Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Fun Fantasy series – Adventure Time, My Little Pony, Three Thieves, Skyward, Zita and Philemon

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these books here.

Today I’m taking a look at the light fantasy series that have been nominated this year.

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Adventure Time with Fionna & Cake

Natasha Allegri, artist and author

KaBOOM! Studios

Anticipation/expectation level: High. I can’t remember how, but I was following Natasha Allegri’s livejournal before she graduated from undergrad and was pleased to see that she got a job on some show called Adventure Time. 

My reality: Yep, this book is the whole package. It’s gorgeous, it has humor and heart (see, respectively: when Lumpy Space Prince uses a wishing wand to make himself beautiful, the whole conclusion which I won’t spoil for you). Allegri’s genderswapped Adventure Time universe is as strong as the original, keeping the basic dynamics of the characters’ relationships the same, but still creating original situations. Cake is not Jake, but is how Jake would be in cat form. There are also little shorts at the end from writers and artists like Lucy Knisley and Noelle Stevenson. How do these comics all turn out so well? The only part that didn’t work for me is a short digression about a cat and its nine lives, which was sort of related but came out of nowhere.

Will teens like it? I know some teens who are already all about Bee and Puppycat, so yeah.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes – I realize it’s hard for me to be objective, but I did read these comics before I watched Adventure Time and greatly enjoyed them, so I think that knowledge of the show isn’t a huge stumbling block.

Art Taste:

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check out Natasha Allegri’s tumblr, you won’t be sad. There’s a small pitch for a show called Cat Mommy

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Adventure Time, Volume 5

Ryan North, Writer

Braden Lamb, Mike Homes, Shelli Paroline, artists

KaBOOM! Studios

Anticipation/expectation level: I could safely predict that I’d like this. The first 3 made it onto GGNT 2014. I’m wondering why Volume 4 wasn’t nominated? (I did go ahead and read it, and it isn’t the strongest volume but it’s not so off game as to not be nominated, but anyway).

My reality: This one is all Bubblegum – and Lemongrab. It’s a bit about how Princess B struggles with feeling like she’s a ruler when she has to rely on Finn and Jake so much, and a little about her mistakes in the past… and how they ALL COME TOGETHER. Again, it can be read as a standalone adventure.

Will teens like it?: They do.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes

Art Taste:

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My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, Volume 5 

Katie Cook, writer

Andy Price, artist

IDW Publishing

Anticipation/expectation level: Low-ish. I’m old enough to have lived through the first Ponies craze, but wasn’t inspired to watch the show or the documentary about the people who love the show, even though I don’t have anything against it.

My reality: Volume 5 of the comic series is about Celestia’s history with an alternate version of Equestria/Canterlot, and the trouble it is causing everyone. She enlists the special pony brigade or whatever they are called to help fix it before reality as they know it is destroyed. The main points of the universe were easy to pick up on. I still don’t know each pony’s name, but it didn’t affect my reading of the comic as far as confusion goes. It was a nice story about friendship and magic where the stakes were suitably high. One thing that annoyed me: I was a bit irked that, in a universe built on the concept of friendship, the small dragon always gets forgotten and ignored. What is up with that? Double standards.

Will teens like it?: I think this would be popular with younger teens.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s a solid comic. It wasn’t transcendent or something I’ll independently enthuse about. But I can’t say it’s not perfectly positioned for its audience and age group.

Art Taste: mlpmultiverse

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The King’s Dragon

Scott Chantler, artist and writer

Kids Can Press

Anticipation/expectation level: I’ve read two other volumes of this series (called the Three Thieves) and always found them to be exciting, well-plotted, and drawn with a lively, accomplished hand. Actually I’ve read all the volumes but the first one.

My reality: It might be strange to read The King’s Dragon and go back to catch up on the story, because this volume focuses on a man who has so far been the villain of the tale, the man chasing the titular Three Thieves, Captain Drake. It gives us his backstory and, as usually happens with these things, makes him a more sympathetic and complex character. There’s very little movement in the story’s plot – most of the action occurs in flashback. But I still think that it would be easy to read this apart from the other books and not feel lost. It is Captain Drake’s story. Chantler does pacing well, and his is very cinematic. I could almost hear the strings of the suspenseful soundtrack as I moved back and forth in his memory. It’s a series that should get more attention from readers.

Will teens like it? Yes, even though it’s primarily marketed for middle grade readers, it’s a good adventure for anyone.

Is it “great” for teens? Yeah!

Art Taste:

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The Return of Zita the Spacegirl

Ben Hatke, writer and artist

First Second

Anticipation/expectation level: I’m an unabashed Zita pusher to parents, teachers, aunts, and all other readers.

My reality: As a fan of the series, the last book paid off. But it’s been awhile since I read the 2nd installment, and I couldn’t recall each member of the ragtag team’s situation/quirks from where they were left off. For the most part, this is Zita’s story of defeating someone hellbent on destroying Earth out of spite and escaping a prison camp, so the intermittent flashes to her other friends all over the galaxy aren’t that much of a distraction. But they do eventually come into play. For someone coming in cold to the universe, the story won’t have much extra emotional resonance, and the emotional hook depends on being familiar with Zita’s journey. But the main things that I love about Zita are there: absurd humor, lots of cute and weird creatures, struggle overcome by pure will and help from friends, triumph over evil, and there’s the extra punch of wistfulness at the end.

Will teens like it?: It might read younger, but I think teens will like it.

Is it “great” for teens?: It’s great if you’ve read the other volumes. Alone, I don’t know if it’s great.

Art Taste:

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Skyward Volume 1: Into the Woods 

Skyward Volume 2: Strange Creatures 

Jeremy Dale, writer and artist

Action Lab Entertainment

Anticipation/expectation level: All that I knew before I read this was that its creator had suddenly and tragically died. And that people had really liked the comic.

