Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Sci-Fi

by Tessa

Read about why I’m reading these here.

I had 4 sci-fi titles bunched up together. Two of them are not going to make it to my eyes in time.

ringworld

Ringworld, an adaptation of the sci-fi classic by Seven Seas, could not be procured even through my library system’s excellent ILL department, and I don’t think I’d like it enough to spend money on a digital copy. I would if I were actually on the committee, but luckily I don’t have to. It sounds like a cool idea, and I am tempted to read the original prose novel.

rust3

I am sad that my library does not have Rust V.3: Death of the Rocket Boy, by Royden Lepp, because it’s been out since May of 2014. This is a series, originally published by Archaia, that I’ve been following since it first came out. Each of its volumes has made it onto the Great Graphic Novels list, and last year the 2nd volume was in our top 10. I want to read the next (last?) installment of this story in an alternate historical time about a jet-pack/boy and his adventures in Canadian farmland. But I’m willing to bet that it makes it on the list again this year. I would buy a copy but it wouldn’t make it to me in time. Bad planning, me.

But anyway, on to what I did manage to read:

boom_woods_v1

The Woods Volume 1: The Arrow

James Tynion IV, writer

Michael Dialynas, artist

BOOM! Studios  

Anticipation/Expectation Level: It was on my radar but I didn’t know anything about it other than the cover looked cool.

My Reality: I had so much fun reading this. In many ways it’s very much a classic high school adventure, but the high school is suddenly transplanted to an alien planet with an extra-mysterious conspiracy added in (I will say no more about that). There’s a survival/road-trip element as a group of the students head out with a super-smart loner at their head, following him because he says he knows whats going on and because the scene inside the school itself is turning into a shitshow, with the gym teacher using all of his Machiavelli against the go-getter Student President, with the principal as a pawn between them. The jocks, nerds, and everyone in-between have roles to play. It gets heavy in a couple of places, but mostly maintains its humor within the tense situations. I loved the coloring here – very purply and saturated.

Will Teens Like It?: Yes, I can see myself booktalking this one for summer reading or something.
Is it “great” for teens?: yes.

Art Taste:

dinosaurnow ourfuture

alexada_tp_v1

Alex + Ada Volume 1

Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn, writers

Jonathan Luna, artist

Image

Anticipation/Expectation Levels: Pretty much the same as The Woods.

My Reality: Yay! This is speculative sci-fi that explores technology, identity, AI, android rights, loneliness, responsibility, and grandmothers who mean well. Luna’s style of drawing is perfect – very realistic and flat, with an eye for subtle changes in facial expressions. I almost feel like Alex is too good to be true, but I have to remind myself that there are guys out there who wouldn’t be total creeps in this situation. And he may change in the following issues. If you can’t tell from the cover and my rambling, Alex is gifted a robot companion by his grandma because she thinks he is being depressed for too long after his breakup. Alex is weirded out that Ada, the android, has no opinions and defers to his wants and needs. So he decides to figure out what to do about it.

Will Teens Like it?: Yes

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

AlexAda03_mnchmnch

Great Graphic Novels Noms 2015: Memoir and Contemporary Stories

by Tessa

Read about this series of posts here.

FUN FACT: All of the selections today are by writer-artists (one person writes and draws the book). They are the singer-songwriters of the comics world.

eldeafocover

El Deafo

Cece Bell, writer and artist

Amulet Books

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I’d heard lotsa good things about this one.

My Reality: All the praise is deserved. It’s a mildly fictionalized memoir about Cece Bell growing up with deafness, outside of the Deaf community – it’s about feeling awkward because she’s afraid she looks so different and because of the challenges of navigating a world that doesn’t always make the allowances it should for a lip-reading child, and it’s also about basic growing up stuff: friendships, family, school. Bell has a good ear for social detail and her chronicles of trying to find a true friend and feeling lonely will win her many readers (I hope). And she’s also funny.

Will teens like it?: Yes. Fans of Raina Telgemeier and The Wimpy Kid/Big Nate will be into this for sure.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes.

Art Taste:

ElDeafo_TXT_page1

allstarcover

All Star

Jesse Lonergan, writer and artist

NBM ComicsLit

Anticipation/Expectation Level: None. I knew nothing about this going in.

My Reality: Great realistic fiction which I think sometimes is thin on the ground in the comics world, especially for the high school level. All Star is squarely high school oriented. It’s not the baseball story that the cover may lead you to believe it is. It’s about the golden boy becoming aware of his golden boy privileges and trying to do the right thing. I’m always fascinated to read about fictional or nonficitonal characters trying to do the right thing. (All Star may seem autobiographical but it’s not). Lonergan writes clean, beautiful action pages that made baseball not so boring even for me. His characters are exaggerated – a little boxy like Jeff Lemire’s but more like walking skeletons.

