Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: New Superheroes, new series

by Tessa

Read about the reasons for this reading series here.

Every year brave teams of writers, artists, inkers, publishers etc. launch or re-launch a superhero series, going up against the big names of the pantheon. Last year one of the standouts was The Hypernaturals, from BOOM! Studios, which looks like it only existed for two collected editions. But every time I feel a little spark of hope that one of them will gain some readership momentum and last for a little while.

Or just get read and appreciated.

Last week I reorganized my list of what comics I have left to review, to put them into genre and format categories. And it turns out there are only 2 entirely new superhero comics left on my list. I really liked one and really didn’t like the other.

Let’s start with the good news.

mara01_COVER

Mara

Brian Wood, writer

Ming Doyle and Jordie Bellaire, illustrators

Image Comics

Anticipation/Expectation level: I liked the cover and I like Brian Wood’s writing. I liked Ming Doyle’s art in the Tantalize adaptation even though the story was …eh.

My Reality: When I read this in March I wrote this on Goodreads: “I love the character designs, color palette, even the font choices. I was into the whole global volleyball phenomenon, so I wanted to read more about that and get to know Mara and Ingrid and everyone more through their interactions on the job. Mara’s transformation [into a superhuman] was so quick that there wasn’t much change from when we first meet her to when she feels inhuman – I think slowing down the action could have made it easier to understand her feelings–not make her more likeable or unlikeable, I don’t care if she’s likeable or not, but I wanted to get in her head more. And it was great that although everyone was generally beautiful they all looked like they had real faces, not ideas of faces.”

When I re-read it last week, I agreed with myself, but I liked it even more. It’s too bad that this only lasted six issues. I’m not even sure it was supposed to last longer, but Wood has created an interesting world that definitely could have been slowed down and expanded on without feeling like a rehash of other worlds and similar themes. Mara lives in a world where sports and the military are the ways out of poverty. Children are sent on those paths from a very young age. No one ever seems to achieve real independence, but it’s the best option in a broken global system. In that way, Mara, who is a top volleyball star from what might be a future US/North American empire, has a sort of Katniss-y feel to her – you wonder what her personality would be like if it had been allowed to develop normally, but she still has a strong presence as a character and makes a fascinating protagonist.

Will teens like it?: Yes. I don’t see any major impediments to teen liking.

Is it “great”for teens?: Definitely. It would even make a fun discussion book because it does end and isn’t just a jumping off point for a series.

Art taste:

Mara3

 

And then there’s

 

BRILLIANT_01_CVR

Brilliant

Brian Michael Bendis, writer

Mark Bagley, artist

Icon / 2012, Marvel, 2014

 Note: I’m not even sure this is eligible for the list because it looks like it was first published in 2012. But I’m going to review it anyway because I read it and took all these pictures of the ways it irritated me and I need to feel like I went through all that for a reason.

Anticipation/expectation level: Neutral. The cover did not look promising and I didn’t like Bendis’ latest All New X-Men that much, though.

My reality: What I think Bendis was going for here was “super-smart teen patter mixed with mumblecore sensibilities”. It read as self-satisfied smart teens not saying much at all. So many exchanges like this one:

patter

Um, well, yeah.

Or this:

I don't know what is happening either

I don’t know what is happening either

The basic premise is that hot-shot MIT type new adults figure out a way to develop superpowers. At least one of them starts using this power to rob banks and get money for more experiments, because the powers are taking over. This causes problems. They expect their friend who just returned from studying abroad or something to figure it out for them but he’s conflicted. If you want to see an inventive treatment of this plot, please watch Chronicle.

I was more interested in witnessing the alternate universe that these people live in.

A universe where a nice normal red haired girl with flipper hands, a nice girl whose choice of party outfit is a baggy hawaiian shirt, suddenly starts dressing in spandex capri pants to chill out in her dorm room once she becomes a real crush of the protagonist:

Untitled drawing

A world where stockings with seams are worn with the seams on the front. A world where a college professor also loves crop tops and capris, and chases down the stoner she slept with to destroy his cell phone. A world where house loungewear is hacked up bits of athleticwear.

totallynormal1

A world where having an argument with friends, jogging, and asking your hallmates for pot are EXTRA DRAMATIC activities with all the attendant eye-widening and posing involved.

normalstandingaround normaljog wtfpotsmokers

So, I was a little distracted from the story.