My reality: From reading the letters from fans printed in the collected editions, I can see what people like about this title. It’s a new fantasy world. It’s imaginative, filled with warrior rabbits and other magical stuff. It’s got a bit of joking camaraderie. It’s built to be a fun ride – a search for a missing boy by the forces of good and evil caught in a war that’s much bigger than him, etc. It feels familiar. For me, it felt too familiar and it wasn’t my type of humor or art – but at least the clothes are equal opportunity painted on. When characters are alone they tend to narrate whatever they’re thinking, which always strikes me as unnecessary. I can see the merits for readers, but this one didn’t do much for me.

Will teens like it?: I don’t know if I can see heavy investment potential, but there’s nothing here that would be an immediate turnoff.

Is it “great” for teens?: I think this is decent.

Art Taste: Comparing the pencils to the colored version, I’d have to say that I prefer the pencils. The coloring makes everyone look really shiny and covered in vinyl and obscures a lot of the artistic talent.

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Cast Away on the Letter A

Fred

TOON books

Anticipation/expectation level: Neutral. TOON Books does interesting stuff. When I got this in at the library, it was very slim like a picture book and looked like it was a reprint/revival of a classic european adventure comic. (The introduction confirmed this).

My reality: Philemon is hugely popular in France, a beloved character. In his introduction to general American eyes he explores a well on his rural French property that keeps burping up messages in bottles. He finds himself stuck on the letter A in “Atlantic Ocean” – a fantastical adventure befitting such an illusory place ensues. I appreciated the imagination and history that come with the comic, and I’m glad that more European comics might get printed over here and find a wider audience, but I’m not going to rave about it to teenagers.

Will teens like it?: Due to the length and lightness of the story, plus its cultural cache, I think this will appeal to mostly young readers or adult readers. The pacing and plot don’t fit modern teen comic book standards.

Is it “great” for teens?: Nah

Art Taste:

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Summer Reads Pt. 1: Celebrated Summer and This One Summer

by Tessa

 

Summer: anything can happen, freedom, transitional state of adolescence, blah blah blah. I just read a bunch of books set in summer! Two were more high schooly and two were more middle schooly, so I’ll cover them in two parts.

Celebrated Summer

Charles Forsman

Fantagraphic Books, 2013

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The cover copy calls this a “graphic novella” because it’s relatively short. I call it “self-aware nostalgia” because the narrator, Wolff, is thinking about this one time that he and his friend Mike took LSD and decided to drive to the beach from their small town in Pennsylvania (Forsman is from Mechanicsburg so I’m picturing there). But even as he’s recalling it he doesn’t think it’s magical. Yet he’s not feeling sorry for himself.

Forsman has a spare line that still manages to capture summer days that are unrelentingly hot and humid. Or maybe it’s the way he writes Wolff, who is drifting and so uncomfortable in his skin, but not ready to do anything about it, that is coming through in the atmosphere of the book. In the same way, the LSD in Wolff’s body warps his environment, so he stops knowing what’s inside and what’s outside:

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More previews at Fantagraphics!

Forsman is really good at pacing his panels. Some of them unspool like frames of film, he always pauses for reactions that make the story flow as if it were in real time, giving conversations real pauses, and some, going off into pure abstraction, still follow their own logic.

I also really liked his The End of the Fucking World, and recommend it. And he runs(?) this comics press/distro called Oily that sells subscriptions and it looks pretty rad. Do more research about it than I just did here, on its site.

 

This One Summer

Written by Mariko Tamaki, Drawn by Jillian Tamaki

First Second, 2014

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Hope I’m not scooping you on a review, Rebecca, because I know how much you loved Skim. (Regardless I’d like to read your review of this book, though).

I’m including This One Summer on the high schooly side of things even though it’s about two kids on the cusp of adolescence. Because Rose and Windy are obsessed with the high school/post high school kids at Awago Beach. Because it’s also nostalgic in a way, being that Rose is thinking back to previous summers compared to this one. And it has adult intrigue that Rose understands, but adults reading it will connect to on another level. I think that whatever age reads this book will get different things out of it, and it’s a book to keep coming back to to measure yourself against the feelings it gives you.

It’s gorgeous, no surprise, since Jillian Tamaki is fantastic and wonderful. It’s printed in blue inks, and the lines are brushstrokes. J. T.’s figures are simplified enough that eyes don’t have separate pupils and irises, but retain a sense of depth and weight in the space of the image, so a realism comes through. The backgrounds and splash pages are delicate, detailed, and finely observed, like obsessive studies for full on paintings, grounding the story in place.

The story is Rose’s summer at Awago Beach, where her family has been going forever. She has a beach friend named Windy, who’s a bit younger than her. This summer she has a crush on the video store clerk, he’s having drama with his maybe girlfriend, and her parents are not getting along. Her mom won’t go to the beach and she’s pushing Rose’s dad away. It’s a summer made of moments, and some of them will affect Rose in obvious, rememberable ways, and some of them are the kind that pass by and come back in embarrassment or with a laugh years later, or might never be remembered at all. Here we get to see them play out and wonder which are which. Mariko Tamki is fantastic and wonderful as well, writing another layered and immediate story, with characters that are perfectly themselves.

 

 

Before or after you watch The Bling Ring, also watch Foxes.

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review by Tessa

A group of friends from the Valley participates in an activity that is part bonding and part trying to become part of the adult world, and it backfires. They end up in a police station. Their actions and reaction reveal cultural preoccupations of their time. It could be a vague description of The Bling Ring,  reviewed by Rebecca yesterday, but it’s also a vague description of Foxes, Adrian Lyne’s 1980 film starring Jodie Foster and Cherie Currie.

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As I watched Foxes I immediately connected it to the teens of The Bling Ring – although I haven’t seen Coppola’s film yet, I have read Nancy Jo Sales’ book. I was happy to learn that I wasn’t stretching my interpretation – Coppola mentions Foxes as an inspiration in this interview with Rookie.

