Great Graphic Novels Noms 2015: Manga Part 2

by Tessa

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

uqholder1   uqholder2

UQ Holder! Vol. 1. 

UQ Holder! Vol. 2.

Ken Akamatsu, artist and writer

Kodansha

Anticipation/Expectation Level: None. Neutral.

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

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

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

Is it “great” for teens?: Maybe?

Art Taste:

Screen Shot 2015-01-28 at 9.08.08 PM

nijigaharaholograph

Nijigahara Holograph

Inio Asano, writer and artist

Fantagraphics

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

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

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

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

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

Art Taste:

nijigaharaflashback

worldtrigger1   worldtrigger2

World Trigger, Volume 1

World Trigger, Volume 2

Daisuke Ashihara, writer and artist

Viz Media

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

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

Here’s the description from VIZ:

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

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

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

Movie Review: Only Lovers Left Alive

A review of Only Lovers Left Alive, written & directed by the delightful Jim Jarmusch

only lovers left alive

by REBECCA, May 12, 2014

Only Lovers Left Alive is a decidedly non-dramatic meditation on immortality and love. Adam (Tom Hiddleston) and Eve (Tilda Swinton) are centuries-old vampires living in Detroit and Algiers, respectively. Adam is a somber musician who makes music that no one hears and collects vintage instruments while hiding from fans of the music he released when he was well-known. He’s depressed at the state of the world, which zombies—humans, that is—have polluted and detached from so thoroughly that even their blood has become poison. Eve is a dreamy appreciator of literature who lives in a home packed with books and hangs around with her buddy Kit Marlowe (yes, that Kit Marlowe) (John Hurt). When she talks with Adam and senses his depression, she comes to Detroit to reconnect with him. While there, Eve’s sister, Ava (Mia Wasikowska), an irresponsible hedonist with a penchant for risk-taking behavior, comes to visit, throwing Adam’s routine into disarray.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 5.53.04 PMFrom the gorgeous and vertiginous opening shots of a camera spinning around Adam, Eve, and a record (music is their shared language), the stakes of Only Lovers Left Alive are clear. This is a film about perpetuity and how people connect over and over through time. It’s a film that glories in the aesthetic, and Jim Jarmusch lingers lovingly over Tom Hiddleston and Tilda Swinton’s faces and hair the way only a lover would. They are dark and light, gloom and resignation, creator and appreciator.

Only Lovers Left AliveThere is no complicated plot; indeed, not a whole lot happens. But the non-drama perfectly echoes the sense of longevity of immortality—the sustained state where even the most dramatic happenings lose their urgency and even the most minute of difference in repetition can assert itself as beautiful. Adam and Eve are aesthetes and appreciators, and the film echoes this, too. The camera caresses the curve of a Gibson and the tangle of wires that Adam patches together with the same appreciation as the curve of the lovers’ cheekbones or the tangles of their hair. Attention, the film seems to posit, is the antidote to boredom; fascination to despair. And Adam and Eve are indeed fascinated.

This fascination makes Only Lovers Left Alive an incredibly poignant love story. Immortality is the premise that gives scale to their love, but it’s their respect for and fascination with each other that has sustained that love. With very little dialogue, Adam and Eve manage to communicate the connection they have through touch, gaze, and pointing out to one another the things that fascinate them. Jarmusch may be indulgent with his camera, but he shows amazing restraint with his script, giving us peeks of the characters and their histories but only hinting at the majority of their story. The effect is of a snapshot in time—a mere episode in lives so long we cannot conceive of them.

Screen Shot 2014-05-11 at 6.39.04 PMAdam and Eve have changed their appearance over the years to match the world around them, but in the privacy of their homes they wear dressing gowns from the 18th century and speak about friends like Mary Wollstonecraft. Detroit and Algiers are on display as similar collections of old and new, of the deterioration and resurrection of art, culture, style, and taste. The grand Michigan Theatre, which is falling down around them, but will be reclaimed, is the logical analogue to Adam and Eve’s recursivity: they reinvent themselves each generation, the world they knew before swallowed up or torn down before it’s reincorporated into the next one. The film is melancholy in its meditation on humans’ ruination of the world and its beauty, but there is a necessary hope there, too. For one like Eve, who has seen these cycles so often, destruction and death are necessary for reinvention and new life. Adam hasn’t quite her scope, and he feels the losses more acutely.

only lovers left aliveOnly Lovers Left Alive was everything I wanted a Jarmusch take on vampires to be. Swinton and Hiddleston are perfect, beautiful casting, and the glimpses we get of Detroit and Algiers are the perfect atmospheres for the film. Add in the wonderful John Hurt as Kit Marlowe, who actually wrote all of Shakespeare’s plays, Mia Wasikowska as a thoroughly charming vehicle of chaos, and the always delightful Jeffrey Wright as a stylized doctor, and it’s a pitch-perfect cast.