Will teens like it?: Yes, teens who are looking for a quick superhero read and have a thing for crop tops.

Is it “great” for teens?: It doesn’t feel like anyone was trying on this title. I’m sure that’s not true, but that’s how it feels.

Art Taste: see above.

 

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A YA Celebration of the Winter Olympics

A List of Books Featuring Winter Olympic Sports!

Winter Olympics Figure Skating Winter Olympics Women's Ski Jump

by REBECCA, February 17, 2014

The Cutting EdgeThe Winter Olympics have been rife with scandal, from virulent homophobia to athlete-eating bathrooms. But they’ve also been a snowy, icy, delight to watch. I was visiting friends in Arizona last week, and we were transported from the sunny desert to a veritable ice cave of triple Lutzes, Mctwists, hat tricks, and twizzles. Of course, anyone in their right mind who watches the Winter Olympics immediately watches the 1992 classic, The Cutting Edge. But, once you’ve done that, what should you read? Well, in celebration of the good parts of the Olympics (read: snow, ice, women finally being able to compete in the ski jump and being way better at it, and figure skating), here are some YA books about winter sports! All blurbs from Goodreads. Toooooooeeee Piiiiiiiiiiick:

Girl Overboard Justina Chen

Girl Overboard, Justina Chen Headley

Everybody thinks Syrah is the golden girl. After all, her father is Ethan Cheng, billionaire, and she has everything any kid could possibly desire: a waterfront mansion, jet plane, and custom-designed snowboards. But most of what glitters in her life is fool’s gold. Her half-siblings hate her, her best friend’s girlfriend is ruining their friendship, and her own so-called boyfriend is only after her for her father’s name. When her broken heart results in a snowboarding accident that exiles her from the mountains—the one place where she feels free and accepted for who she is, not what she has—can Syrah rehab both her busted-up knee and her broken heart?

Life on the Edge Jennifer ComeauxEdge of the Past Jennifer ComeauxFighting for the Edge Jennifer Comeaux

Life on the Edge (The Edge #1), Jennifer Comeaux

Nineteen-year-old Emily is new to pairs skating, but she and her partner Chris have a big dream—to be the first American team to win Olympic gold. Their young coach Sergei, who left Russia after a mysterious end to his skating career, believes they can break through and make history. Emily and Chris are on track to be top contenders at the 2002 Winter Games. But when forbidden feelings spark between Emily and Sergei, broken trust and an unexpected enemy threaten to derail Emily’s dreams of gold.

The Ex Games Jennifer Echols

The Ex Games, Jennifer Echols

Hayden and Nick used to be a hot item, but their brief affair ended with a highly publicized breakup. Now the two are “just friends,” excluding the occasional flirtation. When Hayden wins the girls’ division of a local snowboarding competition, Nick is unimpressed, claiming that Hayden wouldn’t have a chance against a guy. Hayden calls Nick’s bluff and challenges him to a head-to-head boarding contest. Their mutual friends quickly take sides, the girls on Hayden’s and the boys on Nick’s, making for an all-out battle of the sexes. This friendly competition is bound to get heated—and they might end up igniting some old flames.

The Hockey Mystery Boxcar Children Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Hockey Mystery (The Boxcar Children #80), Gertrude Chandler Warner

Henry, Jessie, Violet, and Benny used to live alone in a boxcar. Now they have a home with their grandfather and they have become friends with a real pro-hockey player. The Boxcar Children cannot believe it when they meet their favorite hockey star, Kevin Reynolds, while out skating one day. Kevin is coaching a girls’ hockey team and planning to build a huge new skating rink right in Greenfield. Kevin offers Jessie a place on the team and Henry is going to be assistant coach! As soon as practices begin, however, strange things start to happen. Suddenly, equipment is missing and Kevin’s plans for the new rink are almost ruined. Is someone trying to prevent Kevin’s new rink from being finished? The Boxcar Children want to help their new friend and solve this mystery!

Being Sloane Jacobs Lauren Morrill

Being Sloane Jacobs, Lauren Morrill

Meet Sloane Emily Jacobs: a seriously stressed-out figure-skater from Washington, D.C., who choked during junior nationals and isn’t sure she’s ready for a comeback. What she does know is that she’d give anything to escape the mass of misery that is her life.

Now meet Sloane Devon Jacobs, a spunky ice hockey player from Philly who’s been suspended from her team for too many aggressive hip checks. Her punishment? Hockey camp, now, when she’s playing the worst she’s ever played. If she messes up? Her life will be over.

