Kate’s Review: “Something Is Killing the Children (Vol. 1)”

52757827._sx318_sy475_Book: “Something Is Killing the Children (Vol.1)” by James Tynion IV and Werther Dell’Edera (Ill.).

Publishing Info: BOOM!Studios, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: When children begin to go missing in the town of Archer’s Peak, all hope seems lost until a mysterious woman arrives to reveal that terrifying creatures are behind the chaos – and that she alone will destroy them, no matter the cost.

IT’S THE MONSTERS WHO SHOULD BE AFRAID.

When the children of Archer’s Peak—a sleepy town in the heart of America—begin to go missing, everything seems hopeless. Most children never return, but the ones that do have terrible stories—impossible details of terrifying creatures that live in the shadows. Their only hope of finding and eliminating the threat is the arrival of a mysterious stranger, one who believes the children and claims to be the only one who sees what they can see. 

Her name is Erica Slaughter. She kills monsters. That is all she does, and she bears the cost because it must be done.

GLAAD Award-winning writer James Tynion IV (The Woods, Batman: Detective Comics) teams with artist Werther Dell’Edera (Briggs Land) for an all-new story about staring into the abyss.

Collects Something is Killing the Children #1-5.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this book!

It’s been awhile since I tackled a straight up horror comic, so when I saw “Something Is Killing the Children (Vol.1)” I was immediately interested in reading it. I am vaguely familiar with James Tynion IV, as we read one of his comics for our book club a few years ago, but I hadn’t sought him out otherwise. I went into “Something Is Killing the Children” with my expectations of what I remembered from his other comic, but those expectations were tossed out the window almost immediately. “Something Is Killing the Children” doesn’t hold back, and it jumps almost immediately into the darkness that surrounds it.

And I should probably throw content warnings out there, because this comic doesn’t shy away from a lot of gore, gore involving children.

The plot is straightforward enough, with terrible things happening in a small town and a mysterious stranger coming to fight the evil that’s hiding in the shadows. Standard stuff, but I was still immersed because I’m a sucker for small towns with dark undertones. We mostly follow our monster hunter Erica Slaughter, but we also get to see the perspective of James, one of the teens who was attacked but spared, and therefore under suspicion from the other people in town. Throw in a couple others, like the brother of a missing girl, and the police officer on the case, though theirs are not as interesting as Erica’s and James’s. That said, we do get to have a number of sides of the plot through all these strings, and we slowly learn about the monsters that are plaguing the town, and also about the town and its inhabitants. A world and a mythos is being built slowly, and this volume was very much setting up dominoes that are undoubtedly going to fall as the story goes on. I like seeing these moments of building blocks being set in place, and I liked learning what we did about the mythology of the monsters, and those who hunt them. And they are genuinely scary. And super disturbing. That content warning I gave is no joke.

Plot aside, I also am very much intrigued by our protagonist, the mysterious Erica Slaughter. We know that she’s a monster hunter, and we know that she is part of some kind of group that goes out to take care of these things, but outside of that she is a mystery. She’s jaded, she’s determined, and she’s cold as ice, even though we see glimmers of empathy for James and his situation. She isn’t afraid to use violence if she needs to, but it’s also hinted at that this life is starting to make her weary. As someone who was a huge “Buffy” fan back in the day, she reminds me a LOT of Faith Lehane, but without the sarcasm, and just the potential damage and baggage she’s carrying. So I, of course, am so in love with her that it hurts, and I want to know EVERYTHING about her. But Tynion is keeping that close to the vest for now, which just makes me want to dive into the next arc even more, because we need more female characters that remind me of Faith Lehane.

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Queen. (source)

I really liked the artwork too, as it’s visceral and intense, which matches the story very well. I’m unfamiliar with Werther Dell’Edera, but his style works very well with the plot at hand. The reds are VERY red, and while other colors are muted a bit it serves for a powerful contrast that makes the violence all the more horrific.

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(source)

My one complaint is less to do with the story itself, and more to do with the formatting. The way that this book downloaded through NetGalley only would load one page at a time, so reading it on my screen was difficult when more creative styles layered one panel over multiple pages. I’m sure that this could be tweaked and adjusted on other eReaders and in other platforms, but it goes to show that sometimes designs with one format in mind don’t translate as well to others.

