Beautifully drawn, carefully written and heart breakingly true

The Outside Circle by Patti Lacoucane-Benson and Kelly Mellings

Outside Circle is one of the most amazing graphic novels I have ever read. I cannot emphasis enough how much this book should be required reading in all grade 10 history classes.

The book is the story of two young brothers and their struggle to escape the destructive cycle many aboriginal people are trapped in. I’m going to spoil this book (sorry because it’s so amazing) but it’s still 100% worth the read. If you trust me and are going to follow through on my advice to read this book as soon as possible and don’t want spoilers, stop now.

Pete and Joey have never known their father. They’re mother’s boyfriend is an addict, so is their mother. Pete is in a gang, a place where he finds companionship and a release for all his anger and rage. One night, they give him gun as a birthday gift. That same night he breaks up with his girlfriend after learning she’s pregnant with his baby. Joey, his younger brother waits at home for him. His mother and her boyfriend sell everything the brothers have, to buy some cocaine, and Pete is furious. He gets in a fight with the boyfriend, who attacks him. Pete pulls out his gun and kills him. Pete ends up in prison, Joey in the foster care system. But while Pete’s life improves when he’s granted bail to take part in a program for aboriginal men, instead of prison time Joey’s life gets worse, first in foster care, then on the streets, eventually in the same gang that Pete was in.

There are three things I think that make this book particularly moving. One is the history, woven in through out the story in a not-so-subtle way. The second is the illustrations, which are breathtaking. The third is that, while Pete and Joey are fictional, this is probably a true story.

Aboriginal history is a difficult and touchy subject to be taught in Canadian schools (American too probably, but I’ve never been an American grade school student, so it’s only a guess). We also live with the ongoing effects of a legacy of colonial history and the brutal toll poverty can have on a person, and how each generation inherits this trauma from the past. This graphic novel is didactic, it wants to teach the horror in aboriginal history, and it’s not trying to hide it’s agenda with subtle facts. It’s upfront, 100% clear, explained real history, even down to dates in some cases. Normally I don’t like that in a kids book, but the history is so powerful, human and heart breaking that it’s hard to look away.  That’s the point. We shouldn’t be looking away. We shouldn’t be pretending that the unimaginable death caused by Europeans, the abuse, the theft of land, the cultural destruction, the abduction of children, the explotation, the poverty and the continuing cycle of hopelessness and despair is somehow disconnected from our country’s greatest shame.

The illustrations are amazing. Some graphic novels are novels with pictures with them. Outside Circle is not one of those books. The graphics, besides being beautiful to look at, bring their own details to the story. The biggest example is Pete’s mask. Whenever he’s angry a white and red mask appear on his face. No one but the reader sees it but later in the book Pete makes a new mask as part of his therapy and you understand the subtleties of the earlier pictures. The other beautiful example is when Joey’s mother is signing away parental rights to her son. The document she signs is never described but if you read it, its an account of the long history of the loss of aboriginal children into the system.

The last, and probably worst thing about this book at it’s basically true. The author works in a real program to rehabilitate aboriginal men who have committed serious crimes, essentially because they suffering from poverty, abuse and hopelessness their whole lives and then as adults repeated the same choices their parents had made because it’s all they k know. It’s heartbreaking because it’s true.

Now, the end does offer some hope, when Pete and Joey get out of the system, Pete works, quits his gang and Joey presumably goes back to school. But my favourite change was Pete acknowledging his daughter,  making it clear that he was going to raise her exactly the way he should have been raised, and spend his life trying to bring her a place where she could be proud of her ancestry, not imprisoned  by it.

Go out and get it right now. You might cry a little, but you won’t regret the read.

Last movie I watched:

Annabell’s Wish. That beautiful baby cow!! Giving her wish to her best friend.

Last TV episode I watched:

That Grey’s Anatomy. I can’t even keep straight who’s who in that show.




A perfectly delightful children’s book

The Emerald Atlas by John Stephens

Emerald Atlas is 1) laugh out loud funny 2) Follows the basic pattern of all serial children’s fantasy and 3) 100% worth reading.

Unless you’ve looked at the back of the book you won’t get the formatting joke I just made, which is a shame because it’s hilarious.

Much like this book. The humour is cute and woven into the story in a gentle, light way that makes it hard not to warm up to the characters, the writing style and to stop from grinning like a slightly unhinged person if you’re reading in public. Despite the potential for embarrassment, I still firmly suggest reading this book.

