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Graphic Novels Xpress Reviews | July 2016

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1607-Xpress-GN-CVs1Cazenove, Christophe. Just Like Family. illus. by William Maury. 64p. (The Sisters: Bk. 1). Papercutz. Jun. 2016. Tr $12.99. ISBN 9781629914701; pap. $7.99. ISBN 9781629914930. POP

Gr 4-6 –Sisters Maureen and Wendy are intelligent, passionate, headstrong, and volatile. This book is based on the wildly successful series originally published in France, and the sisters have lost none of their exuberant charm in this translation. Sure to be popular with readers hungry for female protagonists, this installment features short, episodic story lines that should appeal to reluctant readers. The girls get into all sorts of sisterly troubles while learning lessons of patience and love. Younger sister Maureen just wants to hang out with Wendy, whom she idolizes. Wendy, meanwhile, craves independence—a familiar conflict that will resonate with many readers. VERDICT A popular addition to any school or public library graphic novel collection.–John Trischitti, Midland County Public Libraries, TX

Doyle, Ming & James Tynion. Going Down Vol. 1. illus. by Riley Rossmo. 144p. (John Constantine, Hellblazer). DC Comics. Feb. 2016. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781401259723.

Gr 10 Up –Ghosts are dying—that isn’t normal, even in the world of hellblazer John Constantine, who banishes demons from the human plane. When his best ghostly mates are torn into pieces by an angry and vengeful demon, Constantine musters his pride and ventures into an undesirable place—his past. While exploring his roots and tracing them to when things went wrong in his personal relationships, he demands assistance from old colleagues and demonic spirits. Constantine discovers that the ghost killer is an infernal creature fueled by the soul of his ex-girlfriend. Doyle, Tynion, and Rossmo reintroduce this character, emphasizing his conflicting motives. The writing captures the snarky and standoffish persona of this well-known exorcist, who has relationships with both men and women. However, the narrative contains British slang and may be hard to understand for some readers, who may have to revisit a panel or two to catch the gist of the conversation. The design is a little disruptive (there are moments when dialogue doesn’t follow the standardleft-to-right format, for instance, and the author and illustrators sometimes disregard the gutter). The artists use warm colors and dark shadows, along with gestural line work, to create movement and chaos and convey the evil essence that looms over Constantine’s environment. Symbols indicate strong language, and overall, the content is best suited for a mature audience. VERDICT Suggested for those looking to diversify their graphic novel collections.–Briana Moore, School Library Journal

Hikami, Keiichi. Flash Hunter Vol. 1. illus. by Shin Yamamoto. 224p. (Monster Hunter). Viz Media. Apr. 2016. pap. $10.99. ISBN 9781421584256.

Gr 7 Up –This book, part of a series based on a best-selling role-playing video game, initially feels like a sequel because it has a “story thus far” page, but it is, in fact, an origin story. The manga takes readers back to a time when the main characters were not the skilled and seasoned monster hunters that they are in the video games. Raiga is a novice hunter who needs to find companions. He travels to a virtually unknown land and pairs with two other misfits: the arrogant, serious Keres and the bumbling, book-smart Torche. They get off to a rocky start but by working together manage to form a team. This is a good example of a “monster of the week” type of manga: this first volume introduces no fewer than four different monsters, all wonderfully different from one another. The art is a mixed bag, though. The monsters and armor are easily recognizable, and all of the characters are distinct enough that they can be easily told apart, but the fight scenes are extremely crowded and can be hard to follow. VERDICT Those not familiar with the franchise may find this title confusing, but those already invested in the game or novels will enjoy seeing the characters in a new light. Purchase for collections with a large video game fanbase.–Kelley Gile, Cheshire Public Library, CT

Hino, Matsuri. Shuriken and Pleats Vol. 1. illus. by Matsuri Hino. 192p. Viz Media. Mar. 2016. pap. $9.99. ISBN 9781421585253.

Gr 7 Up –In the first installment of this beautifully illustrated manga series, readers meet Mikage Kirio, a seemingly ordinary teenage girl who is a ruthless ninja assassin. Her name means “beautiful shadow,” and she has never known life outside of the Shadow Village Company, a private ninja training academy and service for hire. Mikage has been chosen as a personal bodyguard by Mr. Rod, an international humanitarian businessman intent on ending world hunger. Taught from a young age that ninjas should be “shadows” who never show emotion, she struggles to maintain this mandated stoicism when she forms an emotional bond with Mr. Rod. Her infatuation soon begins to interfere with her effectiveness as a bodyguard and results in Mr. Rod being killed during an attack by enemy ninjas. Despondent, Mikage is able to find hope when her boss at the Shadow Village Company tells her that Mr. Rod has left her a lifetime’s worth of wages so that she can leave the ninja lifestyle. This first installment foreshadows the challenges that Mikage will face for the rest of the series as she tries to live her life as a typical teenager while resisting her roots. This is a quirky tale that juxtaposes adolescent teenage emotions with harrowing crusades. The cunning and powerful heroine is a refreshing departure from the typically male-dominated narratives of the ninja world. VERDICT Fans of the author’s “Vampire Knight series will quickly be gearing up for this adventure.–Marian Mays, Washington Talking Book & Braille Library

1607-Xpress-GN-CVs2Ozaki, Kaori. The Gods Lie. illus. by Kaori Ozaki. 216p. Vertical. Apr. 2016. pap. $12.95. ISBN 9781942993360.