Will Teens Like it?: Teens might not get all the cultural references going on, but hopefully that won’t turn them away from the story.

Is it “great” for teens?: Yeah.

Art Taste:

154-All-Star

tomboycover

Tomboy: a graphic memoir

Liz Prince, writer and artist

Zest Books

Anticipation/expectation level: I got a personal recommendation for this from several people whose taste I trust.

My Reality: Loved it! Prince doesn’t try to tamp down on the ambiguity of her feelings about how she wants to be in the world. Because these go against culturally built up norms for gender expression she struggles with how she feels about girly things, how she has been taught to think about being a girl, and how she feels comfortable and if that has to fit into a gendered behavior. But it’s told as a story that is open, using a black and white, thin-lined style that I think of as “refined sketchbook cartoon” – really accessible and enjoyable for a huge age range.

Will Teens Like It?: I put this on display on Tuesday and a teen immediately picked it up.

Is it “great” for teens?: YES.

Art Taste:

tomboyjedi

T0724

I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You

Yumi Sakugawa, writer and artist

Adams Media

Anticipation/Expectation Level: I had read this on Tumblr or something before it was published. I thought it was cute to a point.

My Reality: I like how the format: small and square, with one text panel and one picture to each spread, makes the reading go more slowly. More like a picture book for adults. Sakugawa has a very appealing drawing style. The narrator of this book is a of a monstery design, sort of a cyclops Cousin It. She draws with a thin, textured pencil line, with a good eye for design. While I have experienced friend crushes and support the idea of more talk about the importance of friend-love and friendship as sustaining relationships, I feel like this book is more about friend-crush desperation. A reviewer at Rookie reads it as an exchange between the crusher and crushee, but I see it as a long declaration from the protagonist to an oblivious friend crush. A declaration that would make most people uncomfortable because it lacks confidence. And it is steeped in the social media world of today, and those references will become dated and take away from the chance of this being a classic book with a universal message. So I can’t fully get behind this as a great book but I do think it is cute and harmless – even maybe confidence building?

Will Teens Like it?: Yeah, this is built for sharing on Tumblr.

Is it “great” for Teens: I don’t know. I see it more as a novelty picture book?

Art Taste:

friendlove2

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

celebratedsummerforsman

 

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:

celebrated2

 

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

thisonesummertamaki

 

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.

 

 

Whatever, punk rock: Nevada by Imogen Binnie

Nevada Imogen Binnie

Nevada

Imogen Binnie

Topside Press, 2013

review by Tessa, with comments from Rebecca

characters

in NYC

Maria Griffiths- still wants to write the ultimate zine that explains what it means to be a trans woman, but hasn’t yet. feels a little trapped in her union job at a bookstore. feels a little trapped in her head.

Steph – Maria’s increasingly distanced girlfriend

Kieran – a fellow bookstore worker and catalyst for life changes in Maria and Steph’s relationship

Piranha – an agoraphobic, pill-savvy and wise friend to Maria.

in Nevada

James – a boy stuck in the worst city ever and maybe stuck in a male body

Nicole – thinking her way out of Star City’s claustrophobic social norms, and an increasingly frustrated girlfriend to James

hook

Maria Griffiths is a little tired of everything—her job, her girlfriend, thinking about being trans. She is starting to think that her new life philosophy should be about irresponsibility.

nevada2

worldview

The first time the reader meets Maria, she’s being unsatisfactorily choked during sex by her girlfriend. Then she fakes an orgasm. To say she has intimacy issues would be an understatement. It’s like Maria wants to find intimacy but someone gave her a map that omitted it entirely, so how is she ever going to find it without some serious luck?

It’s not like Maria hasn’t done relatively well for herself. She’s union at her job, she’s really good at riding her bike, and she successfully figured out that she was transgender and transitioned. But life isn’t a series of radio boxes ready to be clicked, leading to fulfillment, and something’s missing for Maria.  She doesn’t know if she wants to be saying something to a wider audience or be left alone to make bad decisions.

Luckily or unluckily, her distance from her girlfriend Steph leads Steph to tell a little lie about cheating, which makes Maria start thinking about where her life is, and where her life used to be when she was growing up in small town Pennsylvania, getting high on heroin and passing out in crash-pad houses – knowing there was more out there — “There was a Borders and hour away and sometimes somebody would manage to get a zine onto their magazine rack, so she knew that there was more going on than classic rock radio and getting fucked up.” (27) – but not being able to escape yet.  She’s not making those bad decisions now, but she’s really not making any decisions—until some bad things naturally start happening, because the scale of Maria’s life tips just over into uncertainty, and she embraces it.

did this book achieve its intentions?

