Heroine Complex and Heroine Worship

Who says a book starring a person of color has to be dark and realistic?  Or that it takes darkness and realism to make a serious statement?  I finally tracked down these books that I’d been wanting to read since I first read about them on the Book Smugglers.

Heroine Complex by Sarah KuhnHeroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn. Daw, 2016.
Evie Tanaka is the personal assistant to San Francisco’s favorite superheroine, Aveda Jupiter.  They’ve been best friends since grade school, when Evie and then-Annie Chang were best friends who stuck up for each other in the face of the teasing they got for being the only Asians in school.  Now, though, demon portals are opening up all over San Francisco, and Evie’s in charge of making sure that Aveda Jupiter has everything she needs to slay the demons and look good doing it.  Also on Aveda’s team are the lusty weapons master and bodyguard Lucy, who can charm every woman she meets except the owner of the trendy cupcake shop where demons most recently appeared, as well as the team’s handsome but antagonistic scientist and doctor Nate.  In addition to managing the team, Evie also has to deal with her rebellious teenage sister, Bea, and Scott, who used to be part of a trio with her and Aveda but now won’t talk to Aveda.  Meanwhile, they’re followed by a backstabbing blogger, Maisy, who only pretends to be friendly. There’s a lot of facing down personal demons and some romance (including sexytimes), as well as fun San Francisco locales and time in the karaoke bar, all while battling demons who take the shape of whatever they first find when they cross through – like cupcakes.  Issues like racism and sexism are present but take backstage to the sheer awesomeness and fun of the characters.  Really, how can you go wrong with demon cupcakes?

Heroine Worship by Sarah KuhnHeroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn. Daw, 2017.
In book two of the trilogy, Aveda Jupiter takes center stage, set against a bridal industry that’s literally possessing brides.  There’s been no recent demon activity, so Aveda pours all of her considerable energy into planning Evie’s wedding as her maid of honor.  Aveda’s perfectionism runs head-on into Evie’s much more casual style, causing problems between the best friends.  Things go from bad to worse when the designer chiffon dress with red flowers at the neckline that Annie loves is literally possessed, first trying to kill Evie and then turning her into a bridezilla.  Soon, Bridezilla fever is spreading through San Francisco.  With Evie affected, too, Aveda turns to her old, estranged friend Scott for help.  We also meet San Francisco’s other superheroine, Shruti, whose powers have been stepping up even as she’s running a successful vintage clothing business.  Blogger Maisy is still present, supposedly reformed – but can she really be trusted?  And Evie’s little sister Bea is taking on increasing responsibility, getting ready to take center stage herself in the third book in the series.  Heroine’s Journey is out this summer, just in time for me to try to track it down.

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Aru Shah and Kiranmala

I’m always on the lookout for more books for Percy Jackson fans, especially from non-Western European cultures.  Happily, Rick Riordan has started his own imprint to do just this thing – but Scholastic also recently published a book with a similar feel based on Indian mythology.  Two in one year, when I hadn’t seen any since Sarwat Chadda’s The Savage Fortress, back in 2013.

Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani ChokshiAru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi. Disney-Hyperion, 2018.
Aru lives in the Atlanta Museum of Ancient Indian Culture, and is often left alone while her mother travels to find more artifacts.  She’s settled on fibbing as a way to gain popularity, though this unsurprisingly doesn’t really work.  When some of her classmates stop by the museum and don’t believe that the lamp on display is really magical, as in Aru’s stories, she lights it.  But lighting it frees an ancient demon and kicks off a freezing plague, so her classmates aren’t awake to appreciate it.  She has woken the Sleeper, and is off to stop it, together with the requisite snarky animal side-kick and her sister-of-legend, Mini (who is part Filipina! Hooray!).  Unlike Aru, Mini has grown up training to be a Pandava hero.  I also found her a much more sympathetic character.  Aru, Mini, and sidekick (whose name I neglected to record – oops!) have many exciting and humor-filled adventures, including a journey to Death, finding magical weapons, and visiting a Night Bazaar disguised as a Costco.  I liked it about as much as the Rick Riordan books, which is to say that the adventure rushes by so quickly I didn’t have as much time as I liked to get to know the characters, but it feels pitch-perfect for more plot-oriented readers.