Gr 4-7 –Natsuru is an 11-year-old boy who gradually becomes friends with a shy girl in his class, Rio Suzumura, when she agrees to take care of a stray cat he’s rescued. Previously, Natsuru’s life was filled with going to school, playing soccer, hanging out with other boys, and coming home to his mother. But once she entrusts Rio with Tofu the cat, his life and his priorities start to change. He begins spending more time with Rio and her little brother and less time with his mother and friends. He calls out sick from soccer camp and spends several days living at Rio’s house instead. Much of this story is sweet and uplifting, as Natsuru and Rio form a new kind of family unit and they grow to love and trust each other. But there is also an undercurrent of sadness because Natsuru’s father is dead, Rio’s father is gone, and Rio is holding a secret that can break her world apart. This is a delicate, sweet, and poignant story that will make readers think about what they would do if they were faced with the same challenges as these characters. Ozaki’s artwork further enriches the story, sometimes ethereal and sometimes realistic, but always skillfully done. VERDICT For readers who will appreciate a beautiful and memorable stand-alone story about secrets and friendship.–Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library

Stevenson, Noelle. Runaways Vol. 1. illus. by Sanford Greene. 120p. (Secret Wars: Battleworld). ebook available. Marvel. Dec. 2015. pap. $15.99. ISBN 9780785198826.

Gr 8 Up –Part of Marvel’s “Secret Wars” story line and set in Battleworld, a planet that’s compiled of various Marvel universes ruled over by Victor von Doom, this volume collects the four issues of this miniseries. Following a group of freshmen who are all attending the Victor von Doom Institute for Gifted Youths in Doomstadt and prepping for the final exam, this title details the adventures of the ragtag bunch of misfits, led by Jubilee. The teens discover that their final exam is actually fatal, and in order to advance every school year, the “passing” students must kill their fellow classmates. Using their smarts, special abilities, and friendships, the young people rebel against the Headmaster (Victor von Doom’s daughter, who is only a child) and her group of robots led by senior Bucky. The book references the earlier iteration of the series originally created by Brian K. Vaughan and Adrian Alphona in 2003, but the only returning character is Molly Hayes, a rambunctious child with super strength. The team members also eschew the usual superhero costumes and experience their own bouts of teenage woes while trying to save their school. This selection showcases complex relationships that can be found in any YA novel: Jubilee and Sanna (Ice Girl) turn from frenemies to maybe something more, mixed-race siblings Tandy and Tyrone (Cloak and Dagger) stay loyal to each other and their friends, and even villain Valeria Doom struggles to defy her father’s wishes when her friend Bucky Barnes’s life is at stake. The pace and sarcastic quips are fast and furious, and the issues’ artwork reflects that same vivacious flair. Stevenson’s fans won’t be disappointed. VERDICT Purchase for comic collections in need of fresh, diverse, teen girl–powered superhero adventures with lots of heart.–Shelley Diaz, School Library Journal

Stewart, Cameron & Brenden Fletcher. Batgirl Vol. illus. by Babs Tarr. 176p. (Batgirl). DC Comics. Feb. 2016. pap. $16.99. ISBN 9781401259662.

Gr 9 Up –Barbara Gordon (aka Batgirl) is still busy protecting Gotham, but now she has to be even more careful: her father is filling Batman’s shoes. That is the least of Batgirl’s issues, however. Villains have been escaping Stryker’s and causing more problems; there is an amateur superhero getting in her way; and rogue killer tigers are on the loose. Even her regular life as Barbara Gordon is complicated; her best friends are getting married, and Barbara is having a hard time being fully present—Gotham always needs her attention. It doesn’t help that once she gets closer to romantic interest Luke Fox, she realizes that she hasn’t come to terms with the death of her former flame Dick Grayson. This new installment achieves a great balance of action and real-life drama. A well-rounded character, Barbara is fiercely loyal to her friends but also knows how to kick villain butt. The difference in illustration style throughout isn’t jarring; rather, it adds further to the appeal. VERDICT Batgirl is a mature character, and the volume reflects that sensibility; give it to older YA readers looking for a new superhero to follow. Reading the first volume is recommended, but not necessary.–Morgan Brickey, Arlington Public Library, TX

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

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