Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A Graphic Canon Collection, Volume I

I have been intrigued by this collection of the literary canon in one, graphic collection, but it is pretty expensive, so it took me a while to break down and buy them. Now that I have, I am really glad I did. Oddly, I was a little disappointed when they first came. Each story has its own style and adaption according to the creator/illustrator/author who adapted that story, either abridged, or in part. Some were incredibly minimalistic, and I wasn't sure I liked that, so it took me a while of pouring through them to see that this was pure genius. 

Volume one starts with Gilgamesh and ends with Dangerous Liaisons. This is the antiquities portion of this series. Some, like Gilgamesh, are written in cartoon-style graphics. Others, like The Odyssey are truly illustrated. Each story is presented differently. For instance, The Odyssey is the piece of the epic poem about Polyphemus. The Sappho entry is a poem within one illustration. Medea is more of your graphic novel kind of illustrations. Some, like Lysistrata or The Flea, contain the kind of illustrations necessary for a story with sexual content, which I have seen some people complain about. I am not sure why reading about the naughty bits is OK, but the minute they are illustrated people get all up in arms, but I didn't think it was anything egregious or gratuitous. It was just the story as it was told! Some entries were all beautiful artwork and no words, like Plato's Symposium

There were excerpts from the Hebrew Bible, Confucius, the Aeneid, The New Testament, Beowulf, etc. Beowulf is pretty amazing, and it does an amazing job at creepy without a single word used! I absolutely LOVED the illustrated poems by Rumi, and they were all so different, unique and beautiful. Some I just wasn't thrilled by, like The Divine Comedy or The Canterbury Tales, but overall, I loved the collection. 

Obviously I wasn't familiar with everything in the book (I am pathetically neglectful of my knowledge in ancient Asian text), but I was impressed with the breadth of the literature represented in this collection. You have everything from the usuals to the Popol Vuh. Some even made me want to seek out the originals I wasn't familiar with, like The Visions of St Teresa of Avila. Absolutely beautiful. There is Dante, Milton, Shakespeare, and everyone else who should represent this end of the chronological canon. 

The best part of this series is the little blurb before each excerpt. There is a brief explanation of the original text that might contain historical references, its discovery, the relevance of the excerpt, and the author's biographical information. Some contain the adaptor's reasons for their choices, which I also found fascinating. The coolest function for having this in a library or classroom would be to reach kids and encourage them to read literature they would never otherwise choose on their own. Maybe if they were intrigued by the graphic Lysistrata, they will do a little digging and find the story a tale they never thought would exist in the antiquities!

An Unfailing Saga

When two worlds are at war for as long as Landfall and Wreath have been fighting, the wounds are almost impossible to heal. They fester and rot until everyone involved has suffered in some inconceivable way. In Brian K Vaughan's third volume of Saga, the two star-crossed lovers find themselves hurtling through the stars to find a safe place for to raise their child. 

Alana and Marko weren't sure where in the world it was safe to take Hazel, but they thought the man who was responsible for her even existing might be the place to start. D. Oswart Heist was an author who wrote the very book that made them think they could act on the chemistry between them. When they arrive, they are half surprised and half not, to find Heist drunk, disheveled, and blathering like an idiot. His planet of Quietus is even less warm and inviting, but they have no choice but to explore every option to keep Hazel safe. 

On Quietus they learn a lot about themselves. With Marko's mother still grieving the loss of his father and Izabel, their ghostly appendage, taking care of Hazel, they get to know Heist, the tortured literary genius with more darkness inside him than hope these days. Meanwhile, The Will is still hunting them, and the story of their marriage and their baby is still feared to be the catalyst for a revolution in a world where no one wants this war to continue. Hazel is a symbol of everything Wreath and Landfall have failed to do for the people of the universe, and too many people want that symbol gone. 

There is just something about this story that sucks me in with each volume. I recommended this series to a student recently, one who isn't an avid reader, and he was so into the story, he stayed up all night to read the first volume and couldn't wait to tell me about it. That is what I call one seriously awesome story! While Alana and Marko and the others are an interesting story arc, the other stories, like the Will and the two journalists, are just as interesting. I think each new story arc is so awesome, it could be its own complete series! But how they all tie in together and twist and turn is addictive. So give this series a shot if you haven't already. You won't be sorry! (unless you are dying for volume 4 like me!)