Overall, I was completely taken with “Something Is Killing the Children (Vol.1)”. I will absolutely be on the lookout for the next in the trade collection, and I can’t say that I will be terribly patient as I wait.

Rating 8: A scary horror comic with a lot of interesting potential, “Something Is Killing The Children (Vol.1)” has set up a creepy and intriguing world of monsters and monster hunters.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Something Is Killing the Children (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads list “North American Supernatural Realism”.

Find “Something Is Killing the Children (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat, or at a local independent bookstore using IndieBound!

Kate’s Review: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 1)”

52295766._sx318_sy475_Book: “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” by Sina Grace and Siobhan Keenan (Ill.)

Publishing Info: BOOM!Box, May 2020

Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.

Book Description: Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles and finds that the only ones who can help her find love and live life to the fullest are the ghosts of her new home!

In Los Angeles, finding an apartment is killer—unless you live with the dead. Daphne Walters moves to Los Angeles for her boyfriend Ronnie, ready to live her happily ever after. But when happily ever after turns into happily for a month, she’s stuck in a strange city with no friends, family, or prospects for fun. Desperate to escape the lingering ghost of Ronnie’s presence everywhere, Daphne sets out to explore the city—and ends up encountering ghosts of a more literal kind! Rycroft Manor is abandoned, beautiful, and haunted. Will the dead be able to help Daphne find the life she’s been missing in the big city? From GLAAD Award-nominated Sina Grace (Iceman) and illustrator Siobhan Keenan (Jem and the Holograms) comes a story about learning how to make friends, find love, and live life to the fullest with a little help from some friends whose lives didn’t end at death. Collects Ghosted In L.A #1-4.

Review: Thanks to NetGalley for sending me an eARC of this graphic novel!

When the writing was on the wall about the social distancing measures we as a society would need to take regarding COVID-19, I knew that my library pile wasn’t going to sustain me through the long weeks of staying at home. So I hopped onto NetGalley and began to request books that captured my interest. One of those was “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol 1)” by Sina Grace. I saw a cute looking graphic novel style and the promise of ghosts, which was enough to pique my interests. What I got, however, was something more than I anticipated, and something that I ended up really enjoying.

For one, yes, we have a ghost story, people. I love a good ghost story, and it doesn’t even have to be scary for me to enjoy it. The ghosts in “Ghosted in L.A.” (for the most part) aren’t all that threatening, but have mysterious reasons as to why they have continued their afterlives in the abandoned Rycroft Manor. Before each chapter, we get a bit of insight into the backgrounds of each ghostly character, from ringleader Agi to kindhearted Bernard to toxic Maurice, which makes their interactions with Daphne more layered an interesting. It also means that they aren’t relegated to ghost sidekicks, and that we get to see their motivations and backgrounds. I am very interested in learning more about them, and given that we’ve discovered some pretty dark and even dangerous things about some, it makes me feel like there are no guarantees that these ghosts are all going to be the kindhearted roommates that Daphne wants.

But surprisingly, the aspect of this comic that I liked the most had less to do with the ghosts, and more to do with the coming of age journey that our protagonist Daphne is on. She’s an 18 year old who has followed her boyfriend to Los Angeles for school, but then finds herself single and in a city that she knows very little about. 18 is already a confusing and scary time, so this, of course, sets her on a path of making some questionable decisions, and having to contend with not always pleasant people who are going to be supportive of her. Daphne is definitely a flawed and sometimes frustrating character. Sometimes I wanted to shake her because she was being foolhardy or blissfully un-self aware, but at the same time I remember what it was like being an 18 year old in the middle of a huge identity shift. From problems with her standoffish and judgmental roommate to conflict with her at home best friend to trying to reconcile her newly single status (especially since her ex Ronnie is really a good guy), Daphne is all kinds of realistic and relatable. I find myself really wanting her to succeed, even when she’s being all kinds of unreasonable.

And finally, I really love the artwork. It’s upbeat and colorful, and all of the characters have their unique feels while still being very of the style at hand. Plus, I love the coloring on the ghosts, which makes use of the darker side of the color wheel without being limited to just different shades of grey.

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(source)

I really enjoyed “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol. 1)”, and I will definitely be on the look out for Volume 2!

