March 22, 2018

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Graphic Novels: A “Jane Eyre” Update, Pick for “Wimpy Kid” Fans, and More | January 2018 Xpress Reviews

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Brunner, Max. Superfail. illus. by Dustin McKay. 208p. Running Pr. Nov. 2017. Tr $13.99. ISBN 9780762462292.

Gr 4-6 –Twelve-year-old Marshall wants to be a superhero, but his powers always go wrong. He can shoot lasers from his eyes, but they either miss the target or cause more damage. And when you have severe motion sickness, flying is no fun. Marshall and others like him are referred to as “defectives.” But when the villainous Man With No Name tries to destroy the city again, Marshall and The Night Owl, a retired crime fighter, must team up to work with the powers they have, redeem themselves, and save the day. This hybrid of comic book and prose novel features panels with text above or below and is the ideal format for this funny, inspiring tale. The panels are mostly in grayscale with details highlighted in bold colors. While the plot is predictable, the engaging art and the relatable, unlikely heroes, for whom readers will be rooting, make this a crowd pleaser. VERDICT With humor, action, and a strong cast of characters, this title will appeal to fans of Jeff Kinney’s “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” and anyone looking for a humorous underdog story.–Marissa Lieberman, East Orange Public Library, NJ

Chamblain, Joris. Cici’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training. tr. from French. illus. by Aurélie Neyret. 160p. First Second. Nov. 2017. Tr $17.99. ISBN 9781626722484.

Gr 3-6 –Translated from French, Chamblain’s charming graphic novel centers on a 10-year-old supersleuth navigating life, school, and relationships. Cici channels her dreams of being an author into a notebook, recounting two of her stakeouts-turned-adventures. Her “trick for telling stories is to observe people, imagine their lives, their secrets,” but sometimes that comes at the cost of others’ feelings. Learning to use her inquisitive nature responsibly becomes Cici’s most perplexing mystery as she struggles to balance supporting her loved ones and chasing her passion. The scrapbook journal style of the book, with its emphasis on Cici’s thoughts, lends itself well to the narrative, and her imagination shines through in scribbles, doodles, and notes. The lush, muted illustrations deftly convey mood through light, shadow, and washes of color. The secondary characters are also well rendered. The girl’s single mother is authentic and warm, Cici’s bonds with her best friends emphasize the importance of give-and-take in relationships, and an elderly neighbor’s writing career inspires Cici. While some plot points resolve too serendipitously, graphic novel fans will appreciate this feel-good tale. VERDICT  Equal parts Amelia’s NotebookHarriet the Spy, and a whimsical flavor of its own, this winsome title should easily find a home in most middle grade collections.–Erin Douglass, Worth-Pinkham Memorial Library, Ho-Ho-Kus, NJ

McKenna, Aline Brosh. Jane. illus. by Ramón K. Pérez. 224p. Archaia. Sept. 2017. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781608869817.

Gr 10 Up –This present-day graphic novel adaptation of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre draws on the original story with some surprising twists. Orphan Jane has grown up in a New England town under the not-so-watchful eye of her relatives and has earned enough money for art school in New York City. Rochester, a mysterious businessman, hires Jane, now a college freshman, to take care of his precocious daughter. Jane becomes a surrogate mother to Adele and catches the eye of her absent father and Mason, Rochester’s business partner and Adele’s uncle. As the heroine unravels the mystery behind Rochester’s wife’s death, she falls in love with her boss and the glamorous life that he can afford her while neglecting her studies. She quickly gets embroiled in the dangerous dealings and power struggles of the two men. Screenwriter Brosh McKenna (Devil Wears Prada, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) injects the narrative with intrigue and romance, updating this story for modern audiences while maintaining elements from the source material (the protagonist’s naiveté, Rochester’s aloofness). The dynamic art changes from sketchy blues and whites (for scenes of the past) to bright yellows and reds (during Jane’s first weeks in New York City) and dark blues and purples (menacing and brooding panels involving Rochester), establishing a gothic mood. The variation in panels becomes more comic book–like as the story progresses, especially in the final action-packed scenes. VERDICT This brilliant homage to the classic will enamor fans of the original and intrigue newcomers. A strong choice for graphic novel collections.–Shelley M. Diaz, School Library Journal

Medaglia, Mike. One Year Wiser: An Illustrated Guide to Mindfulness. illus. by Mike Medaglia. 128p. SelfMadeHero. Oct. 2017. pap. $14.99. ISBN 9781910593387.