Have you ever, like me, wished you could have a real-time transcription of your thoughts?  Imogen Binnie’s narrative style is as close to that as I’ve found, except it’s not in first person. It’s like Binnie read Maria’s thoughts and wrote a journal of Maria in third person, and I find it is a very fun and effective way to get to know Maria.

Here is Maria thinking about what she wishes people knew about trans women

(and please note all quotes are from the ARC and could be changed when the final copy comes out NEXT WEEK woot!):

“It’s worth pointing out that trans women in real life are different from trans women on television. For one thing, when you take away the mystification, misconceptions and mystery, they’re at least as boring as everybody else. Oh, neurosis! Oh, trauma! Oh, look at me, my past messed me up and I’m still working through it! Despite the impression you might get from daytime talk shows and dumb movies, there isn’t anything particularly interesting there—although, of course, Maria may be biased.

She wishes other people could understand that without her having to tell them. It’s always impossible to know what anyone’s assumptions are. People tend to assume that trans women are either drag queens and loads of trashy fun, or else sad, pathetic and deluded pervy straight men- at least, until they save up they money and get their Sex Change Operations, at which point we become just like every other woman? Or something. But Maria is like, Dude, hi. Nobody ever reads me as trans any more. Old straight men hit on me when I’m at work and in all these years of transitioning I haven’t even been able to save up for a decent pair of boots.

This is what it’s like to be a trans woman: Maria works in an enormous used bookstore in Manhattan.” (10-11.)

This quote showcases Binnie’s lovely (not kidding) use of colloquialisms like “Dude” and her slipping in and out of “I” to “she”, and it showcases the way that being trans isn’t what the book is about. To me, that’s the hallmark of a good read – Nevada is a portrait of Maria at a crux in her life. Maria is trans and it informs the past and current course of her life, and she thinks about it a lot, so it’s not like it’s not in there. It’s just that the “issue” is in service of the character and not the other way around. So it’s not an “issue”, it’s a part of a person, just as cancer functioned in The Fault in Our Stars and class functioned in Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and being a lesbian was part of Starting From Here, and how the encroachment of meth failed to function in A Plague Year.

Imogen Binnie

Imogen Binnie, photographed by Julie Blair/Topside Press

One of Rebecca’s favorite things about Nevada, and I’m inclined to agree, is how Binnie “evokes a really particular (and very self-conscious) demographic (microdemographic?). these are characters who are really familiar to me but I’ve really never read about them in another book. And I’m so glad there is now a book about them.”

One of the ways that I see this happening is how engaged Maria and the other characters are in literature, theory, and philosophy. They think about it so much it becomes part of their in jokes, as in this part of Kieran and Maria’s friendship:

“Kieran heard that Maria liked Kathy Acker so he started doing shitty Kathy Acker impressions at her and normally she responds with shitty impressions of James Joyce, who Kieran is really into. She’s supposed to say, Yes I say Maybe Whatever Yes Sure Fine Yes Whatever Sure, but right now it’s not like she even wants to talk to him. It’s stupid, anyway-he is supposed to be this End of Gender gender tough genderqueer radical, but was James Joyce working to undermine patriarchy. Kieran will talk about all the reasons that yes, Joyce was working to undermine patriarchy, but the actual answer was no, James Joyce was a patriarchal fuck and dead white man worship is a function of patriarchy. But fuck that conversation right now.” (31).

Much of Nevada is in Maria’s head. There are glimpses of other narrative voices, but hers is the main one.  (Binnie’s style also makes it a little more work than ussual to differentiate the nuance in each voice as well, which may be a drawback to some, but I enjoyed it so much I noted it and moved on). Reading Maria’s paragraph-long musings is bracing, funny, and hypnotic. At times in the book it’s like she and I were simultaneously looking up from her thoughts to realize that there was an entire world out there, with fresh air and ways to forget her obsessions, even though her obsessions are an interesting space in which to spend time.

nyc bookstore cart - by flickr user markhurst

nyc bookstore cart – by flickr user markhurst

Rebecca notes, sagely, regarding characterization, that “Binnie is ruthless in regard to her characters, which I love. We’ll read about maria’s thoughts about how she thinks Steph is oblivious of something and then twenty pages later, Binnie will show us a glimpse of Steph and it’s clear that Steph is actually totally aware. No character is safe from Binnie’s narrative’s edge and it’s a joy to see how incisively she understands her characters’ perspectives, and also how totally capable she is of seeing their weaknesses.”