Rating 8: A super cute and creative comic about finding oneself and ghosts, “Ghosted in L.A.” has a lot of potential to become a new favorite comic series of mine!

Reader’s Advisory:

“Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” is included on the Goodreads list “Paranormal Romance/Urban Fantasy Set in California”.

Find “Ghosted in L.A. (Vol.1)” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “This Place: 150 Years Retold”

39351184._sx318_We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “American Girl Readalikes”, in which we each pick an American Girl book and a book that can be connected to it, however tenuous as it may be.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “This Place: 150 Years Retold” by Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Jen Storm, et al.

Publishing Info: Highwater Press, April 2019

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

American Girl Book: “Meet Kaya” by Janet Beeler Shaw

Book Description: Explore the last 150 years through the eyes of Indigenous creators in the graphic novel anthology, This Place: 150 Years Retold. Beautifully illustrated, these stories are an emotional and enlightening journey through magic realism, serial killings, psychic battles, and time travel. See how Indigenous peoples have survived a post-apocalyptic world since Contact.

This is one of the 200 exceptional projects funded through the Canada Council for the Arts’ New Chapter initiative. With this $35M initiative, the Council supports the creation and sharing of the arts in communities across Canada.

Kate’s Thoughts

Book club opens my eyes to books I haven’t heard of on occasion. This time around, when I looked at “This Place: 150 Years Retold” I was both excited to start it, and also sad that I hadn’t heard of it before then. While short story collections in regular print form rarely work for me, I almost always like graphic novel short story collections. The stories in “This Place: 150 Years Retold” are incredibly varied and unique, and they all have a lot of things to say when it comes to the Native experience throughout Canadian history.

I really liked the range that these stories had, from historical fiction to mini biographies or memoirs to fantasy to Sci-Fi. Each story had a bit of context written before it by the author, as well as showing where in the timeline that said story fit, which I REALLY liked, especially since I have such little knowledge of Canadian history. And while the stories all took place in a different point in history, the themes are still, unfortunately, very relevant to Indigenous lives today. My favorite example of this was the story “Like a Razor Slash” by Richard Van Camp, which was a tribute and interpretation of a speech given by Chief Frank T’Seleie when speaking out against the Mackenzie Valley Pipeline. Water Rights and pipeline protests have been more in the public eye in the U.S. as of late given DAPL and Standing Rock, and it really hit home that this has been an issue for decades for Indigenous communities. But that isn’t the only topic that hits home. From fishing rights to broken treaties to residential schools and family separation, “This Place: 150 Years Retold” doesn’t hold back when looking at the injustices that Canada has shown towards it’s Native population. Given that the stories are by different authors, there are many different artwork types as well as story types. The ones that worked best fell in the middle of super realistic and super abstract or more stylized, but they all served their stories fairly well.

Not all of the stories worked for me, but the fact that almost all of them did shows the strength of the collection as a whole. Definitely pick this one up if you can, because you will learn a lot as well as be moved.

Serena’s Thoughts

I really enjoyed this collection. While I won’t claim to have an encyclopedic knowledge of even U.S. history with regards to Native American stories, I definitely had very little knowledge of Canadian history. I was familiar only with a few pieces that touched on legends and mythology found in these cultures, such as the Wendigo creature and some parts of the Inuit understanding of shaman. Each story was proceeded by a brief description of the history that inspired the author, and I found all of this, plus the timeline included in each, to be incredibly interesting. Grounding each story in these mini historical lessons really helped add another layer of understanding to what the author was trying to get across.

A few stories stood out in particular. “Nimkii” tells the story of one women sharing her experience in the foster care system. It was so tragic and beautifully told. Again, this was a part of Canadian history that I wasn’t aware of. Apparently, so many Indigenous children were taken during the 1960s that it was given a name: “the 60s scoop.” I also really liked “Peggy” which tells the story of a man who was called to war as a sniper. He was a leader through that time and awarded multiple times over. This is then contrasted by his return home where he struggles to be afforded even the most basic rights to make a life for himself and his family in the country he went to war to protect.