When the two Sloanes meet by chance in Montreal and decide to trade places for the summer, each girl thinks she’s the lucky one: no strangers to judge or laugh at Sloane Emily, no scouts expecting Sloane Devon to be a hero. But it didn’t occur to Sloane E. that while avoiding sequins and axels she might meet a hockey hottie—and Sloane D. never expected to run into a familiar (and very good-looking) face from home. It’s not long before the Sloanes discover that convincing people you’re someone else might be more difficult than being yourself.

The White Gates Bonnie Ramthun

The White Gates, Bonnie Ramthun

When Torin Sinclair’s mom gets a job as the town doctor in Snow Park, Colorado, Tor can’t wait to learn to snowboard. But on Tor’s first night there, a member of the high school snowboarding team dies. “It’s the curse,” everyone whispers. Tor’s new friends Drake and Raine explain that there’s an old Native American curse on the doctors of the town. Snow Park can never get a doctor to stay. Tor and his friends must piece together a mystery involving an old mine, a Ute curse, the entire snowboarding team—who just might be blood doping in order to win competitions—and an attempt to save the wild river otters of Colorado. But to complete the puzzle, will Tor have to ride the deadly White Gates? And how will he survive the avalanche that follows?

Podium Finish Beth Pond

Podium Finish, Beth Pond

With six months until the Olympic Games, seventeen-year-old Harper’s life is pretty much perfect. She’s fighting for the starting spot on Team USA Women’s Hockey, and for the first time ever, she has a crush on a guy who likes her back. She feels like the luckiest girl in the world, until she runs a risky play at practice and breaks her knee, thereby sentencing herself to six weeks in a cast and possibly ending her Olympic dream before it even starts.

For seventeen-year-old Alex, being anything less than the best is unacceptable. That’s why, after a miserable debut season at the senior level, the former junior national singles champion switches to ice dance. Her skating partner, Ace, is an “all skating all the time” type of guy, which would be fine, if he’d stop keeping secrets about the real reason he and his former partner broke up. Now is not the time for second thoughts, but how can Alex skate her best if she can’t trust her partner . . . or herself?

As the pressure to make the Olympic team builds, the girls must rely on each other, because if there’s one thing they both know, it’s that the only thing harder than skating to the top is staying there.

The Next Competitor K.P. Kincaid

The Next Competitor, K.P. Kincaid

It’s the all-important Olympic season and eighteen-year-old American figure skater Alex Grady is discovering that there are many obstacles along the way on his quest to win a gold medal. For starters, he has to get through endless hours of practice under the watchful eye of his stern and slightly terrifying Russian coach. Then he has to contend with his all-American rival, Tanner Nielsen. Tanner has the talent, looks, poise and picture-perfect girlfriend that make him the ideal poster boy for United States figure skating.

Alex has the talent and his looks aren’t bad, but the filter between his brain and his mouth is missing, and he definitely doesn’t have a girlfriend. He doesn’t have a boyfriend either, although he finds himself thinking far too much about pairs skater Matt Savelli, which is ridiculous, since goody two-shoes Matt is totally not his type. Besides, Alex doesn’t have time to worry about dating, not with the Olympics looming, right? Can he find a way to go for the gold and still remain true to himself?

Flying Camels and Tiger Mothers Andy Schell

Flying Camels and Tiger Mothers, Andy Schell

The only thing sharper than a skater’s blade is her mother. Mei Chen, an elite-level figure skater trying to qualify for the Olympics, is the daughter of an intensely focused Chinese immigrant mother, Ming. Raised in a hot-house environment, Mei’s life is a torturous combination of practice on the ice and the piano bench, as she is required by her mother to not only skate to Rachmaninoff’s Concerto #2 in C Minor, but to play it on the piano as well. When her mother’s zeal causes her to cross the San Francisco Bay and practice at a different ice rink, in the town of Berkeley, a skating rivalry begins.

Norma Gardner is a struggling single mother whose daughter, Tonya, is named after Tonya Harding. Cleaning houses in Berkeley and selling home-baked cookies on the side, Norma is determined to provide her daughter with all she needs to win the national title and fulfill her destiny at the Olympics. But when Norma sees a new skater on the ice at her daughter’s rink, she’s prepared to do anything to protect her daughter’s interests. Told through the eyes of one teenager and one adult, the drama of the white ice and its sparkling sequins is contrasted with its darkly comedic shadows.

