Thursday, June 30, 2011

Chew: Taster’s Choice by John Layman art by Rob Guillory YP FIC LAYMAN

Tony Chu is cibopathic. Don’t worry I had never heard of it either. It means he can bite into any food and know everything about it: where it grew, how it was harvested, who had handled it. The only thing it doesn’t work on is beets. Tony Chu eats a lot of beets. In his world the bird flu killed millions and all poultry is illegal. After a bust gone bad Tony stops being a cop and works for the most powerful agency in America the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Where Tony uses his cibopathy to solve the strangest and most secret cases and may even uncover the mystery of who or what caused the Bird Flu.

First off, it is totally awesome to have a non-stereotypical Asian-American hero. Comics definitely could benefit from more diversity. Second, this book is weird as weird gets in a wonderful way. The art is stylish and cartoony, which makes the more gruesome parts (cannibalism, blood, vomiting, etc.) more fun than gross. The book throws new characters at you fast and furious but doesn’t stay with them long. It does work in making me want to read more, but I hope future volumes don’t leave as many plotlines dangling. This volume does set up a fun and quirky mystery that is already paying off.

Sweet Tooth: out of the Deep Woods by Jeff Lemire YP FIC LEMIRE

Gus has only ever known his home. A small cabin fenced off and surrounded by woods. But after his father dies of “the affliction” a plague that has ravaged humankind, he has to make his way into the world. But he’s different. He has ears and antlers like a deer, which makes him a hybrid. Which means he’s immune. Which means he’s valuable. When he’s found and saved from hunters by “Big Man” he thinks he’s saved. But in a dying world, Gus can’t afford to trust anyone.

This is Jeff Lemire’s follow up to his super awesome take on the Invisible Man The Nobody which I reviewed here. Like that one this is a look at how a minor difference can lead to major problems in society. However, in Sweet Tooth Lemire is working on a much larger scale, which pays off big time. It’s a great read for fans of dystopian fiction and has a great sense of danger and suspense throughout. Lemire’s unusual line work keeps things even more unsettling. Everything he draws seems off and slightly twisted. It makes for a unique reading experience and his sudden bursts of violence really pack a punch. I think this would be a good read for comic fans looking for a unique read.

Green Lantern Green Arrow Volume 2 by Dennis O’Neil Art by Neil Adams YP FIC ONEIL

In 1970 and 1971 Dennis O’Neil and Neil Adams turned traditional super hero comics on their head. They used superheroes to examine major social issues in America. They wanted comics to be ‘relevant’. So instead of just fighting super villains, Green Arrow (a guy who used a bow and arrow really well) and Green Lantern (yes, the guy from the new movie) traveled America fighting super social ills. They fight racism, drug addiction, religious intolerance, pollution, and other evils that plague modern society.

Okay, admittedly the idea of superheroes addressing complex social problems seems like it may be a bad idea. And it probably is, but it is also really super fun. While the plot is occasionally cheesy and the comics tend to simplify the problems they address it makes for very fun and out there comics. I mean, Green Arrow finds out that his former sidekick Speedy is a heroin junky! You just can’t beat comics like that. More importantly, Neal Adams is like a god of comic art and the book has excellent art throughout. If you like superheroes and want great art, out there stories, and something very different then give this one a read.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Payback Time by Cark Deuker YP FIC DEUKER

I’m not a big reader of young adult literature, so this year, to widen my horizons, I’m tackling the 2011 Lone Star Reading List, a bibiliography of recommended reading for grades 6-8 that's put out every year by public and school librarians from the Texas Library Association's Young Adult Round Table.

It's been a good experience, one that's opened my eyes to the type of YA books I like (e.g. Ally Carter's Heist Society and Francisco X. Stork's, The Last Summer of the Death Warriors) and the kinds I don't particularly care for, which turn out to be of those of the overly melodramatic, "OMG-my-life-is-totally-ruined" ilk (e.g.Tera Lynn Childs' Forgive My Fins). I'm happy to report I most recently finished one that I like: Carl Deuker's Payback Time, which made for a fun mystery against the backdrop of high school sports.

Deuker, a Seattle school teacher and longtime sports fan, often incorporates athletics into his YA novels, which also include Gym Candy, Runner and Heart of a Champion (all three of which the library has under YP FIC DEUKER). Payback Time, however, takes place from the perspective of a non-athlete. Meet high school journalist Mitch True, who describes himself thusly:

"I'm five four and I weigh 180. Okay, 190. Okay, 200 ... three months ago. I've got wispy blond hair and skin the color of copy paper. Girls don't chase me down halls."

