Great Graphic Novels Noms 2015: Manga Part 2

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these books by clicking here

uqholder1   uqholder2

UQ Holder! Vol. 1. 

UQ Holder! Vol. 2.

Ken Akamatsu, artist and writer

Kodansha

Anticipation/Expectation Level: None. Neutral.

My Reality: Tōta’s dream is to make it to the city and climb the giant tower to space and do something great (he’s not sure what yet). All he has to do is defeat his ultra powerful teacher/guardian Yukihime. She insists that it be done through fighting skills, but when Tōta and his friends try some magic, things quickly go wrong and Tōta ends up with the immortality of a vampire – a gift from Yukihime. Together they travel back to Tokyo through the semi-deserted countryside,Tōta’s naivete helping them pick up friends and avoid bounty hunters – or the former from the latter, in androgynous young Kurōmaru’s case, looking to attack Yukihime, to seek Tōtas fortune. Whatever it is.

UQ Holder ends up being the name of the group of powerful immortals of which Yukihime is the head. It’s not just a vampire book – there are all kinds of immortals with different vulnerabilities and strengths, which was cool. The group exists to protect a group of yokai (Japanese demons/monsters). As a manga, it has all the usual hallmarks of a shonen series – the enthusiastic young (but very talented) seeker, the journey, the mentor and sidekick(s), the tests/fights. Up to book 2, it’s not so clear what the evil organization is, although Tōta does get beat up a lot. Because I don’t read a lot of shonen, I am not tired of these tropes, but I also can’t judge if this is a fun iteration of the genre or not. I haven’t read the precursor to which this series has a small connection, Negima. And I read it on a computer, which means it felt tiresome just because I was reading it on a computer.

Will teens like it?: What I do know is that teens love this kind of book, and they’ll probably like this.

Is it “great” for teens?: Maybe?

Art Taste:

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 9.08.08 PM

nijigaharaholograph

Nijigahara Holograph

Inio Asano, writer and artist

Fantagraphics

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I ended up buying this because I was sick of waiting and really liked Solanin, and had read some very good reviews.

My Reality: The world of Nijigahara Holograph is mindbending and sad. Most of the characters, whether at age 10 or 20 are struggling through depression and other messed up stuff – they have been victims of and perpetrators of bullying and abuse. A lot of the worst things happen around the Nijigahara embankment, which leads to a field next to a stream coming out of a tunnel. Once a girl insisted a monster lived in the tunnel that would end the world. Her classmates pushed her into a well.

The story flashes back and forth in time, and possibly characters come back and forth in time within the story. I’m not sure. I just finished reading it and I feel like I have to read it again to solidify it. It’s a depressing vision, told beautifully. Asano’s art is much more realistic than most manga you will find published in America, the kind of characters that are easy to extrapolate to their real life versions. Which makes the surreal, disgusting, violent, and sad parts of the story that much more affecting.

Will teens like it?: I think some teens would like this type of story a lot.

Is it “great” for teens?: While I would recommend this to some teens who are into it, and think that teens who seek out complex stories should find it, I do think it is primarily a story written for adults, with adult themes. So after a couple reads I can tell you if I think it’s great, but right now I can say that I don’t think it’s for teens, even if teens will find it and like it (and I’m okay with that).

Art Taste:

nijigaharaflashback

worldtrigger1   worldtrigger2

World Trigger, Volume 1

World Trigger, Volume 2

Daisuke Ashihara, writer and artist

Viz Media

I can’t find these anywhere, legally. I have no interest in reading illegal copies, especially because they will be on a computer.

I really like the covers, though. Nice contrasting colors and angled edges!

Here’s the description from VIZ:

“Earth is under constant threat from Neighbors, invincible monsters from another dimension that destroy our way of life. At least we have the elite warriors of Border, who co-opt alien technology to fight back!

Our hero Osamu Mikumo may not be the best agent, but he’ll do whatever it takes to defend life on Earth as we know it.

When Osamu meets a feisty humanoid Neighbor named Yuma, everything that he thinks is right is turned on its head. Can the two natural enemies ever become friends?”