Breaking the Ice Melissa LowellThe Ice Princess Melissa LowellSIlver Blades Going for the Gold Melissa Lowell

Breaking the Ice (Silver Blades #1), Melissa Lowell

Nikki, Danielle, Tori, and Jill are four talented skaters who share one special dream: competing in the Olympics someday. And they’re going to try to make it all happen in Silver Blades, the best skating club around!

Ice In My Veins K.M. Sullivan

Ice In My Veins, K.M. Sullivan

When a 16 year old, small town girl, Christine Matthews, from Dryden, Michigan gets a shot at playing semi- professional hockey on a boys hockey team she jumps at the opportunity. Christine wants one thing in her life, hockey. Nothing would ever mean more to her than that. She had worked so hard for it without the support of her friends and family. When she meets Alex her world starts to change.

Face-Off Stacy Juba

Face-Off, Stacy Drumtra-Juba

Brad’s twin brother T.J. has gotten himself out of the fancy prep school his father picked for him and into the public high school Brad attends. Now T.J., the bright light in his father’s eyes, is a shining new star on the hockey team where Brad once held the spotlight. And he’s testing his popularity with Brad’s friends, eyeing Brad’s girl and competing to be captain of the team. The whole school is rooting for a big double-strength win . . . not knowing that their twin hockey stars are heating up the ice for a winner takes all face-off.

Snowboard Twist Jean Craighead George

Snowboard Twist, Jean Craighead George, with illustrations by Wendell Minor

It’s snowboarding season in the Teton Mountains, and the snow at Glory Bowl is fresh. But as Axel and his father, Dag, well know, new snow settling on top of old snow can also mean the risk of an avalanche. While Dag surveys the landscape for signs of danger, Axel and his snowboarding rival, Kelly, rashly begin showing off their moves, until . . . Whoomph! Crack! Bang! A fast-moving snowslide suddenly takes shape. Axel, his dog, Grits, and Kelly must all act very quickly to avoid disaster.

Did I miss your favorite Winter Olympic sports YA read? Tell me about it in the comments!

A Little Healthy Competition! A List of Ass-Kicking, Sporty, and Competitive YA Protagonists

A List of YA Reads Featuring Ass-Kicking, Sporty, and Competitive Protagonists

Winger by Andrew Smith The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater Leverage by Joshua Cohen

by REBECCA, August 19, 2013

Now, I know this may shock a number of you, but I am neither sporty nor am I an ass-kicker. No, I’m far more comfortable running up a coffee shop tab than running a mile. I am, however, extremely competitive; I love, love, love being good at things; and I am easily manipulated into trying things when told I will fail at them. Thus, it will be no surprise to learn that I am a big fan of books and movies where people push themselves to be great and triumph over challenges, whether personal or worldly.

The Little Gymnast by Sheila HaighSome recent rad sporty or competitive reads include Andrew Smith’s spectacular Winger, Joshua C. Cohen’s Leverage, and Maggie Stiefvater’s beautiful Scorpio Races. Then, of course, there are classics from my youth, like Chris Crutcher’s Stotan!, and Sheila Haigh’s The Little Gymnast. There’s been a recent spate of sporty YA tv, too: the reality show Breaking Pointe on the CW, awesome Aussie import, Dance Academyand my personal favorite, gymnastics drama Make It Or Break It.

Lucky me, then, because my list of to-read books about such ass-kickers, sportsters, and competitors has recently swollen with the following exciting-looking reads! All blurbs from Goodreads.

Falling Hard by Megan Sparks

Falling Hard (Roller Girls #1) by Megan Sparks (2013). Why is roller derby so freaking badass?!

When Annie moves from London to a small town in the midwest, she struggles to fit in. She gets off to a bad start when she makes an enemy of her school’s queen bee, Kelsey. But she discovers a new passion, the exciting sport of roller derby, and makes friends with the cool and quirky girls on her team, the Liberty Belles. She also meets Jesse, the friendly boy who works at the roller rink, and Tyler, a cute, all-American sports star.

Boy21 by Matthew Quick

Boy21 by Matthew Quick (2012). 

Basketball has always been an escape for Finley. He lives in gray, broken Bellmont, a town ruled by the Irish Mob, drugs, violence, and racially charged rivalries. At home, he takes care of his disabled grandfather, and at school he’s called “White Rabbit,” the only white kid on the varsity basketball team. He’s always dreamed of getting out somehow with his girlfriend, Erin. But until then, when he puts on his number 21, everything seems to make sense.

Russ has just moved to the neighborhood. A former teen basketball phenom from a privileged home, his life has been turned upside down by tragedy. Cut off from everyone he knows, he now answers only to the name Boy21—his former jersey number—and has an unusual obsession with outer space. As their final year of high school brings these two boys together, “Boy21” may turn out to be the answer they both need.

Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe

Riptide by Lindsey Scheibe (2013). Basically, this sounds like one of my all-time favorite sporty movies, Blue Crush (2002), featuring a pre-waif Kate Bosworth and a pre-straightened-teeth Michelle Rodriguez.

Blue CrushFor Grace Parker, surfing is all about the ride and the moment. Everything else disappears. She can forget that her best friend, Ford Watson, has a crush on her that she can’t reciprocate. She can forget how badly she wants to get a surf scholarship to UC San Diego. She can forget the pressure of her parents’ impossibly high expectations. When Ford enters Grace into a surf competition—the only way she can impress the UCSD surfing scouts—she has one summer to train and prepare. Will she gain everything she’s ever wanted or lose the only things that ever mattered?

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach

 

Stupid Fast (Stupid Fast #1) by Geoff Herbach (2011). This one’s been on my to-read list for a while.

I, Felton Reinstein, am Stupid Fast. Seriously. The upper classmen used to call me Squirrel Nut, because I was little and jumpy. Then, during sophomore year, I got tall and huge and so fast the gym teachers in their tight shorts fell all over themselves. During summer, three things happened all at once. First, the pee-smelling jocks in my grade got me to work out for football, even though I had no intention of playing. Second, on my paper route the most beautiful girl I have ever seen moved in and played piano at 6 a.m. Third, my mom, who never drinks, had some wine, slept in her car, stopped weeding the garden, then took my TV and put it in her room and decided she wouldn’t get out of bed.

Listen, I have not had much success in my life. But suddenly I’m riding around in a jock’s pick-up truck? Suddenly I’m invited to go on walks with beautiful girls? So, it’s understandable that when my little brother stopped playing piano and began to dress like a pirate I didn’t pay much attention. That I didn’t want to deal with my mom coming apart.

http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/11787733-bruised

 

Bruised by Sarah Skilton (2013). 

Imogen has always believed that her black belt in Tae Kwon Do made her stronger than everyone else—more responsible, more capable. But when she witnesses a holdup in a diner, she freezes. The gunman is shot and killed by the police. And it’s all her fault. Now she’s got to rebuild her life without the talent that made her special and the beliefs that made her strong. If only she could prove herself in a fight—a real fight—she might be able to let go of the guilt and shock. She’s drawn to Ricky, another witness to the holdup, both romantically and because she believes he might be able to give her the fight she’s been waiting for.

But when it comes down to it, a fight won’t answer Imogen’s big questions: What does it really mean to be stronger than other people? Is there such a thing as a fair fight? And can someone who’s beaten and bruised fall in love?

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

 

Pointe by Brandy Colbert (forthcoming, 2014). I’ve been burned by feh ballet books in the past, but this one looks particularly interesting because ballet is only half the story.

Theo is better now. She’s eating again, dating guys who are almost appropriate, and well on her way to becoming an elite ballet dancer. But when her oldest friend, Donovan, returns home after spending four long years with his kidnapper, Theo starts reliving memories about his abduction—and his abductor. Donovan isn’t talking about what happened, and even though Theo knows she didn’t do anything wrong, telling the truth would put everything she’s been living for at risk. But keeping quiet might be worse.

So, how about you—what are your favorite ass-kicking, sporty, or competitive books?

And My New Favorite Book Is: Winger!

A Review of Winger by Andrew Smith

Simon & Schuster, 2013

Winger by Andrew Smitha

by REBECCA, May 8, 2013

characters

Ryan Dean (yes, that’s his first name): 14-year-old junior at a posh boarding school and winger on the rugby team, he’s in love with his best friend Annie and not sure he’ll live through the year rooming with Chas, the biggest bully on the team

Annie: thinks Ryan Dean is aces, but often calls him a “little boy,” activating his desire to kill everything

Joey: rugby captain and all around delightful human being, Joey dispenses sage advice and tries to discourage Ryan Dean from fucking up his life, all while dealing with the fact that being a gay rugby player makes some people pretty dang uncomfortable

worldview

As anyone who reads the blog knows, I am a huge Andrew Smith fan. I think he is one of the most consistently amazing authors working today, young-adultish or otherwise. (I review Stick HERE and The Marbury Lens HERE.) Thus, I’ve been looking forward to Winger since Smith first announced it on his blog because a.) it’s an Andrew Smith book, duh, and b.) it’s a boarding school book, a setting that lives at the heart of some of my all-time favorite books.

Well, Winger scores a solid five out of five snort-laughs on Rebecca’s goddammit-I-can’t-read-this-in-public-because-I-will-humiliate-myself-and-scare-the-parents-of-small-children index of reading reactions! (you’ll get it once you read the book). Note: “Catastrophic Fucking Penis Injury”—yes, that is a quote from the book—will be my new band name. We will be a death metal klezmer band and we will serve pastrami finger sandwiches at our concerts. Come early and come often.

Winger by Andrew Smith illustrated by Sam BosmaWinger manages to be both hysterically funny and gut-wrenchingly sad, and it has illustrations to boot (done by Sam Bosma, who also did the gorgeous back cover).

Ryan Dean’s humor is always paired with desperate humiliation or neurotic dread, making every paragraph a complicated portrait of a fascinating character. I loved getting to know him and I even (embarrassingly) found myself thinking, at one point, “hot damn, I can’t wait to see what an amazing grown up Ryan Dean is going to be.” For me, the true triumph of the character is in Smith’s willingness to risk his likability by doing things like exposing his feelings about how he thinks about Joey:

“I suddenly felt really awkward being here, in my bed, alone in my room, with a gay guy. And then I immediately got pissed off at myself for even thinking shit like that, for doing the same kind of crap to Joey that everyone else did, ’cause I knew what it felt like too, being so not-like-all-the-other-guys-here. And I don’t mean I know what it felt like to be gay, because I don’t, but I do know what it felt like to be the “only” one of something. Heck, as far as I know, there’s just got to be more gay eleventh graders than fourteen-year-old eleventh graders, anyway.

I wondered if it bothered Kevin Cantrell, though. Joey and Kevin had been roommates for two years, and no one ever talked shit about Kevin or wondered if he was gay, because everyone knew he just wasn’t.

I am such a loser.”

This kind of character detail is so difficult to pull off, even though Smith always makes it seem effortless. These are the details that make his characters—even the minor ones—so vivid. “Seanie slipped me a folded square of paper with flowers and hearts drawn on it, and said, ‘Here. Read this. I wrote you a haiku about how gay you are for sitting next to Joey for two classes in a row.’ . . . ‘Nice,’ I said. ‘In Lit class I’m going write you a sonnet about how nothing could possibly be gayer than writing your friend a haiku.'” Sean, incidentally, is one of my favorite characters, with his creepy sense of humor and the immense number of hours he pours into hacking other students’ facebook pages even when no one notices.

Annie shares Ryan Dean’s best friend card with Joey, and Ryan Dean is totally in love with her. The growth of their relationship wasn’t the most interesting element of the story for me, but Ryan Dean’s perspective on the feelings of first love (and his hilariously out-of-control hormones) make it more than appealing to read.

Winger by Andrew Smith, illustrated by Sam BosmaNo, for me the thing that Andrew Smith does best—and Winger is certainly representative of this—is think through the knotty cluster of questions about masculinity, sexuality, bravery, vulnerability, trauma, and hope. The questions about masculinity that Winger thinks through are particularly nuanced and interesting because of the friendship between Joey and Ryan Dean, the former the strong, handsome, respected captain of the rugby team who is also gay, and the latter a boy who is much younger and smaller than the other boys he goes to school with. It’s masterfully done.

The boarding school setting really lets all these issues marinate, and gives it a kind of un-modern feel (cell phones, facebook, et cetera, are not allowed on campus). Ryan Dean has been moved to a dorm for troublemakers this year because he stole a teacher’s cell phone to call Annie one weekend, so he’s rooming with Chas Becker, who he fears might kill him, and is separated from the friends he roomed with the year before, Sean and JP. This shift in Ryan Dean’s social circle encourages some changes for him and necessitates others, so the book finds him at a really dynamic moment.

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

Winger by Andrew SmithTo be totally honest, I feel like now I’m just kind of talking out of my ass, looking for something to say that will make you read Winger, but the truth is that I don’t have anything else to say that isn’t just gushy chatter or would spoil something, so I’m going to stop, and just quote you some more amazingness. The fact is: Winger lives up to and surpasses every expectation. Winger is fucking stellar; Andrew Smith has once again created something that has moved me immensely; reading Andrew Smith makes me embarrassed for every single one of us out there who isn’t as honest as his characters are, me included; I look forward to having a conversation about the ending after everyone’s read it; godspeed ye to the bookstore.

Here, Chas makes Ryan Dean play poker with him, Joey, and Kevin, and Ryan Dean has never had beer before:

“As Chas began dealing the cards out, all these things kind of occurred to me at once:

1. The taste. Who ever drinks this piss when they’re thirsty? Are you kidding me? Seriously . . . you’ve got to be kidding.

2. Little bit of vomit in the back of my throat. It gets into my nasal passages. It burns like hell, and now everything also smells exactly like barf. Nice. Real nice.

3. I am really scared. I am convinced something horrible is going to happen to me now. I picture my mom and dad and Annie (she is so smoking hot in black) at my funeral.

4. Mom and Dad? I feel so terrible that I let them down and became a dead virgin alcoholic at fourteen.

5. For some reason, Chas, Joey, and Kevin are all looking at me and laughing as quietly as they can manage.

6. Woo-hoo! Chas dealt me pocket Jacks.”

and this:

“I saw [Chas] turn his face over his shoulder and look at me once, and I’ll be honest, it scared me. I considered scrawling a makeshift will on the back of a napkin, but as I took mental inventory of my life’s possessions, I realized no one would want them anyway.

I was as good as dead now.

Images of my funeral again: both Annie and Megan looking so hot in black; Joey shaking his head woefully and thinking how he told me so; JP and Chas high-fiving each other in the back pew; Seanie installing a live-feed webcam in my undersize casket; and Mom and Dad disappointed, as always, that I left this world a loser alcoholic virgin with eighteen stitches over my left eye.”

Gaaaaaawwwwd! Read this book, y’all. Don’t make me step on your testicles and then write a haiku about it.

readalikes

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth Laban

The Tragedy Paper by Elizabeth LaBan (2013). The Tragedy Paper is also a boarding school book that excavates the intricacies of friendships, growing up, and being different. My complete review is HERE.

King of the Screwups by K.L. Going

King of the Screwups by K.L. Going (2009). While the premises are totally different, Winger reminded me of K.L. Going’s tone in King of the Screwups. Ryan Dean and Liam share a kind of hilarious hopelessness when things go wrong. And, like Winger, King of the Screwups is both really funny and totally gutting. Read my full review HERE.

procured from: I received an ARC of Winger from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. Winger by Andrew Smith will be available May 14th. Which leaves you just enough time to go read ALL of Andrew Smith’s other books.

Not Your Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield: Andy Squared

A Review of Andy Squared by Jennifer Lavoie

Bold Strokes Books, 2012

Andy Squared Jennifer Lavoie

by REBECCA, April 17, 2013

characters

Andrew (A1): popular at school (and with the cheerleaders), he just wants to play soccer and hang out with his twin . . . or, at least, he used to

Andrea (A2): more ambitious than her brother, she has their college careers all planned out for them and does not take kindly to changes in plans

Ryder: recently arrived from Texas, Ryder is a laid-back and generous friend, and totally crushing on Andrew

hook

Andrew and Andrea are twins who have always done everything together. When Andrew becomes close friends with new kid Ryder, Andrea can’t understand why he seems to be changing. He hasn’t dated a cheerleader in (gasp!) a month, he’s learning to ride horses, and now he’s talking about not wanting to play college soccer. Andrew, though, feels satisfied for the first time in his life. Which path will he choose—the one his twin has laid out for him, or the one he and Ryder are building together?

worldview

With only one letter separating them, the two Andys have it made: both popular at school, both talented soccer players, and part of a close, happy family, they’ve never had to think very hard about who they are or what they’re going to do. Andrea is busy planning for their future and Andrew is absently dating his way through the cheerleading squad when Ryder, nephew of local horse farmers, moves to their small, New York town. Ryder and Andrew are immediately drawn together. Ryder is the opposite of Andrew’s other friends: he’s laid-back and thoughtful, he doesn’t expect or judge anything or anyone. When Ryder tells Andrew that he’s gay, Andrew suddenly reevaluates his own assumptions about himself, realizing that perhaps the reason he only dates each cheerleader for two weeks isn’t because, as he’d always thought, they’re too clingy. As Andrew and Ryder start exploring a romantic relationship, people begin to suspect that Ryder might be gay and make trouble for Andrew by association.

horsies!Jennifer Lavoie’s Andy Squared sounds like your typical high school coming out story, but it really isn’t. Ryder is totally comfortable with his sexuality, although it’s not the first thing he advertises about about himself, and once Andrew realizes that he might be gay—or, at least, that he is attracted to Ryder—it isn’t a particularly big deal to him either (although he knows it likely will be to his friends and family). Rather, when he’s with Ryder, he finally feels like he’s connecting with someone on an intimate level, in contrast with the way he’s been “dating” cheerleaders but avoiding spending time with them.

Mostly, Andy Squared is a pretty chill story of how someone who has always gone with the flow learns that to really find out who he is he has to stop automatically doing what is expected of him. And it’s in these expectations that the angst of the novel comes out, because Andrew has always kind of deferred to Andrea about what they’ll do, so when he actually looks at the path he’s on, he realizes that perhaps he doesn’t want to just default to Andrea’s assumptions about their lives anymore. As someone who’s really close to her sister, I really responded to Andrew feeling torn between being true to himself and disappointing his sister. Although: Andrea, girl, you’re an insensitive asshole and you are not being a good sister; stop it right now.

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

Andy Squared isn’t a flashy book; it isn’t really voice-driven or experimental. It’s just really solid storytelling that has a believable and compelling plot, two charming main characters, and a pleasantly particular setting (horsies!!!). The setting was a high point for me, too, because you really get the feeling that Andy2 are total products of their environment, which makes their disagreements about college even more understandable. I don’t mean to sound like Andy Squared was boring or unremarkable—it isn’t at all. It just knew what it was and what it wasn’t and it didn’t try to do too much. I, for one, am a fan of that kind of nice, solid, realist story; it had the charm of, like, a What’s Eating Gilbert Grape or something.

In the last five or six years there has been such a heartening increase in both the number and diversity of queer characters that we’ve seen in YA fiction. Ryder and Andrew are cool additions to this list, then, because their sexual orientations don’t really play a large part in their lives. This is something we’ve seen in other YA books, but mainly in urban areas or in opposite-day settings where queerness is majoritarian; it’s not as common in a book set in a rural town.

All in all, Andy Squared isn’t a knock-your-socks-off gay romance, if that’s what you’re looking for, but I definitely recommend it for anyone in the mood for an easy read that includes horses, snow, wholesome families, and first loves.

readalikes

Gemini Bites Patrick Ryan

Gemini Bites by Patrick Ryan (2011). Judy and Kyle are twins who are always at odds. When Garrett moves into their already crowded home, they can’t figure out anything about him: is he a vampire? is he gay? He’s certainly mysterious and, of course, Judy and Kyle fight for his attention—Kyle because he’s actually interested and Judy because she wants to win.

Ghost Medicine Andrew Smith Ghost Medicine Andrew Smith

Ghost Medicine by Andrew Smith (2008). I paired Gemini Bites and Ghost Medicine as readalikes because I found Andy Squared to be, in music-reviewspeak, a kind of Gemini Bites meets Ghost Medicine, the former for the twins, the gayness, and the punchiness, and the latter for the really slow, beautiful evocation of a rural landscape (and the horsies!—sorry, I have had, like, three conversations with people about horsegirls this week, so I’ve been thinking about HORSIES. Note, google image searching “horsegirls” does not pull up the kind of pics I was expecting, although it does pull up the kind of pics I should have been expecting). As usual, Andrew Smith’s prose is gorgeous and his characters tell a painful brand of truth.

procured from: I received an ARC from the publisher (thank you!) in exchange for an honest review. Andy Squared by Jennifer Lavoie is available now.

I’m Doing Backflips Over . . . Leverage!

A Review of Leverage by Joshua C. Cohen

Dutton Books (Penguin), 2011

Leverage Joshua C. Cohen

by REBECCA, December 24, 2012

characters

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

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

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

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

hook

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

worldview

John Orozco

gymnastics!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

personal disclosure

Leverage Joshua C. Cohen

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

readalikes

Girl in the Arena Lise Haines

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

Stick Andrew Smith

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

Stotan! Chris Crutcher

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

procured from: the library

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