November 18, 2017

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Physics, Fears, & Female Empowerment | Adult Books 4 Teens

In my continuing quest to redefine and highlight nonfiction for young people, I offer 10 varied titles that include everything from graphic novels to memoirs to art history to works of quantum physics. There are also a number of surprising connections among these books, starting with female empowerment.

With Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order), Bridget Quinn offers a short history of 15 unsung female fine artists, while Hope Nicholson, in The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History, looks at a much larger selection of female comic book characters. Both authors challenge assumptions about the role of women in their respective art forms. Quinn’s work spans several hundred years of European and U.S. art history. By turns chatty, enthusiastic, and righteously indignant, this is a tremendously exciting title. Nicholson, on the other hand, focuses not on female artists but on female representations in art and subverts expectations. She is quick to acknowledge that many of the mostly male comic artists she discusses had little interest in making a political point. Nevertheless, she has unearthed an incredible number of mostly forgotten female characters who are ripe for reclamation and recontextualization.

Next we have three memoirs by women artists. Gabourey Sidibe came to the world’s attention with her Oscar-nominated debut role in Precious and has appeared in numerous films and TV shows since. Teens grappling with self-image issues will appreciate This Is Just My Face: Try Not To Stare, which details her grappling with her appearance and weight.

With her graphic novel Imagine Wanting Only This, Kristen Radtke, worried that she may have the same disease as an uncle who died young, considers life, death, history, and art. In The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui adopts a broader approach to similar topics, looking at the long road her parents took from Vietnam to the United States.

Antje Schrupp and Patu’s A Brief History of Feminism, a graphic novel that squeezes more than two millennia of anecdotes, quotations, biographical sketches, and more into less than 100 pages, ties together the previous titles and provides crucial context.

We conclude with four more varied nonfiction titles. I started talking to anyone who would listen about Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson’s We Have No Idea, which describes in detail how the entire observable universe comprises only five percent of what most scientists believe to be the full extent of the universe. This clever, provocative work is right up any skeptical student’s alley; not a textbook to be memorized, it’s a blank page bound to inspire future scientists.

I must admit to a bit of perversity on my part in counting this next book as nonfiction. Fran Krause’s The Creeps is a graphic novel, comprised of short, mostly funny comic strips based on submissions in which readers describe their darkest fears. Do I get points for creativity? This is a fabulous, easy read that covers a gamut of emotions. Krause continues to update his webcomic with more Deep Dark Fears every week.

Finn Murphy’s The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road has more than a bit in common with Andrew Forsthoefel’s Walking To Listen. Whereas Forsthoefel deliberately went on a journey to learn about the United States, Murphy stumbled into the same idea. A college burnout, Murphy became a long-haul trucker to give his life some purpose, driving across the nation (rather than walking across it, like Forsthoefel) and discovering much. Readers will enjoy comparing the two titles.

In Born Both: An Intersex Life, Hida Viloria explains that s/he identifies as male and female, though that’s by no means the only way intersex and nonbinary people identify themselves (nor are the author’s preferred pronouns universally accepted in the community). Viloria chronicles he/r life, from how s/he discovered he/r intersex identity to he/r experiences as an activist, imparting information on a long-misunderstood group.

GRAPHIC NOVELS

redstarBUI, Thi. The Best We Could Do. illus. by Thi Bui. 336p. Abrams ComicArts. Mar. 2017. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781419718779.

Bui meticulously researched her family’s history, discovering how their past affects her. Her family’s story is full of struggle and heartache, and the author/illustrator beautifully details her parents’ escape from Vietnam to the United States in search of a better life. A new mother, Bui returns to the theme of parenthood and family, and teens will recognize her yearning for stability and a happy future as well as her self-doubt and fear of repeating her parents’ mistakes. A compelling narrative and breathtakingly elegant artwork with subtle colors and expressive and finely drawn characters make this title a standout. Curricular tie-ins include immigration policies, refugees, colonization, and the Vietnam War. VERDICT Hand this essential volume to teens who appreciate David Small’s Stitches and Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis.–Sarah Hill, Lake Land College, Mattoon, IL

KRAUSE, Fran. The Creeps: A Deep Dark Fears Collection. illus. by Fran Krause. 144p. Ten Speed Pr. Sept. 2017. Tr $16. ISBN 9780399579141.

