Posted in Graphic Novels, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Archival Quality is SO GOOD, and not just because I’m a librarian.

Archival Quality, by Ivy Noelle Weir/Illustrated by Steenz, (March 2018, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620104705

Recommended for readers 14+

First, the scoop: Cel Walden is a young woman who loves working with books. But she loses her library job, because she’s also dealing with crippling anxiety and depression. She finds another job, this time as an archivist, at the Logan Museum, where she’s responsible for putting records in order and digitizing them. Sounds pretty cool, right? (You know it does.) She meets Abayomi, also called Aba, the secretive curator, and the fabulous Holly, librarian extraordinaire. Cel starts scanning and archiving, but notices strange things afoot at the library and the archivist’s apartment on library property; she also starts having some strange dreams about a young woman who needs Cel’s help. Cel becomes consumed with finding out this woman’s identity and what happened to her, which puts her job, relationship, and possibly, her mental health, at risk.

Now, the raving: Archival Quality is a great story on so many levels. It’s a ghost story; it’s got secrets; it takes place in a library – where better to have a ghost story?!; and it takes a strong and sensitive look at mental health and takes an hard look at mental health treatment in the past. Cel is on a mission to find out what happened to the ghostly girl who shares her initials and her mental health challenges. The ghost’s story gets under Cel’s skin because she empathizes; she understands, and she wants to help put an uneasy, persecuted spirit to rest: and that certainly has a double meaning, as we see the toll this takes on Cel through the story.

The characters are wonderful. Cel stands on her own as a fully realized character, and her friends: the mysterious Aba has his own fears and frustrations to work with, and Holly is strong and witty. Holly and Aba are characters of color and Holly’s got a girlfriend whose family has its own ties to the Logan Museum, giving us a tertiary character that has a realistic connection to the story and isn’t just there to be window dressing for Holly. Archival Quality is a solid story that works to bash away at the stigma of depression and anxiety. I love it, and I can’t wait to get it into the hands of the readers at my library. I’d hand this off to my upper-level middle schoolers and high schoolers, and keep copies handy for the college kids.

Ivy Noelle Weir and Steenz also happen to be former librarians. See? LIBRARIES ROCK. Check out Ivy Weir’s webpage for more webcomics (with Steenz) and general awesomeness. Check out Steenz’s Tumblr for more art.

 

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Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

What would you do if you could write your own story?

The Altered History of Willow Sparks, by Tara O’Connor, (March 2018, Oni Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781620104507

Recommended for readers 12-16

High schooler Willow Sparks is tired of being bullied by her school’s “in crowd”. Staying out of their way doesn’t seem to do anything – they find a way to go after her and tease her about her clothes, her skin, her everything. When she stumbles on a hidden library while at her public library job one night, she finds books with people’s names on them – including hers – that record every moment of their lives. She discovers that she can write her own story, and instantly, her skin clears up, her fashion gets an upgrade, and she’s getting attention – good attention – from one of the guys in the in crowd. As life improves for Willow, she grows farther away from Georgia and Gary, her best friends who’ve stuck by her. What Willow doesn’t realize is that for every give, there’s a take, and the future, whether or not Willow’s writing it, has a way of defending itself.

There’s a lot going on in this graphic novel: Willow and her transformation is the main plot, but there are subplots that get a short shrift: I’d love to have learned more about why these books exist and where they came from – it’s alluded to that other libraries have these hidden libraries; I’d love to see a book about them. (I do love the idea of a librarian being the keeper of this secret, valuable information.) Willow’s friend Georgia is moving, and George is starting the process of coming out; both of these stories are glanced over, and have the potential to be really interesting, especially when combined with the hidden histories. That said, the story is relatable, especially to teens: who wouldn’t want to be the author of their own life? Write out those potentially embarrassing moments, the bad skin, the crush(es) that didn’t work out. Start a booktalk with that idea, and watch the teens perk up.

The Altered History of Willow Sparks is a quick, enjoyable read. It starts a good discussion about the downsides of wish fulfillment, and illustrates that everything comes with a price. The realistic artwork is largely rendered in gray and white and is reminiscent of Faith Erin Hicks’ work. Booktalk with other creepy fantasy graphic novels like Hicks’ Friends With Boys, Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost, and Doug TenNapel’s Ghostopolis (the latter two skew younger in age). The book is a Spring 2018 Junior Library Guild Selection.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Holly Black’s newest fantasy series begins with The Cruel Prince

The Cruel Prince, by Holly Black, (Jan. 2018, Little, Brown), $18.99, ISBN: 9780316310277

Recommended for readers 12+

I have been insanely excited about this book since I saw Holly Black talk about it during her panel with Ryan Graudin at BookExpo last year, so when the ARC showed up on NetGalley, I jumped on it. It was worth the wait, because The Cruel Prince is Holly Black at her high fantasy, intrigue and betrayal finest.