A Review of Made of Stars, by Kelley York

Entangled Teen, 2013

Made of Stars by Kelley York

by REBECCA, September 23, 2013

Hunter and his half-sister Ashlin have spent nearly every summer since they were kids at their dad’s house in Maine, with their best friend, Chance, the impulsive, whimsical, and mysterious boy they met at the creek. But after their cop father was shot and needed time to recover, it’s been a while since they were back, and since they’ve seen Chance. Now, in the winter after they graduate high school, both Hunter and Ashlin have put college or future plans on hold to return to their father’s house and take some time to figure things out. Since Chance always had a million excuses why they couldn’t talk on the phone or email, Hunter and Ashlin can’t tell him they’re coming to town, and both are desperate to see him, finally.

When they show up on his doorstep in November, a place they’ve never been allowed to go, they find that the stories Chance has always told them—about his parents’ frequent travel, their nice home, and his life—are lies. His parents’ trailer is run-down, his father violent, and his mother neglectful. How could they never have noticed the signs before? But when they finally catch up with Chance, he’s as captivating as ever and the three fall back into their familiar habits of spending every day together. Indeed, Chance nearly lives at their house. When Hunter’s girlfriend comes to visit for Christmas, though, Hunter has to confront the idea that maybe Chance has always meant more to him than just a friend—and that may mean more than he’s willing to admit.

Made of Stars is a near-perfect story: it’s simple, resonant, and beautifully characterized, and I loved every minute of it. The narrative shifts between Hunter and Ashlin’s perspectives, and it’s through their adoring eyes that we see Chance. Now that they’re eighteen, what was once a sibling closeness takes on a more adult intimacy, and Kelley York does a bang-up job of evoking the tension in this triangle. Chance is like a puppy—easily affectionate, loyal, and sensitive—and Hunter and Ashlin have different reactions to him. Ash realizes that she’s attracted to Chance and wants him to trust her. Hunter realizes that what he’d always taken for friendship may actually be love, and he wants desperately to protect Chance.

The contrast between the warm, familial scenes in Hunter and Ash’s father’s house and the hell that Hunter and Ash suddenly realize Chance has grown up in is gutting. It’s also lovely to see a half-sibling relationship in YA lit that’s close and supportive rather than competitive. Hunter and Ash live with their mothers across the country from each other, and they live for the summers when they get to be together, and with Chance. The idea that both Hunter and Ash have been unable to decide what to do with their lives after high school until they can get back to Maine and see Chance again runs subtly through Made of Stars.

After Hunter and Ash realize that Chance has hidden major things about his life, he’s recontextualized in their eyes, and they want to help him. Chance, however, just wants to forget about his life when Hunter and Ash aren’t around, and to enjoy the time they have together. When Chance’s mother is murdered, though, and Chance becomes a suspect, that becomes impossible. The helplessness that Hunter and Ash feel is tangible on the page, and is a beautiful counterpart to the joy they feel when Chance is around.

Hushed by Kelley YorkThe one critique I have of Made of Stars is simply that Ash and Hunter’s voices are never quite distinct enough, so when the perspective shifted, I often found myself looking back to see who was narrating.

As with the first book of hers that I read (and LOVED—see full review HERE), HushedMade of Stars is a book about relationships, and the interplay of the characters is the drama. It’s beautifully understated while still leaving me desperate to turn the page and find out what was going to happen next.

readalikes

Andy Squared by Jennifer Lavoie

Andy Squared by Jennifer Lavoie (2012). Twins Andrew and Andrea have always been the best of friends. When a new kid moves to their school from Texas, and Andrew realizes that his feelings for him may go beyond friendship, it changes his relationship with Andrea dramatically. My full review is HERE.

Stick by Andrew Smith

Stick by Andrew Smith (2011). When Stick’s abusive father finds out that his older brother, Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home for his safety. Stick sets off on a grueling road trip to find Bosten. My full review of the really wonderful Stick is HERE.

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Made of Stars, by Kelley York, will be available October 1st.

Sharing Our Snacks: Sweethearts by Sara Zarr

Welcome to another edition of Sharing Our Snacks, in which Rebecca and I each recommend YA brain food that they think the other would enjoy crunching and munching! 

Sharing Our Snacks

I recently requested some recommendations from R, and (among other things) she said:

I’d love to know what you think of Sweethearts, by Sara Zarr. I really liked it (it’s like a short, tight little gem), but don’t remember it that well, in the way some books just skate over my brain. I think you’ll like the writing and the way it’s poignant, but not gushy, but I don’t know whether you’ll find enough to dig into to really like like it.