The Serpent's Secret. Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond Book 1 by Sayantani DasGuptaThe Serpent’s Secret. Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond Book 1 by Sayantani DasGupta. Scholastic, 2018.
Kiran in Parsippany, New Jersey, is the daughter of convenience store owners who nevertheless insist that she dress as a “real Indian Princess” every Halloween, even though she doesn’t like princesses and her birthday is on Halloween.  But on her twelfth birthday, she comes home from school to find a birthday card and a cut-off note from her mother saying not try to rescue her and her father but to trust the princes. Kiran’s reading of this is interrupted by a rakkhosh, a very large monster of Indian legend, destroying her house.  As this is happening, two very cute brothers only a little older than she is show up: bored, sarcastic Neel in blue, handsome and chivalrous if slightly incompetent Lal in red.  They take her out of the “2-D” world, and work to rescue her parents (despite the warning) and stop the end of the world.  There is also an adorable wisecracking and prophesying bird named Tuntuni, lots of death-defying adventures, a touch of awkward romance, and some thoughts on how much our parents do and don’t make who we are.  An afterward goes into the original stories that inspired this tale that draws characters and settings from many of them.  This book had a less frenetic pace despite hitting all the key notes to make it work as Riordan read-alike.  I’m definitely on board for the sequel and am curious about DasGupta’s older book of straight-up retellings of Bengal mythology, The Demon Slayers.

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Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust

Look!  I read one of the books on my missed-from-2017 list.  This is a lovely Snow White retelling for a teen audience with an LGBT spin.

Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa BashardoustGirls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust. Narrated by Jennifer Ikeda. MacMillan Audio, 2017.
In alternating narrations, we hear the stories of two girls growing into women: Mina, whose alchemist father pushes her to use her beauty to gain advantage, telling her that she’s incapable both of loving and of being loved for herself.  Partly with his pushing, partly with her own skill, she earns a marriage to the grieving widowed king living in Whitespring, where winter never leaves.

Linnet is the daughter of that king, and has grown up idolizing her stepmother.  As a girl, she craves adventure, climbing trees and walls in the courtyard whenever she can.  Her father, though, wants her to be delicate and refined, just like the dead mother she resembles.  The older she grows, the more she’s torn between her desire to please her father and her need to be her own person. The beginnings of change to this unhappy balance come when a young female surgeon, only a year or two her senior, comes to work at the castle.

The relationship here is a lot more interesting than in the typical Snow White story – Linnet loves Mina wholeheartedly, while Mina believes she’s incapable of love and is also pushed by the king not to try to replace Linnet’s mother.  There’s a lot here of women discovering their own power and their own way to love outside of what they’re told is proper.  Jennifer Ikeda’s rich voice works very well for this fairy tale setting which conveys classic magic in a historic setting despite the more modern romantic aspects.  Though I’ve focused on the personal aspects in this review, there are also quite a bit of politics as Mina and Linnet must work to keep the kingdom together, as well as thoughts on the worship of the past queen who caused the everlasting winter. Highly recommended.

Here are some other Snow White retellings I’ve read, in order from middle grade to adult.

  • Snow in Summer by Jane Yolen (billed as middle grade, but very dark)
  • Winter by Marissa Meyer (straight-up teen and high adventure)
  • Snow by Tracy Lynn (adult, I think?  It’s been a long time.)
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That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. JohnstonThat Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston. Penguin Random House, 2017
Welcome to a retro-futuristic present day, where the reign of Victorias never ended, thanks to the first Victoria’s making matches for her children on every continent. This blends together with advanced genetic match-making by Computer.  Here we meet three young people.  Introverted Helena is preparing for her debut – and is invited to a big debut ball in Toronto, where the current Queen Victoria will be present.  The debut marks the official start of adulthood, a time for young women to launch their careers as well as start looking for matches.

