I Know What You Did Last Summer

All Summer Long by Hope Larson. Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018. 9780374310714. 172pp.

I loved this amazing middle grade graphic novel by Hope Larson (A Wrinkle in Time, Batgirl, Chiggers, and my favorite of hers, Salamander Dream). Bina (13) is stuck at home and all alone after finishing 7th grade when her best friend and next door neighbor Austin (also 13) heads for soccer camp. They’re growing up and may be growing apart — Austin doesn’t want to participate in calculating their Combined Summer Fun Index anymore, and seems to be looking ahead to high school rather than their last year in middle school. But she starts to get seriously good on her electric guitar, and finds a few bands she really likes. Has she found her thing, music? Are things about to get weird between her and Austin? Can she really be friends with Austin’s older sister, Charlie, the loudest lifeguard at the pool?

Larson’s graphic novel captures something true about the transitional time at the end of middle school without turning it into too overt a lesson, and shows that, yeah, boys and girls can absolutely be just friends for the long term.

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Unruly Assassins for the Exceptional Assassin Trainer

Deadly Class Volume 1: Reagan Youth (1987) by Rick Remender and Wes Craig. Image, 2015. 9781632150035. Contains Deadly Class #1 – #6. Publisher’s Rating M / Mature.

I hadn’t read this series by Remender, and when I saw the Syfy network will soon air a show based on it, I wanted to read at least a bit of it before it aired. Based on the first collection, I’m going to give the TV series a try (but first I’m going to read the other collections — including the 7th, which comes out this August).

San Francisco, 1987. Marcus is living on the streets after the Sunset Boys Home was closed down. It’s rough, but he prefers it, and when begging isn’t enough to get by he turns to petty crime. And he’s being watched.

During a Day of the Dead celebration, he runs afoul of a police sting, and a beautiful girl helps him escape the cops (though she also helps abduct him). It’s all good, though, because a dapper bald guy with a serious mustache wants to make him an offer: attend Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts and train to become one of the world’s greatest assassins. The girl is already a student there so, really, in what world would he say no?

Marcus enters the school with a dangerous rep (it’s not clear why for a while), and gets a lot of the wrong kind of attention from different cliques. The cops are after him, breaking the school’s rules can have serious consequences, and there’s a disfigured redneck straight out of Preacher hunting him, too. But Marcus wants to succeed because he wants revenge. He plans to kill the man he blames for his parents’ deaths: Ronald Reagan.

Death and Catses

The Family Trade written by Justin Jordon & Nikki Ryan, art by Morgan Beem. Image, 2018. 9781534305113. 144pp. Contains issues #1 – #5 of the comic book. Publisher’s Rating T / Teen

In the Atlantic Ocean there’s an artificial island called The Float, aka the Free Republic of Thessalia, a center for commerce and democracy in a world like ours but with a little more magic. Jenn Wynn’s family has always secretly done whatever was needed to keep the Float above water, including stealing and killing. At the start of the story she’s out to assassinate a corrupt politician out to seize power for himself by getting people to believe his half truths. Things don’t go well, but she’ll try again. Luckily she can pretend to be a sweet, innocent girl if needed, and she’s also got an army of “talking” cats on her side.

Beem’s illustrations are really fun, and her watercolors bring my favorite of Richard Scala’s color comics to my mind. You can see some of Beem’s comics and illustrations here

Slapped by Adam Smith

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson. Candlewick Press, 2017. 9780763687892.

After watching humans for decades, the aliens have landed. The Earth is now part of the Interspecies Co-Prosperity Alliance, trading the energy being harvested by the vuuv for advanced technology to solve the world’s problems. But the technology went to Earth’s big corporations, so you can only get it if you can afford it. Earth currencies are worth almost nothing in vuuv money, so only the privileged few  can have their diseases cured and live in beautiful floating cities.

