Thursday, November 29, 2007

Clubbing by Andi Watson and Josh Howard

Lottie is a very sharp, very with-it London goth girl. Being so sharp and with-it, she sometimes has to break the rules to get what she wants, but she's not really bad... So. Lottie is being punished for using a fake ID to get into a club, but how can you punish a kid who's got all the requisite gadgets and high-end fashion sense of a young modern urbanite? That's right. You send her to the country.

To be more specific, you send her to the country to stay with her sweet but slightly nutty grandparents who just happen to own a posh country club, complete with golf courses, caretakers, hiking tourists and lots of good English mud. How ever will City Mouse manage?

But despite feeling supremely sorry for herself she does manage, with sufficient style, wit and aplomb. She wins a cake decorating contest. She meets a strapping lad. She sabotages a crusty, leering golf shop owner. She discovers a corpse on the back 18.

Whoops! Did we forget to mention that this gothy little graphic novel is a mystery? Lottie's a far cry from Miss Marple but the quaint English setting does beg the comparison. Most clues seem to point to Lottie's own gruff-but-not-unpleasant grandfather as the culprit. The plot twists - not unpredictably - as Lottie and strapping Howard try to unravel the clues using their wits and the Internet, and what they discover leads them unwittingly into the lair of a somewhat Cthulhean cult.

I'm not sure, but I don't think Miss Marple ever had dealings with tentacled beasties.

Now, I've got a big soft spot for graphic novels, goth aesthetics and tentacled beasties. And when I find myself in the middle of reading a mystery I'm willing to give it a go, even though I don't find mysteries terribly thrilling. But even so I have to admit that, while perfectly suited as a light-hearted distraction, for me this book fell a little short of expectations. I like some of the other things that Andi Watson's done (I thought Paris was both lovely and fun) and I do still harbor some high expectations for the Minx line of graphic novels, but overall I thought Lottie could've been fleshed out a little more, perhaps made a little more 'real,' (that's not to say vulnerable. I liked that Lottie isn't overly vulnerable) by being a little less... I don't know... a little less with-it.

And to be honest, the only reason I'm even being this critical about the book is because I do have such high expectations for graphic novels. I want them to offer readers a little bit more to think about while still being fun. Having said that, there's really nothing wrong with this book as a quick, light-hearted fun mystery. This book is aimed, of course, at teen girls but may also be interesting to fans of the graphic novel, manga fans, folks who enjoy a little mystery in the English mud, and lovers of tentacled beasties everywhere.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Grief Girl by Erin Vincent

One month Erin was a normal teenage girl in Australia and the next month she was an orphan, having lost both parents (her mother instantly and her father a month later due to medical complications) to a car accident. She and her older sister are left alone to care for one another as well as for their young brother. What follows over the next few years is Erin's struggle to keep her head above water while finishing school, working, helping to raise her brother and, not least of all, trying to come to terms with this devastating loss. It's a long row to hoe and without trustworthy advice coming from any quarter Erin is hard-pressed to make it happen. Will she ever have a normal life again? Why did this happen? Is it her fault?
This is a convincingly-written memoir, and by that I mean that it is easy to see the person Erin Vincent was during this time in her life. As a person who lost both of my parents during my teen years I found myself thinking "YES! Exactly!" several times while reading this book. I also found myself shaking my head at some of Erin's misinformed decisions and phases, but I was rooting for her throughout. There are books that make you relive painful and hopeless times in your life without giving you anything new to take away from the experience, and then there are books that allow you to relive those times in a way that allows you to forgive and heal. This book is the latter. Thank you, Ms. Vincent.
This book may be good for readers who have had a large and unwieldy grief to contend with in their own lives. It may also be good for readers who are grief-curious, readers who like memoirs, or readers who are into "sad stories" or teen problem novels.

This Is What I Did by Ann Dee Ellis

Logan is a kid with a problem, and despite the strenuous efforts of his parents (they have moved the family across town and Logan has changed schools) it is a problem Logan can't seem to shake. Logan also can't seem to voice what the problem is, either to defend himself or to tell his side of the story. As a result, he spends most of the novel agonizing over the effects that his past is having on his present and being physically, verbally and emotionally brutalized by other kids at his school. Despite the rumors that have been circulating as to the nature of his involvement in this mysterious "incident," Logan manages to nurse a fledgling friendship with Laurel, another outsider with a penchant for palindromes.
It's not until the bullying gets out of hand and Logan is encouraged by his therapist to write down what happened that the reader - or anyone else, for that matter - finds out the nature of the incident and Logan's involvement in it. Logan was the sole witness to the attempted rape of a girl by his former best friend's father, and the subsequent near-deadly assault on the father by said best friend. Logan had nothing to do with what happened, but he blames himself for his own failure to do something about it at the time and it is this very paralysis that is at the center of his current predicament.
I did not enjoy reading this book. I found it painful and upsetting. This is testament to Ellis' skill as a writer for evoking uncomfortable emotions and for detailing (in an almost detached kind of way) the specifics and depths of teenage cruelty. The ending, however, is upbeat. Readers who sincerely enjoy the "problem novel" may want to give this a go.