Helena already has plans to marry Lam August Callaghan, heir to the Callaghan shipping empire in Ontario, though she does not know that he has unfortunately gotten the business tangled with some nasty American pirates.  The third major character, we slowly find out, is Princess Victoria Margaret, heir to the British Empire.  She’s in disguise – using her middle name, wearing her African-curly hair combed out instead of hidden under a wig,  and in Toronto rather than London – so that she can have her own debut.

Once again, E.K. Johnston takes several familiar themes, shakes them up, and comes out with something completely unique.  I loved the world-building here, the names of the English Country dances being done so familiar to me, mixed with computerized match-making intent on getting a perfect blend of genes from around the world, even if people are free to go their own way or not submit their profile to the Computer in the first place.  I really liked both Helena and Margaret, and was somewhat less taken with August, which is probably why the romance almost but not quite worked for me.  The book does get points, though, for being the only teen book I’ve ever read that even mentioned intersex people, let alone having one as a main character.  (Who is it?  Read the book to find out!) There is lots packed into a relatively slim book, with lots to think about afterwards.

But – Ms. Johnston, I love your books and I love Ontario, where I have spent many happy times from childhood vacations to my honeymoon.  What is it that you have against my home state of Michigan, and why is it destroyed in all of your books set in Ontario?  Could we please be friends?

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Bad Luck Kids: Trials of Morrigan Crow and Book of Boy

Here are two stories of children in very different worlds, but both considered to be bad luck.

The first was all over the blogs I read in the middle of Cybils season last year.  It’s just as delightful a few months later!

The Trials of Morrigan Crow. Nevermoor 1 by Jessica TownsendTrials of Morrigan Crow. Nevermoor #1 by Jessica Townsend. Hachette, 2017.
Every Eventide, in a world powered by Wunder and Squall Industries, the 12-year-long Ages change.  But babies born at Eventide are considered cursed, responsible for all the troubles around them and doom to die at the start of the next age.  Morrigan Crow is barely tolerated by her powerful family for most of her life for just this reason, as her father pays out fees to everyone around who claims that Morrigan’s interference caused them to sprain their ankles or lose the spelling bees.

The age is just changing and Morrigan has seen the terrifying smoke hounds out to get her.  Suddenly, she is rescued by flamboyant, ginger-haired Jupiter North, who takes her to his beautiful Deucalion Hotel in the Magical Kingdom and tells her she’ll be competing in formal Trials to be one of the next members of the Wundrous Society. Much like a certain boy wizard, she’s set adrift in a world with unfamiliar rules.  She meets kids her age who may become friends (a decently diverse lot, though that’s clearly not the focus), and is constantly wondering what talent she might have that would cause Jupiter North to break so many rules to bring her over.  This is fast-moving despite its length, and lots of fun. It will be eligible for this year’s Cybils, but is already on of the High Five for Michigan’s YouPer award.


I have always loved a good solid story of the middle ages, (fantasy touch not necessary but appreciated) and this one came recommended by both Betsy Bird at a Fuse #8 Production and Charlotte of Charlotte’s Library.

The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert MurdockThe Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock. Greenwillow Books, 2018.
Boy considers that to be his name. He’s considered bad luck because of his hump – it’s 1350, and a deformity like that must be an outward manifestation of some horrible sin.  He used to be cared for – and beaten – by Father Petrus – and now is beaten and less cared for by Cook, the new wife of brain-injured Sir Jacques, since his Lady her beautiful babies all died in the plague.  When a man called Secundus comes by looking for relics of St. Peter, Boy decides to join him in hopes of being healed by pilgrimage himself.  It doesn’t take long before Boy has traveled farther than he ever has before – or to discover that Secundus is not the holy man that he’s led Boy to believe.  Boy’s lively character balances out the old-fashioned feeling, and humor, action, and feeling are also kept nicely balanced.  Though the action is less over-the-top, it would still pair excellently with The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz.