On his website, Krause invites readers to share their darkest fears, which he then turns into brief comic strips. The results, as seen in his popular webcomic Deep Dark Fears; his first graphic novel, of the same name; and here, are phenomenal. Many of the comics are a morbid combination of terrifying and funny: “When stuffed animals are made, they’re living, breathing creatures—but they suffocated in their packaging, and we play with their lifeless bodies.” Others are more poignant, such as a musing on the potentially fleeting nature of online friendship. Most, though, are relatively lighthearted, even as they speak to common fears such as ghosts, death and dismemberment, and urban legends. Krause’s witty, quirky illustrations, along with his careful selection and organization of material, draw the fears into a unified whole, though he acknowledges that we all have varied dreads. Readers may even come away with new terrors: “Sometimes when the sun is bright, I worry my glasses will amplify the light, like a magnifying glass can do to ants, and I’ll get two holes burned through my head.” VERDICT An excellent option for fans of offbeat comics and dark humor.–Mark Flowers, Springstowne Library, Vallejo, CA

redstarRADTKE, Kristen. Imagine Wanting Only This. illus. by Kristen Radtke. 288p. Pantheon. Apr. 2017. Tr $29.95. ISBN 9781101870839.
This insightful, lyrical graphic novel is part memoir, part meditation on mortality and geography. After her beloved uncle died young as the result of a rare genetic condition, Radtke, who may have the same condition, began contemplating her own mortality and permanence in general. She became obsessed with the ruins of civilization: How is Greece’s crumbling Parthenon different than the buildings of Gary, IN, or the remains of the U.S. naval base on Corregidor in the Philippines? The book focuses on Radtke’s life in college and grad school, and teens will identify with her desire to find her place, emotionally and geographically. With a melancholy air, the nonlinear narrative cycles between past and present, between general history and the more intimate history of Radtke’s own life. The black-and-white illustrations occasionally incorporate photographs and adroitly capture small details and the passage of time as she rails against, and ultimately accepts, the transitory nature of life and tries to figure out what it all means. VERDICT This moving and thought-provoking account will resonate with most teens. A vital addition to graphic novel collections.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington Public Library, Arlington, VA

SCHRUPP, Antje. A Brief History of Feminism. tr. from German by Sophie Lewis. illus. by Patu. 88p. MIT Press. Aug. 2017. Tr $14.95. ISBN 9780262037112.
Schrupp and Patu explore feminists and feminism from antiquity through the third wave. Accompanied by cartoon drawings, the text discusses issues such as autonomy, basic rights, and violence. Direct quotations are in italics, usually presented near an illustration of the speaker. The text addresses the mistakes and prejudices of those in the movement, such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s willingness to work with entrepreneur George Francis Train, who supported slavery, after black men were granted the right to vote before white women were. The narrative concludes with a look at intersectionality and LGBTQ issues, and a “To Be Continued Note” raises the possibility of another book. VERDICT An excellent, balanced look at feminism throughout the ages for all libraries.–Tamara Saarinen, Pierce County Library, WA

NONFICTION

CHAM, Jorge & Daniel Whiteson. We Have No Idea: A Guide to the Unknown Universe. illus. by Jorge Cham. 368p. bibliog. index. Riverhead. May 2017. Tr $28. ISBN 9780735211513.
Accompanied by funny cartoons, this title takes readers on a mind-expanding, exhilarating trip through everything scientists don’t know about the universe, which turns out to be quite a lot. Cham and Whiteson start with the humbling fact that 27 percent of the universe is made up of dark matter—which we can’t see, interact with, or measure. A staggering 68 percent of the universe is dark energy, which the authors point out is just a convenient and possibly misleading term for something we know even less about. The rest of the book explores the remaining five percent, detailing our incomplete understanding of everything from mass to space-time to gravity and more. Fortunately, Cham and Whiteson present a wealth of information about what physicists do know, and their excitement about scientific advancement and their optimism about future discoveries are infectious. Their stabs at levity are a bit grating (although they’re aware how lame their jokes are) and unnecessary, since their prose is lucid, even when the concepts become almost impossible to grasp. VERDICT An enjoyable and thought-provoking read for older teens with at least a cursory understanding of physics.–Mark Flowers, Springstowne Library, Vallejo, CA

MURPHY, Finn. The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road. 256p. Norton. Jun. 2017. Tr $26.95. ISBN 9780393608717.
Working at the gas station in high school, Murphy idolized the guys at the moving company next door. Directionless and smoking too much pot, he dropped out of college to drive for the company full-time, specializing in long-distance moves. A few decades later, he now moves high-end corporate clients and has stories to tell. Readers may wonder if some of the details have been embellished over the years, but considering Murphy’s engaging style and ability to laugh at himself, the occasional big fish isn’t distracting. The author’s years of observing every corner of the United States and untangling the reality from the legends give this inviting book weight. Murphy has traversed the nation again and again and spent miles pondering the hollowing of cities, the “silence and vastness” of the Everglades’ Alligator Alley, the mythos of the cowboy trucker, and trucking’s changing racial makeup. VERDICT For fans of thought-provoking road trip tales.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington Public Library, Arlington, VA