Gr 7 Up –Medaglia takes readers on a journey from spring to winter, each season illuminating ideas related to mindfulness. These concepts include valuing oneself, practicing gratitude, and coming to grips with impermanence. Through clear, conversational prose and skillful artwork, the author/illustrator outlines ways in which meditation can help deal with struggles such as anxiety and anger. Each section culminates with a variety of practical exercises. Medaglia’s drawing style ranges from realistic to cartoonish, blending concrete and abstract images. The simplicity advocated by the text is reflected in the clarity of the illustrations and the generous use of white space. The various sections are almost entirely monochromatic, varying only occasionally, most chiefly in the depiction of pink hearts that jump out of the otherwise cool-colored backgrounds—a subtle choice that emphasizes the importance of love and relationships. VERDICT This is an excellent read for beginners interested in mindfulness as well as current practitioners looking for new exercises and a fresh, beautifully illustrated perspective on the topic.–Emily Butler, Deerfield Academy, MA

Nury, Fabien. The Death of Stalin. illus. by Thierry Robin. 120p. Titan. Jul. 2017. Tr $24.99. ISBN 9781785863400.

Gr 10 Up –The cinematic quality of this graphic novel is evident from its first page, which portrays a cast of secretive, scheming politicians; a dying tyrant; and messy family politics. All the while, the fate of communism hangs in the balance. The visuals depict long, darkened hallways and conversations observed from far above, regimented order and chaos coming in equal measure. Shadowy artwork with the slightest sparks of Soviet red adds to the spy film feel. But for all the intrigue, the story is simple. Joseph Stalin has a debilitating stroke: his henchmen scramble to deal with it, conceal the circumstances of his death, silence his family, and keep their tenuous power over the Russian people in place without their figurehead. Some sex, violence, and strong language make this an appropriate read for more mature teenage readers. VERDICT Overall, there’s more mood than content in this slim, slick volume, which makes for an intriguing if incomplete read.–Emilia Packard, Austin, TX

Shimura, Takako. Sweet Blue Flowers. illus. by Takako Shimura. 400p. Viz Media. Sept. 2017. pap. $24.99. ISBN 9781421592985.

Gr 10 Up –These collected first volumes of Shimura’s manga tell an honest, poignant story about the joys, pains, and loves of gay and bisexual young women. Fumi Manjoume moves back to her hometown with her family after being away for several years. She’s troubled because her first love recently married, but she reconnects with her old best friend, Akira Okudaira, who allows Fumi to be herself and helps ease her pain. During her first days at her new, all-girls school, Fumi falls for a popular, beautiful third-year senior, Yasuko Sugimoto, and the two begin dating. Shimura’s art varies depending on the mood of the scene. During comedic moments, the designs lean toward the exaggerated, but during important dramatic scenes, Shimura adds layers of appealing detail. Since these shifts occur only during high points, they will be comfortably familiar to fans of anime romances such as the webcomic Monthly Girls Nozaki-kun and “Toradora!” At first, characters may seem a bit archetypal, but Shimura’s deft pen crafts unique human beings from what appear to be genre staples. While the initially brisk pace may be off-putting, readers who acclimate themselves to the narrative’s rhythms will find LGBTQ+ characters to root for. VERDICT A no-brainer for yuri (manga focusing on lesbian romance) fans, but strong enough to recommend to romance readers and general manga enthuisasts.–Chuck Hodgin, Belmont University, Nashville

This article was published in School Library Journal's January 2018 issue. Subscribe today and save up to 35% off the regular subscription rate.

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