Mitch dreams of one day seeing his byline in the New York Times covering Watergate-style scoops culled from back-alley sources. But fate has other plans his final year at Lincoln High School, located in Washington State. As the most prolific and senior reporter on the Lincoln Light staff, Mitch thinks he's a shoe-in for getting elected editor. Sorry, Mitch. No one ever said the path to a Pulitzer was easy. Not only does he lose out on the editorship, he doesn't even get to stay lead reporter; he gets shoved onto the sports beat.

Miserable, Mitch slowly begins making the rounds of the athletics departments, of which — not unlike Texas — football is king. He's shocked to find a domineering football coach who essentially tells Mitch that he can only write what the coach allows him to write. But the news gods finally throw Mitch a bone in the form of mysterious new football player Angel Marichal. While watching an early practice, Mitch immediately catches onto Angel's stellar skills but is puzzled to find Angel hides his abilities, passing himself off as a mediocre player.

This gets Mitch's reporter senses tingling and sets up his quest to unearth Angel's backstory. He's aided by Kimi Yon, the beautiful staff photographer assigned to cover sports with Mitch. Mitch spends the school year hunting down leads and testing his various theories on Angel's origins and why the football coach keeps him inexplicably benched most games.

Overall, it's a realistic, engaging portrayal of how a young journalist follows what he senses is a big story, and the mistakes and successes he finds along the way. There are no lucky strikes of information; Mitch does his investigation the old-fashioned way, pounding the pavement, developing sources and following the paper trail. Mitch comes across as an everyman (wanting to impress Kimi, he starts exercising to lose weight) who finds purpose in what could otherwise have been a senior-year disappointment for him.

His determination is admirable; like any good reporter, he doesn't let dead-ends faze him but he also knows when to change directions and tactics. When met by snarling figures of authority, he does get scared and intimidated but, like the athletes he covers, he also always finds a way to rally.

For me, the weakest moments of the story were actually its depiction of the football games themselves. Deuker's descriptions of the game may very well be thrilling to those with even an inkling of gridiron lingo but to me, a stranger to the game, those passages might as well have been in Klingon. I found myself skimming them but do not feel like doing so subtracted from the book. The real action takes place off the field.

I also take issue with the role (or lack therof) that adults play in the story. At no point does Mitch consult his journalism teacher — or any other adult, for that matter — on how he should proceed with Angel's story, even when real danger enters into the equation. He even keeps his editor, a fellow student, in the dark. And when sinister forces seem to be at work thwarting Mitch's freelance sport stories for the Seattle Times, making him seem like he's either incompetent or fabricating his stories outright, the Times sports editor merely complains to Mitch rather than firing him altogether. That just doesn't seem like it would fly in a real newsroom.

But those are small quibbles in an otherwise well-written story that kept me reading, wanting to know Angel's secret and how Mitch would put the pieces together to solve them.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

In Defense of Darkness

There has been quite a hubbub this week over a Wall Street Journal article attacking Young Adult literature for being too dark. In the article “Darkness Too Visible” Meghan Cox Gourdon tells the tragic tale of a mother going to a Barnes and noble bookstore looking to find books for her 13 year old daughter only to find "nothing, not a thing, that I could imagine giving my daughter. It was all vampires and suicide and self-mutilation, this dark, dark stuff." Meghan Cox Gourdon sees this as a trend in YA fiction to mainly publish darker and darker stories filled with horrors and abuse. REALLY? What about Meg Cabot (YP FIC CABOT) Ally Carter (YP FIC CARTER), Sarah Mylnowski (YP FIC MYLNOWSK), E. Lockhart (YP FIC LOCKHART), Maureen Johnson (YP FIC JOHNSON), Catherine Murdoch (YP FIC MURDOCH) or Joan Bauer (YP FIC BAUER)? Meghan Cox Gourdon COMPLETELY ignores the wealth of available YA literature that is very light, positive, and vampire free. She makes ZERO effort in doing any kind of research as to what the ratio of “Dark” versus “Judy Blume-like” books that are published. Also, Judy Blume? She hasn’t been read by most 13-18 in decades and when she was she often was controversial for her time.

She also suggests that the violence and dark themes could normalize things such as self mutilation and lead to increase in the behavior. Unfortunately she doesn’t do any research to back up this claim (Maybe because it is an entirely baseless claim).

She also paints a lot of literature with one Too Dark brush. She calls The Hunger Games series “hype-violent.” Really? The series is violent but it isn’t hyper violent. There aren’t gruesome and graphic descriptions of the violence and it is a power look at the costs of war and violence in American society.

All in all there is loads of choice in YA books: dark, light, medium dark, and anything and everything in between. But to claim that realistically portrayed problems that some teens face is “like a hall of fun-house mirrors, constantly reflecting back hideously distorted portrayals of what life is.” is terribly offensive to teens that to have the problems that Cox Gourdon finds so horrible teens are reading about. Each teen should get the books they want or need and fortunately we have more choice in that now than ever before.