does, of course, become exasperated with Lizzie’s absent-mindedness, he’s ultimately supportive of her investigative hobbies and does what he can to make Lizzie’s discoveries known—in her name. In fact, in addition to portraying a female protagonist who is productively interested in science (as opposed to using science for comedic, explosive effect), the comic makes a notable effort to say, “You know that famous male scientist who discovered that thing? Yeah, half of that work was done by an un-credited woman” (in this face, Ada Lovelace, who wrote the language for the Analytical Engine that preceded Charles Babbage’s unfinished Difference Engine). Yet none of these feministic elements are ever preachy. Lizzie Newton is definitely a Girl Power/Girl-Who-is-GASP-Interested-In-Science book, but it’s more interested in its amusing characters and the details of its plot to dwell on the social concerns that it brings up.

Plot-wise, it’s an interesting whodunit, though the process Lizzie follows to solve the mystery is more interesting than the mystery itself. I never really cared about who may or may not have killed whom in the story, but that was mostly because 1) they were background characters anyway, and 2) the rest of the comic is more interesting.

The art in the book is also worth a mention. The detail that artist Ki-ha Lee puts into costumes and settings is reminiscent of Yana Toboso’s Black Butler, as is the occasional tonal shift between dark, dramatic illustration and funny chibis. In fact, I’d go as far to say that this manga is what Black Butler would be if it involved a detective and an actual point. Tonally, the two are almost identical (even if their stories are ABSOLUTELY dissimilar). The care put into the artwork also recalls Kaoru Mori’s Emma, which was noted for its artist’s obsessive interest in Victorian details, even if her character designs were a bit blah. Lee’s designs lean more toward Toboso’s distinct, expressive characters. Either way, the artwork is lovely and enough reason, on its own, to read the book.

Lizzie Newton: Victorian Mysteries Volume 1, then, is an excellent manga for readers who enjoy a good mystery with wonderful art, a dash of scientific investigation, and a sneaky lot of girl power spunk. (Note: The back of the book claims that it also contains “a spot of Jane Austen,” which it doesn’t, unless you count the fact that Lizzie shares a name with one of Austen’s protagonists. Also Jane Austen was Regency, not Victorian, so GET YOUR LITERARY PERIODS STRAIGHT, MARKETERS. Anyway, regardless, Austenites are likely to enjoy it because frilly dresses and pride-and-prejudice-smackdowns and stuff.)