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Great, Graphic White Whale

Call me Ishmael. One of the most well known stories in all the canonized literature is now in an abridged graphic form that is accessible to any reader. 

The story of Captain Ahab and his nemesis, Moby Dick, the great, white whale, is one we know well, but how many of us have read it? When you think of canonized literature, sometimes you think boring, dry, huge tomes that might be more practical as door stops. Now, if you love literature like I do, you know there is a journey to travel in every book. And the mustier the better! But no matter what you tell your students, they are NOT picking up Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights or A Tale of Two Cities without a grade involved. I am not saying teens must pick their way through the canon to have a true appreciation of reading, but it also makes me sad when they have no familiarity with these stories at all. So why not take something like these Campfire versions, an abridged, graphic version of the story that they can easily read, understand, and digest. While, sure, it isn't the full impact of the story, it is a great snapshot! Then they are familiar with the story and maybe some day, they will remember that graphic adaptation and pick up the real Melville! You know know what kind of seeds a book can plant!

So I really liked this adaptation. The art was OK, not as great as some other graphic novels, obviously, but it was done pretty well. The story itself was abridged well so that you can understand the story with a fast-paced graphic version.  Overall, I would definitely encourage a kid to pick up another Campfire story, and in fact, I think I am going to look into a couple more myself!

We Were Liars, Big and Small

"Always do what you are afraid to do."

The Have-Nots always assume a life of privilege is easy, happy, carefree. Money buys happiness, right? Or does it lead to more problems? In e. lockhart's We Were Liars, a girl born into privilege experiences the last summer of her innocence, however feigned it may be. 

Cadence is coming back Beechwood, her family's private island off the coast of Massachusetts, but this summer will be different from the previous summers. This summer isn't carefree. This summer won't be the same even with The Liars. This summer she is recovering. After her accident where she was found washed up on shore with no memory of what happened and the same night her grandfather's house on the island burned down. Now it has been rebuilt, and her aunts and their families are in their respective houses, and Cadence and her mother have returned to their house, Windmere. The problem is the island is haunted by something deeper and darker than just the burning of a house and a lifetime of memories. Something darker happened, but Cadence can't remember anything from that fateful night. 

While her mother obsesses about what Cadence eats and her sleeping habits, Cadence is only interested in the Liars. While she was gone, recovering, she emailed them. Her cousins Johnny and Mirren and Johnny's "stepfather's" nephew, Gat, are the only ones who truly understand the life of a Sinclair. While Gat is technically still (and always will be) an outsider, his summers on the island over the year have given him an insight into their lives that no one else could understand. For Cadence, Gat is the one who could both understand where she comes from and take her away from it all in one fell swoop. Gat is different. But the truth of the night of Cadence's accident hangs over the Liars. As her memories become clearer, she gets closer to the truth and all the nightmares it contains. 

They Were Liars, but most importantly, they couldn't lie to themselves. The Liars saw the darkness that lay within the privileged life on Beechwood, and it was controlling their lives. Their mother's and their family had suffered in ways that couldn't be quantified, yet there was an air that they didn't deserve the sympathy, which set the backdrop for this really amazing story. I have to admit that even I struggled for a bit with this wavering sense of pity and envy. You have everything! How could you want more?! But as you got closer and closer to the big twist, it was hard to even put the book down. The book was written in this beautiful, poetic, deep, flowing language that made me feel like I was a wave lapping at the shore of the island. It was quite the tumultuous ride to get to the end of this book because there was so much depth and bittersweet beauty, it was hard not to linger. 

When you read this book, be prepared to get bowled over. It takes no hostages. Cadence is a deeply damaged girl who can't dig her way out of the carefully medicated oblivion her accident left her in, and the rest of the family is no better. I think I would give this book to those students who needed something to think about, something to ponder, because they will certainly find it in this novel. It is rich with emotion and devastation that can't be fully explained here, so go out and get a copy. You will understand what I am talking about!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

And the Saga Continues...

The world we live in is only a speck of dust compared to the universe. Imagine all that could be out there. Including a planet that is just a giant egg ready to hatch. In Brian K. Vaughan's second volume of Saga, Alana and Marko are still trying to find a way to keep Hazel safe.