Well, R, I didn’t just like like Sweethearts, I became smitten with it. I fell in love with it for its mind and I fell hard. Which is funny, because I loved it because it knows how weird and hard love is, and how love operates in friendship, and how hard it is to tell those things apart sometimes.

Sara Zarr Sweethearts

Sweethearts

Sara Zarr

Little, Brown and Company, 2008

review by Tessa

Characters

Jenna Vaughn (Jennifer Harris): transformed herself from a lonely girl that mean kids called “Fatifer” to become someone who no one could make fun of.

Cameron Quick: Jennifer’s only friend, presumed dead

Ethan, Katy & Steph: Jenna’s new friends and first boyfriend, unaware of her past

Hook

Jenna’s past is dead and so is the boy who shared her worst experiences and left without saying goodbye. Only, neither are dead and now Jenna has to deal with what that means.

Worldview

Jenna grows up as a girl who can’t fit in and is vulnerable to those who persecute the vulnerable and perpetuate in building the walls around her, thus guaranteeing that she can’t fit in, and so she ends up with a peculiar worldview.  Between elementary and high school, her life has changed so as to be almost unrecognizable. Her single mother found a good partner, finished nursing school, and moved them to a new part of town, allowing Jennifer to escape classmates with conceptions of her as “Fatifer”: the chubby girl, the girl with dirty clothes, the girl who cries at everything, the comfort-eater, the secret thief of small things, whose only friend left town without even telling her and was rumored to have been run over in California. She sets goals for herself, disciplines herself to fit into “normal” clothing sizes and smile all the time. And it works.  There are new friends and a first boyfriend and things run smoothly.  She tries to leave her sad self behind, but of course everything feels fake to her because she’s not letting herself feel anything.

And she’s never told anyone about who Cameron, her only friend, really was. How he gave her a note that said he loved her. How he built her a dollhouse for her birthday. How he really listened to her. And how on that birthday something scary and strange happened with Cameron’s dad (no, it’s not what you’re thinking right now).  Now that she’s turning 17, this memory keeps returning, little by little.  And as though summoned by that memory, Cameron himself returns. Not from the dead, but from California.

photo by flickr user Bellafaye

photo by flickr user Bellafaye

What was this book’s intention and was it achieved?

Sweethearts is an intense portrait of a girl’s mind at the intersection of memory and reality, attachment and growth, when she has to figure out who she wants to be from who she thought she was. Zarr succeeds wildly at this. Like a good flaky pastry, Sweethearts  is compressed but has lots of layers to add texture (and lots of butter to add depth of flavor).

Jenna has been repressing her feelings for so long and acting like everything is okay that, although lots of dramatic things are in play in the plot and character development, the narration is not melodramatic. Jenna is not shrill but she is tense and remains in control by assuming the illusion of being calm, so her voice reflects that calm – in fact, she’s stronger than she realizes so that calmness is not all an illusion.

Zarr gets the nervousness of the haunted so right, and then brings back the ghost to make things extra interesting. And here’s where, for me, it turned from a good book into a great one. Because this is not a destined-for-love story. Some of the realest moments are when Jenna is trying to figure out why Cameron is back, how he found her, and how far she should go to help him, and his behavior frustrates her or weirds her out. She wants to be nice to him, be friends with him, but she’s not sure what his deal is or how she even feels about him.  For example, she finds him sleeping in her car one morning and isn’t sure whether to be freaked out or offer him breakfast (both), or when, her family having taken him in temporarily, he doesn’t come home for dinner and Jenna feels responsible for her mother’s worry, and then angry that her mother never worried about her in the same way when she was growing up and alone for dinner.

It all comes back around in Sweethearts, like the past is cycling over and over in Jenna’s head, until she can properly mourn it.  And it’s seeing Cameron grown up and the same but not really that helps Jenna do this. Her experience with the Cameron of now puts into relief the difference between the love she’s play-acting with Ethan, who thinks he’s a charmer but is just shy of being way too possessive, and the terrible complicatedness of real love – not total romantic love, but love built from a bond that is part powerful friendship and part caring in the face of the meanness of life.