I will say, however, that there were a few stories that I had a hard time understanding or connecting to. I liked the Wendigo story for the most part. It highlighted a lot of important factors about mental health and the contrast between law enforcement in native communities and western cultures. But I also felt like I was perhaps missing a part of this story. Maybe not, but I was unsure. There was also an Inuit story about shaman and the importance of names. This story had really amazing art work, but I’ll be honest, I didn’t know what the heck was going on for about 80% of this story. I even re-read it a few times. I’m hesitant to say it’s a failing of the story, as it could have just been me not picking up on things. But, all of this to say, there were a few stories that took a bit more work to really understand.

Overall, I really liked this collection. The artwork throughout was varied and interesting. Many of the stories spoke to portions of history that I was unaware of, and I think it’d be a great learning tool for anyone looking to know more about this portion of time in Canada.

Kate’s Rating 9: A powerful and varied collection of Indigenous stories that give voice to many themes.

Serena’s Rating 8: A powerful collection of stories detailing lesser known sections of Native American history in Canada.

Book Club Questions

  1. Were you familiar with any of historical events or fables that inspired these stories prior to reading this? And if so, how did the stories presented here offer greater insight into these events?
  2. There are a variety of different artistic styles used throughout this book. Which one was your favorite? Which do you think paired best with the story it was trying to tell?
  3. The last story in the book jumps into the future. How did this story succeed or not succeed at representing the world and the issues that would exist in this time?
  4. Many of these stories focused on dark events. Were there any that stood out to you as being particularly successful in delving into tough topics?
  5. This is a collection of stories based on Canadian relations with Native peoples. In what ways do these events and histories differ from the U.S.? In what ways are they the same?

Reader’s Advisory

“This Place: 150 Years Retold” can be found on these Goodreads lists: “Best Canadian Aboriginal Literature” and “Graphic Novels & Comics By The Aboriginal, Indigenous and Native Peoples Of The World.”

Find “This Place: 150 Years Retold” at your library using WorldCat!

Next up is “God’s of Jade and Shadow” by Silvia Moreno-Garcia.

Kate’s Review: “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale”

38452822._sx318_Book: “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” by Lauren Myracle and Isaac Goodhart (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Ink, May 2019

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Selina Kyle is fiercer than she knows. For 15 years, she’s put up with her mother’s string of bad boyfriends, but when Dernell, her mom’s current beau, proves crueler than the others, Selina reevaluates her place in her home. There’s no way Selina and Dernell can live under the same roof, and since Dernell won’t leave, Selina must.

From New York Times bestselling author Lauren Myracle (ttyl) and artist Isaac Goodhart comes a story about learning how to survive the world when you’ve been forced to abandon your home and finding allies in the most unexpected moments.

Review: If I’ve said it once, I’ve said it many a time: I love Catwoman. I have always loved Catwoman. And because of my deep and unabiding love for Catwoman, I am VERY picky about how Catwoman is portrayed. Some portrayals I’ve loved, other’s I’ve despised, but at the end of the day while it’s a gamble, I am always up for giving any version a chance. So when I discovered “Catwoman: Under the Moon” by Lauren Myracle, I absolutely had to take the bet and roll the dice.

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It will probably never live up to this, but a good effort can do a lot. (source)

I always find it a little risky to try and give Selina Kyle/Catwoman an origin story, for a couple of reasons. The first is that Selina is such a mysterious character at her heart that learning too much can sometimes take away some of the allure. While I like getting into her head and seeing vulnerability, I think that part of the appeal of her is that she has secrets to hide, and don’t you wish you knew them. The other is that some origins have become so iconic over the years (“Batman Returns” really nailed it), I’m always going to be comparing new origins to well done old ones. I think that, for the most part, Myracle is able to fight back both of these pitfalls, as her backstory for Selina is filled with pathos and empathy while still feeling very believable in a lot of ways (I’ll get to the problems I had with it in a bit). And I also think that it feels different enough from other origins I’ve read and unique enough that I wasn’t constantly being like ‘well that’s not how I see it’. Selina’s story in this balances a good line between too unbelievable tragic, and not dark enough. And given some of the darker themes that Myracle brings in, like domestic abuse, animal cruelty, mental illness, and homelessness, she also has a large list of resources in the back of the book so that any readers that may see themselves in Selina’s story may have a place to turn to. I really liked that. 