The only thing that irritated is the way these preternatural beings split down such traditional gender lines. The two men are creators—Marlowe a playwright and Adam a musician—and their lives are their work. The women are appreciators and consumers: Eve reads voraciously and supports Adam’s every endeavor, but creates nothing herself. Ava’s consumption is more literal; she chugs blood and makes demands, paying for them with a winsome smile.

only lovers left aliveMy favorite thing about all of Jim Jarmusch’s films is how he approaches the topic of each with such incredible respect and fascination. Only Lovers Left Alive is no exception. Each element feels considered and selected, leading to a film that looks like a beautifully curated slice of life. It’s just that these lives have been going on for quite a while.

Goth Girl Vampire Comic? Heck Yes!

A review of Dark Ivory, by Eva Hopkins and Joseph Michael Linsner

Image Comics, 2011 (originally published 2010)

Dark Ivory Eva Hopkins Joseph Michael Linser

by REBECCA, March 11, 2013

characters

Ivory: dissatisfied New Jersey high schooler with a love of gothy dance clubs and a healthy fascination with the undead

Samson: Ivory’s best friend, a super responsible writer-by-night/Borders-employee-by-day and constant reality check for Ivory

Xander: Gateway drug to the vampire world

Sally: Ivory’s sympathetic grown-up friend with a vampire boyfriend, Esque

hook

From Goodreads: “Ivory is a frustrated goth girl who escapes from her everyday world by sneaking out to dance at night. Her best friend Samson is always there to help her keep her feet on the ground. As Ivory’s club world fills with attractive, vampiric strangers, she thinks it would be so cool to be like them—until it happens. Be careful what you wish for . . .”

review

I found Dark Ivory at Forbidden Planet in Edinburgh when Tessa and I were there last week. I hadn’t heard of it, but I mean, a comic about a goth girl who is into vampires? Obviously I had to get it. And I wasn’t disappointed.

Dark Ivory Linsner HopkinsIvory doesn’t get along with her family and is bored by school, so at night she takes the train to New York and dances into the wee hours at goth clubs with her friend Sally. One night, after a fight with her mother, she is dancing in her own world when she’s approached by a handsome man named Xander who gives her a private invite to an exclusive club. Distracted, as she’s walking to catch the train home, Ivory comes across a girl whose neck has been cut and is bleeding on the street. Ivory is terrified and runs home, thinking how it could have been her. And everything only gets creepier from there. When she goes to the exclusive club with Sally, she takes a pill and has the most vivid hallucination . . . or is it a hallucination? Is Ivory becoming a vampire? Suddenly, it doesn’t seem nearly as appealing as she might have imagined.

Dark Ivory was originally published in four issues, collected in this volume with an image gallery by artist Linsner and an introduction by author Hopkins. It is a pretty straightforward comic, and, for me, the art is the strongest element. It’s full color and very detailed, which matches the vivid subject matter really well. I love black and white work, but this story definitely needed the amplification of color, and I really appreciate Linsner’s bright palette, as opposed to the kind of stereotypically dark and limited palette that a “goth-y” comic could use. Bright purples, greens, and reds dominate here, and I especially like the use of color in the pages that show Ivory’s daily life, like this one, depicting a typical morning of Samson driving Ivory to school (what a mensch):

Dark Ivory comic

and this one, the recollection of Ivory and Samson’s (appropriately angsty) first meeting:

Dark Ivory comic

 

The relationship between Ivory and Samson was a really nice contrast to the supernatural elements of the book. And, while Dark Ivory is only four issues long, it manages to do a fair amount of world-building, including its own vampire mythology, even if its only gestured to. The ending is a bit abrupt, but it follows, and it enables the reader to imagine all the future adventures that Ivory will go on to have.

Skim Jillian Tamaki Mariko TamakiAll in all, Dark Ivory will definitely appeal to the reader who found her own ways to escape the workaday life of high school (or dreamed of doing so) as well as to the vampire fans in the room. Ivory’s interest in goth clubs and vampires is decidedly not the depressed, searching attraction of other notable comic “goths” like Skim, in Jillian and Mariko Tamaki’s excellent Skim (see my review HERE). Rather, it’s born of an active love of dancing and the aesthetics of the subculture, which makes it a joyous portrayal, despite the, erm, rather serious repercussions of Ivory’s engagement.

Always thrilled to discover a new comic!

 

 

Buffy Meets Katniss . . . In Boarding School: Vampire Academy

A review of Vampire Academy (Vampire Academy #1) by Richelle Mead

Razorbill (Penguin), 2007

Vampire Academy Richelle Mead

A special guest review by S. Dubs, September 17, 2012

Crunchers & Munchers, it is my delight to bring you a guest review by the lovely and mysterious S. Dubs! S. is something of a cross between Scarlet O’Hara and Mata Hari (yeah—they’re almost the same name and don’t try and tell me that’s a coincidence). She has recently relocated to the Big Easy, where she divides her time between dirty jazz clubs and questionable sports bars. That’s when she isn’t reading young adult literature and watching Supernatural. Sam. Because obviously that was your next question. Welcome, S. Dubs! —Rebecca
 

characters

Rosemarie Hathaway: Our plucky heroine, Rose is a dhampir—half-human, half-vampire— in training to be a royal bodyguard for her Moroi (i.e., good vampire) best friend, Lissa.