“I think about how there are certain people who come into life and leave a mark. I don’t mean the usual faint impression. …And I don’t just mean that they change you. …I’m talking about the ones who, for whatever reason, are as much a part of you as your own soul. Their place in our heart is tender; a bruise of longing, a pulse of unfinished business.”

Just like Rebecca said, “a short, tight little gem”.  And perfect for a New Year’s read, with its themes of growth and its direct style that makes it a quick read that can stay with you.

I also enjoy that the adults in Sweethearts are human, involved (for better or for bad in different cases) in their kid’s lives, and there’s a good stepfather character.

I’m Doing Backflips Over . . . Leverage!

A Review of Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Dutton Books (Penguin), 2011

Leverage Joshua C. Cohen

by REBECCA, December 24, 2012

characters

Danny: a small fry gymnast, he just wants to fly under the football bullies’ radar long enough to get a scholarship

Kurt: new to school and the football team, he uses his strength to protect him from his past

Studblatz, Miller, and Jankowski: football bullies who make life hell for pretty much everyone

Tina: was in the same youth facility as Kurt, she sticks up for the bullied and wants to support Kurt if he’ll let her

hook

Danny and Kurt should be enemies, according to Oregrove High’s social dynamics: Danny is a gymnast and Kurt is a football player, and the two do not mix except when the football players are kicking the gymnasts’ asses. But when three members of Kurt’s team take things way too far, Danny and Kurt form an alliance that might be the only way to survive.

worldview

John Orozco

gymnastics!

Danny is a talented gymnast, but is small for his age and tries to stay out of the path of the football team. When he sees the new kid walk into math class bulging with muscle, he thinks he’s found yet another bully. But Kurt isn’t at all what Danny expects: he’s grown his hair long to hide the gruesome scars that mar one side of his face, and he can hardly speak without stuttering. Both Danny and Kurt feel free and focused while they’re involved in sports, but helpless when they aren’t: for Danny, this helplessness is due to his size, and for Kurt it’s due to his stutter and his scars. Studblatz, Miller, and Jankowski are the three biggest, meanest football players at Oregrove High and they terrorize the gymnasts. When they begin a prank war and the gymnasts retaliate, they escalate their bullying to such a level that lives are in danger and Kurt is forced to choose sides.

People, I loved this book! It clocks in at over 400 pages, and yet I really didn’t want it to end. I finished it on Friday and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.

Leverage is a totally engrossing and totally horrifying story of the power dynamics among the athletes of Oregrove High. This isn’t simply a book about bullying, although it is that as well. It’s a complicated portrait of many different responses to differences in power (be they physical, mental, social, societal, etc.). Leverage is told in chapters alternating between Danny and Kurt’s points of view. Kurt, for me, was the more interesting character. Having been moved around a lot and suffered Friday Night Lightsabsolutely horrific abuse when he was younger, Kurt has built up his physical strength to ensure that he’ll never be at the mercy of anyone else (physically) ever again. The details of his past unfold slowly and subtly throughout the novel, alongside his feelings of intense frustration about his stutter and people’s perceptions of him because of it. I think Joshua C. Cohen made a really good choice to pair the revelation of Kurt’s abusive past with his physical and mental relationship with football, his teammates, and their actions. His character, of them all, feels incredibly well-developed and well-psychologized, without ever edging into the melodramatic.

Danny’s feelings are more straightforward—he’s afraid of being bullied, so he avoids it, even when that means not sticking up for someone else being bullied—but Cohen was smart again, I think, to avoid making Danny the scrappy hero:

“A new round of laughter erupts as dozens of football players’ fingers start pointing at Ronnie and me. We’re the smallest on the team and, they assume, the weakest. . . . Ronnie steps closer like he wants my company, but all I want is to get farther away from him. I hate him at that moment, hate feeling like they think we’re the same. We’re not the same. Ronnie’s a punk freshman who just started gymnastics. I’m aiming for state champion in high bar. I’m going to be a full-ride scholarship athlete one day. We’re not the same” (42-3).

Reading Danny’s character made me conscious of what has become one of the recurring character tropes of YA lit recently: the small or weak kid who stands up to enormous threats despite the near guarantee of being hurt. I mean, I knew that was common but, lest I ever forgot how much power recurring tropes have in the way I view the world, I have to admit that I found myself disliking Danny precisely because he didn’t conform to this brand of self-sacrificing heroism. In fact, I really had to check myself about that, since the last thing I believe I should be doing is blaming the victims of bullying for not being more “heroic”!

what were this book’s intentions? did it live up to them?