There’s also Bad Luck Girl, the last book in the American Fairy trilogy by Sarah Zettel, for another bad luck kid.  And of course, Catherine Gilbert Murdock has written many wonderful but quite different books for teens, including Dairy Queen and Princess Ben.

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May + June Challenge Update

#SummerSoLit Bingo Challenge:

My friend Akilah at the Englishist is co-hosting a summer reading challenge going from the Summer Solstice through the Fall Equinox.  I must admit that real life is being tough right now and I haven’t been out searching for books to meet the criteria… so right now I have read only book that fits any of the squares, though I have a couple others checked out that might work.


bellatsealeyheadBeach on the cover: The Bell at Sealey Head by Patricia McKillip (not at all diverse)

I just today started a book with a One Word Title, Warcross by Marie Lu.

If you, dear reader, have any thoughts on good books, preferably diverse middle grade or teen, that would help me make a row or two – like a Collection of Stories by a POC, Fireworks on the Cover or Heat in the title, please let me know in the comments!

I’m also continuing with the Diversity Reading Challenge hosted by Pam at the Unconventional Librarian.  Here’s what I’ve read so far this year, with books read since my last update in May in bold.  Friends, if you’ve read Tess of the Road by Rachel Hartman, would you count Tess as having a mental illness?  Let me know what you think!

Diversity Challenge Update

  1. Written by or about a person of Hispanic origin:
  • Shadowhouse Fall by Daniel Jose Older
  • Stella Diaz Has Something to Say by Angela Dominguez
  • A Dash of Trouble. Love Sugar Magic #1 by Anna Meriano
  • The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya
  • The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo
  • The Inexplicable Logic of My Life by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
  1. A book in which a character suffers from a mental illness:
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
  1. A book written by or about someone on the spectrum:
  • All the Crooked Saints by Maggie Stiefvater. Narrated by Thom Rivera
  • Watchdog by Will McIntosh
  1. A book with an African-American [or African] young woman as the main character:
  • Sky Full of Stars by Linda Williams Jackson
  • Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson
  • Dragons and Marshmallows. Zooey and Sassafras Book 1 by Asia Citro
  • Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
  • Upside-Down Magic by Sarah Mlynowski, Lauren Myracle, and Emily Jenkins
  • The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson
  • Binti: the Night Masquerade by Nnedi Okorafor
  • Dread Nation: Rise Up by Justina Ireland
  1. A book containing an Asian main character
  • Jasmine Toguchi: Super Sleuth by Debbi Michiko Florence
  • Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
  • Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
  • Aru Shah and the End of Time by Roshani Chokshi
  • The Heroine Complex by Sarah Kuhn
  • Heroine Worship by Sarah Kuhn
  • The Serpent’s Secret. Kiranmala and the Kingdom Beyond Book 1 by Sayantani DasGupta
  • The Big Bed by Bunmi Laditan and Tom Knight
  1. A book with an illustrator of color
  • Crown: an Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James
  • Whoosh: Lonnie Johnson’s Super-Soaking Stream of Inventions by Chris Barton and Don Tate
  • Shining Star: The Anna May Wong Story by Paula Yoo and Lin Wang.
  1. A book with an LGBT main character
  • Spinning by Tillie Walden
  • The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue by Mackenzi Lee. Read by Christian Coulson.
  • Everfair by Nisi Shawl
  • That Inevitable Victorian Thing by K. Johnston
  • Girls Made of Snow and Glass by Melissa Bashardoust
  1. A graphic novel
  • Real Friends by Shannon Hale and LeUyen Pham
  • Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani
  • The Dam Keeper by Robert Kondo and Dice Tsutsumi
  • Where’s Halmoni? By Julie Kim
  • Suee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly and Molly Park
  • Monsters Beware! By Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado
  • Backstagers Vol 1: Rebels Without Applause by James Tynion IV, Rian Sygh, Walter Baiamonte
  1. A book with a Muslim main character
  • Amina’s Voice by Hena Khan
  • Saints and Misfits by S.K. Ali
  1. A book written by or for African-American young men
  • Crown: an Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes and Gordon C. James
  • Juba! by Walter Dean Myers
  • To Catch a Cheat by Varian Johnson
  1. A book in which the author or narrator has a physical disability
  • Hello Goodbye Dog by Maria Gianferrari and Patrice Barton
  • You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner
  • Macy McMillan and the Rainbow Goddess by Shari Green
  • The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock
  1. A book about children during the Holocaust.
  • The Dollmaker of Krakow by M. Romero
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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