Although Nevada is a novel about adults worrying about adult things, like possibly being fired and how they’re going to pay rent if they break up with someone they’ve been in a relationship for four years with, and how that also will affect their personality, it also contains themes that run through many YA novels. In some ways, Maria feels like she never had her adolescence because she was trying so hard to protect herself by suppressing herself, so her journey in Nevada is the journey of trying to make herself open up to adolescent experiences.

The plot is divided up into two parts—her crumbling but triumphant escape from New York City and a snapshot of her travels, presumably cross country travels.  It’s in this second part that Binnie shows Maria as she’s seen by another person—a probably transgender Wal-Mart clerk named James.

Through her interactions with James, Maria tries out the guise of mentor and the task of audibly explaining her experiences to an outsider to her world. And while the ending thankfully shies away from identity-road-trip conventions, it doesn’t eschew the connection that both Maria and James are looking for. I was left with the feeling that both of their lives were opening up a little more, that they were accepting other potentialities for their life, even if getting there would be uncomfortable or painful. I’d be happy to go along with them and find out what happens, but unfortunately, the book ends.

readalikes

I’m pulling these from books I’ve read, but please check out the great lists that are available on Goodreads on the subject of trans memoirs and fiction!

girl_original

Girl by Blake Nelson – for the evocation of a strong character through voice (and: girl in a state of life transition).

hard-love1

Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger – While Wittlinger has other books specifically with trans characters, Hard Love’s theme of figuring out how to separate linked feelings is apropos for many of the relationships in Nevada.

a-e-4ever-Ilike-Merey

a + e 4ever by ilike merey – intimacy issues + exploring sexuality and gender performance + close friendship + the intensity of being a teenager = a messy, real graphic novel

Girls-Visions-and-Everything

Girls, Visions, and Everything by Sarah Schulman – Lila spends a summer purposefully wandering without purpose around New York, bearing witness to the way she and her friends live before it becomes unaffordable, getting into adventures and finding ways of loving people.

And Imogen Binnie has a blog, which can also be read.

I received this book from Topside Press with no expectations or remuneration on either side

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.

A Summer of Art: Same Difference

A Review of Same Difference by Siobhan Vivian

PUSH (Scholastic), 2009

By REBECCA, April 4, 2012

Same Difference Siobhan Vivian

The List Siobhan VivianI’m reviewing Same Difference in celebration of Siobhan Vivian’s The List, which came out on April 1st. Make sure to check back on Friday when we will be interviewing Siobhan! Note: We have two copies of The List to give away on Friday, so start thinking about your best high school stories to leave in the comments. Two lucky winners will win The List!

characters

Emily: Sheltered suburbanite torn between her newfound love of art and what people expect of her

Meg: Emily’s best friend who loves their New Jersey town, Emily, and her boyfriend, Rick

Fiona: Overly confident art student with control issues whom Emily worships

Robyn: Fiona’s sidekick, an art gallery-orphan with a snarky streak

Adrian: Awestruck art boy with a major crush on Fiona and a talent for comics

Yates: Emily’s TA/crush who gives her confidence in her art . . . and turns her into some

Claire: Emily’s sporty little sis who supports her summer transformation

Love Park, Philadelphia Robert Indianahook

It may only be a quick train ride from Emily’s home in suburban NJ to her summer art program in Philadelphia, but a lot can change in one summer. Especially with a new friend like Fiona . . .

worldview

Starbucks Siobhan Vivian Same DifferenceEmily is an observant and talented girl who has always been happy with her life, hanging out with her best friend, Meg, at the pool and the local Starbucks and buying the same tank top in different colors. When Emily begins to explore her artistic talents in Philadelphia, all the things that once felt personal to her and Meg begin to feel generic, boring, and chosen for her, like her rosebud wallpaper and bedroom set. When Emily turn her powers of observation on her own life and habits—to say nothing of her tank tops—she finds them wanting. The trouble is that for every thing she learns about herself she grows more apart from Meg and her old life.

Siobhan Vivian Same DifferenceSame Difference is the story of a growth spurt. It’s unavoidable and uncomfortable, but once the immediate pain is over you wonder how you were ever anything else. Siobhan Vivian’s world building is wonderful, particularly her ability to render the same places different as Emily grows. On her first day in the city, Philadelphia seems scary and foreign to Emily and so does her art class:

“I unload a few supplies, like a big drawing pad and the red plastic art box that holds my pencils and brushes. Glancing around the room, I notice I’m the only one with brand-new, untouched materials—paintbrushes wrapped in plastic, tubes of paint that need to be peeled open, unsharpened pencils. I’m a screaming newbie. I decide not to put on my smock, since no one else is wearing one.