FootballI won’t say anything about the actual plot of Leverage because I don’t want to give anything away, but Cohen does a really amazing job tracking the way that the football players’ bullying amps up slowly, until it leads to an incident that is so far beyond bullying that it becomes something else. Cohen frames Studblatz, Miller, and Jankowski as creatures that are out of control—creatures whose monstrosity is inherently un-understandable even to themselves. And it’s there that Leverage really got me. Of course it’s useful to examine bullies’ behavior and try and understand what causes it in order to try and stop it (in real life). But Leverage seems to be operating from the more interesting worldview that bullying (in all its permutations) is a natural byproduct of a power differential and, therefore, takes place in almost every social interaction. Some of the gymnasts, including Danny, tease Ronnie for being religious and sincere, and later fail him in a really major way; the football players bully each other and tease Kurt for his stutter, his appearance, his lack of money; Miller’s father bullies him; the football players insult a girl because of her ethnicity; Tina threatens a football player, etc.

In its panoramic view of bullying, Leverage poses questions about aggressive behavior we might not be so keen to answer: Would I beat people up if I were physically stronger? How can we reward aggression in sports and not expect it to spill over into the athletes’ lives? How can we teach the distinction between culturally prized hyper-masculinity and unacceptable aggression? Do I blame the victims for being weaker, or different, or not fighting back? Would I risk my own safety to come to the aid of someone who’s going to be hurt no matter what?

superbowl-cat___02Leverage is also, I must not forget to mention, a sports book (obviously), and it has all the great stuff I love about sports books/movies: awesome action sequences (Cohen was a gymnast and the descriptions of doing tricks really ring true), glorious descriptions of overcoming pain, outrunning fear, and throwing yourself into the fray, and deep investigations of what it means for your body to be the instrument of your success. I love that the alliance between Danny and Kurt is between football and gymnastics: the extremely different types of athleticism and stamina that the sports value are reflected in the characters. Also, hi: gymnastics; get with the program!

Who are the monsters? Who are the victims? Who is implicated? Who is beyond reproach? Who enables? Who helps? Who harms? Who hides? How sure are we of the line between any of these? And how much can any of us outpace the assumptions that others inscribe on us? Leverage barrels straight at these questions and never flinches away from them. Although I found the ending predictable, it was predictable because it was inevitable, which feels better. I can’t wait to see what Joshua C. Cohen brings us next.

personal disclosure

Leverage Joshua C. Cohen

Leverage Joshua C. CohenI was reading Leverage first on a BoltBus and then on the New York subway and because of that could not help but be very, very aware that if you didn’t know this was a young adult book, or a sports book, then its cover really makes it look like it is about fisting. Which is fine, but still, I became slightly self-conscious. Anyhoo, I actually love this cover: it’s so simple and stripped down, and I love how the word LEVERAGE is colored so that RAGE is in red. I like it so much more than the paperback cover (right) but now wonder if they changed it because someone came in and said, hey, y’all, this is a young adult book so maybe we want to move away from the fisting?

readalikes

Girl in the Arena Lise Haines

Girl in the Arena by Lise Haines (2009). This compelling book explores a neo-gladatorial society, complete with its culture of violence, through the eyes of one girl who has to fight not only for her freedom but for her family as well.

Stick Andrew Smith

Stick by Andrew Smith (2011). When Stick’s abusive father finds out that his older brother, Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home for his safety. Stick sets off on a grueling road trip to find Bosten. My full review of Stick is HERE.

Stotan! Chris Crutcher

Stotan! by Chris Crutcher (1986). A Stotan is a cross between a Stoic and a Spartan, and their swim coach expects nothing less of them during the intense week-long training. During that week, four friends learn to push their bodies further than they ever thought they could go, and learn about each other in the process. A sporty classic!

procured from: the library

Chronicle (de una muerte anunciada)

Chronicle
2012
Dir: Josh Trank
Writer: Max Landis (son of John Landis!!!)

review by Tessa

Chronicle  opens on a black screen. The buzz of something electronic.  A hard bump against an unexpectedly closed door, the rattle of a doorknob, and a man’s voice, already angry, barking “Andrew?  Andrew! Open this door.”

