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Graphic Novels Xpress Reviews | June 2016

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1606-XPress-GraphicNovel-rKlein, David G. The Golem’s Voice. illus. by David G. Klein. 114p. Now What Media. Apr. 2015. pap. $11.99. ISBN 9780996236607.

Gr 5-8 –A family of three are about to be transported to the death camps when the youngest, Yakov, manages to escape the Nazis by entering a mysterious house. There, he finds a magical tome and a golem. All his life, Yakov has been cared for, but these new circumstances require him to grow up, take responsibility, and save others. With the invulnerable golem by his side, there is hope. Klein draws in a rough, almost sketchy style, brilliantly employing gradation and contrast with pencil. These black-and-white illustrations lend the book the same weight of old war films, while the character designs and fantastical elements soften this stark reality into a palatable version for children. This artistic decision does not detract from the emotions integral to the story. However, at times, the pace does hinder readers’ ability to connect with Yakov’s plight. History and Jewish lore blend together well, and both are explained with detail. The author remains true to and respectful of history but approaches certain topics carefully, making this title appropriate for its middle grade audience. VERDICT Hand this beautifully drawn fantastical tale to readers who appreciate Matt Phelan’s The Storm in the Barn and other thought-provoking graphic novels.–Rachel Forbes, formerly of Oakville Public Library, Ontario, Canada

McDonald, Kel. Misfits of Avalon Vol. 2: The Ill-Made Guardian. illus. by Kel McDonald. 216p. Dark Horse. Mar. 2016. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781616557485.

Gr 7 Up –This book picks up shortly after the first volume, which told the story of four teenage girls who were selected for a magical purpose. Each teen has a ring that cannot be removed until her quest is complete, although the exact nature of the mission is sometimes confusing. These characters are at times tough to like. Some have stable home lives, while others don’t always attend classes. What they all have in common is their desire for a greater purpose. These flawed characters are more realistic but also at times frustrating, because they don’t always make the choices we expect of heroes. In this installment, the girls spend most of their time looking for the sword Excalibur, although once again it is not exactly clear why. This entry was originally published online at kelmcdonald.com, and much of the artwork has a less polished, webcomic feel. A mystical dog/man named Cu gives the protagonists the minimum amount of information to complete their tasks (for instance, offering them foreign phrases to say without telling them what the words mean). By the end of the book, it still isn’t apparent whether the girls should be completing these missions at all. VERDICT For fans of fantasy and realistically drawn antiheroes.–Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

Tanaka, Esturo. The Manga Guide to Physiology. tr. from Japanese by Arnie Rusoff. illus. by Keiko Kotyama. 256p. diag. index. notes. No Starch. Dec. 2015. pap. $19.95. ISBN 9781593274405.

Gr 9 Up –Conversations between a student and a professor, in manga format, offer the lighthearted lead-in to a detailed exploration of human physiology. Kumiko is a nursing student who has just failed physiology; Kaisei is the young and dreamy assistant professor who tutors her during the summer. His lectures to Kumiko are full of information, couched in back-and-forth dialogue that also reveals a bit about the student’s personality, including an unreciprocated crush on Kaisei. These scenes are rendered in black-and-white paneled illustrations with simple but useful diagrams. The second half of each chapter contains “even more” material, relying on smaller print, fewer illustrations, and diagrams that are more detailed but still accessible. Some concepts introduced earlier are explored more fully in the second half. Other ideas are dealt with exclusively within the second section. Kaisei uses effective analogies, relying on anything from earthworms to rice paddies to help Kumiko (and readers) make sense of complex ideas, and relates physiology concepts to Kumiko’s own experiences, such as marathon training and touching a cup that’s too hot. The lack of a glossary is unfortunate, but a thorough index and occasional footnotes are useful. The mixed levels of depth, layered presentation of information, and conversational style work well with a topic as complicated as physiology, while the fun interpersonal dynamics provide a bit of breathing space for readers who might be overwhelmed by the parade of facts. VERDICT Innovative and accessible presentation of a complex subject; a strong addition for those learning about physiology.–Steven Engelfried, Wilsonville Public Library, OR

Wilson, G. Willow & Marguerite Bennett. A-Force. illus. by Jorge Molina. 112p. (Secret Wars: Warzones!). ebook available. Marvel. Dec. 2015. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9780785198611.

Gr 9 Up –In this female-powered installment of the series, which takes place in Battleworld, a patchwork planet ruled by Victor Doom, the utopian island of Arcadia is guarded by the A-Force. Led by She-Hulk, this team of superheroines includes a female Loki, Captain Marvel (aka Carol Danvers), Ms. America, Dazzler, Sister Grimm, Medusa, and more. When Ms. America Chavez violates one of Doom’s laws in order to protect innocents, she is taken away by his troop of scantily clad Thors and banished. This event causes conflict within the ranks even as She-Hulk struggles to do the right thing by her people and the other members of the A-Force. A new friend, a betrayal, and another member who is sacrificed pepper the volume, which collects five issues in one slim package. The work also presents variant covers for some of the issues. References to heroes and villains within the Marvel universe occur often, but new readers will be able to easily follow the narrative. Themes of sisterhood, loyalty, and friendship abound. Seeing women heroes in action in this female-dominated title is certainly refreshing, especially in the last episode, in which other well-known characters, such as Wilson’s own Ms. Marvel, appear. However, the bosomy depictions often feel discordant with the girl-power message. VERDICT A strong choice for YA collections in need of female-led comics and graphic novels.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

This article was published in School Library Journal's June 2016 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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