“What to Read after Black Panther” part 3. It’s not quite Afrofuturism because it’s decidedly mythic past without even the alternate technology of Everfair, and it came out after I made my display. It still belongs here. Thanks to the Book Smugglers for saying that it lives up to the hype.

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi AdeyemiChildren of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi. Henry Holt, 2018.
In this start to a West African-inspired epic fantasy, we meet two sets of siblings.  Zélie is the daughter of a woman killed for her magic in a kingdom that has outlawed magic and its practitioners.  In a remote floating village, rebellious Zélie secretly learns forbidden martial arts anyway.  Her brother Tzain hides a fiercely loyal heart behind the face of a happy-go-lucky ball player.  Meanwhile, in the capital, the children of the king who outlawed magic are at odds.  Amari, heartbroken at her father’s callous killing of the enslaved girl she considered a friend, Binta*, runs away.  Inan, her brother, chases after her.  Soon Amari, Zélie and Tzain have joined forces in a countdown to save the magic before the summer solstice, after which it will be irretrievably gone, with Inan at the head of a small army out to get them.

This is a vivid and well thought-out world, filled with moments of intense joy amid the struggles both internal and external.  Though a fantasy, this is based in traditional beliefs.  There are ten clans each with an associated deity with its own powers, and the deities are all authentic to West African religion.  This isn’t a familiar tradition to me – I recognized only a few deities from other African fantasies – and xenophile that I am, I’m always happy to learn more.  Adeyemi does a great job with unfolding the world in the context of the exciting and appropriately twisty path to the goal.  It’s a trilogy, and the ending was just enough to feel cohesive while leaving room for the sequel.  Given the near-obligatory nature of romance in teen fantasy, it feels like only the smallest of spoilers to say that the part that worked least well for me was the Forbidden Romance between Zélie and Inan, with Tzain and Amari having a less well-developed one as well. I just couldn’t quite buy it, and felt that Zélie and Amari would have made a more convincing couple.  But that’s a relatively small part of the overall book, and I’ll hold out hope for the next book of the series.  #TeamAmari

Hear more about the book from Tomi Adeyemi on PW KidsCast, or read a more extensive review from Ana at the Book Smugglers.

*Don’t let your name be Binta if you’re in an African fantasy book is the lesson I get from this and Who Fears Death. Binti in Nnedi Okorafor’s Binti series fares marginally better, starting of the trilogy as the only survivor of a massacre.

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Who Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor

#Afrofuturism from my “What to Read after Black Panther” list part two: a full-length adult novel from Nnedi Okorafor, whose books for younger readers I had aggressively sought out while putting off this intense book.  Not for the faint of heart, including rape, female circumcision, and lot of death, but well worth it if you’re able to make it through.

Who Fears Death by Nnedi OkoraforWho Fears Death by Nnedi Okorafor. DAW, 2010.
Onyesonwu is Ewu, a child of deliberate rape of her mother’s Okeke people by the Nuru, whose Great Book tells that the Okeke are meant to be their slaves.  Her name means “Who Fears Death”, a name to give strength to a child whose mixed-race face marks her as an outcast.  Onyesonwu’s mother is one of the few that survived the attack on her village.  After years in the desert, they settled in a village far away from the border and its attacks, where Onyesonwu’s mother marries a friendly blacksmith and they try to carry on with life as normal.

