Saturday, October 18, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2014: March

March (Volume 1)
Written by by  John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Illustrated by and Nate Powell.
Published by Top Shelf (2013)

While he's now best known for his comic work like Swallow Me Whole, I first learned of Nate Powell through Soophie Nun Squad, a rather bizarre band slotted into the punk movement at least partially because of the content of their lyrics and who they hung out rather than anything else (Powell was roommates with a member of Defiance, Ohio for a while). Their live shows frequently featured puppets and costumes and it's too bad they don't perform any more as I'd like to see them. The CD I have by them features a cover and other artwork by Powell (who is also credited for "voice, claps, hit a button, puppets"), and it's great to see him working on book such as this.

March is a book chronicling the civil rights movement in the United States through the eyes of John Lewis, a US congressman and an "American icon" that I've never heard of... Of course, I am a Canadian, and so I presumably know less about this than Americans do, but I felt that there could have been a little bit more context for what segregation and the civil rights movement where. I guess that while American kids are taught about all this stuff, I can imagine a kid in Canada (and remember this is a book aimed at kids and young adults) or elsewhere being confused by what's going on. (Though without access or experience with them it''s impossible for me to really know.)

The book starts telling Lewis' life starting in the 1940s rural America and continuing up to the lunch counter protests in 1960. Throughout we're given Lewis' thoughts on the movement, and the emphasis many people put on non-violent protests. Reading about the institutionalized racism portrayed in this comic is pretty upsetting. I mean, my birth is closer to those events than to the present day, but I can't even imagine restaurants here refusing to serve people because of the colour of their skin. It really makes me wonder what groups we're discriminating against today that, thirty years from now, will make us feel appalled by our own actions.

While the information given in this comic is solid, I found the book as a whole is a little frustrating. The story is effectively told, but as it's just "part one" the story isn't complete in any real way. Secondly, there's a kind of weird almost present day (2009) framing sequence of Lewis talking about his life to kids and other people. It  crops up at various points of the book, and based on the dates I guess the final book is going to end with the inauguration of Barack Obama. While I understand why that is important, and would be a fitting conclusion, I also felt that it just ate up pages that could have been better used to give more historical details. Finally, and this is fairly minor, there's a term used that I consider a racial slur about Irish people, which is a little off putting.

Powell's art is good, but I'm apparently worse at describing artwork than I am at actual stories, so it's probably best if you just look at a preview.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

YALSA top ten GNs 2009: Skim

Written by Mariko Tamaki. Illustrated by Jillian Tamaki.
Published by Groundwood Books (2008)

When I originally read Skim months ago I really didn't think it was very good. It definitely got better near the end, but overall I didn't really get why people liked it so much (or rather, even if I did, it didn't appeal to me personally). Reading it a second time, and feeling much more depressed overall (school...), I definitely found it more appealing, though I felt it did have a lot of the same problems I found my first time through.

But first, Skim is a book about some kind-of-outcast kids in an all-girls high school in Ontario in the early '90s. They read about Wicca, are kind of goth, and when a boy who was dating someone in the school kills themselves everyone gets worried about them (because of course the kind of depressed goths are going to kill themselves). We follow Skim, the main character, as she interacts with her teachers, family, and classmates, and grows further away from some people and towards others.

My biggest problem is the creepy relationship that happens between a student and a teacher. Yeah, it's fiction, yeah not everything has to be spelled out, but I still think this is a super creepy thing and other than one of the characters moping a bunch it's not really dealt with. People write about stuff that doesn't happen I know, and being overly preachy can be pretty terrible, but still, it made me kind of uncomfortable.

Anyway, once that's out of the way the story becomes a lot more appealing to me. A popular girl who fell off her roof and broke both her arms (while attempting suicide?) is constantly surrounded by other girls who try to make a thing out of it by having clubs and dances and stuff that are supposed to be about how great life is. The girl seems to become more and more distressed and Skim manages to create some sort of connection between them. This was the best part of the book, as the other character, who'd been dismissed previously, is shown to have a personality. I kind of wish that the entire book had been about them coming to terms with themselves and who their friends actually are, as despite these scenes we didn't really get a full picture of them. Oh well.

So yeah, a lot of people loved this, I thought it was okay. But really, it's about emotions and family and teenagers and there's not a single robot and nobody travels through time, so  I'm not even surprised it didn't do that much for me. (Also the art, which many people enjoyed a lot, evidently wasn't my thing as I don't really remember it, but that doesn't mean it was bad!)