I thought The Bling Ring, Sales’ expansion of her original Vanity Fair article about a celebrity robbery ring run by a bunch of middle class teenagers in the Valley, an enjoyable if depressing look at celebrity-stalking culture, starring teenagers who are unaware that their narcissism is showing. Sales fills out the story with speculation as to why and how this kind of culture grew and affected Valley denizens (and non-Valley denizens), but it’s never a mystery how the kids (allegedly?) did it, and it ends up being cringingly sad how they all try to deny it and rat each other out.

Jodie Foster = Emma Watson?

Jodie Foster = Emma Watson?

Foxes has a smaller and more internal trajectory, and a comparison of the two says a lot about the current interpretation of adulthood in America these days–and here I’m using “adulthood” to mean “grown-up aspirations”.

In Foxes, parents are around, but don’t get it – what it’s like to be the teenage girls. The movie follows four friends – Jeanie, Annie, Madge, and Deirdre, as they re figuring themselves out and yearning for family and a place in the world, somewhere safe – as Jeanie says “somewhere we can try to help each other.”  Annie is a burgeoning drunk and her dad is a psychotically strict policeman – she’s always running away from him to the back of some too-old dude’s motorcycle and the rest of the girls are always retrieving and trying to protect her. But the other three have good-to-normal bonds with their mothers. There’s a great scene where Jeanie (Jodie Foster) gets in bed with her mom to read her Plato, so her mom can study for a college class, and a very real scene where Madge (Marilyn Kagan) gets upset that her mom is questioning her about her virginity at her birthday party, so she shuts herself up in her room to cry — and then her mom comes in and curses her with calling every single friend who shows up later and apologizing for canceling the party.

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In The Bling Ring the parents aren’t so much of the picture, and if they are they identify too much with their children’s youth – like Alexis Neier’s mom. Although she is yelled at by Alexis every single time she tries to speak to Nancy Jo Sales, it is clear that her mom sees herself as a friend to Alexis, and booster of the pursuit of beauty and fame, and spiritual enlightenment (through the use of The Secret).

Is it better or just different than this outburst from Jeanie’s mom in Foxes?:

“You want a place of your own? Fine, take this one. …There’s too much music here, too many boys, girls laying all over the furniture, half out of your clothes, on the floor. You’re too beautiful! All of you! You make me hate my hips! I hate my hips.”

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In Foxes the girls are always talking about finding a space of their own:

Jeanie: “[Annie] should have someplace to go, you know?”

Madge: “Where?”

Jeanie: “I dunno… Sometimes I think it’s, like, 1 o’clock in the morning, you just had a fight with your mom, there’s no place to go. Someplace with like, pillows around, a little music, people to talk to. That sort of thing, you know?”

Their lives seem to be whirlwinds of trying to get to class on time, hitting on guys in the supermarket line, covering for each other when two dates show up to the same Angel show, fending off the gently clumsy advances of Baby Scott Baio, 10baioand being there for each other after breakups.  Eventually they try to fulfill their friend/family fantasies with a private dinner party at Madge’s older boyf’s house and it totally turns into a rager (no thanks to Baby Laura Dern).38dern

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The girls don’t explicitly learn lessons from this, but they do realize that they hurt other people’s property. And further, more serious plot developments change and toughen them, or set them up for even more growing.

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In The Bling Ring the guy and girls are yearning for a place in the world through fame – if you don’t do something, you are no one. The line that Emma Watson says in the trailer about being a world leader is taken from the mouth of Alexis Neiers herself.  They want a family that’s more like a clique and try to fulfill this through stealing (whether consciously or not) and it falls apart – they all try to blame each other to avoid jail time. Neiers gets married and reforms herself.

They need the crime to feel like they’ve been made real –they push in to the celebrities’ space, committing criminal acts, whereas in Foxes the police element comes from other people pushing into the girls’ space, their fantasy of what they want a family to be. But that doesn’t mean they don’t wish their families were like famous, or at least beautiful, people:

Annie: “You know, he’s not really my dad.”

Jeanie: “Since when?”

A: “It’s true. Remember the flower children that all the time used to do acid? I was like eleven. I dropped acid and it all came out. I mean that guy, the cop. He ain’t my dad. I saw my real dad. No shit.”

J: “Well what’d he look like?”

A: “Really cool. A cross between Cary Grant… and the Mighty Thor. He was a motocross biker.”

J: “I don’t see Cary Grant on a bike.”

A: “He was! He was so beautiful.”

But I think the most glaring difference between the fake teenagers of Foxes and the real teenagers of The Bling Ring is that the fake teenagers are more in touch with their own feelings. The kids in The Bling Ring are masked, disaffected, and their friendships fall apart when things get rough. The kids in Foxes might be just as bored as their future counterparts, but they seem less miserable, even when they’re crying, and more capable of real joy. Does that mean the world is grimmer today?

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Jeanie: “You go out into the world, it gets scary sometimes. Learn to laugh a little!”

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.

The Year of the Beasts: I Turn to Stone When You are Gone

The Year of the Beasts
Cecil Castellucci & Nate Powell
Roaring Brook Press, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters
Tessa – starts the year out lucky, but the year’s events don’t follow this pattern.
Lulu – Tessa’s younger sister who seems to have nicer everything
Celina – Tessa’s best friend and a champion flirt
Charlie – Tessa’s crush, but he likes someone else very close to Tessa.
Jasper – Loner boy who hangs out in the woods.  Strangely attractive. Not that Tessa would admit it.

Hook
The carnival comes to town and after that night Tessa becomes a freak.  Is it all in her head? How can she stop everyone from turning to stone?

Worldview + What is this book’s intention and does it live up to that intention?

