A whole lots of stuff for one little graphic novel

Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

I read this ages ago, and so any intelligent thoughts I had have slipped away, and all I’m left with is intelligent feelings and overall impressions.

This is a pretty mature graphic novel about a 16 year old Japanese- Canadian girl who is struggling her way through high school, her identity, her peers and increasingly her romantic feelings for one of her teachers when a boy at her school dies by suicide, opening up a complex world of grief, mourning and personal struggles.

I loved this book, I thought it was well written, thoughtful, accurate, the illustrations were a little creepy but fit well with the story and it’s a moving book, maybe particularly for adults who can forget how complicated, isolated and dramatic high school can be.

It also has great representation of different cultures, LGBT characters and women, which I think is a good thing.

Last movie I watched :

Part of Moana with a 3 year old. I recommend, the movie and the three year old. She added some great commentary

Last TV show I watched:

Supernatural. I’ll get through it all eventually.

Advertisements

Just so, so, so good

Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

I love, love, love this book. There is so much excellence I’m not sure where to start.

It is the story of Pen, short for Penelope, a queer first generation Canadian teenager. At the start of the book Pen is doing her best to slide by unnoticed. She avoids fighting with her parents when she can by hiding in the basement where her older brother lives. Her best friend Colby defends her against anyone who bullies her in exchange for her help picking up girls. But when Colby tries to pick up the girl Pen has a crush on, Pen makes a choice for herself. Soon after events in her life start to spiral out of her control, forcing to her to evaluate the decisions she’d made so far, their consequences and man up.

There’s a lot of really, really good things about this book. The tone is great, Pen’s voice is unique and strong and she’s a great character who’s relatable to anyone who’s every felt like an outsider (every single person ever obviously). It’s also a great story of LGBT+ story in a delightful, un-simplistic way. Pen is a lesbian, 100%. Blake, her girlfriend, has dated boys but also dates a woman, implying she’s bi or possibly pan. Pen is very masculine – she cuts her hair short, she dresses in her brother’s hand-me-downs, she loves TMNT and hates Barbies but she also is very sure she’s not transgender. She really recognizes her identity as a masculine woman. But most of this isn’t really stated, it just is. There are scenes that really touch on these issues – for example Pen tells Blake she wants to be touched like a boy – but they aren’t resolved either and as far as all the characters, or at least the sympathetic ones, are concerned, that’s okay. And I think that’s a really good thing. We don’t need every single person to fit into a box.

This book has a lot of really heavy content. Here there be spoilers. The struggles of first generation Canadians are woven throughout the story – Pen struggles with vastly different expectations she has for her own life versus her parents. Language gaps, extended family, food and cultural expectations are woven throughout the book as challenges and advantages for Pen and her brother.

Finally there is some sexual assault. Pen’s internal dialogue does an amazing job of describing her frozen fear, when Colby makes sexual advances on her. Although she clearly doesn’t want them and is not interested in them but she feels like she has no power in their relationship, she’s afraid to find herself without Colby’s friendship so she has to let it happen. It’s really upsetting to read.

There’s also some pretty serious violence, alcohol, drugs and an abortion, which is handled carefully and complexly but is obviously challenging for readers.

I recommend this book enormously,  for teens and adults. If younger readers would like to take a stab at it, I’d recommend that too but encourage an adult conversation about some of the content. Just read it, enjoy it and embrace the really satisfying but not completely happy ending.

Last movie I watched:

Thor: Ragnorak. Pretty excellent, I have to say.

Last TV episode I watched:

The Red Tent. I’m actually really enjoying it, although I’m sure the book is better.

The collision of past and future

The Marrow Thieves by Cherie Dimaline

I just finished this book to write Battle of the Books questions for it. It’s also on the OLA’s White Pine list this year and I really recommend it, although it’s not exactly light, escapism if that’s what you’re into.

It takes place in a future when civilization has collapsed through a complicated series of negative events starting with extreme environmental devastation and climate change that triggered massive wars and the collapse of society. In this world, people have lost their ability to dream and it makes them violent and depressed. The solution was found in the bone marrow of Indigenous people. The book opens with Frenchie, a young Metis boy and his brother fleeing after their parents’ disappearances. The book follows Frenchie and his new found family’s journey through northern Ontario and eventually their decision to fight back.

There’s a lot to like about this book (but I’m not going to get into too much of it because spoilers!) but I’ll focus particularly on two things – Indigenous people in north America and the portrayal of LGBTQ people in the book.

This book, while maybe a little didactic, does a great job of drawing on the history of violence and colonialism in the collective Indigenous identity, as well as the generations of trauma that has effected both the individual people and the collective group of people. The dystopian future really draws on historical event and, while it’s extreme and alarming, also feels very real in the context of colonial oppression. No one wants to think about their government rounding up a minority in their own country and trapping them in schools. But it happened in history, and in this book it happens in our future as well. The idea of paying bounties on innocent civilians is distressing, but again, happened in our past and could happen again. Although the current political struggles are not touched on, it contextualizes them.

There is also a fantastic LGTBQ character in this book, and what I loved most about this character is that his sexual orientation was just one part of his overall character. His entire existence is informed by the lose of his husband, but this is treated exactly the same as any other lose in the book, and there are many. The fact that he’s a gay man isn’t even mentioned, its just understood. Also, there’s some serious trope inversion here (Spoiler: Kill All Your Gays) is thwarted in the last few pages in a way that truly warmed my heart.