Alana and Marko might have escaped a spider-woman, found a spaceship made of a tree, and bound their daughter to the upper torso of a little girl ghost to save Marko, but nothing prepared them for what was walking onto their new ship... Marko's parents. When they banish Izabel to the closest planet, Marko insists on going to save the ghost girl. His mother goes with him, not only to make sure he stays safe, but also to harangue him for getting mixed up with a Landfall girl. Meanwhile, Alana and Marko's father are left on the ship to... bond? Hard to do when she makes the ship wrap him up in vines and hang him from the ceiling!

Meanwhile, The Will is getting over the death of the woman he loved and is caught up with saving a little girl from the brothels. Meanwhile, Prince Robot IV is determined to find Marko and Alana before his wife has their child, and he has a plan of exactly where they are going to go. What none of them know is that everything they think they know is wildly and completely wrong. And all of them are thrust into this world because of one little girl. Hazel.

It's official. Brian K. Vaughan is a master. A complete and utter master. And the art by Fiona Staples? A. Maze. Ing. It is so beautiful and so unique, its hard to pry yourself away from the images to keep going with the story, but then again, the story is so awesome, it is hard to keep yourself from flying through the thing without hesitating to enjoy it! Such a conundrum!

I really loved the addition of Marko's parents, too. His mother was tough as nails (any idea why he is so smitten with Alana?!). But his father was the one who really got me. He was a man who was instantly in love with his new granddaughter and still had a dark secret he was hiding. I loved how protective he was of both new additions to his family, and he made this story just that much more special. 

But still, the best of all was the world building. This saga (pun intended) never ceases to amaze me with its different planets and worlds out there. They are weird, creepy, bizarre, and so exciting to see! I almost hope the group keeps traveling because I want to see more, more, more! 

Can Love Overcome Hate?

There is a fallacy out there that a graphic novel can't be serious. People assume they are frivolous and unintellectual. I call BS on those assumptions! And Jay Cantor and James Romberger's Aaron and Ahmed will destroy any assumptions you may have had, too. 

Aaron wasn't a privileged man, but he took advantage of the military to send him to medical school. When the woman he loved was killed in a hijacked plane on 9/11 when it crashed into the second tower, he made a decision fueled by anger and revenge: he chose to become a doctor at Guantanamo Bay. He supervised the torture and made sure the prisoners held without due process weren't tortured to death. While he thought it would be easy to watch these men tortured, he realized even the loss of his love didn't change the man he truly was. 

He proposed an alternate means to get information out of the most closed-off and stubborn inmate: Ahmed. Aaron's idea was to feed Ahmed estrogen and treat him kindly in an effort to gain his trust and open him up. Aaron thought he could change Ahmed, but in reality, something different happened. Ahmed changed Aaron. The humanity, or lack thereof, in what was happening in the prison was affecting Aaron in ways that he couldn't contain any longer. Together they would travel a journey that explored the nature of hate and manipulation that leads to one human choosing to do the most inhuman thing they could- choosing to end the lives of innocent people. 

This graphic novel was absolutely not what I expected going into it. It was so much more. In fact, now that I have finished it, I am having trouble even remembering my preconceived notions because it was so transformative. There is so much to the ideas of humanity and torture and safety and fear, that unless we expose ourselves to those raw nerves, they will never be soothed. It reminded me of the experience I had in a class recently where my students and I were discussing Civil Rights. They were obviously uncomfortable about the frank and earnest discussion at first, but they persisted and the idea of discussion Civil Rights and humanity became easier with each statement. When we avoid talking about the things that make us uncomfortable, we give them power. By talking about them and thinking about them, we can change ourselves and the world for the better. If those people who started and have continued to fight for Civil Rights in this country succumbed to the discomfort of difficult questions and situations, would we still have separate drinking fountains and bathrooms? Confronting the difficult is how we make progress, and Aaron and Ahmed wanted us to think about torture, fear, understanding our similarities and acknowledging our differences so we can find a way to stop the atrocities that are committed by both sides of this deadly and clandestine war on terror. 