Tessa is forced to take Lulu along with her to the yearly fall carnival. She and Celina were supposed to spend all night sharing secrets and chasing boys – especially the pack of boys led by Charlie Evans.  The girls still fall in with these desirables despite Tessa’s little sister in tow. In an attempt to isolate herself with Charlie, Tessa suggests visiting the Curiosity Sideshow, where only two people are allowed in at a time. But Charlie gets in with Lulu as a partner. After that, Tessa’s world is thrown off balance.  She loves Lulu, but Lulu is eclipsing her in what feels like all aspects of her life – looks, boys, best friendship with Celina, and parental attention.

“Sometimes Tessa wished that she was the prettier sister. When Tessa looked at Lulu, she wondered why it was that Lulu got the better nose. The nicer legs. The shinier, straighter hair. Tessa worried sometimes that people felt sorry for her because she was not round-face, but made of angles. She dread that the truth might be that the arrangement of DNA hadn’t worked quite right on her parents’ first try for a baby, and she imagined that the combination of sperm and egg had worked better the second time around. Or worse, that maybe her parents had loved each other more when they had made Lulu.”

Before I got to buy and read this book I asked what my co-worker’s teenaged daughter thought of it. “She was afraid it was going to be about, you know, boys and does he like me, but it was more than that,” was her paraphrased answer (in a wonderful South African accent).  Boys  and Does he like me are Tessa’s focus as the book begins. Then, as her hopeful plans go awry and she’s left with regret and stifled jealousy, The Year of the Beasts reveals its true self. It’s about that creeping feeling when everything is going wrong and crumbling and no one else seems to notice.  When you don’t feel like you legitimately have anything to complain about but still feel like crying all the time and are composing whole perfect wounded rants in your head to say to no one.

Though not told in first person, the book achieves a wobbly reality in line with how Tessa must feel.  It alternates prose and comic chapters that, when read together, perfectly describe something that is part reality and part gritty parable.

Castellucci’s prose style is matter-of-fact about things and straightforwardly narrates situations that still end up with secret undertones.  It delves into lists of things that end up carrying emotional weight or revealing the thoughts of the characters who are looking at the things being listed. Its tone reminded me of fairy tales, especially the breezy Californian real world with a twist voice of Francesca Lia Block, where everyone possesses a kind of knowing, but everything remains mysterious despite it.  I can see it very much in this description from Beasts:

“Jasper Kleine . . . wasn’t with anyone because he was a loner. If he did hang out, he hung out with other lost boys. The ones who cut class and got high. The ones who rode their speedboats too fast on the river. The ones who had guitars and mountain bikes. The ones who wore pieces of leather tied around their wrists as if they had made a secret promise to themselves. These boys were the ones that everyone steered clear of because secretly everyone worried that strangeness was catching.”

The comic chapters are illustrated by the wonderful Nate Powell, who is no stranger to stories featuring people haunted by their own thoughts and obsessions. My first introduction to his work was Swallow Me Whole, a graphic novel about stepsiblings, schizophrenia, and family, among other things, and his most recent book, Any Empire, delves further into childhood and its wars and then twists time to connect real war with childhood. He draws with a fluid and sure line that always seems to imbue his characters with motion, even when they’re sitting at a desk or standing in a hallway. (There’s a gallery on his website).

In The Year of the Beasts he illustrates what appears to be a parallel story of Tessa’s, one where her hair is Medusa’s: made of snakes that can turn anyone who looks at her to stone. She stumbles through a school day trying to keep herself and the people around her intact, clearly hurting but not able to make herself tell her secrets.  In this reality, her sister appears as a mermaid and her crush a kind of minotaur.  It’s not clear how this connects to the prose reality until the close of the book, but it lets the reader follow emotional truths in a natural and evocative way. (Click on the link above to see previews).

What The Year of the Beasts has most in common with old fairy tales is that it goes to twisty, dark places.  It also has something in common with fables: Tessa learns a lesson at the end.  It’s not the one that I was expecting when I saw her cobbling together a secretive happiness midway through the book, and I’m not happy that she had to learn it the way she did.  But that’s her story, whether I like it or not, and it’s told beautifully.

Disclosure/Digression
I met Cecil Castellucci at a library event in 2006 or 2007 and she was really psyched to hear my name. So psyched that she wrote it down and promised to use it in a story. I’m not saying that this means that moment led to her naming this character Tessa. But I am going to choose to believe it for my own personal satisfaction about… having… a name?

Incidentally, Cecil Castellucci is funny and nice and really enthusiastic about comics. You should read her other books.

Readalikes

Weetzie Bat series / Francesca Lia Block

I’m feeling a lot of Witch Baby in Tessa’s character.

Lowboy / John Wray

I don’t know if this is a real readalike. It does concern a teenager who feels lost and isolated and has a personal crisis. Maybe I just want to read it again. But it came to mind, and it has a great cover with a drawing of a face.

Skim / Mariko & Jillian Tamaki

I could swear that Rebecca had recommended this book before, but I can’t find it. I’ll recommend it any number of times, just try me. Loss, friendship, and outsider status, set in a private school, which is a cousin to a boarding school. You know that we like those here at Crunchings & Munchings.

What’s So Great About Boarding School Books? Everything!

A List of Boarding School (and Boarding School-esque) Young Adult Novels

Harry Potter  J.K. Rowling Harry Potter 2 J.K. Rowling Harry Potter 3 J.K. Rowling Harry Potter 4 J.K. Rowling Harry Potter 5 J.K. Rowling Harry Potter 6 J.K. Rowling

By REBECCA, September 21, 2012

On Monday, our guest reviewer S. Dubbs reviewed Vampire Academy, reminding me of the complete and utter delight of boarding school books and reminding me that I’d been intending to a post about them. Here ’tis.

But why exactly is boarding school such a potent setting for young adult novels? Let’s find out!

1. A recipe for success!

A. Take several hundred people at the most developmentally volatile moment in their lives.

B. Put them in very close quarters for school, eating, sleeping, grooming, dating, leisure, mischief-making, escapism, experimentation (sometimes even in the same room as each other).