But then there were the issues I had with it. The first was that, for whatever reason, Bruce Wayne had to be brought in as a childhood friend of Selina. Look, I love Selina and Bruce, no question, they are definitely a top ship for me in the DC universe. But I had really hoped that Selina could have just stood on her own two feet without him being around. It also just didn’t make sense that he had to tell her that his parents had been murdered and what was why they grew apart, and she seemed to not know that. I mean, I feel like the murders of two of the most powerful people in Gotham would have been news that most people would have heard of. And given that Selina was in a middle school setting with Bruce, that teenage gossip mill would have CERTAINLY clued her in, right?! On top of that, there were a good number of plot ideas and strings that were introduced in this book, but I didn’t feel like many of them were fully explored. The biggest one for me was when Selina started running with other homeless kids, and met a girl named Briar Rose who doesn’t speak and has a tragic backstory. There was a lot of potential in the friendship between Selina and Briar Rose (or Rosie as Selina starts calling her!), especially since Myracle left Selina’s younger sister out of this backstory. But we didn’t really get to see their friendship grow, as there was a time jump with small flashbacks to show that they were now thick as thieves so that the plot could progress as such. I never really care for that kind of storytelling.

“Under the Moon” was an alright backstory for one of my favorite DC ladies, but it had the promise to be so much more. That said, if Myracle continued this story, I’d probably pick it up!

Rating 6: A pretty okay origin story for Selina Kyle/Catwoman, but there were a few too many ideas that didn’t get explored enough.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” is included on the Goodreads lists “Ladies of DC”, and “DC Comics by Women”.

Find “Under the Moon: A Catwoman Tale” at your library using WorldCat!

Kate’s Review: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time”

9968822Book: “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” by Warren Ellis, Darick Robertson (Ill.), & Rodney Ramos (Ill.)

Publishing Info: Vertigo, June 2004

Where Did I Get This Book: I own it.

Book Description: The final volume in the saga of outlaw journalist Spider Jerusalem written by comics superstar Warren Ellis. At last, it’s the final showdown between Spider and the absolutely corrupt President of the United States in this new printing of the finale to the classic dystopian saga from Vertigo.

Review: It was a re-read almost four years in the making. Ten volumes, two awful presidents, two awesome lady assistants, one literally two faced cat, and numerous bowel disruptor guns later, and I have finally reached the end of Spider Jerusalem’s return to Gonzo reporting in a dystopian cyberpunk future. My re-read of “Transmetropolitan” has been wild to say the least. And if you remember from the end of my last review, I was a little worried that it had ended in a way that feels a little dated given recent political shenanigans. But let’s jump on into “One More Time” and begin our fond farewell.

The good news is that “One More Time” immediately assuaged the fears I had at the end of “The Cure”. It wasn’t going to be so easy as a sex scandal to bring down The Smiler, much as it didn’t do much of anything in our own present reality. But Spider, Yelena, and Channon weren’t going to give up so easily, and the beginning of the final confrontation between Spider and The Smiler is underway. What that means for Spider and his assistants is a bit murkier. Warren Ellis is known for brash and over the top themes as well as a dark cynicism, and we find both of those things in abundance. But there is also a whole lot of hope in this last volume, and that hope is something that I myself am clinging to. Again, you don’t know how things are going to completely shake out, but as Ellis unfolds everything and makes it all come together, reaching far far back in the series to do so, we go back to other storylines and other characters from the past who all have their parts to play, and it makes you wonder if Ellis had known from early on where they were going to end up. It works that well. In terms of the final confrontation, I was of two minds when it came to how impactful I found it. On one hand, it felt a little rushed and neat and underwhelming. I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll be vague, but it just kind of ended with less of a bang and more of a pop. I certainly wouldn’t call it a whimper. But it wasn’t the big to do that perhaps one would expect. But on the other hand, maybe that’s how this kind of thing would have to end. Maybe it does have to be more muted, because that shows that the monster who causes so much grief and havoc is really just pathetic and fallible. So while I had wanted more, less may be more appropriate.