Andrew appears behind a camera mounted on a tripod, pointing at the mirror mounted on the locked door.  He refuses to open it, accuses his father of being drunk, and tells him that he’ll be taping everything from now on.

And he does, starting on his ride to school the next day with affable cousin Matt, through the hallways where his camera gets made fun of for being too old, and on the bleachers where he eats lunch alone.  He introduces each scene to an imaginary audience, sounding proud and unsure at once. “This is where I eat. . . This is my school. . . “ But we can see on his face as he reviews the footage that he is happy to be involved in the filming and creation of something:

Until his dad comes in the room. Andrew’s face immediately closes off.

And his dad slaps him around, pushing him off his chair – payback for not opening the door the night before.  Later we hear his dad pleading with the pharmacy to give him a discount on the pain pills that Andrew’s mother needs – she’s painfully dying of cancer in the next room.

It appears that this is a representative capsule of Andrew’s life. His Matt semi-reluctantly invites Andrew to a party in an abandoned building and advises him to leave the camera at home.  Of course Andrew doesn’t, accidentally films the wrong girl’s butt, gets spit on by her meathead boyfriend, and ends up crying in the grass.  It’s more touching filmed than it sounds, less stereotyped.  The documentary style, deft editing, and above average acting skills have already  elevated this beyond a cautionary bullying tale.

And then, Andrew’s camera provides him with an in. The extremely popular Steve Montgomery

Steve

has found something, along with Matt.

A hole in the ground, filled with a weird buzzing energy.

Inside the hole, something that glows and pulses and messes with the camera. Something overwhelming.

The next time we see Andrew, Matt, and Steve, they’re goofing around in the backyard throwing baseballs at each other. . .  from impossible angles. Andrew stops one right in front of his face, using only his mind.  Not only is this an incredible secret, it’s Andrew’s ticket to having real friends and feeling like he can be himself around two other people on Earth.  Soon the boys are hanging out all the time, making fun of how often Steve’s girlfriend calls him and leaves angry, suspicious voicemails, and eventually taking their powers from Legos to parking lots and toy stores.

Until one day, this happens:


The thing to remember is that this isn’t a Marvel Universe. These are teenage boys, and like all teenagers, their brains are still growing – particularly in the prefrontal cortex, where good decision-making happens.  So instead of getting costumes, thinking about responsibility, and fighting crime, these guys just goof around.  The only problem is that even though Andrew now has friends and some confidence, he still is suffering from abuse, probably PTSD, and grief.  And when the world continues to show him uncaring and injustice, he reacts like a teenager would.  But now he’s not just a teenager anymore.


Rent for the great effects and stay for the emotionally resonant story.

Keep your eye out for Chronicle 2, as well.

Watch/Readalikes

Project X / Jim Shepard

Shepard nails the weirdness and sadness and  funniness in the voice of two middle school boys obsessed with a Plan, and masters the yawning gap of reason as well as the push of invented reason behind inevitable violence.

Attack the Block

Group of prepubescent London thugs finds themselves in the middle of an alien attack and must find out what courage really is – more great, old-school effects, and FUNNY.

Carrie / Firestarter

Stephen King knows from telekinetic rage. Read the books AND watch the movies.

Half My Head Is Quiet: Stick, by Andrew Smith

A Review of Stick by Andrew Smith

Feiwel and Friends, 2011

By REBECCA, August 10, 2012

Stick Andrew Smith

characters

Stark (Stick) McClellan: Born with only one ear, Stick is used to hearing the world a little slant

Bosten McClellan: A high school junior with a temper who wants to be free of his father

Emily Lohman: Stick’s best friend, who shows him how a family could be

Aunt Dahlia: Stick and Bosten’s great-aunt who lives in a cozy bungalow in California and introduces them to the wonders of surfing, sleeping in, and Evan and Kim Hansen

Evan & Kim Hansen: Twin surf angels who take Stick and Bosten under their wetsuited wings

hook

14-year-old Stick has always had his brother, Bosten, to look out for him, but when their abusive father learns that Bosten is gay, Bosten has to leave home. Once Bosten leaves, Stick takes his dad’s car and sets out to find him, thinking he headed to Aunt Dahlia’s house in California. Without much money or any connections, Stick finds himself in, erm, sticky situations (sorry!), which he handles because he has no other choice.