C. Make these quarters totally isolated from the rest of the world, allowing their inhabitants to feel as if it is the whole, entire world.

D. Throw in a heaping cup of lust, a dash of self-loathing, a sprinkle of jealousy, and a level cup of anxiety and stir until combined, being sure to stand back in case the entire thing EXPLODES, splattering hormones all over your recently cleaned kitchen!

2. No Parents = New Personalities!

Kazuo Ishiguro Never Let Me GoWithout their families around, boarding school characters’ personalities are up for grabs. Instead of being tied to who they always were growing up, they can create new personae that are totally different from who they were at home. For some characters, this means they get the opportunity to be who they really are and express themselves without the threat or censure of familial expectation. For others it means they can decide who they want to be—and, while this sometimes seems childish or affected, I think it’s often a mechanism for teens who are still exploring who they are to try on different potential versions of themselves. (Sarah Dessen’s non-boarding school novel, What Happened to Goodbyeis an extreme example of how this can happen.)

The Liar Stephen FryIn The Liar, Stephen Fry’s hilarious and gorgeously written homoerotic homage to boarding school classics like Thomas Hughes’ Tom Brown’s Schooldays (awesome in it’s own right, really!), Adrian Healey learns, among other things, the incredible importance of toast.

Or, they could be like the students in Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go, who don’t have any parents and develop their entire personalities surrounded only by their peers.

3. Intense Friendships!

Jo Walton Among OthersWhen people are trying to figure out who they are, they look to their peers in order to copy what they like and distance themselves from what they don’t. In boarding school novels, characters have no one except their peers, and they get a lot of exposure to them. This swirling mess of identification, disidentification, the desire to express themselves, and the desire to be understood lead to some of the most intense friendships ever! Sometimes this is about wanting to be like someone, like in Kathe Koja’s Headlong, where the arrival of new student Hazel changes everything for boarder Lily. Or, it can be the literal I-would-die-for-you of Harry, Ron, and Hermione.

Sidebar: I will go ahead and assert that, legion though boarding schools in fiction are, Hogwarts is far and away the awesomest boarding school ever.

The flip side of these intense friendships, of course, is staggering isolation. In Jo Walton’s wonderful Among Others a young girl’s truest friends are the characters in the science fiction and fantasy novels she so loves.

3. A Motley Crew!

Looking for Alaska John GreenSpeaking of Harry, Ron, and Hermione, one of the best things about boarding school is the total randos who end up there. There are the people who are there because it’s prestigious, or because their parents don’t like them or want them around, or because their parents love them but are too busy to raise them, or because they were dumped there as charity, or because they convinced their parents to send them there. The list goes on, but no matter how you slice it, it’s an interesting subset of random folks, usually without the great roommate-matching skills of the Sorting Hat.

A Little Princess Frances Hodgson BurnettSometimes you might find love, like in John Green’s Looking For Alaska. Sometimes you might find yourself drastically downgraded from near-princess status to an attic room and a mop and bucket, like my favorite childhood boarder, Shirley Temple Sarah Crewe, in Frances Hodgson Burnett’s A Little Princess. P.S., has everyone seen Alfonso Cuarón’s A Little Princess, starring Liesel Matthews (who, apparently, is heir to the Hyatt fortune and did theatre after college)? Because it’s awesomely gorgeous, similar to his Great Expectations, aesthetically.

4. Politics and Secret Societies!

The Mockingbirds Daisy WhitneySince boarding schools feel like their own worlds, they are often hotbeds of social and political unrest. Or social and political complacency that one brave character smashes wide open. Such is the case in one of Tessa’s faves, E. Lockhart’s The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, and in Daisy The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks E. LockhartWhitney’s The Mockingbirds. In Disreputable History, Frankie is excluded from her boyfriend’s boys-only secret society and so she becomes a pranking criminal mastermind in order to topple patriarchy! Speaking of secret societies, in The Mockingbirds, Alex is date raped and, rather than stay silent and preserve the reputation of the school, she turns to The Mockingbirds, a secret society dedicated to “righting the wrongs of their fellow peers.” Also, did I mention, SECRET SOCIETIES!?

5. Mysteries and Long-Buried Secrets!

The Divine Economy of Salvation Priscila UppalMkay, this is my favorite thing about boarding school novels. What is it about an isolated setting crawling with teenagers (and, let’s not forget, teachers in various stages of despair and despotism) that makes for murder, accidental death, and their coverups? Seriously, if I ever had a kid I would never let it go to boarding school for fear that it’d be murdered, “disappear”, or be subjected to some creepy initiation rite, like in Priscila Uppal’s The Divine Economy of Salvation. In Sheila Kohler’s Cracks (a “crack” is a crush—it’s set in South Africa), the members of a boarding school swim team are infatuated with their swim instructor, and vie for her favoritism when they’re not tormenting other students. When a new student comes along and becomes her new favorite, shit gets out of control.

One of my favorite books of all time, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, is not strictly a boarding school novel because it’s set in a college (Hampden, based on Bennington college where the author went). But because Hampden is a very small school in the middle of nowhere Vermont, it feels a lot like boarding school. (I write about The Secret History HERE, too, in a review of The Secret Diaries, which are really a not-very-different adaptation ofTartt’s novel.)

Picnic at Hanging Rock Peter WeirIn Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (made into a killer movie by Peter Weir!), a group of girls go for a picnic at Hanging Rock (it’s set in Australia) on Valentine’s Day, 1900. Three of the girls and one teacher mysteriously disappear while climbing the rock. One girl is later found, but has no memory of what happened, and another girl returns in hysterics but cannot explain why. And, in googling Picnic at Hanging Rock just now, I have learned the following, which delights me to no end: apparently independent theater company Breaking Bread Theatre is planning a musical of Picnic at Hanging Rock. Most importantly, in Weir’s film the costumes are amazing! They all wear these great white things (above)!

