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Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Reader's Diary #1933- Jarrett J. Krosoczka: Hey, Kiddo

Sometimes the strength and resiliency of people amazes me.

In Jarrett J. Krosoczka's graphic memoir Hey Kiddo, he presents himself as a rather meek albeit affable kid whose mother is in and out of rehab and jail, whose father is absent entirely until his later teenage years, and who is being raised by his sometimes rough-around-the-edges grandparents. Such issues are shown as "getting to him" emotionally, but he rarely seems to act out on it, copes with art, and for the most part keeps a positively outlook and is even able to forgive. In one scene, he's shown as being bullied by older kids in a high school gym locker room. He's included this memory, so it must have had impact, but that alone would have been enough to cripple me, let alone all the family drama. Somehow, Krosoczka comes across as amazingly well-adjusted.

 Obviously it's an inspirational sort of story and I suppose teens dealing with their own issues and unconventional families might appreciate it. I am assuming this was behind Scholastic's choice to publish it. That said, to me it felt more like the sort of story an adult would appreciate, given its reflective quality. With the burnt orange monotones, with the use of real artifacts embedded in some scenes, with the overall tone, it reads like an adult looking back rather than a child actually going through these things. Again, I realize that some teen readers will still gravitate toward such books, but to me it felt more like Craig Thompson's Blankets than say, Katherena Vermette's A Girl Called Echo.

Intended audience aside, I really enjoyed it.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Reader's Diary #1932- H.P. Lovecraft: The Music of Erich Zann

As Lovecraft stories go, "The Music of Erich Zann" is pretty tame in terms of terror and weirdness. It also doesn't contain any Cthulhu mythos.

Still, it's a nicely paced, mysterious, atmospheric and creepy piece. The narrator recalls a time when he lived in a boarding house on a street that he can now no longer find on any map. At the time, his upstairs neighbour was often overheard playing a kind of music he'd not heard before and when they finally met, his manner suggested he troubled mentally and perhaps even with just cause due to some unforeseen force. It does have a strange, sci-fi ending but it's also rather ambivalent which may not be to everyone's taste, but I thought it lent to the off-putting vibe.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Reader's Diary #1931: Hope Larson: All Summer Long

I enjoyed Hope Larson's graphic novel adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time but have wondered about original works. Finally with All Summer Long I can say I'm a fan of her own storytelling as well.

All Summer Long is about one particular summer in the life of a thirteen year old girl named Bina. Her best friend Austin is off to summer camp and was becoming stand-offish just before he left. Her plans to relax in front of the TV all summer have squashed by her parents and she's bored. Maybe Austin's older sister will fill his void.

One neat thing about Larson's story is the way she uses really specific, unique details to somehow make the story seem authentic. I'll also say that the theme of young male-female platonic relationships struck a chord with me. As a child, I lived in a remote section of remote town and the only playmate I had nearby, other than my older sister, was a girl a year older than me a few houses away. I was pressured by parents to "hang out with boys" but preferred her company and used proximity as an excuse. But then, once we got older, I'd walk ahead once we neared the bus stop, fearing the teasing that might come if the other kids realized that we hung out. It was wrong. We drifted apart. In Larson's book there's a very similar situation but thankfully Austin is stronger and more mature than I was at the time and I could certainly have used this book back then.

Larson's art is simple and accessible, with a yellow monochromatic scheme that complements the summer setting as well as giving it an air of nostalgia for any old geezers like me who might just pick it up.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Reader's Diary #1930- Elise Gravel: The Mushroom Fan Club

I know that Elise Gravel's junior nonfiction book The Mushroom Fan Club was successful because ever since reading I feel the need to find my favourite mushroom.

It's easy to read, educational with bright, whimsical pictures, but the biggest strength is Gravel's enthusiasm for a topic most people don't even think about beyond "do you want them on your pizza or not?"

I do, however, have one stray, observation: everyone seems to classify it as a graphic novel. I think I have a pretty open idea of the term, but I wouldn't classify this as such anymore than I'd call a mushroom a plant. Yes, the fungi in Gravel's book have been given cartoon faces and yes, a few of them even have speech balloons, but that's about all it would have in common with a comic. The pictures aren't arranged in any necessary sequence and most illustrations simply complement a page of regular text. I suppose the classification hardly matters considering that I enjoyed it anyway, but just as I picked it up originally because I thought it was a graphic novel, there may be those who avoid it accordingly.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Reader's Diary #1929- Whitney Gardner: Fake Blood

I know people often debate whether or not a character's relatability is relevant to one's enjoyment of a book, but I loved Whitney Gardner's graphic novel Fake Blood and I attribute that largely to seeing myself, or at least my much younger self, in central character AJ. If it makes it any easier to digest to those who weigh in against relatability, how about this then: because I can see myself in the character, it's proof that he rings true. Authentic or believable characters should at least be a fair point.