Adam’s family is broke. His mom’s old job is done by a vuuv computer program and she’s spending every day looking for work. Even a job at a soup kiosk at the mall has an applicant line around the block, so they have to rent part of their house out to another family. Adam falls for the family’s daughter, Chloe, and they decide to make money from the vuuv by becoming stars in a 1950s-style dating reality show. They strap on sensors and look at sunsets together while the vuuv watch. (The vuuv don’t reproduce the same way humans do so it all seems exotic.) But the love and the money don’t last.

This book is not subtle: it’s about colonization and economic exploitation. The ideas in it would only be new and mind-blowing to young people. But the family’s financial hardships and indignities pile up gradually, building a claustrophobic feeling as the family loses the hope of making their own way out of poverty even as Adam refuses to compromise himself.

A girl a girl a girl

Pemmican Wars (A Girl Called Echo Volume 1) by Katherena Vermette, Scott B. Henderson, and Donovan Yuciuk. Highwater Press, 2018. 9781553796787. 47pp.

Echo is a thirteen-year-old Métis girl living in a group home and attending a new school. In her history class she falls asleep and finds herself having a realistic dream about being in the North-Westernern Territory in 1814 and witnessing a buffalo hunt. The next day she falls asleep at home, and when she again finds herself in 1814 it’s clear she’s not dreaming — which gives her a chance to make a friend and learn about her people firsthand.

I know this sounds a little like an After School Special, but the book doesn’t overuse words, is well written, and both Henderson’s art and Yaciuk’s colors are top notch. There’s more to love here including a teacher who prefers they / them pronouns and a difficult conversation between Echo and her mom. A timeline of the Pemmican Wars, a recipe for pemmican, and a few verses by Pierre Falcon at the back make this a great title for libraries. (The next book is due out in September.)

I know this isn’t cheap, but this is exactly the type of high quality, small press graphic novel that deserve librarians’ professional support.

Crimes Against Fashion

The Fashion Committee: A Novel of Art, Crime and Applied Design by Susan Juby. Viking, 2017. 9780451468789.

The exclusive private arts high school in town has a competition for admission and one year’s tuition, and this year’s theme is fashion. Charlie Dean is utterly obsessed, knows all the legendary designers, and creates all her own clothes. John Thomas-Smith thinks fashion is moronic, but there’s no other way he can afford to attend the school to study metalwork. So the race is on to create an original look for a juried fashion show.

This book could have just been a silly competition story and I would have loved it, but it was a lot more. The chapters alternate between Charlie’s and John’s voices. Charlie’s difficult background slowly emerges from her pontificating about style and her design heroes. You can see what a lifeline this scholarship would be for her. John’s decision to join the competition shocks his girlfriend and best friend, which makes John even more determined. It also gradually opens his eyes to how much they want him to be stuck in the same town in the same way they are. John begins to see that fashion can have a positive effect and decides to design clothes for a bullied foster kid. Charlie starts to understand that maybe her life shouldn’t be on hold because of her father’s addiction.

I have no idea how I will booktalk this, but I know I have to share this book.

Extreme Eating

Slider by Pete Hautman. Candlewick Press, 2017. 9780763690700.

After accidentally bidding $2000 for a half-eaten hot-dog (the decimal point is important!), David needs to come up with some quick cash before his mom sees her credit card bill. He’s a fan of competitive eaters (the hot dog was supposedly the only remains of a missed championship bid by one of his favorite superstars), so he turns to his natural ability to eat a whole lot very quickly. He starts entering eating contests for the prize money, first with sliders, but then he graduates to entire pizzas. His friends are enthusiastic. His parents are baffled.

It’s a nice family story. David’s prodigious eating is a big contrast to his autistic brother, Mal, who will only eat chips, fish sticks, and Cheerios. David’s sick of having to care for Mal all the time, but at the same time loves him very much and wants him to be happy. A lot of things change the balance of the family dynamic over that summer, and David’s competitions are only one.