I would give this to any older students because the material is very deep, dark, and thought-provoking. It requires a certain maturity and self-awareness in order to make the impression it was written for upon its reader. A more immature reader would fail to connect to the difficult questions being asked. I look forward to sharing this story with appropriate students and am intrigued by the kind of discussions it will no doubt spurn. Now we must continue these tough questions in order to make our present better than our past. 

Saturday, April 26, 2014

McGarry ROCKS!

So much divides us. When something brings together two people from such different worlds, its hard to remember all that keeps us apart. In Katie McGarry's romance short, a girl from the wrong side of town meets a boy of privilege who is struggling to find his place in the world. 

Stella has purple hair and is generally ignored by her classmates, when they aren't humiliating her and calling her Trash Can Girl. Jonah is a kid born into every privilege, but he would give it all away to change the events of that fateful car accident. He is called a hero, but the death of the man he couldn't save haunts him. Both are drawn to the cemetery for different reasons, but neither expected to find solace in another person while they were there... especially another person who is from a totally different world. 

OK. Let's be honest. I would read a grocery list if Katie McGarry wrote it. I just love her no-nonsense, incredibly candid, real romances. They are amazing. And this e-short is no difference. Yes, the "wrong side of the tracks" love story screams "Pretty in Pink", but Katie McGarry can make everything fresh and new. There was a deep sorrow in Jonah that made you want to protect him, and Stella's history was hard to read about because it was so sad and yet so real. My only complaint is that there wasn't more! I wanted a full book about these two!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Saga Like No Other

Star-crossed lovers are a tale as old as time and a tale we can't get enough of. Whether they be from two feuding families in Verona or two warring planets (well, a planet and a moon, actually), when two souls from the corners of the universe are fighting to be together, we pray for a happy ending. In Saga by Brian K. Vaughan, being hunted by mercenaries might prevent any sort of happy ending. 

Hazel was born on Cleave, but her parents were from some place far away. Alana is a soldier from the planet Landfall and Marko is a solder from Landfall's moon, Wreath. Wreath and Landfall have been at war for so long, they had to take the war out of their backyards in order to save the rest of their civilizations. Alana and Marko were never supposed to meet, let alone have a child together, but when she broke him out of prison, they became the most hunted couple in the galaxy and Hazel, their child, was the most coveted target. 

Alana and Marko just want to be left alone with their baby, but they represent something the powers that be can't stand for, a unity among the races. When the Robot Prince is sent to find them, two mercenaries are offered a king's ransom to kill them and capture the baby, and a war rages around them, all seems hopeless to Alana and Marko. But somehow, by the grace of the inexplicable, they live each night to see the light of a new day. Unfortunately, it is not without consequences. 

Oh, wow! Just Wow! I loved Vaughn's Y: The Last Man series, but I worried I might not like this one. Wrong. Dead wrong. From the magnificent world building, to the incredible characters, to the story that doesn't let you down for a single breath, this was an absolutely incredible graphic novel. Volume 1 is the first six issues, so I have quickly ordered the next two volumes, because I just can't get enough of this story! 

Naughty Bits: OK, we all know it is tough to find a series in this genre without the naughty bits for younger readers, and this is no different. There are only a couple of moments, like the brothel The Will goes to or the Robot Prince's moment with his wife, but this is relatively tame for the genre. I recommended it for a student who read Watchman because I figured if they could handle that rape scene, this nudity and sex would be milder. Still, it is something to keep in mind, perhaps to ask parents first if they object if your student is younger. 

Saga is a great start to what I can only assume will be a wonderful series, and I am excited to dig into the next two volumes. Alana and Marko are my new favorite characters. She is tough as nails, and his devotion to his family (including giving up the sword that will protect them because now that he has a daughter, he doesn't want to take part in the killing of people) is inspiring. While you might not like them, the supporting characters, whether they be mercenary, robot, or ghost, are just as intriguing. This is an amazing new world and you won't be able to get enough of it... LIKE ME!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Don't Worry About Burn Out!

The sun sustains our life, but if it were just a smidge closer to us, it could be the death of our delicate little planet. In Kristi Helvig's Burn Out,  the planet is a scorched wasteland, but one girl refuses to give in. 