6. Potential to be Diabolical Training Grounds!

Skin Hunger A Resurrection of Magic 1 Kathleen DueyWhile long-buried secrets abound in realist boarding school novels, we can’t forgot that sci-fi and fantasy have their own style of boarding schools. In Kathleen Duey’s Skin Hunger, the first book of one of my favorite YA series, Hahp is one of nine boys sent to a school for wizards that’s about as different from Hogwarts as a decapitation is from a paper cut. And there is no guarantee that any of them will ever graduate. And, in case it wasn’t clear, by “graduate” I mean “live.” You can check out my full review of Skin Hunger HERE.

Ender's Game Orson Scott CardAnd, of course, what would a list of boarding schools be without . . . yes, you guessed it: BATTLE SCHOOL! In Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game, children are monitored from an early age to see if they are eligible to attend the highly prestigious Battle School (you know, in space) and train to fight the next Bugger War. Ender Wiggin is one such launchie, and his time in Battle School combines all the most stressful and harsh things about realist novels’ boarding schools only, in addition, he is TRAINING FOR BATTLE. Come on, that is so much harsher than homework, no?

 
So, there you have it: the glory of boarding school novels, from Hogwarts to the Hegemon. What about you—what are your favorite boarding school novels? Tell me in the comments!

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl: I put the “idiot” in “videotape”

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl
Jesse Andrews
Amulet, 2012

review by Tessa

Characters:
Greg Gaines (me)(“me”): self-loathing protag, haver of anxious mental belches, appreciator of slug-like cats
Earl Jackson (Earl): short and often mad (because of being short? and the whole broken home thing?) but also smart and funny and a cowriter/director of homemade films with Greg Gaines
Rachel Kushner (Dying Girl): nice sick girl
Madison Hartnett: nice hot girl

My personal hook / disclosure / digression:
This book is set in Pittsburgh and written by a Pittsburgher and moreover it has been universally (among the librarians I know and, I’m sure, other people) acclaimed as very funny and so great and I should read it have I read it yet? It’s so funny! And, and… Pittsburgh! (The guy from Tram’s is even in here.)

(But you don’t have to know Pittsburgh to like this book.)

And as luck and event planning would have it, Jesse Andrews spoke at a work event where I got to hear his (funny, self-deprecating) speech and got a free copy of this book, which had by then been built up so much I decided to save it for the right time.

When I woke up last night with anxiety-induced night sweats, I knew that it must be the right time for a funny cancer book. Set in Pittsburgh.

Were you right?
Yes. This book was like eating magical candy that somehow never makes you feel sick to your stomach. It made me immediately less anxious through pure reading delight.

Aside: Perhaps inevitably it’s been getting compared to the other big YA cancer book this year by John Green, which if you haven’t heard of it I’ve helpfully reviewed it on this very blog. That book is called The Fault in Our Stars and is a romantic love story, and is by an author with a big following, writing his first book with a female protagonist, with people waiting to see if he could do it. This one is called Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, it’s about friendship love and self-love (and jokes about self-love, you know, that other kind) by a first time author.

One could set this up as a competition, but let’s not. They’re both great books and they actually work well together.  There’s room enough for at least two good realistic books that happen to feature cancer-stricken characters in their teens.

PITTSBURGH!

But will I cry?
You probably won’t sob (unless you’re a mom). You probably will laugh a lot, and cringe, and feel twinges in your heartstrings at certain points.  Your tear glands may moisten.  Or not, you emotionless freak.

But what’s the story already Tessa and why should I read it?

Greg Gaines is a senior who thinks he’s mastered the art of being invisible by trying to please everyone a little bit but not so much that they become friends. He’s painfully self-aware of himself as a person who should not be seen, but is not so self-aware that he can accept himself and be comfortable.  He has one real friend, Earl Jackson, and despite coming from separate racial and socioeconomic backgrounds, they were brought together by the greatest force of ecstatic truth on earth, Werner Herzog.

Since realizing that they are the only two eleven-year-olds who get Aguirre, the Wrath of God, they have gone on to watch many more arthouse films.  Their interest in film also extends to making movies influenced by their favorite directors — films that no one else is allowed to see because they’re not good enough yet. But the descriptions give the reader enough of a glimpse into the madcap, sock-puppet workings that it is possible to imagine how seriously silly and wonderfully non sequitur filled they must be.

Greg once had an awkward friendship with a girl named Rachel in Hebrew School during sixth grade, a friendship based on him trying to make another girl jealous. The end of the friendship, consisting as it did of a series of increasingly unaccepted invitations to come over and hang out with her, was never really resolved, but now Rachel has leukemia and Greg’s mother and Rachel’s mother think that having Greg be friends with Rachel again would be the best possible thing to cheer Rachel up, as parents are immune to knowing when their ideas are terrible and wrong and embarrassing.

PITTSBURGH

Because Greg is writing this story, it never swerves into Maudlintown. In fact, it circles Maudlintown on the map and tells you all the ways it will never ever go there.  Andrews makes good use of bullet points, stage direction, script dialogue, and many many raunchy, profanity-filled asides to ensure that the reader is bouncing around the brain of a distractible teenage boy with imagination to spare and nowhere yet to put it in the world.

I wish I could quote you so much from the book, but everything I want to quote leads to something else that is insanely quotable, so you should just read the book yourself. (But the subtitle of this post is one of my favorite chapter titles in the book, so you know). Andrews makes his chapters vignette-like but strung together with the momentum of the buried thought of death, so that you can be three quarters of the way finished before you look up from the page.

If I had a criticism it would be that we don’t get to see Rachel as a person that much, but I also think that it’s because Greg himself can’t fully see Rachel.  She’s too good of a listener and he’s too eager to perform for her, and too scared to get into a real conversation (and maybe she is, too? There’s no way to tell.) That’s all true to his narration and to the story arc. It even adds to the exploration of friendship that the book ends up being (and I really love that this is a book about friendship, if I haven’t explicitly said that yet).