Vasalisa Dragomir: Rose’s best friend and the last living member of the royal Dragomir line.  Beautiful, kind, but slightly unstable. The object of Rose’s unwavering loyalty, the two have a special bond in that Rose can “read” Lissa’s thoughts and feelings (though Lissa can’t read Rose).

Christian Ozera: A snarky outcast who is shunned by his peers for the sins of his parents. The fact that that he is delightfully sarcastic and tends to tell hard truths doesn’t help his social standing. He and Lissa form an unlikely connection.

Dimitri Belikov: A super hot, super badass Guardian—a dhampir bodyguard for the Moroi.  He is tasked with tutoring Rose in battling Strigoi (i.e., evil vampires). As will happen during mock combat, sparks between the two fly.

Mia: Obligatory Mean Girl, and obstacle to Rose and Lissa’s re-entry into Vamp Academy popular society. In their absence (see below), she has become the Queen B. and isn’t ready to give it up.

hook

Rose and Lissa have been on the run for two years, trying to escape a mysterious but very real threat to Lissa’s life.  They are found and returned to St. Vladimir’s Academy, a boarding school for Moroi—a race of vampires who are born (not made, as the Strigoi are) and eventually die—and dhampirs, who train to become Guardians, defenders of the Moroi against their enemies, the Strigoi. Rose and Lissa now have to face the consequences of their unsanctioned flight, reintegrate into the socio-political vipers’ nest that is high school, and uncover the threat to Lissa’s life is and how to stop it. NBD.

worldview

Vlad the ImpalerRichelle Mead turns to the vampire legends of Eastern Europe (Romania, specifically) and Russia to help create her world of warring vampire races: the Moroi, “living” vampires who wield magic and drink blood, but don’t kill their ‘donors,’ and the Strigoi, who give up their magic and morals for true immortality by killing their victims when they take their blood. Moroi blood is the Strigoi’s favorite snack so, to protect themselves, the Moroi hire dhampir bodyguards. As half-human, half-Moroi, dhampirs have a mix of human and vampire qualities: they are super strong, have fast reflexes, can go out in the sun, don’t drink blood, and, oh yeah, can’t reproduce with other members of their species.

Max Schreck as NosferatuFor me, this biological sidebar is one of the more interesting aspects of Mead’s particular take on the vampire legend. Dhampirs can’t make babies with other dhampirs and so, in order to perpetuate their race, they must reproduce with Moroi (the offspring of a Moroi/dhampir coupling is always a dhampir child). But the Moroi tend to want to marry and make Moroi babies with other Moroi, so there are a lot of single dhampir mothers around. In fact, there seem to be two occupations available to dhampir women: Guardian or baby mama. Guess which one Rose chooses? (She herself is the daughter of a famous Guardian mother and unknown and absent Moroi father, and has plenty of mommy issues and daddy issues to deal with throughout the series.)

Basically, the Moroi and dhampir live in a mutually beneficial arrangement, though dhampirs are socially subordinate to the Moroi, who have a ruling aristocracy of twelve royal families.  However, the main worldview of Vampire Academy is boarding school and all the delightfulness that this entails (mainly teens running around with minimal and/or ineffective adult supervision for large swaths of time which allows them to participate in various madcap adventures).

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

Living under a rock!Unless you have been living under a rock for the past ten years, you know that the market is glutted with vampires.  So what makes Vampire Academy so special?  Honestly? Not much—though I do like the Old World Russian flavor of Mead’s particular take on vampire society (itself not super original, but well-executed here). If I had to pick one intention, I would say that Mead is after entertainment, and on that front she delivers.  There are some interesting moral and political quandaries raised throughout the series, which give the books a bit of added depth, but overall they are just fun to read.

Buffy the Vampire SlayerMead’s characters are gratifyingly complex, her Rose Hathaway the anti-Bella Swan. Indeed, Rose is Buffy-meets-Katniss and neither of them at the same time. She is quippy, hot-headed, impulsive, moral (but comfortable with grey areas), loyal, strong, simultaneously practical and a romantic.  And she (along with the rest of the main characters) grows over the course of the series, rather than becoming a stronger version of a one-dimensional self (*cough* *cough* Bella).

Mead’s dialogue is fun and funny, and the overarching plot arc has lots of delicious teen angst to propel you through the series.  And, despite the overt dualism of “good” vs. “bad” vampires, Mead offers a realistically complex view of the world in which the good and the bad mix on an individual and social level and people are always more complicated than they first appear.