Jude is a mortal girl, raised with her twin sister, Taryn, and half-sister sister, Vivi, in the Court of Fairie. By the main that killed her parents, who also happens to be Vivi’s father. The two human sisters want desperately to belong, but are looked down upon for their mortality; the Folk use every opportunity to sneer at and humiliate them, and fiery Jude takes most of the abuse. Cruelest of them all is Prince Cardan, the youngest son of the High King. When Jude is given the chance to become part of a shadowy group of spies, she grabs at the chance, and discovers her own capacities for bloodshed and double-dealing. And that will serve her well as the Court of Faerie moves toward a big change: one that will see Jude making and breaking alliances to save those closest to her.

There is SO much to unpack here, and it’s all brilliant. The characters are as loathsome as they are amazing – and that’s said with the highest compliment. The faerie folk are beautiful, cruel, entitled, and immortal; we love them as much as we hate them. Jude emerges as a strong heroine; conflicted by loving the man who raised her as his own, yet murdered her parents in cold blood; conflicted by her desire to live among the Folk as one of them, yet disgusted by their capacity for cruelty. There are plot twists that you won’t see coming, and betrayals that will make you yelp. If you’re a high fantasy fan – or have readers who are – this is a must have for your shelves. Now, to tensely wait for the next installment. (In the meantime, pick up Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows.)

Posted in Graphic Novels, Non-Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Is This Guy for Real? Brian Brown introduces a new generation to Andy Kaufman

Is This Guy for Real? The Unbelievable Andy Kaufman, by Box Brown, (Feb. 2018, First Second), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626723160

Recommended for readers 14+

Box Brown, the award-winning creator of Andre the Giant: His Life and Legend and Tetris: The Games People Play returns to introduce readers to one of the most controversial comedians of the ’70s and early ’80s, Andy Kaufman. The biography covers Andy’s younger years; how his persona was largely formed by television, particularly Elvis, professional wrestling and cartoons, all of which would figure into his act years later. Much of Is This Guy for Real? details his “feud” with wrestler Jerry the King Lawler; one of the greatest “are they or aren’t they?” rivalries of all time. The book also covers his death at age 35 from lung cancer, and the fact that many people – including his co-stars on the television show Taxi – swore it was a hoax.

I grew up watching Andy Kaufman as Latka Gravis on Taxi, and his stand-up performances on Saturday Night Live. I can’t hear the Mighty Mouse theme song without seeing him lip sync and gesture along. I remember watching he and Jerry Lawler go at each other, and never being quite sure whether or not it was real (you’ll find the answer in the book). Is This Guy for Real is an eye-opening look at an artist who was ahead of his time – warts and all – and gone too quickly. I’m hoping this profile introduces new audiences to Andy Kaufman and his stand-up; I know I’ll talk it up to our teens once I get our library’s copy.

Posted in Fantasy, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

The Scythedom faces big challenges in Thunderhead

Thunderhead (Arc of a Scythe, #2), by Neal Shusterman, (Jan. 2018, Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers), $18.99, ISBN: 9781442472457

Recommended for readers 12+

Scythe was one of the best books I read last year, so I was waiting for Thunderhead like a kid for… well, Christmas. How could he top Scythe? Well… in tremendous fashion. When we last saw the characters from Scythe, Citra Terranova had become Scythe Anastasia, working with the well-established Scythe Curie. Rowan adopted the persona of Scythe Lucifer and has since set about cleaning up the Scythe community in his own way – which puts him on the entire Scythedom’s hit list. Scythe Anastasia challenges the “new order” scythes, who want to glean with no quotas and no strictures; this puts her in the crosshairs of those Scythes who would operate outside of the rules.

Meanwhile, the Thunderhead – the artificial intelligence that keeps society running as a virtual utopia – is watching society fall apart. Hampered by its own rules and inability to take direct action, it laments humanity and the paths we constantly find ourselves on.

Thunderhead takes everything readers loved about Scythe and adds more: more tension, more intrigue, more to ponder about ourselves as a society. Rowan and Citra are incredible characters, and I’m thrilled to get to know Scythe Curie better in this installment. There are some truly awful Scythes here, and you’ll curl your lip as you discover some of their gleaning preferences and tactics, to be sure. Neal Shusterman has the fantastic ability to make single character come to life.