worldview

Saint Fillan's cave

Saint Fillan’s cave

Stick and Bosten’s cold, perfectionist mother and violent, exacting father have turned their house into an army barracks. There are rules to follow—the boys can’t have hair longer than half an inch, must always tuck in their shirts, can’t wear pajamas, can only shower on the weekends—and consequences if those rules are broken. Not only beatings, but being locked for days in what Stick calls St. Fillan’s room, the spare bedroom that is bare except for a sheeted cot and a bucket. Both Stick and Bosten, though, are warm, hungry for love beyond each other’s. Bosten is in love with his best friend, Paul, who runs hot and cold on him, and Stick feels awed and humbled by the love his best friend, Emily, shows him. The world of Stick, then, contains two extremes of love—the depths of joy that can come from intimacy as well as its poisonous inversion when intimacy is used as a weapon.

Mr. Zogs Sex waxThe structure of the book was particularly interesting: it’s kind of  folded in half. It’s divided into three sections, where the first is about Stick and Bosten’s life in Washington, the second about their visit to California to stay with Aunt Dahlia, and the the third the journey from the former to the latter, again, when Stick makes the same journey to follow Bosten. I bring this up because it facilitates one of my favorite thing about both Stick and Andrew Smith‘s work more generally (you can check out my review of The Marbury Lens here), which is that his novels take us to many different places, but each of them feels like the novel’s home when we’re in it. When Stick is in Washington, and the brothers are going to basketball games, getting into fights, and going to school in the damp chill, I feel fully sunk in that world as a reader; same with when they’re surfing in bright California. Then, when Stick travels to California to follow Bosten, the genre of the book really changes, from being an interpersonal drama to being a kind of adventure-quest-thriller. It doesn’t feel like a shift at all, though, but rather a natural outgrowth of the world and characters to which Smith has introduced us.

did this book live up to its intentions?

Stick Andrew SmithA thousand times, yes. Stick is a book that has so many things going for it that it’s hard to know where to begin. Wonderful characters who have deep relationships with each other? Check. Stick and Bosten’s conversations are as elliptical and offhand as tight siblings’ can be. Serious emotional and physical threats that bring out those characters’ depths and fears? Double check. Stick and Bosten’s father is chilling, but in a human way, so he can’t be written off as exaggeration or romanticization. Similarly, some of the people that Stick meets on his way to California (about which, obviously, I’m being quite vague, because I don’t want to give things away) exemplify the kind of terrifying way that the world feels out of your control at 14. Still, Stick is a survivor, so strongly drawn is he to get to California and make sure Bosten is all right (you might remember that I featured Stick in my list YA Summer Survival Kit: A Crash Course for the Apocalypse.)

Stick is also a beautiful exploration of very different types of masculinity. Throughout the book, we get many examples of how Stick and Bosten’s father thinks men should be, down to his conviction that men don’t wear pajamas or use shampoo. Bosten and Stick don’t agree with their father’s notions, but, as Stick says, they never even thought about the rules. It’s just the way things are. Being gay does not, of course, align with their father’s notions of how a man should act (although, further, we get hints that perhaps these rules are as much for Mr. McClellan to clarify for himself how he feels he must be as they are for his sons). Throughout Stick, then, Stick is exposed to multiple models of all the other ways to be a man there are besides his father’s, some violent, some desperate, some generous.

Stick is a wonderfully-written, exciting, and moving story about brothers, about need, and about the many ways we can rescue each other. I couldn’t recommend it more highly.

personal disclosure

I love love love books where siblings are best friends because my sister and I are planning to take over the world! Also, I love the cover of this book so much.

readalikes

Brothers Bishop Bart Yates

The Brothers Bishop by Bary Yates (2005). A totally amazing book about brothers, love, obligation, sex, archaeology, and the ocean.

Punkzilla Adam Rapp

Punkzilla by Adam Rapp (2009). The voice in Punkzilla is extraordinary. I sort of feel like Bosten and Punkzilla would meet and Bosten would adopt Punkzilla because he would remind him of Stick.

My Heartbeat Garret Freymann-Weyr

My Heartbeat by Garret Freymann-Weyr (2002). A short and lovely book about the relationship between Ellen, the older brother that she adores, and his best friend and lover.

procured from: bought

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