I think this reads like a first novel (it is) and I’m sure everything Dimaline writes from will improve on what she learned from this great book. It feels a bit like Cormac McCarthey’s The Road  mixed with a curriculum accompaniment (for high school students – there’s violence, including sexual violence and some pg-13 sexuality) but I really enjoyed it and believe it’s a great piece for high school students across Canada to be reading this year.

Last movie I watched:

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. When I first read it, I didn’t mind Harry’s … lack of emotional regulation. Then it started to bug me, I think as I stopped being a teenager. But now I don’t mind it so much again because I think he’s got PTSD for most of this book and with that reading, his anger makes a lot of sense.

Last TV episode:

Death Comes to Pemberly although I am literally 5 minutes into the first episode and therefore have no opinion at this time.

A choice

I am almost 10 books behind on my blog and I was considering giving up. But I’m going to try not to. So here we go:

Summer Tree by Gavriel Kay

This book took me so long to get through, but it was absolutely amazing. It reminded me of Dune in some ways. Like Dune it suffers somewhat from having a million characters and several dozen story lines that can be hard to keep track of. Like Dune, it is a really serious commentary on humanity.

It’s the story of a small group of people who cross from the University of Toronto (which is cool, since I went there) into another world, a fantasy world, right as it needs them the most. Each of them struggle, suffer and make a massive sacrifice in their roles in it’s salvation.

While I read it took long ago to have anything really thoughtful about it now, I definitely recommend it. It’s an adult book for sure, and the writing is slow and careful, but so, so worth it.

Last movie I watched:

Part of Brave. Fun movie. Very Scottish

Last TV show I watched:

Part of Shadowhunters. I’m not sure it’s a great show, but I love it

The ongoing Saga

Saga Volume 5 by Fiona Staples and Brian K Vaughan

So I read this months ago, but it’s so great so I wanted to write about it, even though I don’t remember any intelligent things to say about it.

Alana and Marko have been separated. Alana is with Hazel and her mother-in-law, kidnapped and Marko is searching for them, hell bent on getting his family back. The Will is in a coma and a crew of people are looking for a cure to save him.

The illustrations are stunning, the story is full of sex, drugs and swearing but all of the beautiful intricacies of love, grief, loss, addiction and parenting.

The last movie I watched:

Mulan. Love it.

Last TV show I watched:

Outlander episode one. So far, I’m sold.

Erased History and a Warning for Humanity

Between Shades of Grey by Ruta Sepetys

Did you realize that Stalin committed genocide to the scale of millions of innocent people while the Second World War was happening? I didn’t. I mean, I knew he was generally considered to be a pretty bad dude, but he helped the Allies win the war so all’s forgiven right?

This is a piece of historical fiction based on the experiences of survivors of the mass deportations that occurred in Russia before, during and long after WWII. It’s the story of a Lina, a fifteen year old girl who is taken from her home one night, along with her mother and brother and deported to Siberia. What follows is a nightmare that lasted a decade for her. The book, which is a good 300 pages, only documents the first two years of her time in prison, although the epilogue confirms that she did survive another 10  more years in the camp before being freed.

It’s a devastating story. The human suffering described is heartbreaking. The human kindness and compassion from the prisoners, strangers and occasionally guards is just as heartbreaking. My library files it in the young adult section, certainly the subject matter is hard and there is some sexual violence in it, but I really think adults should read it as well, particularly if there are young people in your life who are reading it.

Given the current political climate, I think it’s really important for us to remember what happens that the “them versus us” mentality stripes us all of our humanity. When we fail to recognize the basic humanity in other people, we’ve lost sight of what it means to be human. And history will remember that, no matter who tries to suppress it.

Last movie I watched: Karate Kid.

That’s some serious bullying there guys. Serious.

Last TV show I watched:

The Musketeers. It’s just so much fun.

The other side of the Second World War

A Night Divided by Jennifer Nielson

This is an amazing older children or young adult book about Berlin after the end of the Second World War. Now, previously my history on that subject is a little dicey. As I recall it went something like “And then the Allies won the war and divided up Berlin with a wall, which was eventually torn down but we’ll cover that later in the semester”. We didn’t.

Gerta’s Papa and brother cross the into West Berlin one night to see if there’s a job for Papa there, away from the censorship and depression of East Berlin. That night, the Soviets  put up a fence, cutting Gerta off from half her family. Slowly over the next few years it turns from a fence to a wall to a manned wall and an overbearing state presence that controls every part of her life. One day she sees her father watching from the other side of the wall and he’s trying to tell her something, a way to bring them all back together. But it will mean becoming an enemy of the state and risking not just her life, but her family and friends as well.

This story is an incredibly moving depiction of a young person dreaming in a world that crushes dreams. Obviously the subject matter is a little complicated and if you’re not reading it with your child or your class you should still be prepared to have a talk with your young person about the historical context and the effects of war more broadly. This is a serious story, with only the lightest touch of humour in it  but a really moving and genuine, particularly focusing on the strength of relationships between people in hard times and that keeps it from being totally depressing. Also, the writing is very on point – if you’re not feeling nervous for the whole last half, I’m not sure you’re a human.

I strongly recommend this book (seriously) and I would recommend it even if it didn’t seem quite timely, given the current political climate. In today’s context, I think it’s even more important as a study in empathy, sympathy and for its unwavering conviction that people who do bad things are not always bad people but desperate ones and that people will defend their families no matter what the risk. This power shouldn’t be underestimated.

Last movie I watched: I have no idea. It might have been Home. It might not have been.

Last TV episode I watched: Smallville. I missed the season finale for this season (8 I think). I have to say, it’s very edge of your seat excitementy.