It does follow the standard children’s fantasy script. Starting with the opening and the tragic abandoning of a group of child, or in this case, group of children, for their own protection. After a difficult childhood these children are suddenly reconnected with their own mysterious past, and not too long after that they start on a quest, get support from a mysterious mentor and a motley crew of adults and face off against the ultimate evil, which may have had something to do with their parent’s disappearance.

Sure, that’s the plot line of most children’s series, give or take a detail or two, but Emerald Atlas does it very well. Kate, the over protective big sister who still remembers her parents, is a powerful character who’s constant struggle to protect her siblings is enduring and moving. Michael, who’s thrown himself whole heartedly into his nerd passion for dwarfs, as a way to cope with his sad life is sympathetic, is interesting and complex. Emma, the youngest, the brawler is fun and strong in a way that’s completely delightful. The story, which involves some light time travel, some scary monsters and not surprisingly, dwarfs, marches along, with twists and turns that are pretty exciting.  Dr Pym is exactly what you look for in a mentor – someone wise, to drive the plot along, provide helpful insight  while with holding important details yet doesn’t actually do that much and isn’t around enough to stop the heroes from really growing into themselves through conflict but manages to appear just in time to safe them at the very end. I’m joking a little. I actually really like Dr Pym. I always like the mentors though. And they always die. The other adults who help the kids out along the way are interesting, lovable but don’t interfere too much either. Gabriel is probably my favourite, but anyone who looks out for Emma like he does is bound to be a favourite.

And the ending leaves you ready for the next book, which I’m looking forward to reading. Some time. Maybe. You know, if I have the time.

Last movie I watched:

Love Actually. Adorable.

Last TV episode I watched:

Grey’s Anatomy again. I don’t understand how that show can just keep killing people…

Not getting swept off my feet

Fallen In Love by Lauren Kate

Right off the bat, I’m going to say this was a pretty unimpressive book. But it’s also a novella that slips in somewhere in the middle of the Fallen series, which I have not read, so maybe it’s much better if you have a bit of context.

I picked it up by mistake when I was working in a very small library that basically only had adult audiobooks and I needed it that day for a long drive.Lots of pressure, not a lot of time to think. This is how accidents happen to me.

This story is four short stories about love, told from the perspective of the major characters in the Fallen trilogy. The first one was Shelley and Miles, two friends of the protagonist Lucinda, who have followed her through time to a Valentines Day festival in medieval England. Perhaps snobbishly, I didn’t find their love story particularly enchanting. The two of them just kinda realized they loved each other. Maybe I’m being too hard on it, since that’s my own experience falling in love (just kinda realizing I’m in it) but overall they weren’t that interesting as characters and the story wasn’t particularly driven.

The next one was much better. The story of Roland, an angel or possibly a fallen angel, I’m not sure, I’m missing a lot of background here, and his one true love. This story is much more interesting because it’s about the forces that drive people apart, bring them back together and the cost of truly loving someone. All in all, Roland and his beloved were much more interesting lovers and their actions and motivations much more real, and moving. My favourite part (spoiler!) was the end, when Roland realized that although he was still in love, she wasn’t and that the only thing he could do to ever prove his love, even if she never knew it, was to save the life of her husband.

The next story was my favourite. The story of Arianne and her lover Tess. An angel and a demon, so obviously in love, but unable to be together forever because of the forces that draw them apart. Besides how nice it is to see lesbians represented, and as more then just token lesbians, and the genuine love and affection between the two characters, I appreciated that it was the gay characters who faced such extreme outside pressure to not be together and eventually that struggle broke them apart. Because sometimes that happens.  Arianne’s struggle to be true to herself and with her love was also very real and moving. Also the end of their relationship left me in tears. It was awful.

And then, by comparison, Lucinda and Daniel’s only Valentine’s Day together was pretty unspectacular. Compared to the two stories that came before it, which were about the struggles of love, it wasn’t that interesting to read about a nice romantic surprise for two characters with very little actual character (Again, this might be totally different to someone who’d read the in the order they were supposed to). It was satisfying in the last one to see the way all the stories came together, but overall, it wasn’t really my favourite.

My advice, which I obviously didn’t take, is read them in the right order. If you’re not going to do that, maybe don’t bother.

Last movie I watched:

Love Actually. I actually love it.

Last TV episode I watched:

Grey’s Anatomy. I don’t actually watch the show, just pick up an episode here and there. It was fine I guess. I don’t know.