Thursday, December 20, 2007

Re-Gifters by Mike Carey, Marc Hempel and Sonny Liew

Dixie is great at hapkido, a Korean martial art that she and her best friend Avril study. In fact she's probably the best in her class. Unless, of course, she's up against Adam. Or looking at Adam, or even thinking about him. She's fallen hard for him and is way off her game which is bad because there's a big hapkido tournament coming up. In a moment of weakness, Dixie spends her tournament entrance-fee money on a gift to win Adam's heart, only to find that shallow Adam hardly even notices her.

Now she needs to qualify for a scholarship if she hopes to compete in the tournament, the kids she's competing against look down on her because she's actually had hapkido training, her friendship with Avril is on the fritz because of her own spikyness, and she's been lying to her parents. But a series of accidents and chances get her into the tournament, where she has the chance to make her family proud and get revenge on Adam... if she can master her feelings for him first.

I really liked this book, although it took a little while for me to begin enjoying the art. Ultimately it grew on me. Dixie and Avril are fun and enjoyable characters and are reminiscent of the earlier Mike Carey work My Faith In Frankie. Actually the whole tone of this book reminds me of Frankie, although this one is much more down-to-earth.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Manstealing For Fat Girls by Michelle Embree

The cover and the title make this look like "chick lit" but I beg to differ. This is, instead, an 80's-esque working-class misfit teen adventure revenge story, aimed at adults. The story revolves around Angie who, at 16, believes herself to be fat and possibly ugly. She and her girlfriends are teased by the kids at school and each one of them stands out in her own way. Angie's the fat one who's been nick-named "lezzylard." Shelby is an out lesbian. And Heather has one enormous breast. "Spunky" doesn't begin to illustrate these girls' survival-instinct attitudes.

It's not until she gets hit on at a party and another girl calls her a manstealer that Angie begins to realize that she may be prettier than she thinks. Fueled by a slight boost in confidence, Angie stands up for herself against a popular girl and is then sexually assaulted by the girl's boyfriend in order to "teach her a lesson." When it looks like her friend Shelby is going to be "next," Angie fesses up to what happened and takes part in an elaborate plot to get revenge on the assaulter. In the midst of all this Angie gets her first boyfriend, loses her virginity, experiments with drugs, makeup and crash-dieting, and learns to trust herself and her friends a little bit more in the process. Not necessarily in that order, of course.

Embree's created some characters who are both plausible and a little bit out-there, and they are the driving force behind this rough, slightly weird novel. The sexual assault is graphic and there are a couple of other scenes of violence that make for uncomfortable reading, but all in all they help to effect a sense of gritty realism. There are times when I wanted to shake some sense into the main character, but chalk that up to her being an impressionable and angsty teen girl with poor decision-making skills. In the end, however, Angie comes out on top; not on top of the world, but on top of where she needs to be at that point in her life. You get the sense she's going to be ok.
This may appeal to misfits and former misfits, older teen girls, cool feminist punk boys, or anyone in for a dose of gritty warts-and-all working class teen culture.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg

Jane is less than thrilled when her well-meaning but frightened parents decide to move from the vibrant and urban Metro City to a boring and sleepy suburb. Why are they moving? Jane was a victim of a random bombing, and while her parents react to the crisis by trying to shelter and protect their daughter from the larger world, Jane herself reacts by reevaluating the things that make life interesting.

On her first day at her new school Jane has the chance to take her place with the popular kids but declines, feeling that popularity is part of her past life and preferring to make her own way. When she finds three other girls who seem to have nothing in common other than their name - Jane - she decides to take advantage of what may be a unique opportunity.

Together the Janes form a secret group that creates guerrilla art installations throughout town in the dark of the night. Their identities are secret, but their actions become popular with most of the kids at school if for no other reason than that it makes the authority figures nervous and angry. But for the Janes, their new form of expression breathes life and meaning into their otherwise quiet and dull town.

Meanwhile at home, Main Jane's mother becomes increasingly paranoid and protective, effectively sucking the joy out of their small family. Art might be able to save Jane, but what could possibly save her mother?

I quite honestly loved this story. I wanted these girls to be my friends, and I loved the idea of guerrilla art 'perpetrated' by a secret gang of girls. I thought Jim Rugg's art resembles the story itself - neither too cartoony nor overly complicated.

I feel that this story has a lot to offer readers in terms of theme and ideology, particularly with the question of how we can continue to live lives without fear in an increasingly scary world. How do we build meaningful relationships in an environment where violence is becoming a given? And yet the story was still fun and playful. I wish more graphic novels could strike that balance.
This book is aimed at teen girls but may also appeal to fans of the graphic novel or manga, or readers interested in art, alternate forms of expression, and friendship stories.

Freak Show by James St. James

Billy Bloom is Totally. Freaking. Fabulous. OF COURSE!

He is also the new kid at an ultra-conservative private school for the ultra-rich in Florida (the reddest of the red states). In such an ultra-ultra setting Billy needs to stand out in a big way if he has any hope of survival, but luckily standing out is second-nature to him. And Billy is uniquely prepared: he knows he's special, he's outgoing, smart, funny... and so he waltzes into his first day of school expecting to own it. Except...

Except. Billy Bloom is a drag queen, a gender obscurist, a glitteroid, a FREAK. He's the first of his kind, surely, or at least the first that any of the ultra-blond ultra-popular ultra-cruel kids at his school have seen. He can't be hated by EVERYBODY... can he?

After the popular boys put Billy in a coma (!) he develops an unlikely friendship with Flip Kelly, football quarterback and all-around golden boy. He also develops an all-too-likely crush (I'm sure. Wouldn't you?). Will this friendship be just the thing to save Billy, or will it put him under for good?

Billy Bloom is vibrant, hysterical and buoyant. Even in the depths of depression Billy displays his funny acid wit, and I found myself cheering him on every step of the way. This story is definitely character-driven and it's one of the best things I've read all year. What more is there to say?

This book may be good for gender obscurists and their friends and allies, folks in the mood for something irreverent, funny and uplifting, or anyone whose inner freak is crying out for a little recognition and acceptance.