Tora Reynolds is the only one left on earth. The sun was knocked closer to earth and has become a Red Giant, burning everything in its wake. Her father, a weapons developer for the government, made sure they would have a safe place to hide for when things eventually went bad (really bad). He planned to protect the whole family, but when her mother and sister died out in the sun, it was just him and Tora. Until his final meeting with the people who wanted their guns didn't go so well. Now, in an underground bunker full of the most dangerous weapons on earth, space, and everything in between, she imagines she will last here for a while, but she has a bottle full of pain pills for Plan B in case everything falls apart. 

When Markus, a family "friend," shows up looking to trade with Tora, she turns him down. His deal, the weapons for a ride off the scorched hell hole that Earth has become, is tempting, but she won't let anyone get their hands on those guns and ruin yet another planet. He isn't happy about being turned down, and he returns with a band of mercenaries ready to take the guns from her by force. Tora knew her father trusted Markus, but she was always skeptical about his loyalty. Now that he is ready to kill her for being between him and the guns, she knows her instincts were right. But the idea of a planet with abundant water is very tempting. First things first. If Tora is going to make it to the new planet, she is going to have to trust someone else, but that isn't all that is standing in her way. 

Helvig's debut science fiction, post-apocalyptic story was a real knock out! It was so action packed, which is the exact opposite of what you would expect from a burnt out wasteland. Tora was a brave girl to keep going on in such a world, but she was one tough cookie. The fact that she wasn't afraid to get into a shoot-out with heavily armed mercenaries certainly demonstrated that tenacity! I couldn't get enough of her, but sometimes I wished things would go a little better for her. Just once, can't the girl catch a break? 

This would be a great book for any kid who likes action-packed books and loses interest easily, because it never seems to slow for a even a moment. There were certainly some unanswered questions by the end, so I hope Helvig continues with the story. The supporting characters were just as interesting as Tora and Markus, so you won't be let down when the action centers around all of them. And the idea of the sun finally being the impetus of our demise is more terrifying than you think! You won't take that sunshine for granted again on a beautiful spring day!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Don't Trust Sylo!

We all assume our government is there to protect us, but when the protection appears to be fishy, we can't help but wonder how far their arms truly reach. In D.J. MacHale's Sylo, Pemberwick island is cut off from the world to protect themselves and the rest of the world from a dangerous virus outbreak. But what if there was no virus?

Pemberwick Island is the land of the tourists during the season, but now that tourist season is winding down, it is returning to its idyllic, lazy self. Tucker's family moved to the island to be "safe," but they didn't expect the government to swoop in and quarantine the entire place. On a late night ride, he sees something very strange, but when they call the police, there are no answers to the strange flying contraption he saw blown out of the air. When he finds out the strange guy trying to peddle a new "sports enhancer" to the high school football team is there, Tucker finds it hard to believe his presence is a coincidence. Especially after he was present for the sudden death of a football player on the field who just played the best game of his life. 

SYLO, the government agency that has control of the island, encourages people to go about their business on the island despite the quarantine. While some finally leave their houses and hotel rooms, others question the need for the quarantine. SYLO is unpredictable, except when it comes to cracking down on people trying to escape the island. After watching a protest end badly and a few boats try to make it out of the harbor, it becomes clear SYLO isn't the caring government entity they pretended to be. There is something far darker at work on Pemberwick Island, and Tucker and his friends and family are right in the middle of it. 

This is one of those books that you are going to read and have absolutely NO idea what is happening! It isn't a confusing story, but the true nature of the quarantine, the mysterious guy with the sports supplement, SYLO themselves, an advanced government branch that no one seems to know about, are all mysterious even by the end of the book. And you know what? Even though I had no idea what was really happening, the story was so exciting, I didn't even care! Instead, I barreled through it trying to piece all the many elements together. While usually a book with no real answers makes me nuts, this one didn't bother me. Instead, I am dying to read the next book to see if there are more answers in the next part of the story!

I liked the way this sleepy island community reacted to the invasion of SYLO. At first they were confused, then scared and complacent, and finally, they were going to fight back regardless of the cost. I think it was a great depiction of how a community would deal with such a situation, and Tucker was the perfect (because he was so imperfect) character to follow through the story. He, Quinn, Tori, and the others made for a band of defiant citizens who weren't going to be told to cower and follow orders. They were determined to get to the bottom of everything, and I loved their defiance. There is nothing wrong with a bunch of teens who stand up for themselves!