Reading the Great Graphic Novels 2015 Noms: Already reviewed from Telgemeier, Tamaki(s), Pope, and Smith

by Tessa

Read about the whys of this series here.

Sometimes you eat too much pizza. Sometimes you review a book on a nominations list that you were planning to write mini reviews on. Sometimes you do both when the mini-reviews are to be written. I already did the work, so you can clicky click to the reviews!



Raina Telgemeier, writer and illustrator

Graphix (Scholastic)

I reviewed it on here!

Excerpt: “Telgemeier’s writing and drawing makes me feel comfortable, like I’m reading a surprisingly interesting (and long) cartoon in a newspaper. Her family stories have the rhythm of a good sitcom, replete with punchlines and realistically wacky situations. I was so happy to slip back into those rhythms. . .”

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. Telgemeier is my go-to author for realistic teen comics, and this one is no exception.


The Rise of Aurora West

Paul Pope, Writer

J.T. Petty, Writer

David Rubin, Illustrator

First Second

I reviewed it on No Flying No Tights

Excerpt: “The daughter of Arcopolis’s late science hero, Haggard West, the gritty Aurora has a room full of secrets and a calling to kill the monsters that have overrun her city. The Rise of Aurora West is a bracing piece of the fantastic. It will retain fans of theBattling Boy world with a compelling mix of new backstory and connections to that which is to come.”

Is it “Great” for teens?:  Yes. I love the adventure, danger and mystery in the world that Pope has created, and Aurora has a complex and emotionally layered story to tell. (Just wish it were in color).


This One Summer

Jillian Tamaki, illustrator

Mariko Tamaki, writer

First Second

I reviewed it here!

Excerpt: “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.”

Is it “great” for teens?: Yes. I think everyone should read this. It’s gorgeous. Read it. Read it. Read it.


Barbarian Lord

Matt Smith, writer and illustrator

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

My review is over at No Flying No TightsHere’s a small excerpt:

“Those who come to Barbarian Lord looking for a simple adventure will find their fair share of fights, trolls, political machinations, and swords. However, some readers may be put off by its formal language and sentence construction (e.g. “Your gods are as grim as your land. You should look to Skraal, who flies over your mountain god and must then be his better”). For those who love traditional storytelling and the epic deeds of gods, monsters, and men, there is much to enjoy herein. Barbarian Lord subverts expectations by delivering more than it seems at first to offer—just as Barbarian Lord is more than a brutish warrior beneath the grimace.”

Is it “great” for teens?: I don’t know! I definitely like it. I can see some teens getting into it. Once more of them read it I’ll get back to you….


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



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:



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



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.



The Knife: September Girls Cuts To The Heart

A Review of September Girls by Bennett Madison

HarperTeen, 2013

September Girls Bennett Madison

by REBECCA, May 5, 2014


When Sam arrives at a small beach town with his dad and brother for the summer he notices that something is strange about its other inhabitants—all beautiful blonde girls—but can’t quite figure out what. When he starts to fall for one of them, he’ll get answers he never could have imagined.


I’ve been meaning to read September Girls all year and now that it’s getting warm, I finally sat down with most poignant of beach reads. After Sam’s mother takes off, his father loses it, sinking into a drunken depression and then diving manically into the task of finding himself. That summer, he decides that he, Sam, and Sam’s collegiate brother, Jeff, should leave town and take to the beach, where they’ll stay until September.

Sam’s father quickly throws himself into searching for buried treasure with a metal detector, and Jeff treats him to lectures on how this is the summer he should lose his virginity, but Sam misses his mother and finds himself walking alone for hours in a landscape that never quite seems the same twice. He’s a little sad, a little bored, and a lot anxious about growing up.

“[Dad often told me] that it was time to be a man, or man up, or act like a man, et cetera, et cetera. The whole subject was creepy—with vague implications of unmentionable things involving body hair—but the most embarrassing part was basically just how meaningless it all was. As if one day you’re just a normal person, and then the next—ta-da!—a man, as if anyone would ever notice the difference.

Like you can just instantly transform like that. Like manhood is this distinct thing with actual markers and consequences. Well, maybe it is. But even if it is—if there is any person on this planet who actually knows what it means to be a man, anyone who could truly sum it up—I would guess my father to be among the very fucking last to have the tiniest clue.”

He’s self-conscious that he’s a virgin, knows that he looks skinny and unimpressive next to his brother, and isn’t particularly interested in doing anything about either. So, when the swarm of beautiful, voluptuous, blonde girls who work at every business in town seem to be interested in Sam, he’s understandably confused. Even if most of them don’t speak to him, he sees them staring, smiling, and paying a kind of attention to him that he’s never received. And, because he’s not an idiot, he’s pretty weirded out by it.

The first night they’re at the beach, Jeff and Sam see a girl washed ashore from the ocean pull herself to hands and knees and scuttle away into the dunes. And this is just the first of many strange and confusing things that they witness. Little by little, his brother starts to fall for one of the girls, Kristle (pronounced like Crystal), and he strikes up a confusing and intense friendship with another, DeeDee.

As he and DeeDee get closer, the secret of the girls—or the Girls, as Sam thinks of them—slowly comes into focus. They aren’t human; they come from the sea, cursed to live in human form for a limited time, and unable to leave the beach town. Call them mermaids if you like, but they have no gender. They merely assume the form that instinct tells them will be most beneficial to beings who arrive on land with nothing: young, beautiful, female, and blonde.

September Girls has been a wildly divisive book in terms of public reviews, with a number of 5-star raves and even more 1-star pans. Nearly all of the latter are given with reference to accusations of the book’s sexism and misogyny. I’m gobsmacked by this truly careless reading, and desperately sad that the book’s public reputation has been tainted by it because it couldn’t be further from the truth. To the contrary, September Girls engages with our widespread culture of sexism and misogyny—sex as power; trapped girls; sex as necessity; addlepated boys—and skewers it. (I won’t do a point-by-point rebuttal of the accusations because The Book Smuggler’s review HERE does a great job of that.) Bennett Madison raises questions not only about gender, but about the power of narratives to concretize, challenge, reinscribe, and invert gendered tropes.

We have learned that we are beautiful. All of us. We are all beautiful. To those who may read this: we are more beautiful. No matter how beautiful you are, we are more. We just are. . . . We say this with no pride at all. We say it, maybe, with a little sadness. Our beauty is a gift that we have had no choice but to accept. . . . We were offered only beauty. We took it and we use it. It’s nothing special. It’s how we survive.

Since we have no word for beauty, we use the closest word we have. We call it the knife. Our beauty is only our knife. Our beauty is our only knife. It’s just a knife: rusty blade, ordinary handle. But it’s sharp. It does its thing. Nothing special.

When is nothing special the most important thing? When it’s the only thing. . . . We crawl onto land naked. We learn which clothes to wear. We learn how to do our makeup, how to style our hair. How to toss it with a sexiness that appears unconsidered. . . . So. We learn how to use our breasts, our asses, our eyelashes, our lips. We learn how to get what we want.

No. Not what we want. We never get what we want, do we? We learn how to get what we need.”

September Girls is a dreamy, beautifully-written meditation on how the unstructured time of summer allows for self-exploration and change that the school year makes impossible. Absent anyone from home who really knows him, Sam is on a scary but necessary journey to find out who he is. Part of that is figuring out what it means to engage with a gendered world (because such attitudes are, unfortunately, pervasive). Part of it is learning to appreciate himself. Part of it is learning how to be sad, how to be bored, how to admit to yourself that you aren’t special all the time.

Some have found September Girls a bit dull or slow-paced, but for me it perfectly echoed the feeling of standing in the surf, feet in the sand as the ocean drags it from under you. After each chapter told from Sam’s perspective is a section told from the Girls’ perspective (like the quote above), creating a give and take of ocean and land, and when Sam loses time it’s like the exhausted, lightheaded, salt-drenched moment when you fall asleep on the beach, too sun-drained and beach-blind to notice the hour.

September Girls is a beautiful piece of speculative fiction that’s as dreamy as the ocean and as rough as sand in your underwear. I can’t wait to read whatever Bennett Madison writes next.


Weetzie Bat Francesca Lia Block

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block (1989). September Girls’ placiness reminded me of Block’s L.A.—something about the combination of heat and love.

The Scorpio Races Maggie Stiefvater

The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater (2011). In Stiefvater’s tale, it’s horses that come from the sea, but it’s similarly dreamy, with harsh reality abutting the speculative. My full review is HERE.

Teeth Hannah Moskowitz

Teeth by Hannah Moskowitz (2013). When Rudy leaves everything he knows to move to an island whose magic fish might be able to cure his brother’s cystic fibrosis he knows things will never be the same. What he can’t know is that he’ll meet someone who changes everything he knows about himself . . . and presents him with a life and death dilemma. How will Rudy choose between two people he loves? Check out my full review HERE.

procured from: I received an ARC of this book from the publisher (thanks!) in exchange for an honest review. September Girls by Bennett Madison is available now.

Sarah Dessen, Redux

A Review of The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

Viking Juvenile, 2013

The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen

by REBECCA, September 11, 2013

“Luke is the perfect boyfriend: handsome, kind, fun. He and Emaline have been together all through high school in Colby, the beach town where they both grew up. But now, in the summer before college, Emaline wonders if perfect is good enough. Enter Theo, a super-ambitious outsider, a New Yorker assisting on a documentary film about a reclusive local artist. Theo’s sophisticated, exciting, and, best of all, he thinks Emaline is much too smart for Colby.

Emaline’s mostly-absentee father, too, thinks Emaline should have a bigger life, and he’s convinced that an Ivy League education is the only route to realizing her potential. Emaline is attracted to the bright future that Theo and her father promise. But she also clings to the deep roots of her loving mother, stepfather, and sisters. Can she ignore the pull of the happily familiar world of Colby. Emaline wants the moon and more, but how can she balance where she comes from with where she’s going?”

The Moon and More is Sarah Dessen’s long-awaited twenty-thousandth novel and I was kind of looking forward to it, hoping it would be in the vein of my favorite Dessens,  Just ListenThe Truth About Forever, and Lock and Key.

Just Listen by Sarah DessenSadly, The Moon and More retreads the most familiar (and least compelling) of Sarah Dessen territory. As with all her books, it’s a well-written, well-woven slice-of-life. Unlike her better books, though, The Moon and More‘s characters are, for the most part, bland and unlikeable. Our protag, Emaline is bland, uninsightful, and I didn’t care about her at all. She doesn’t have any interests, really—doesn’t seem to read, care about movies or politics or sports or . . . anything. Her only charming moments were when she interacted with her little brother. Theo, the geeky and impassioned urbanite who Emaline dates after Luke, is annoying, selfish, and snobby, and Dessen doesn’t make any attempt to hide it, which made me like Emaline even less for being interested in him.

The Truth About Forever by Sarah DessenEvery Sarah Dessen book has a theme—a takeaway message. The better books, like Just Listen and The Truth About Forever, have subtle and intricate themes that drive the books forward. The theme of The Moon and More, as you can guess from the title, is balancing expectations of grandeur with those of moderation. Emaline’s Not From Here father and boyfriend think that anything that isn’t everything is nothing, but Emaline is happy with more more modest goals. I think this is a theme that a lot of readers can identify with and I applaud Dessen for writing a protagonist who isn’t consumed by being superlative (even if she does renege a bit at the end). As a theme, however, it’s . . . well, boring. Moderation, sadly, does not make for a dynamic narrative.

The Moon and More has it’s funny lines and its charming moments. Summer jobs, always a Dessen feature, loom large here, and the scenes of Emaline’s job working for her family’s realty company are detailed and interesting. The split between the locals and tourists in this small beach town are, as always, well-drawn. Really, though, I read the first 200 pages of The Moon and More wondering when it was going to start and the next 200 wondering when it was going to end. The Moon and More reads, more than anything, like a dull Sarah Dessen knockoff—as predictable and formulaic as her books’ covers.

Sarah Dessen

One Moment by Kristina McBride

One Moment

Kristina McBride

Egmont USA, 2012

review by Tessa


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.


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


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.


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.

Moonrise Kingdom: possibly one of the more perfect late-summer movies out there

by Tessa

DISCLAIMER: If you don’t like Wes Anderson’s style, then you probably won’t like Moonrise Kingdom, so you don’t have to read this. Then again, you might like it better than his other movies — the emotions of the characters are a little closer to the surface, a little more accessible and direct.

Critics often say that they hate how cute and/or curated Anderson’s films are, and I’m happy to say that these criticisms haven’t watered down his style. In fact, in Moonrise Kingdom he applies it almost with a vengeance: opening overview of setting, with narrator/guide? Check!  Slow-motion group exit/entrance at emotionally climactic moment? Check.  Retro zoom up to main character(s)? In yo face.  Specially created artwork (in this case, middle-grade fantasy book covers)? Check.  And because it’s all applied to a world of camping and tweens with outsize emotions in their limited-by-adults world, these touchstones seem simultaneously more absurd and more fitting.

I think that the trailer doesn’t really do it justice:

It highlights the not-quite natural acting of the main characters and the twee-ness of the adventure without giving us a taste of the heart that’s in the film.  Not to mention the homey beauty of the island where it’s set, featuring a sunset canoe escape/weather balloon release of such hauntingness that it’s hard to describe. (In other scenes I’d point to the spot-on use of children’s choir pieces to add to the atmosphere, but I don’t think that they were used in that particular scene. Children’s choir!)

Clearly this is a film to be seen by lovers of a good coming-of-age story — Sam and Suzy are, after all, two 12 year olds who fall in love and run away together.  The mood of heat infused August that opens the film leads to September chill and dusk as they struggle to stay together against the forces of their parents, Social Services, axe-wielding Khaki Scouts and, finally, nature itself. But Sam and Suzy start out in love and (SPOILER ALERT) end up in love. It’s wonderful to watch them because of their determination and the growth of their friendship–thank God we have children playing children and not 20 year olds–you can tell that their awkwardness is genuine and that their kiss is really their first kiss (Really!)  But the characters that are revealed to us the more the film goes on are the adults – Mr. & Mrs. Bishop, Scout Master Ward, and Captain Sharp.  There’s some heavy stuff in their short lines of dialogue and tilts of the head, no matter how Stoic their line delivery.

And that’s what kept me glued to the screen as I watched Moonrise Kingdom.  Even when the chase at the end got almost hokey in its Biblical magnitude or when Suzy’s revelation of her troubled feelings started seeming too boilerplate, the whole sweeping rest of it allowed me to forget about those things and invest myself in Anderson’s world.  It has a sweet heart, but it doesn’t shy away from showing heartbreaking things.

It could be that I can easily layer my experiences at summer camp or hiking in woods full of rhododendrons and blocky drops of rock over the scenes of camping and hiking in Moonrise Kingdom.  Although I love the other films in the Anderson oeuvre, I was never a genius child growing up in a house with genius brothers and sisters, or an ambitious boarding school playwright, or never traveled via train through India, etc. etc.  So Moonrise Kingdom was bound to have more immediacy to me. I could feel the unmistakeably dewy coldness of waking up in a tent in the early morning, as it were.

Or maybe I just want to have grown up in Summer’s End, listening to A Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra and reading in the choicest window seats.

Find some of the elements in Moonrise Kingdom in these films:

Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975): languid mystery happens during a hike in the Australian scrub. You can almost see the heat waves.

Addams Family Values (1993): Thanksgiving camp scene. Wednesday Addam’s first crush. Clear precursors to Moonrise Kingdom.

Romeo + Juliet (1996): Classic fierce young love reimagined in California, and a righteous storm at the end of the movie.

Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday (1953): a vacation at the beach where no one can relax.

Cria Cuervos (1976): If you want less love and more dysfunction try this mesrmerizing look at seriously unhappy children, family secrets and a killer soundtrack in Franco-era Spain.

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