NICHOLSON, Hope. The Spectacular Sisterhood of Superwomen: Awesome Female Characters from Comic Book History. 240p. index. Quirk. May 2017. Tr $24.95. ISBN 9781594749483.
Comic books have historically emphasized male characters, but this compendium offers detailed backgrounds on more than 180 female detectives, nurses, and college students; there’s even a single mom and a homeless girl or two. Nicholson sizes them up and pares them down; as a female comic book fan, she’s sensitive to how misleading stereotypes can be. She enthuses about old-school heroines such as the protagonists of Sally the Sleuth and Moronica; she knows their stories, and she has their backs—even if their creators saw them as exploitable, all curves and no brains. Nicholson sees a link between these pioneering characters and today’s tougher Gen X-types, such as the heroines of Street Angel and Bandette. Acknowledging historian Trina Robbins and the many women professionals in today’s comics field, she notes there’s still much inequality. Drawing on everything from zines to popular collections, Nicholson has done extensive research, thanks to what must be an impressive personal archive; she’s also a publisher. This one-of-a-kind volume informs readers what’s available and where. It’s an invitation to celebrate the long-lived and the forgotten, the popular and the unknown. VERDICT Fans of comics and graphic novels will love this passionate endorsement of female characters through comic history; it’s an effective guide for those seeking to find their favorites, in print and online.–Georgia Christgau, Middle College High School, Long Island City, NY

QUINN, Bridget. Broad Strokes: 15 Women Who Made Art and Made History (in That Order). illus. by Lisa Congdon. 192p. bibliog. index. Chronicle. Mar. 2017. Tr $29.95. ISBN 9781452152363.

Adults and teens alike will appreciate this accessible title that highlights 15 European and U.S. female artists, from 1600 to the present, who haven’t received the recognition of their male counterparts. Each chapter opens with a lovely portrait of the artist by Congdon and includes well-rendered reproductions of the subject’s noted works. Many of these women died young yet accomplished a great deal. Only one living artist is featured—Kara Walker—but more than half worked during the 20th century. Reading this chatty book feels like taking a trip to a museum with a knowledgeable friend, and the lively anecdotes help the history unfold easily. VERDICT This beautiful volume will inspire artists and delight anyone interested in biographies or art.–Karlan Sick, formerly at New York Public Library

SIDIBE, Gabourey. This Is Just My Face: Try Not To Stare. 256p. HMH. May 2017. Tr $25. ISBN 9780544786769.

Teens who pick up this memoir by Sidibe will feel as though the actress is sitting in a room with them, chatting and telling silly stories. Her reflections about her high school hair mishaps and her rumored Internet death are laugh-out-loud funny, but Sidibe also shares poignant moments. Her father’s Senegalese ways often confused her. Her mother’s hopeful ambition, coupled with her lack of time and money, molded Sidibe and gave her character, but the author was responsible for her own happiness. Her strength comes through as she discusses forgiveness: of haters, of her family, and especially of U.S. culture. Sidibe understands that though she may have detractors who criticize her because of her weight, she has two options: run and hide, or find a way to make people see her as she sees herself. What teenager can’t relate? This humorous work that details the actress’s rise to fame, her trials with self-image, and her belief in herself will resonate with readers. This is a journey not to be missed. VERDICT An immersive, honest, and funny read for fans of Sidibe or celebrity memoirs.–Pamela Schembri, Horace Greeley High School, Chappaqua, NY 

VILORIA, Hida. Born Both: An Intersex Life. 352p. Hachette. Mar. 2017. Tr $27. ISBN 9780316347846.

Through short scenes and vignettes, Viloria, who is intersex and prefers the pronouns s/he and he/r, chronicles he/r life, from growing up with a tyrannical father to working as an activist and advocate for intersex and nonbinary people. S/he was outed in college, and he/r parents cut off support. After comments from sexual partners, Viloria realized s/he was intersex and built a community. Along the way, s/he fell in and out of love, went back to school, and explored he/r gender presentation and identity. He/r personable, chatty style comes through whether s/he’s relating the details of romantic relationships, detailing the nervous thrill of meeting Oprah Winfrey, or explaining he/r positions on issues facing he/r community. Viloria’s thoughts on pronouns and the language used to describe intersex people are especially compelling. Though s/he touches on complex subjects, including rape, domestic violence, racism, and genital mutilation, he/r comfort in who s/he is and he/r desire to create a better world for intersex people permeate the ultimately hopeful narrative. VERDICT An affecting work for fans of memoir or those who wish to learn more about gender identity.–Jennifer Rothschild, Arlington Public Library, Arlington VA

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Mark Flowers About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and a supervising librarian at the Rio Vista (CA) Library.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for this wonderful review. It’s great to see people care about these issues (as well as like my book!). <3

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