Do NOT miss Thunderhead. I’ve already got one teen counting down days until it arrives at the library.

Scythe is the 2017 Printz Award winner. Neal Shusterman received the 2015 National Book Award and the 2016 Golden Kite Award for Fiction for Challenger Deep.

Posted in Realistic Fiction, Teen, Young Adult/New Adult

Community meets Big Brother: Nice Try, Jane Sinner!

Nice Try, Jane Sinner, by Lianne Oelke, (Jan. 2018, Clarion Books), $17.99, ISBN: 9780544867857

Good for readers 13+

Seventeen-year-old Jane Sinner has been trying to reinvent herself after an incident that resulted in her being expelled from high school. She enrolls in Elbow River Community College to finish her high school credits, and while there, discovers what could be her chance: a reality show. A student-led production, House of Orange is basically Big Brother, starring Elbow River students, produced and directed by Elbow River students, and streamed online. Jane sees this as a twofold opportunity: to reinvent herself and to move out of her home, away from her overbearing Christian family. She applies for the show, makes it in, and moves out. The show starts ramping up, gaining popularity and sponsors, and Jane loves the chance to be her competitive and snarky self. She’s determined to win, but things don’t always go as planned…

Nice Try, Jane Sinner is alternately hilarious and unexpectedly deep. Jane, who narrates the novel, is deliciously snarky while deeply conflicted. Her incident – no spoilers – brings up plenty of discussion opportunities, one of the biggest being: can we reinvent ourselves? Do we need to, at 17? Jane and her fellow competitors form cautious friendships, but it’s tempered with the knowledge that, as the group shrinks and the stakes get higher, people are going to be backstabbed: something that will fuel Jane’s fire even more.

Lianne Oelke writes reality TV well. Her characters have the omnipresent camera and learn to work it to their advantages. She also creates smart, believable characters that you may like, you may loathe, but you’ll recognize; whether from your own reality TV viewing or real life. This one will be a hit with teens, who don’t remember life before reality, and readers will love Jane’s snark.

Posted in Fiction, Fiction, Middle Grade, Tween Reads, Young Adult/New Adult

Diversity Reading Challenge 2017 – Checking In

This year, I accepted The Unconventional Librarian’s Diversity Reading Challenge, and I’ve been… okay. Let’s take a look:

(The center Diversity Reading Challenge 2017 graphic is from An Unconventional Librarian’s website.)

Book featuring a Hispanic character – Wild Beauty, by Anna Marie McLemore

Book featuring an LGBTQ character – Spinning, by Tillie Walden

Graphic Novel – Pashmina, by Nidhi Chanani

Book featuring a character with mental illness – Lighter Than My Shadow, by Katie Green

Book featuring an Asian character – Warcross, by Marie Lu

Book by an illustrator of color – Nina: Jazz Legend and Civil Rights Activist Nina Simone, illustrated by Bruno Liance

Book with an African-American young male character – Goodnight, Boy, by Nikki Sheehan

Book with an African-American female character – An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon

Book with a Muslim character – Lost Boys, by Darcey Rosenblatt

Book with a character on the Autism spectrum – Mighty Jack and the Goblin King, by Ben Hatke

Book featuring a character with a physical disability – Super Max and the Mystery of Thornwood’s Revenge, by Susan Vaught

 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy with my reading, but it could be better. I see little spots where I need to read more deeply. Goodnight, Boy is amazing; brilliantly written, but I should also be reading African-American characters written by African-American characters. I need to finally get Ghost, by Jason Reynolds, off the TBR and on my nightstand, you know? Ditto for my Muslim character choice. I love Lost Boys; it’s a heart-wrenching novel that darn near brings me to tears, but I need to stop saying I want to read Amina’s Voice and just read it. (If you’re struggling to find Muslim authors, by the way, I found a list on GoodReads that may help.)

I am happy that there’s some crossover on the list. I have several graphic novels on the list; while reading graphic novels is never an issue for me, I’m happy to see that the medium is a great place to explore different cultures and identities. Spinning, Lighter Than My Shadow, Pashmina, and Mighty Jack and the Goblin King are all graphic novels; each is its own journey of exploration. Wild Beauty and An Unkindness of Ghosts have female, main characters of color that explore their sexuality.

In sum, I need to read one more book (a Holocaust victim) to complete my challenge. Pragmatic Mom has a list that I think I’ll use as my guide here. Milkweed, by Jerry Spinelli, sounds compelling; it may also be time to to finally pick up Jane Yolen’s Devil’s Arithmetic.  I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, thanks to Pam at Unconventional Librarian for keeping me honest.