But life isn’t normal.  Onyesonwu has juju, something only men are supposed to have.  When she accidentally performs large magic in public, life gets difficult.  She befriends a group of young girls her own age, bound by their participation in the coming-of-age rites they all come to see as cruel.  This is a diverse group of girls, including a girl with a hefty sexual appetite, one with a steady sweetheart, and one whom the whole village knows is being abused by her father.  She also meets, Mwita, a boy her age who’s the only other Ewu she’s ever me.  He, too, has magic, but he has no problems getting the local master magician to train him, while Onyesonwu has to beg.

There are multiple missions wound through this book.  The most obvious is Onyesonwu’s hunt to find the evil man who raped her mother and gain revenge.  But she also wants to know why even the Okeke accept the message of the Great Book that says that they are inferior, and she works to fix the damage caused by female circumcision, which is here “enhanced” with magic meant to ensure chastity.

The setting is obviously West African, but the time is less obvious – old, breaking-down technology more advanced than our own is in everyday use in the villages, while there are hints of older, very rare plant-based computers like those used in Zarah the Windseeker. Small appearances of Nsbisi, the magical writing system used in the Akata Witch books make me think that all of these books take place at different times in the same universe.

Okorafor writes with simple words and a cadence that, while perfectly understandable and correct, doesn’t feel American, though I’m not familiar enough with West African English use to say that it is that.  Underneath the simple words and revenge-oriented action are big ideas with lots of room for thinking. Front and center is Onyesonwu, a young woman who refuses to give up no matter the odds. It’s currently being adapted for television, so read it now and avoid the rush.

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Everfair by Nisi Shawl

It’s summer reading time at the library.  I love crowds of kids excited about reading, but it does make it challenging to get anything else done.  But waiting patiently in my own review queue, I have a trio of African-based fantasy books.

This is one I’d been hearing about and even promoting since it came out, and was happy to find it available on audio from Overdrive/Libby.  When I put it on a poster in the library (What to read after you watch Black Panther), I knew it was time to actually read it myself.

Everfair by Nisi ShawlEverfair by Nisi Shawl. Narrated by Allyson Johnson. Tantor Media, 2016.
This is an alternate history of the Congo, which in real life was controlled and horribly abused by Belgium.  In 1889, a group of people from super-liberal Fabian Society in England join up rather incongruously with some African-American missionaries and Chinese laborers, where they buy land from Belgium to form a Utopian society in the Congo, which they call Everfair.  But the Congo had residents before Belgium invaded, and its king and head queen don’t want any foreigners taking over their land, however well-intentioned they are.  The story follows the little country and its characters over the course of decades, as people fall in love and break relationships off, fight battles and survive or not, become more convinced of their faith or gradually shift, and as their own perception of the country they’re trying to make changes.  My personal favorites were British Daisy and French Lisette, sometimes living together, sometimes apart, especially as the mixed-race Lisette realizes the depths of Daisy’s unconscious prejudice.  Queen Josina, the favorite of the king’s wives, is also a wonderful character.

I was glad to have been warned by other reviewers (Maureen at By Singing Light, at least) to expect a story of the country, so that I wasn’t disappointed at how characters come and go in the story. Although it didn’t come up in my original description, there are definite fantasy elements here similar to those in Black Panther.  I don’t know if it’s still Afrofuturism, the category I put it in for my display, if it’s set in the past – but it’s cool all the same.  Allyson Johnson does a fine job reading, narrating with an American accent but giving all the characters appropriate accents, including African, British, French, Irish, and various Americans.  The only place she faltered was with a German who had only a sentence or two, so I forgive her.  Overall, this is a compelling and thought-provoking book.

Nnedi Okorafor has been my go-to author for African fantasy for about a decade now, though I hear N.K. Jemison is fabulous, too.  Stay tuned for more if the summer reading hordes allow, and share your favorite authors!