Five more minutes and the classroom is practically full. Pixie Girl with the red scarf enters the room huffing and puffing, I guess because she had to take the stairs. She climbs onto a stool right next to Shadow Girl. Their eyes scan each other briefly before they nod and roll their eyes, as if they’ve just shared a silent joke . . . They seem like they should be friends” (39).

But then, when she gets home to New Jersey, instead of feeling like her old self, her friends seem just as alien to her.

I think Emily’s a brave character for Vivian to write. She’s so malleable and eager to be . . . cooler, for lack of a better word, that it would be easy for her to be a total dishrag, or to be unsympathetic. Instead, Vivian manages to tap into that exquisite humiliation that I’m sure we all remember from high school: of wanting to seem like a new mode of self-expression is a totally natural extension of our selves. Same Difference is a great entry into the wonderful category of books that map super-intense, almost romantic female friendships that involve the characters expressing their identities in their developing tastes (in music, books, fashion, etc.). I’m totally a fan of these books because they manage to capture that elusive time when a new friend could totally revolutionize the way you saw the world.

what was this book’s intention? did it live up to that intention?

Siobhan Vivian Same DifferenceSame Difference reminds us of how contingent everything is. If Emily hadn’t gone to this summer art program, would she have ended up a totally different person with a totally different life? If she’d become best friends with Adrian instead of Fiona, how would that have changed things? I really love the arc of this novel—it’s divided up by month, from June to September, and the short time period paired with Emily’s extreme growth make for really dynamic story-telling and character-building.

The characters are really strong. Emily’s transformation is not only believable, but feels almost inevitable. Fiona is an amazing vivisection of the line between identity and the cultivation of taste because of how it reflects on her. The biggest treat for me, though, were the descriptions of clothes, hair, and art of which Same Difference is chock-full.

“Robyn has on gray leggings, a blousy yellow tank top that could almost be a dress, and a pair of saddle shoes. Fiona wears a pair of skinny frayed jean shorts cut at the knees, a cropped navy vest buttoned tight around her chest, and these vampy open-toe red heels. I think the vest might have come from a little boy’s Catholic school uniform or something—it fits her like a corset. A tangle of long, thin gold chains hangs from her neck. It’s the kind of outfit that belongs in a magazine, the sort of thing that you can’t imagine anyone would wear in real life. But there she is, in real life, wearing it” (58-9).

My So-Called LifeThere is a class trip to a museum, and I simply cannot read or watch anything involving a class trip to a museum without invoking the episode of My So-Called Life (“Why Jordan Can’t Read”) when Angela’s class goes to the museum and Angela loses the note she’s written describing the pathos of her love for Jordan and he finds it . . . In fact, I feel like a lot of the things that I enjoy about Same Difference Tessa discussed in her review of Blake Nelson’s Girl on Monday, including it’s association with My So-Called Life. (Who am I kidding? I could find some connection between every book I read and My So-Called Life.)

personal disclosure

I moved to Philadelphia in September and began teaching at an art college very like the one where Emily attends her summer program, so I’ve been thinking about this book a lot recently, and about reinventing yourself, so it was a particular delight to re-read Same Difference.

readalikes

Hey, Dollface Deborah Hautzing

Hey, Dollface by Deborah Hautzig (1978). Val and Chloe are the odd ones out at their Manhattan prep school. Together they pick through thrift stores, hang out in cemeteries, and generally have better taste than everyone. As Val’s feelings for Chloe deepen into romance, she realizes that adults don’t always have all the answers.

The Truth About Forever Sarah Dessen

The Truth About Forever by Sarah Dessen (2004). Over the course of the summer, Macy, who is doing everything she can to impress her studious and controlled boyfriend, falls in with a ragged band of caterers and finds herself taking risks to be with Wes, an artist who believes in telling the truth, especially when it’s unpleasant.

procured from: bought, on Tessa’s recommendation when I was off to a summer program of my own.

So, come back on Friday for our interview with the wonderful Siobhan Vivian—and bring your best high school stories, be they wonderful or humiliating. I’m sure for some of you these triumphs and tribulations are still fresh; the rest of you can take the time between now and Friday to clear away the cobwebs, have a drink, and dredge up the dirt necessary to win a copy of Siobhan’s The List.

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