Frostbite Vampire Academy 2One of the things I most appreciated about the novel is the way that Mead deals with sexuality: sex is both something that just happens and a big deal. Rose is an alluring individual and she knows it. What’s more, she takes pleasure in being found attractive, without being (too) obnoxious about it. She has a basically healthy self-image; she can be self-deprecating, but she generally likes herself and understands her value, which is plural. (Side note: I kind of hate the cover art for the whole series, but the model on the first novel’s cover looks uncannily like a young Angelina Jolie, which is actually a fairly good correlative for Rose’s appeal.)  As urban** fantasy/paranormal romance, the novel could easily dwell on the racy and/or romantic and there’s definitely an entertaining amount of that going on. But, like the best young adult works out there, the primary relationship is friendship:

“Lissa and I had been best friends ever since kindergarten, when our teacher had paired us together for writing lessons. Forcing five-year-olds to spell Vasilisa Dragomir and Rosemarie Hathaway was beyond cruel, and we’d—or rather, I’d—responded appropriately. I’d chucked my book at our teacher and called her a fascist bastard. I hadn’t known what those words meant, but I’d known how to hit a moving target.

Lissa and I had been inseparable ever since.” (8)

The bond between Lissa and Rose is the stuff of fantasy—and not just because it involves a mystical psychic connection.  Theirs is a do-anything-for-each-other relationship, one that pushes both of them outside of their comfort zones and contributes to the aforementioned personal growth/character development.

[**The series actually ends up spanning quite a geographical range, but the primary action takes place at St. Vlad’s Academy, which is in The Middle of Nowhere, Montana.  So anti-urban fantasy?]

personal disclosure

Succubus Blues Richelle MeadI discovered this book through reading Richelle Mead’s adult urban fantasy series about the adventures of Georgina Kincaid, Succubus. Both series were guilty pleasures/secret shames, until I remembered that I was pretty shameless in my tastes and started telling all my friends about them. There are some real similarities between Rose and Georgina and if you like one (and are of an age to enjoy both adult and young adult fiction), there is a good chance you will enjoy reading about the other.  But I am new to this whole book review thing, so hit me up in the comments if you have read either series and want to fangirl and/or disagree with me (or suggest a good read-alike!).

Taste: A Coming of Age Story

How An Early Love For the Dark Arts Showed Me That Taste Matters

By REBECCA, June 11, 2012

Last week, I attended BEA (BookExpo America) for the first time. It was exciting, it was crowded, and I felt like the only person in the entire world without either a smartphone or an ereader, but still! It was great. I got some wonderful books, filled my to-read list to a dangerous capacity, and got to nerd out with the amazing book bloggers Em from Love YA Lit, and Judith and Ellen from I Love YA Fiction!

But what BEA really drove home was how incredibly unique taste is. I talked to a lot of people in lines for the same books as me, but who were excited about them for totally different reasons. And I met a lot of people who were googly-eyed for books that I couldn’t have cared less about. So, of course, I found myself thinking about my own taste in books: how did I learn what I liked to read? when did I start to have strong tastes in books? has that taste stayed the same?

Now, at 30, I have pretty diverse tastes—I love a poignant or angsty book that will make me cry, a gruesome mystery, a lighthearted romp in which people overcome obstacles and dance, a monster story, ANYTHING about gymnastics, etc. But, if there’s one thing that I’ve internalized about my taste throughout the years, it’s that people seem to think I’m, well, morbid. I know what you’re thinking: “lovely, delightful Rebecca morbid? It simply can’t be!” “Duh.” And, well, I guess it’s a little bit true. I am really fascinated by things that other people seem to think are depressing or gross or weird—I mean, I have a Ph.D. in modernist literature after all; obviously something‘s wrong with me.

My Own Private IdahoBut, did I always have a taste for the macabre? Where do such things come from? Who clued me in to this fact? To answer these questions we have to rewind about . . . 22 years or so to when I was a little kid wandering the streets libraries of Ann Arbor. My parents weren’t strict about what I read, and they certainly never censored me (except for that time they found me watching My Own Private Idaho at, like, age ten) so I pretty much had run of the library and gravitated toward what interested me. Which was, I realize now, death, vampires, diseases, ghost stories, the Holocaust, and death. What?!

The thing is: I wasn’t trying to be creepy. I didn’t have any idea that what interested me was uncommon for an eight year old, or that it might suggest to someone that there was something wrong with me (there wasn’t!). I just knew that it interested me. So, it was really kind of shocking when my dad first expressed some . . . concern that perhaps I might not want to exclusively read books where people were dying, or that perhaps I would enjoy trying some literature that wasn’t about the Holocaust. I mean, he had read me The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings when I was little, and those are chock-a-block with death, evil, betrayal, and genocide, right?

The Witching Hour Anne RiceMy dad never tried to stop me from reading what I wanted, but his suspicion that my reading preferences were somehow out of the ordinary was the first inkling I had that there was such a thing as taste and that it was an important expression of my interests—that is, a way of thinking about the things that were important to me. My dad referred to my collection of Lurlene McDaniel books as my “dead teenager books” and asked whether my latest Anne Rice novel was also “all about dead things like vampires and witches.” Duh, dad, witches are totally not dead!