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3 Great Graphic Novels for Kids

This weekend is the A2CAF, the Ann Arbor Comic Arts Festival, which I used to love helping out with back when it was still Kids Read Comics.  Naturally, I’m at work at my regular library rather than there right now, but in celebration of graphic novels for kids, here are three I’ve read recently.

The Tea Dragon Society by Katie O'NeillThe Tea Dragon Society by Katie O’Neill. Oni Press, 2017.
Greta, a young goblin (though she just looks like a brown-skinned girl with small horn buds), is learning the nearly forgotten sword smith trade from her mother.  One day she finds a small lost dragon in the street. It’s a tea dragon, and her efforts to return it lead her to the Tea Dragon Society – two older men (or at least males – one is decidedly nonhuman) who live together and a shy girl about Greta’s age with memory loss – who care for the dragons who grow tea.  Raising the tea dragons and the slow, careful harvesting of their leaves for tea is also nearly a lost art, one that Greta is eager to learn, too. Like Princess Princess Ever After, there are gentle LGBTQ overtones here.  This is an oversized but slim book with beautiful, beautiful manga-inspired art, just the right length (as I think Ursula Vernon said) for reading over a cup of tea.  I would really love a longer, more fleshed-out story, as well as a tea dragon of my own, but this is still lovely.  There’s a related card game coming out later this month, which I’m also quite curious about.

Suee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly and Molly ParkSuee and the Shadow by Ginger Ly and Molly Park. Translated by Keo Lee and Jane Lee. Amulet Books, 2017.
Here is the last of the Cybils middle grade graphic novel finalists.  (You can read my reviews of the other 2017 finalists here and here.) In this decidedly creepy Korean import, Suee and her father move from the city to the suburbs of “Outskirtsville”, where her father continually breaks his promise to come home in time to cook dinner.  Suee feels a great sense of superiority towards the country kids at her new school, which allows her to feel smug rather than hurt when she doesn’t make friends easily.  She only barely remembers a trip to the school Exhibit Hall, where she a handled an old pot.  But suddenly, her shadow is talking back to her and is not at all pleasant.  Other children around the school are losing their shadows altogether and becoming so zombie-like the unaffected children call them “zeroes”, though the adults don’t notice the severity of the problem.  Two people refuse to be put off by Suee’s prickly behavior – a smart, popular boy named Hyunwoo and Haeun, a shy girl in an old-fashioned yellow dress.  Can Suee trust them enough to solve the mystery? This is a great one for budding horror fans.

Be Prepared by Vera BrosgolBe Prepared by Vera Brosgol. First Second, 2018.
In this fictionalized version of her own memories, Vera tells the story of how young Vera ended up spending a summer at a rustic camp.  Vera always feels left out at school – she’s invited to sleepovers, for example, but left out of the circle.  Her family can’t afford the expensive summer camps other kids go to. When she hears about a camp just for Russian-American kids that her church could help pay for, she begs her mother to let her go, convinced this will be a place she can finally fit in. Except, not so much.  At nearly 10, she’s put in a tent with two 14-year-olds who have been coming since they were seven.  Everything is done in Russian, including history lessons, and while she can speak it fine, her reading is at the same level it was when she left Russia at age five.  The stinking, doorless outhouse is a nightmare, and her little brother won’t speak to her.  Will anything redeem this trip, and will she even survive to be picked up?  Brosgol tells the story in rounded pictures, showing her eyes big behind her giant glasses.  The coloring is in shades of green throughout, which somehow works even when highlighting rosy cheeks and knees.  This is a so-awful-it’s-hilarious story to appeal to the many fans of realistic graphic novels like Smile and Real Friends

Three graphic novels, all very different – it just goes to show (if you weren’t already convinced) that it’s a format, not a genre.

Posted in Books, Fantasy, Graphic Novel, Middle Grade, Realistic | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments