Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge

willMy second book for the Hub Reading Challenge, also off of the Great Graphic Novels list.  When this came in for me at the library this morning I dashed out to pick it up because I had a feeling I was really going to like it. I treated myself to curling up on the couch with it right away and reading it straight through, and I was not a bit disappointed. This was wonderful-sincere, moving, and interesting.

Will (short for Wilhemina) and her friends are like many characters in novels-so much more interesting than I feel I ever was and I wish I was them. Except for the part about Will being an orphan and living with her aunt, a tragedy that she has dealt with it by not dealing with it, instead making everything fine, devoting herself to making creative lamps, and having a crippling fear of the dark.  Will loves old things and she her aunt run an antiques store.  Her friends are Noel and Autumn, and also Noel’s little sister Reese. I liked how nice they all were to her and let her hang out with them.  All three of the teens have something they’d rather not deal with (unrequited crush, steep parental expectations) and are striving to just have a fun end of summer. But then some other artsy kids come along with their Penny Farthing Carnival, featuring art installations and performances and it gives everyone the shake up they need to get their lives moving along a bit.  The other title character, Whit, is Hurricane Whitney, who causes a days long blackout (shades of Hurricane Sandy-argh!)

I really liked this and found the ending so unexpectedly moving that I became quite weepy about it. This is the sort of YA story that I could see as a regular novel, but I found it refreshing that it was a graphic novel and really liked the illustrations and the whole package.

Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang

boxersHere I go again with the 2014 Hub Reading Challenge! First year was great, last year I didn’t finish, and I’m giving it a go again this year.  As usual I’m starting with the Great Graphic Novels. In part because I can read them more quickly, but also because I really like good graphic novels, but never read them unless specific good ones are pointed out to me.  I think Gene Luen Yang is a fantastic author, so I was really looking forward to these. I knew they were two sides of a story about the Boxer Rebellion, but nothing else. And I really mean nothing else-apparently I knew nothing at all about the Boxer Rebellion other than that it happened in China. Thus I found this story fascinating and horrifying. (I was hoping for a historical afterward, but there was not, so I had to turn to Wikipedia for a brief summary.)

Set in 1899-1901 this pair of graphic novels goes together. I believe you are supposed to read Boxers first and Saints second, but I read it the other way around (and liked it that way!) Saints tells the story of a young girl in a rural Chinese village who learns about Christianity from a missionary and is baptized.  She has visions of Joan of Arc and feels a kinship with her, as someone who is connected to God and fighting a good fight.  Eventually the Society of the Righteous and Harmonious Fist breaches their stronghold and attacks all of the people inside. Vibiana (as she is called when she converts to Christianity) had a pretty lousy life up until the Christians took her in.  You really feel for her and are appalled by the violent brutes who would come in and kill, just because she dared to take to a foreign religion.  Every story, especially in a conflict or war or rebellion, has two sides, and Boxers tells the other side of this same story.  The main character of this one does meet Vibiana as a young child, but then their paths part.  He grows up and is impressed by a man who comes to their village and teaches them how to fight.  I liked Vibiana’s visions of Joan of Arc, which I could see as visions, but this volume had a much more literal mystical element to it.  When the men fight they are depicted as characters from an opera, all taking on different elements and qualities (like fire.)  Now, although ever story has two sides and I ended up thinking everyone in 1900 China was crazy and violent (and impressionably ignorant), I found myself more on Vibiana’s side.  It was hard to relate to Bao believing the stories he heard about Christians and foreigners so much so that he would burn a church with women and children inside.  Vibiana and Bao are not inherently bad people, but each does turn to violence, caught up in passionate beliefs.

Both books are quite violent and brutal, depicting with stark honesty the atrocities committed. Boxers is longer as it continues the story well after Bao and Vibiana meet again as young adults and tells the story of the peak of the conflict, in Peking.  Yang did not shy away from difficult and tragic elements and overall I found the story (as a whole, told in both volumes) disturbing, sad, moving, and educational.

A Flight of Angels by Rebecca Guay, Holly Black, Louise Hawes, Todd Mitchell, Alisa Kwitney, & Bill Willingham

angels(Reading Challenge: Great Graphic Novels)

Phew! That was a lot of contributors’ names to type out in the title field. But, they all deserve to be there because this is a story with different parts of it told and illustrated by different people.  A really neat frame story is set up to allow the different stories to be told. In a wood outside of regular civilization is where the faerie folk live. When one of them sees an angel fall from the sky they gather around and can’t decide whether or not to kill him. They decide to have a tribunal and each will tell a story to convince the “judge” that angels are essentially bad or essentially good. The judge is an innocent faun, who is the possession of a nasty hag. The frame story is illustrated in black and white with very angular lines.  Each story then told is by a different author with a different style-in both story and illustration.

The first story is by Louise Haws and called “Original Sin.” The illustration of this story was my favorite. Very beautiful, soft, romantic. Reminded me of painters such as Reubens and Botticelli.  It is the story of Adam & Eve and the angel who feeds them from the Tree of Knowledge, thus setting them into the world and apart from the animals. I thought this was a really beautiful telling of this story, and I especially liked when the Angel reveals to Eve who some of her daughters will be-such as Cleopatra, Queen Elizabeth.

The next story is called “The Story Within the Story Within” by Bill Willingham. I didn’t care for this one as much in terms of illustration style. The setting is a bar for angels where a man sits down with a female angel who is drowning her sorrows and then she tells him her sad story, which is about another angel who is an old friend of hers, but whom she has been sent to kill.  The most interesting part of this story was reading about the target, a lovable f&*( up of an angel.  He keeps getting assigned to different departments but is never very good at them, until he finds he excels in the Cancer department as an angel of death.  I’ve always liked stories imagining that sort of thing (heaven as a workplace), so I did like that part.

The next story told is “Chaya Suvah and the Angel of Death.”  Darker pictures with striking dark lines immediately set the tone of this tale, set in a village in Russia. Chaya Suvah is an old woman who never leaves her house. She once made a deal with the angel of death that he could not take her unless she agreed to it–and she just won’t agree. This story has story has some witch-hunty elements, ancient Jewish tale elements, and also cycle of birth and death.

“The Guardian” comes next and I really liked the watercolor illustrations.  A clumsy young woman attracts the attention of a kindly angel who starts to be by her side constantly to prevent her from falling, tripping, dropping things.  As a maidservant these things make her the brunt of unkind words.  Soon the angel falls in love with her and takes human form so that they can enjoy their love together.  But such form is too difficult for an angel and she makes him leave her.  But, as a guardian angel he is never really far from her.  This was a lovely story start to finish!

The final tale is the story of how the angels fought in heaven and fell to hell and earth.  Those that did not fall all the way to hell are the ones who turned into the faerie folk.

And that brings and end to the storytelling and now the tribunal is over and the boy must decide the angel’s fate! Have angels been proven to be essentially good, or essentially bad troublemakers?

I overall really liked this. It was a very quick read and I was impressed at how successfully these different stories worked together. Because of the framework it made sense to have the stories have different styles both of writing and pictures.

Wandering Son, Vol. 1 by Shimura Takako

Though I’ve read and enjoyed many graphic novels, manga is not something I’ve read before.  I read this as part of both the YALSA Best of the Best Reading Challenge (#5, 1/5 of the way there!), as well as something for the Out of Our Comfort Zones podcast series I do with another contributor for The Hub.  I’ll put up a link when it’s done, but for now here are my initial responses to this book.

It pains me to admit this, but I had a really hard time with the manga format.  It shouldn’t be that hard for me to just read in another direction, should it? But I had to deliberately think on every single page, “Which box do I read next?” and sometimes I read the bottom panel in both directions and then figured it out. Or read all the boxes and then let it sift into my brain all at once.  Which is clearly not the smoothest way to read a story or the way the author expects her story to be told.  I also had a tremendous difficulty keeping people’s names straight.  Fortunately I consistently knew who the two main characters were, but to be honest I really had no idea who any of the other characters were.  Based on the fascinating afterword about the translation and the use of Japanese honorifics, I can only assume that many references to gender went flying over my head since I was never really sure which was the boy’s and which was the girl’s name.

Despite all that, I thought it was a lovely story.  A young adolescent boy and girl are friends and they each wish they were the other sex.  This volume seemed to focus more on the boy wanting to be a girl and getting to wear some girls’ clothing.  It seemed very sensitive and nice, but again I’m sorry to say that I think I may have totally missed some of the drama that was experienced.  And I couldn’t tell if their classmates were teasing them or not.

It’s rare for me to struggle so with a story and I really feel like it’s a big failure on my part. I noticed the library had volume 2 in, so I think I’ll try that and see if I do a little better with more practice.