Sure, it made me feel a touch self-conscious, but not in a bad way. In fact, it really opened my eyes to why taste can be so important, especially to teenagers and young adults—and why expressing that taste in how we dress, do our hair, etc., is so essential in announcing to others where we’re coming from. Just as the books we want to read are an expression of what we think is interesting, important, beautiful, desirable, worthwhile, so too is the way we portray ourselves to the world.

Once I started thinking about taste in this way it was easy to look around me at school and see which people’s tastes in books, music, and movies seemed to match their social group, clothes, and personality, and which people’s seemed like a mismatch. It brought up questions like why does J— dress like a boring preppy kid when he actually has really interesting taste in movies? Or, how can T— have such terrible taste in music when she has such awesomely colored hair? I started drawing lines between what people liked and how they liked to be seen. These questions are, of course, hugely reductive! But in a teenage world where there are only a limited number of ways to create a external profile that might express your likes, desires, and interests to an otherwise undifferentiated hormonal, scared, irritable mass, of course it’s important.

None of this is to say that having your taste in books match your taste in t-shirts is any more necessary than matching your shoes to your belt. But as a teenager, it was always an issue of trying to express to the world (or hide from it) what you thought was important, whether it was music or social justice. It was a way to connect with people who might share your values and tastes before any of you even opened your mouths—it was like a hanky code of taste. Of course, this shorthand disappears the older we get and, of course, it’s a code that’s quite easy to misread where it exists at all. Lesson learned when I awkwardly tried to talk dystopia with someone wearing a shirt with “1984” on the front who looked at me blankly and then explained that it was her high school reunion shirt. Oops.

Years later, in college, I was thinking about the way my dad gently teased me about those Lurlene McDaniel books. Home for winter break, I asked him why he had thought it was so strange that I was interested in teenagers dying of diseases. After all, I pointed out, he was a doctor—didn’t he ever think that maybe this early interest was a sign that I might want to be a doctor too? He only had to consider this for about a second before answering sincerely, “no; I just thought you were morbid.” And he’s right. I never wanted to be a doctor or a medical examiner or a historian, or any other occupation that would retroactively contextualize my taste for death, disease, the Holocaust. But how did he know? What was it about me that made my dad so sure that those books were an expression of my interests, obsessions, questions? Easy, I guess: he knew me.

The Boxcar Children Gertrude Chandler WarnerAnd, of course, what I realize now is that I wasn’t morbid, per se. I was a kid with thoughts, opinions, and questions that simply were not really addressed by fiction like The Boxcar Children or The Babysitters Club (although don’t get me wrong; I read those too). Books that dealt with what a character feels like when someone they really admire dies, or the inexpressible emotions surrounding genocide, or how it feels to be very afraid, or what it might be like to be immortal; books that challenged taboos, pushed boundaries, and explored issues—these were the books that spoke to the deep questions I had as a kid. These were also the topics that I didn’t hear other kids (or adults) talking about on a regular basis. I found them the most nourishing questions and the most satisfying answers. It’s no surprise, then, that I still do.

So, in honor of my morbid little self and in celebration of all the other folks out there who were looked at askance when they answered the question, “and what are you reading there, hon?,” here are a few of my favorite childhood morbidities!

Lurlene McDaneil One Last Wish Series Lurlene McDaniel One Last Wish Lurlene McDaniel One Last Wish

Lurlene McDaniel, One Last Wish series (1992-1995). Each book features a teenager dying from an illness who is given one last wish (by the One Last Wish Foundation, the origin of which is explained in one of the books).

Good-bye, Best Friend Cherie Bennett

Cherie Bennett, Good-bye, Best Friend (1992). Star and Courtney are both sick when they meet in the hospital and become fast friends, but disease makes Courtney uncomfortable so Star plays down the seriousness of her cystic fibrosis. This book, along with A Time To Die (above) made my ten-year-old self obsessed with cystic fibrosis, and since my dad is a lung doctor I’d always ask him to tell me more about it, which he thought was very weird.

Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors Piers Paul Read

Piers Paul Read,  Alive: The Story of the Andes Survivors (1974). I was totally obsessed with this book in sixth grade. The story is incredible! Also it’s the only reason I know words associated with rugby, like “scrum” and “hooker.”

Jane Yolen The Devil's Arithmetic Jane Yolen Briar Rose

Jane Yolen, The Devil’s Arithmetic (1988) and Briar Rose (1988). Both deal with the Holocaust—The Devil’s Arithmetic finds a young girl sucked back in time to a concentration camp, and Briar Rose is a re-telling of the Sleeping Beauty story set in the German forests during World War II. I read each about a million times and Briar Rose remains one of the only fairy tale re-tellings that I really love.

Number the Stars Lois Lowry

Lois Lowry, Number the Stars (1989). Another Holocaust book, this one features two friends, one of whom is Jewish and moves in with her friend’s family when the nazis come, forcing her friend to go on a mission to save her.

Say Goodnight, Gracie Julie Reece Deaver

Julie Reece Deaver, Say Goodnight, Gracie (1989). Shy Morgan and outgoing Jimmy have been best friends since they were little kids. Now, in high school, they support each others’ dreams—Morgan’s of acting, and Jimmy’s of dancing. But when Jimmy dies in a car crash, Morgan is thrown into a tailspin of grief.

Jurassic Park Michael Crichton

Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park (1990). Dude, velociraptors are so scary. That sound that they make . . . my cat sometimes makes a sound like that when she’s looking out the window at birds and I’m afraid she’ll tear my throat out.

Flowers in the Attic V.C. Andrews

V.C. Andrews, Flowers in the Attic (1979). Incest, child murder, locking people in attics, love, hate, incest, poison, ballet, sex, hate, incest, love, child murder, parties, sequels.

Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark More Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark More Tales to Chill Your Bones
Alvin Schwartz, with illustrations by Stephen Gammell, Scary Stories series (1981-1991). The Scary Stories series bloody terrified me, and the illustrations are the scariest illustrations I’ve ever seen (don’t look, mom!). But, but, but, they’re so spine-tingling! I cannot believe they’re reissuing them with new illustrations—mistake!

Interview With the Vampire Anne Rice Anne Rice The Vampire Lestat Anne Rice The Queen of the Damned The Tale of the Body Thief Anne Rice

Anne Rice, Interview With the Vampire (1976) and the rest of the Vampire Chronicles. The tortured musings of Louis’ immortal life were the refrain for most of sixth and seventh grade. It’s like I had never anticipated how horrible life could be until I thought about it never ending . . .

Michelle Remembers Michelle Smith

Michelle Smith, Michelle Remembers (1989). I can go ahead and say that this is the most fucked up book I have ever, to this day, read. When Michelle is five, her mother joins a cult of devil worshipers and offers her to them to try and summon the devil. She is, in no particular order: buried alive, locked in rooms, sexually assaulted, bathed in the blood of babies, put inside a statue where bugs swarm all over her,  forced to watch murders, and more. Michelle “remembers” these things later in life, in therapy (the book is co-written with her therapist). I mean, I think it’s pretty much been debunked as being a true story, but who cares: it’s totally bizarre and fucked up and I must have checked it out of the library like twenty times.

Sideways Stories from Wayside School Louis Sachar Wayside School is Falling Down Louis Sachar Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger Louis Sachar

Louis Sachar, Sideways Stories From Wayside School series (1978-1995). These are the books that first made me realize that we live in an absurdist world. If you never read these as a kid you missed out on a major life-changing experience. They are so, so amazing and I still leave them in my bathroom at my parents’ house so that I can read them every time I go home . . . and pee.

So, there you have it: a tour through the perhaps twisted taste of 8-12 year old Rebecca. And you? What morbid jewels are you hiding in your childhood bookshelf? Tell me in the comments!

The Silver Kiss: A Pre-Twilight Vampire Love Story Done Right

A Review of The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause

Dell, 1990

By REBECCA, May 18, 2012

Silver Kiss Annette Curtis Klause

characters

Zoë: feels like she’s floating through life until she meets Simon

Simon: a vampire seeking revenge is drawn to Zoë’s sadness

Lorraine: Zoë’s best friend, loyal but a bit oblivious

Zoë’s mom: dying

Zoë’s dad: sweet and overwhelmed

Christopher: a young boy unnaturally attached to his grisly teddy bear

the hook

Zoë’s mother is dying of cancer and Zoë feels like she’s merely going through the motions, walking through the park alone late at night even though the news reports a string of local murders. Then she meets Simon, a mysterious boy who tries to convince her that he’s a vampire. But that’s ridiculous, right? Because vampires don’t exist.

worldview

Annette Curtis Klause‘s The Silver Kiss is, first and foremost, an atmosphere piece. Zoë’s mother is dying slowly, and Zoë is wasting away right along with her—she can’t eat, she can’t concentrate, and she has nothing to say. So she takes long walks at night and, you know, generally acts like someone whose mother is dying. Simon is a vampire whose own mother was murdered, cursing him to an eternal life of loneliness. When he sees Zoë at the park one night, Simon recognizes her loneliness. She is “pale as the milk of death, thin and sharp like pain” (19).

Stephanie Meyer Twilight Bella Swann Edward CullenThere is no psychic connection (or shocking lack thereof) between Simon and Zoë, no insta-love, and no notion that “vampire” is just another high school clique designation. No romance, really, in the way that we might find it in any of the dozens of vampire-human-love-stories littering Amazon today. When I say that The Silver Kiss is an atmosphere piece, I mean that the feelings of loneliness and despair aren’t there to facilitate romance; they are the story, and the comfort that Simon and Zoë provide for each other is necessary, but can’t stop death or cure loneliness.

Louis Brad Pitt Interview With the Vampire

image: Web Parkz

I first read The Silver Kiss in middle school. So, this was in the mid-nineties, and the only vampire story I had ever read was Anne Rice’s Interview With the Vampire. Maybe I even read them the same year. In any case, it was a totally unique story, and I was really taken with the horror of being immortal. Of course, in Interview With the Vampire, Rice gets at the pain that immortality can bring, but that book has such a sweeping view of history and a lot of awesome stuff happens, too. But in The Silver Kiss I was really aware of how sad and lonely it would be to be a teenager for hundreds of years.

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

The Silver Kiss Annette Curtis Klause

Delacorte Twilight-ed the cover!

I think Klause is smart in the way that she constructs this book: there is a plot—a solid, creepy plot—but that plot is the backdrop for the real focus of the novel, which is the way that we can only feel alive when we feel seen and recognized by the people we love and who love us. Simon is stuck permanently at the age that is most dynamic for other teenagers, and he has no one to see him change even if he could. Zoë has the potential for change—she’s growing up; her best friend is moving, etc—but she feels that she has lost the one person who saw her best: her mother. Both turn to each other not out of some swoony, fatalistic romance, but because they see their own loneliness reflected in one another.

Sure, this isn’t the subtlest of relationships, but if you can get past the (realistically, I think) melodramatic language, the comfort they promise each other is poignant and meaningful.

“What puzzled him was why she had panicked when she answered the phone. She must have guessed his thoughts. Her lips tightened, her gaze lowered. ‘I thought it might be about my mother,’ she said. ‘She’s dying.’

It was a terse confession, perhaps in return for his own rambling tale. . . .

‘You’ll let me come again?’

‘Why?’ Her hand went to her throat.

It made him feel ashamed. He stooped to pick up his T-shirt. ‘To talk,’ he muttered. ‘Just to talk.’

‘What have we to talk about?’ It sounded like a denial.

He took a stab in the dark. ‘Death,’ he said.

Her eyes grew large and stricken, but she nodded. ‘Yes.'” (128-9)

Blood and Chocolate Annette Curtis KlauseKlause is also the author of the awesome Blood and Chocolate (1997)—which was made into a very uneven movie with Agnes Bruckner, Hugh Dancy, and Olivier Martinez—about a werewolf who has to choose between staying true to the laws of her pack and her growing feelings for a human boy. I mention Blood and Chocolate because Klause knocked out a vampire book and a werewolf book, both featuring female protagonists, long before vampires and werewolves were YA superfoods, and she did so in the spirit that I most appreciate the conceits: a.) as good old-fashioned genre fiction, and b.) as a meditation on the real conflicts that being different and feeling alone can cause, especially when you’re a teenager.

The bottom line: The Silver Kiss is what you wanted Twilight to be, fifteen years before the genre was glutted. The entire plot line with Christopher (a super creepy child vampire) and Simon is also totally gripping, but I don’t want to give anything away.

personal disclosure

I have a confession to make: as you can see from the scanned-in pic of my copy at the top of this review, I stole The Silver Kiss from the Clague Middle School Library. I know, I’m so ashamed. I apologize to the many other students whose chances to read it were ruined by my inconsiderate actions. Consider this review my way of giving it back to them.

readalikes

Sara Zarr Sweethearts

Sweethearts by Sara Zarr (2008). While nothing alike in plot, Sweethearts is also the story of a relationship that is based in deep feeling, but isn’t typically romance-y. Jenna and Cameron were outcasts together when they were friends; but when Cameron disappears, Jenna thinks that part of her is gone for good—for better and for worse. But when Cameron comes back into Jenna’s life, she is forced to face the truth about both of them.

The Hanged Man Francesca Lia Block

The Hanged Man by Francesca Lia Block (1999). Laurel’s father has just died and Laurel is starving herself to avoid facing her feelings and her past. The Hanged Man reminds me of The Silver Kiss in tone: kind of floaty and detached, but beautiful.

So, there you have it! Do you have a favorite pre-Twilight vampire romance? Let us know in the comments!

More Thrilling Than a Very Thrilling Thing From the Planet Yes!: Thirsty

Welcome to Sharing Our Snacks, in which Tessa and I each recommend YA brain food that they think the other would enjoy crunching and munching! Since T lives in Pittsburgh and I live in Philadelphia, we can no longer share an enormous middle-of-the-night bag of potato chips and tin of onion dip from Turkey Hill like we used to, so we had to find another way to share. You can recommend books to us, too—contact us!