Of course Greg and Earl’s films get entangled with the downhill slide of Rachel’s disease, and as much as Greg hates it, as much as it is humiliating and painful and requires him to stop lying on his floor pretending to be dead, he has to learn and grow a little bit and actually voice his feelings out loud.  And the way it happens for him is very much like life is: too fast and too full of hindsight.

I look forward to reading more from him, and there’s this tease of a vlog theme song on his tumblr:

Readalikes

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh by Michael Chabon
This is a college coming of age story published for the adult market and is definitely more mature in its subject matter (but maybe not its themes?).  But there are some echoes of it in the undercurrents of Andrews’ book, I swear.

Will Grayson, Will Grayson John Green David Levithan

Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green and David Levithan
For the humor and the trying to be invisible and failing.

Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares
Ha ha! Just kidding. But it does have filmmaking AND leukemia.

One Moment by Kristina McBride

One Moment

Kristina McBride

Egmont USA, 2012

review by Tessa

Hook

There’s a hole in Maggie’s life – her boyfriend just died in a cliff-jumping accident – and in her mind – she was there with him when it happened, but she doesn’t remember anything.  But getting her memories back means starting to see the whole picture of who she, Joey, and her friends really were.

Characters

Maggie – happy and in love, a little timid but secure in her place in the world (until)

Joey – daredevil boyfriend, always joking, likes Maggie so much that he doesn’t want to call it love.

Shannon – showoffy bestie. The phrase “you know she can be a bitch” seems to follow her around.

Adam – steady dude, foil to Joey

Pete – dreadlocked, laidback, guitar-strummer

Tanna – the sixth friend of the group (I’m sure she’s very nice).

example of a Jumping Hole – deadly! captivating! © Copyright Andy Waddington and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons License

Worldview

Maggie and her friends live in a small town in Ohio (specific state revealed only by of the Library of Congress Subject Headings).  They aren’t cliquey, but they’re tight-knit – they go to parties, know people, drink and have fun, but prefer each other’s company.  At the outset of the book, everyone in the group is settled into their designated role – Maggie is sweet and shy, Joey is outgoing and rebellious, Shannon is harsh and fun, Pete is a hippie, etc etc.

After Joey’s death, the group is shaken and their secret selves come shaken loose.  Whatever they wanted to be, or were in the process of becoming through growing up either starts to blossom or is revealed by the tragedy.  Maggie’s memory loss exacerbates the process, because no one else knows why Joey’s jump from the cliff was so off-kilter.  Everyone in the group thinks they’ll get more closure if they know exactly What Happened.

What is the book’s intention and is it achieved?

What could have been simply a poignant exploration of grief takes on more dimensions and becomes a mystery/group growing up story (not quite a bildungsroman).  McBride, according to her bio, was an English teacher and yearbook adviser and she obviously spent time observing the teenage condition.  Her characters have the un-self-consciousness of friends who are comfortable with each other and have grown up in a small town, a relatively worry-free middle-class group.  For that reason they don’t overdose on slang and replicate a kind of Friends-like proto-adult rapport with each other while still retaining that teenage over-jokiness regarding sex and its companion focus on who has and hasn’t had it.

When the friend group starts chafing against each other after Joey’s death, the dynamics are also spot-on.  Maggie is trying to figure out why she can’t remember anything, and she’s exploring her memories of her relationship with Joey.  She tries to talk to the group, but keeps hitting unexpected anger and, from Adam, outright silence.  The switch from mourning to psychological mystery is what sets the book apart from other realistic fiction. As a portrait of a group, it’s very compelling – more so than it would be if it were simply Maggie’s story.  There are some real stomach-dropping moments when Maggie finds that she didn’t know who someone really was or was too blinded by how she wanted things to be to see what was really going on. And because they involve someone who is dead, they’re tough realizations to process.  The mix of sadness, frustration, and regret is palpable.  Although the short, declarative, fragmentary narration is not my personal favorite style (because it sounds over-dramatic to my ear) it works well with Maggie and her shocked, grief-stricken state of mind and doesn’t overwhelm the plot.

I will say that I didn’t totally see Maggie’s brokenness and panic – it was in the story, but I had to work to integrate it with her character and take her word for it.  However, anyone who has had a brush with tragedy or loss will be able to layer their experiences over Maggie’s and make the imaginative leap.  I’m glad I decided to put the book on hold after reading Liz B.’s review over at A Chair, A Fireplace, and a Tea Cozy.

Readalikes

If I Stay / Gayle Forman

I’m willing to bet that this will leave you with tight-throat-almost-crying-syndrome the entire time you read it.  Mia faces her own life or death.  (I also wasn’t totally into the narrative style here but really liked the book anyway.)

Burn for Burn / Jenny Han & Siobhan Vivian

As I mentioned in my review (linked above) it’s about a group of friends who maybe aren’t as tight as they think they are, and the revenge that arises from that discrepancy. Coming out soooon.

Past Perfect / Leila Sales

I seem to be reading in an unintentional theme lately (my review linked above).  The re-evaluation of an expired relationship is done so well here, much like (& maybe a little better than?) in One Moment. But no death in this book, and hence much more levity.

Lesbian Discovery Novels & Romantic Female Friendships: From Hey, Dollface to My So-Called Life

Concerning, In Particular, Hey, Dollface by Deborah Hautzig & Annie On My Mind by Nancy Garden

Hey, Dollface (1978), Knopf & Annie On My Mind (1982), Farrar, Straus & Giroux

By REBECCA, August 17, 2012

Hey, Dollface Deborah Hautzig Annie On My Mind Nancy Garden

A while back, when I was reviewing Siobhan Vivian’s lovely Same Difference, which is about the power of female friendships, I mentioned in the a response to a comment from Past the Ink, that maybe I should do a post about 1970s and 1980s lesbian discovery novels (that is, books where a character realizes she’s a lesbian)—and here it is, in the form of some musings.