AJ is newly starting grade six. Internally, he compares himself unfavourably to his friends as a bit of a boring dud. And, as he's crushing hard on a new girl in class, he's not exactly confident in his chances. When he finds out she's into vampires, however, AJ develops a plan to make himself more interesting...

The resulting story is very sweet and funny. I also thought there was a compelling theme around the idea of "being oneself." I know concerned adults always stress how important that is, but sometimes, especially for young people, it's also important to play around with their identities. It can be fun and it can also help a person discover aspects of their personality they never knew they had.

There's a subplot in Fake Blood involving AJ's teacher that I thought was a bit on the predictable side, but otherwise the book was great. I especially liked the parodies throughout, including such targets as Harry Potter and Twilight.

Art-wise, I'll say that the quirky, simple style is reflective of the tone of the book, but perhaps not remarkable from a technical sense.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Reader's Diary #1928- Pénélope Bagieu: Brazen

While I quite enjoyed Pénélope Bagieu's Exquisite Corpse when I read it a few months back, I still wasn't overly excited to read Brazen, a graphic novel style collection of Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World.

I'm all for the topic, it's just that I've never seen such collections really work. To summarize a life into a overly brief biography seems, I don't know, insulting perhaps? Too elementary in any case. I'm often left wishing that the writer had just picked one life per book as a focus. I suppose it depends on what we want from such a collection and if it inspires more independent research into a person, that might be considered a win. And on that note, Bagieu did make me download some music by Josephine Baker and Betty Davis.

Another reservation that I had with the collection was Bagieu's take on different cultures. Not from those cultures myself, I cannot say with any authority that she misrepresented them, but I did wonder if it was best for her to tell their stories. Of course, had Baglieu focused only on western white women, that wouldn't have sent the right message either. Maybe it could have been a collaborative book instead?

As it was, with only Bagieu's voice, I found that too many of the women blended together. She has a sort of irreverent sense of humour (it reminds me of Kate Beaton's), which I enjoy a lot, but when almost all of women here are presented with a similar personality, I felt I lost some of their individuality.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Reader's Diary #1927- Catherine Lafferty: Northern Wildflower

Catherine Lafferty's Northern Wildflower is an inspiring memoir filled with engaging anecdotes and insight.

What really sets the book apart, however, is Lafferty's perseverance. A Dene woman, she was no stranger to racism and the effects of colonialism. On top of that, she admits also making some choices that in hindsight probably weren't the best. Still, she seemed to take such moments as opportunities to learn and always managed to rise above it all, most often with humour and positivity, while still calling upon and working toward systemic changes.

Such a memoir could only work if it's honest in detail and emotion and Lafferty does not hold back on either front.

Mahsi Cho to Catherine for bravely sharing her story.

Tuesday, October 09, 2018

Reader's Diary #1926- Sarah Graley: Kim Reaper 1 Grim Beginnings

Sarah Graley's Kim Reaper 1: Grim Beginnings is a hilarious story of a university student named Kim who's taken grim reaping as her student job.It has potential for a lot of dark humour, but the comedy stylings are mostly light and of the silly variety. Reaping is portrayed more as an assistance to the souls of those whose time is up to get to where they're supposed to go.

I also enjoyed that Kim is mostly viewed through the eyes of Becka, a more normal university student, who develops a crush on Kim before realizing her rather unique job and getting caught up in her strange adventures. Becka's shock then mirror the reader's.

As for the art? It wasn't really my thing. It's very fluid and simple, fitting I suppose of a rather un-serious comic such as this, and similar to Rick and Morty (not surprising as Sarah Graley also worked on that series).

Monday, October 08, 2018

Reader's Diary #1925- Cassandra Khaw: These Deathless Bones

Cassandra Khaw's short story "These Deathless Bones" narrated by a witch bride of a king drew me in almost immediately with her rich voice and unique mythology. Then the story begins to switch gears and I was even more impressed.

At first it's clear that she's none too taken with the king's son, her stepson, but while he's presented as a petulant, spoiled brat, I wasn't entirely sure he was deserving of whatever she had in store. But slowly and methodically, the little prince's true character is revealed...