A Review of Thirsty by M.T. Anderson

Candlewick, 1997

By REBECCA, February 20, 2012

characters

Chris: Vaguely Dissatisfied Teen Protagonist Awkwardly Turning Into a Vampire

Rebecca Schwartz: Crush, On a Pedestal

Tom: Douchebag Old Friend

Jerk: Poignantly Stupid and Loyal Old Friend

Paul: Chris’ Brother, Film Enthusiast

Mom & Dad: Chris’ Parents, Preoccupied and Concerned By Turns

Self-Proclaimed Avatar of the Forces of Light, aka Chet: Mysterious Stranger

Lolli Chasuble: Hilarious

Tch’muchgar: Vampire Lord and All-Around Bummer

Various and Sundry Children of the Melancholy One: Vampires

hook

Chris is turning into a vampire in a totally non-romantic way while he is also forced to be that most curséd of all beings, a teenager.

worldview

There may be vampires, but Thirsty’s world is not a fantasy in which goodness is repaid with goodness. In fact, being a good guy doesn’t count for anything. Or, in other words: realism.

When Tessa recommended Thirsty to me, she feared that her intense love for M.T. Anderson might prevent her from being objective, and wondered how I thought it stacked up against other vampire novels. I began reading Thirsty with this in mind, but soon decided that I didn’t think it belonged in comparison with vampire novels at all. The majority of vampire novels break down into categories based on perspective. Historically, vampires were portrayed as an outside threat (Bram Stoker’s Dracula); then, in Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles, stories are told from the perspectives of the vampires themselves. Most recently, the trend has been to view vampires from the perspective of one or two lucky initiates who are privy to their world (Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series, Annette Kurtis Klaus’ The Silver Kiss) or for vampirism to be a well-known fact to which only our narrator and a few other characters are sympathetic (L.J. Smith’s Vampire Diaries, Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series).

While Thirsty is also set in a world where vampirism is a well-known (and much-maligned) fact, this is no romance in which Chris’ emerging vampirism is seen as sexy or cool, nor is it an adventure in which he will flee his repressive circumstances to find a vampire community that will accept him. Instead, the entirety of Thirsty is set in the space of Chris’ transformation into a vampire, and this is totally horrifying. In fact, what Thirsty most reminded me of was the film District 9, which dealt with the similar revulsion of turning into something alien that you have no control over. That, then, is the heart of the novel. The main action, indeed, occurs because Chris is willing to do anything in an attempt to reverse his transformation. Throughout, he is alternately bored with his friends and his life or terrified of himself and what he might do. Reading Thirsty, Anderson succeeded in making me feel similarly claustrophobic and squirmy.

But the real prize for me is Anderson’s writing. Tessa tells me, “The way that he writes people’s inner monologues could be seen as unrealistic… but on the other hand I feel like the mix of deadpan dispassion and earnest obsession that creeps through it is kind of authentic.” I couldn’t agree more. Anderson’s prose is extremely flexible, ranging from lyrical description to amusing juxtaposition of the banal and the unexpected. This means that Thirsty shifts facilely from scenes of funny social drama to moments of poignant reflection to periods of grotesque desperation. You will thank me for a few examples:

Check out this gorgeousness:

“The leaves are so fragile, an infant green, they look almost frightened when they first cluster at the joints and elbows of the trees in the yard” (126).

And this hilarity in a letter from Lolli Chasuble:

“P.S. I don’t have a boyfriend right now. There was this guy I had a total crush on at school—he was a complete H-U-N-K-O-R-A-M-A—did I want to get inside his shorts! And he would have been mine, too, except that after the car crash his parents had him C-R-E-M-A-T-E-D!” (63).

And my favorite:

“‘It was a wicked good film,’ says Jerk, ‘but a little bloody. Bloodier than a very bloody thing from the planet Hemorrhage.’” (22).

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

I think Thirsty’s intention was to dramatize the all-consuming (literally, in this case) horror of being helpless against a force that you cannot control or understand. In that, it completely succeeds. Although the forces with which Chris contends are preternatural, Thirsty will speak loudly to anyone who has had the experience of thinking boredom was bad only to have it superseded by something worse, of not knowing who to trust, of feeling like their own body was turning against them, of feeling out of control or addicted . . . That is, most everyone.

If Thirsty has one weakness, it is that we are dropped into the middle of a character’s life at a moment when a major change has already begun, leaving Chris’ characterization a bit shallow and not allowing us to see the range of his relationships with the other characters as we might if the story took place over a longer period of time. Overall, though, this lack of deep familiarity with Chris feeds into the intense alienation that we experience when reading about his transformation into a vampire.

personal disclosure

It doesn’t take much to convince me to meditate on the total horror of becoming alienated from oneself. It does, however, take some fine-ass writing and great secondary characters to make me want to read about it in a high school freshman. Two fangs up.

readalikes

Hold Me Closer, Necromancer by Lish McBride (2010). Shares a slapdash approach to coping with the sudden revelation of that our protagonist is not merely human, as well as a keen eye for gruesome hilarity.

Rats Saw God by Rob Thomas (1996). Similar use of humor in a self-reflective main character who is going through some shit, from the man who would later bring us Veronica Mars. Mmm, I have to re-read that.

Procured from: the library

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