Happy Endings Are All Alike Sandra Scoppettone

What’s up, phallic knife

So, what’s special about lesbian discovery novels of the late ’70s and early ’80s in particular, you may be thinking? For one thing, since there were so few of them published (I think the only others before Annie On My Mind are Sandra Scoppettone’s Happy Endings Are All Alike (1978) and Rosa Guy’s Ruby (1976)) that they have a particular mood in common. I chose to focus on Hey, Dollface and Annie On My Mind because they are, in some ways, so similar. But also because I feel like Annie On My Mind is often cited as the first Ruby Rosa Guylesbian YA novel, when Hey, Dollface totally predates it by four years. Besides, I like Hey, Dollface much more, and it holds a special place in my heart because I first read it when I was 12 or so because I borrowed it from my best friend, J—. Incidentally, when I took out my copy of the book today to write this, I started paging through it and realized that it’s totally J—’s. Her name is stamped in the front cover with one of those personalized stamps in two-tone ink (sorry, J—!). Whoopsies.

Shatter Me Tehereh MafiSo, first things first, I am obsessed with the (1989) cover of Hey, Dollface. I loathe the new YA trend of featuring skinny white girls in fancy dress for no apparent reason on the covers of books. For one thing, I don’t like to have a picture in my head of what a character looks like before I start reading. For another, I don’t like that they’re all prettier than average. Finally, I think it’s boring. There are so many parts of a book that would make awesome covers—I don’t get why anyone would want to look at a model instead of an actual artistically designed cover. But I digress. The point is, even though Hey, Dollface‘s cover features girls who are supposed to be the main characters, I think it’s gorgeous. Maybe because it’s a painting (or a painting-ified photo?) instead of a photograph? Maybe because the girls are just floating white faces being swallowed by black hair, black clothes, and splashed with lipstick and blush? I don’t know; I just know that I love it.

In both Hey, Dollface and Annie On My Mind, two New York City high school girls meet and strike up close friendships because they understand each other where no one else does, and go on to discover that what they feel for one another is more than friendship, then decide what these romantic feelings for another girl mean for them in the long run. My favorite thing about Hey, ruby slippers vintage New York thrift shopsDollface (and the reason that I listed it as a readalike for Siobhan Vivian’s Same Difference) is that Val and Chloe are intensely drawn together because of a shared attitude (they think their snobby, rich prep schoolmates are boring and lame) and tastes (they make papier mâché death masks, use Polaroids, and haunt thrift stores). Val’s tastes are nascent—she knows what she doesn’t like, but Chloe shows her a vision of New York that realizes she loves. Oh, and because this is 1978, they’re in Greenwich Village in a totally sincere way:

“I’d never heard of thrift shops till I met Chloe. She taught me the whereabouts and price-haggling of wonderful dark places filled with furs, strange velvet dresses, hats, old jackets, tailcoats and feather boas. And millions of mismatched pajamas. We walked around all day, going into every pokey shop that caught our eye, finding twisted little streets we never knew existed and eating everything we felt like buying.

Chloe liked things I’d never considered before. She adored old pointy-toed spike-heeled shoes if they had a tacky ribbon or rhinestones adorning them. And those pointy glasses women used to wear. She’d pick up what I thought was an outrageous item and gasp, ‘Oh, I have to have this.’ I usually succeeded in talking her out of it; she told me she’d regret it. She said in a year they’d be the latest chic and I’d regret it too” (34-5).

My So-Called Life Angela Rayanne So, when I refer to this subgenre as “lesbian discovery novels,” I mean more than just that the characters discover that they’re lesbians; I mean that they feature friendships that allow one to discover something about oneself. And that is what really interests me about revisiting these two books 30 years after they were published. Late ’70s and ’80s lesbian discovery novels portray certain strong female friendships as vehicles that allow one or both of the characters to discover that they like girls in part because there were so few other books, films, or pop cultural representations of lesbianism. Nowadays, with many more representations of queerness in the cultural ether, queer YA fiction doesn’t have quite the same oh-my-goodness-what-could-these-feelings-possibly-be anymore and, as a result, we have begun to have some really interesting discussions about romantic female friendships, which might include sexual attraction, but also needn’t. Here’s Autostraddle’s “20 Best Young Adult Novels For Queer Girls,” in response to NPR’s lesbian-lacking “Top 100 List of Best Teen Novels, recommended by my dear friend, J—.

Foxfire Angelina JolieI (of course) don’t mean to conflate lesbianism with some kind of cutesy sleepovers and whispers  teen phase. Rather, I think that one of the most interesting things about the lesbian discovery novels like Hey, Dollface is that they do manage to push a queer panic button about intense female friendships (especially in the characters’ parents) who wonder things along the lines of Hey, Dollface‘s tagline: “Just how far do the bounds of friendship go?” This is nothing new, of course, echoing a long-held societal nervousness about female friendships that appear fulfilling enough that perhaps men aren’t needed.

Friendship in general, and female friendship in particular, is possibly the most central social element of YA fiction. So, looking at the trajectory of the shifts in how intimate female relationships are portrayed over 30-some years is illuminating. For those of us who grew up with strong, celebratory friendships, whether romantic or not, I think there is a real joy in seeing how important female friendships can be to discovering what we like, who we are, and what we believe in. For that reason, I’m glad to see a more celebratory attitude emerging on intense friendships. Here are a few of my favorites, which you should read this weekend while watching FoxfireThelma and Louise, and My So-Called Lifea trio of ’90s gems about important female friendships:

Emma Straub’s “My Rayannes,” for The Paris Review (thanks for the link, Casey!)

Krista Burton’s “A Girl’s Best Friend,” for Rookie

The “Friend Crush” series, for Rookie

So, what about you? Do you have a favorite lesbian discovery novel from back in the day? A book to recommend to queer girls now? Flashbacks to buying Manic Panic every time I say “My So-Called Life”? Let us know in the comments!

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.

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