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Reader's Diary #1924- Ngozi Ukazu: Check Please! Book 1 #Hockey

I've been reading a lot of graphic novels lately that explore themes of acceptance. In that same vein, I've been hearing wonderful things about Ngozi Ukazu's Check Please! Book 1: #Hockey a graphic novel about a former figure skater who is now on a varsity hockey team. He's also gay.

I'm not sure, however, that the theme was enough to ultimately win me over. In addition to the wonderful theme, there are other positives. Notably, the characters are all very richly defined. It's also quite fun.

But overall all, I found it to be uneven. In her introduction, Ngozi writes that she doesn't consider the book to be "Very Serious Art" and yet there were glimpses into the greatness that might have been. Bitty, the central character, is a vlogger. As an idea that's fine, but the panels showing him vlogging didn't do anything for me being way too simple. The background doesn't change and it's just him staring straight ahead while the speech balloons change. Then there are other scenes where Ngozi really proved her artistic chops: there's an overhead outdoors scene of a hockey game on a lake where the colouring is just beautiful, there are flashbacks of the team captain drawn in a different, vintage-looking style.

Most problematic for me though was the climax of the story which seemed rather obvious from the get go. Fortunately though this is the 1st in a series and now that the big reveal (which wasn't really a big reveal) is out of the way, I was drawn in enough that I'm curious what happens next.

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Reader's Diary #1923- Joanna Lilley: The Birthday Books

The short stories in Joanna Lilley's The Birthday Books all fall into the quietly insightful category. Had I been in the mood for something with a lot of drama, I'd probably have been disappointed but as it was, this was just what I was looking for right about now. She writes realistically and with economy, though also with warmth.

And, for the most part, I'd not consider any on the gloomy side, instead there tended to be epiphanies and character growth. Plus, Lilley had a real knack for description and with a gamut of settings and scenarios from Yukon to Scotland, I felt like a real armchair traveler.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

Reader's Diary #1922- Dave Bidini: Midnight Light

I hope this doesn't count as too spoilery, but at the end of Dave Bidini's Midnight Light, his memoir of a summer spent working for the local paper, the Yellowknifer, he writes, "Yellowknifers were distinct and true in all of their imperfections, and they taught a lesson one can never be too smart to learn: it's okay to be yourself, whether anyone's noticing or not."

As themes or morals go, it's pretty great and, dare I say it, a pretty astute observation about Yellowknifers especially considering Bidini's relatively short time in the city. It's also explored and written about really well, especially in Bidini's use of reporter John McFadden as an illustrative example. (John McFadden was a rough-around-the-edges Yellowknifer reporter who gained a brief national spotlight after being sued by the RCMP for obstruction of justice.)

Still, I found myself hung up another theme, perhaps a more personal theme, defined a few chapters earlier in Bidini's description of a particular area of town known as the Woodyard, "The Woodyard was still hidden because of its location, visible only once you were in it."

This past Canada Day marked my 10th year in Yellowknife and I'm just now making my peace with one facet of Yellowknife life: there's always a lot happening behind the proverbial scenes. There's more than one might expect and it's happening fast. If you want to keep abreast of it all, you will need to work hard at it and work constantly. If you do not, you'll just have to accept and wait for the inevitable next thing.

Bidini writes about his time here in 2014 and his mere presence came as news to me these four years later. This is not to say he didn't make an impression on people in Yellowknife, just that I wasn't one of them. He seems, too, to have gotten to know certain local "celebrities" far more intimately than I ever have or likely ever will. To some extent, this is due to his role while he was here, acting as a reporter for the Yellowknifer. In essence, it was his job to "be in the know" and he had limited time to do so. I'll also give him credit for being good at what he does in terms of drawing astute, and arguably, shrewd conclusions about people in a short span of time. It certainly doesn't hurt that he was able to write about it all in a very conversational, often witty, tone.

There are, however, undercurrents of gossip that would likely go unnoticed for readers not from here, but that will likely ruffle a few feathers locally. While he sometimes uses aliases or states that particular sources didn't wish to be named, for the most part Bidini names names, shares some pretty personal stories, and even some rather unflattering opinions. Times like those I am thankful that I was caught up in my own world during Bidini's visit! Still, I am quite interested in how those mentioned receive the book.

Monday, October 01, 2018

Reader's Diary #1921- Maryam Atoyebi: Rocks in the Pond

Maryam Atoyebi's "Rocks in the Pond" is a pleasant, slice-of-life type flash fiction story about a couple seeming to be newly in love, wrestling a little with self-consciousness and being open about their feelings. They resist comparing themselves to cliched romance stories but as a reader, I just wanted them to dive in. This is a testament to Atoyebi for making me root for the couple in such a short space.

The story is marred somewhat by typos.