It’s the ultimate message of this story that truly resonated with me and made “One More Time” a satisfying end to a series that I still love. And that is that the truth is the most important thing above all else, and that the true heroes are the ones that sacrifice and give their all to make sure that it comes out. Spider Jerusalem is violent, grumpy, antagonistic, and a bit of a jerk. But he is devoted to making sure that the world knows the truth of how things are, and he will fight tooth and nail and to his own detriment to make sure that it all gets out. And along with him we get Channon and Yelena, two ladies who have tenacity, brashness, brains, and the drive to help him get that truth out as well as pursue their own goals. This trio is by far one of the best in comics, even if they aren’t exactly the most likable, because they are entertaining and chaotic and filled with hope. “Transmetropolitan” is teeming with hope. And as someone who has at times felt hopeless in our own political and social climate, this was a true antidote to that hopelessness. At least for now. But if there’s one thing you should take from “Transmetropolitan”, it’s to keep fighting that good fight. I don’t know what the next election will hold. I don’t know if we’re stuck with our own Beast/Smiler for another four years or not. But I know that we can learn something from Spider, Yelena, and Channon. 

I am going to miss The City. I’m going to miss The Filthy Assistants. I’m going to miss Spider. At least until I decide to re-read again. Until that time, “One More Time” was a fabulous end to a fabulous series.

Rating 9: A great end to a great series, “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” perfectly wraps up Spider’s story and gives this reader hope.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” is included on the Goodreads lists “Bibles for the Revolution”, and “Best of Cyberpunk”.

Find “Transmetropolitan (Vol.10): One More Time” at your library using WorldCat!

Previously Reviewed:

Kate’s Review: “Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death”

29429567._sy475_Book: “Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death” by Amy Chu, Clay Mann (Ill.), & Seth Mann (Ill.)

Publishing Info: DC Comics, September 2016

Where Did I Get This Book: The library!

Book Description: Poison Ivy blossoms into her first solo adventure! There are animals. There are vegetables. And there is somewhere in between. That’s where Dr. Pamela Isley, a.k.a. Poison Ivy, finds herself. Instead of battling the Dark Knight, she is now a researcher at the Gotham Botanical Gardens, studying the possibility of creating plant-human hybrids. But when her fellow scientists start turning up dead, she’s both the natural leading suspect and the only person (or plant) who can crack the case. To solve the mystery, Poison Ivy must team up or throw down with her oldest friends and closest frenemies, from Harley Quinn to Catwoman to the Swamp Thing. Can she keep things under control, or will she be responsible for a deadly new harvest? Sprouting from the brains of the up-and-coming creative team of writer Amy Chu and artist Clay Mann, it s a mean, green murder mystery starring one of Batman’s greatest rogues!

Review: I will admit that my love for Poison Ivy was late blooming (HAHAHA) in all my years of Batman worship. I don’t know if it was because “Batman and Robin” (though Uma Thurman is a goddess and I now appreciate her characterization in spite of everything), or my disinterest in plants in general, but it took far too long for me to love Dr. Pamela Isley. It didn’t happen until I was looking for a cosplay outfit that wouldn’t require a wig, and I dove heart and soul into making a Poison Ivy costume. And it turned out AWESOME, if I do say so myself.

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And to hide my prematurely white hair I dyed my roots green, because ROOTS!

So now that my love for Ivy is here to stay and all encompassing, I was totally tickled when I saw “Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death” during a weeding project at work. I wanted to give this book a stay of execution and wanted to see what author Amy Chu had done with my girl.

There were two, maybe three, really strong aspects to this book. The first is that we get to see Pamela back in her research role, and we get to see how awesome she is at it. While we are used to seeing her as an eco-terrorist or just a general baddie that Batman has to take on, it’s sometimes easy to forget that she is a brilliant scientist, and seeing her passionate and stupendous at her work was heartening as hell. Chu shows that Pamela is in her element, and even throws in some really satisfying moments of fighting back against sexism and misogyny in STEM. True, it’s with violence, but it’s a power fantasy so that’s just fine. The second aspect I enjoyed (a mild spoiler alert here) was the exploration of Poison Ivy as not only a scientific creator, but as a mother as well. She creates human plant hybrids that she raises as her daughters, and I thought that showing motherhood and nurturing sides of Poison Ivy while still letting her maintain her strength and power. Too often these more feminine themes are thrown aside as if they aren’t strengths in superhero stories, so to see it here was great. And the third aspect was seeing some other DC lady favorites like Harley Quinn and Selina Kyle show up and help Ivy when needed, as well as a cameo from another DC character that I’m going to keep under wraps.

Those aspects aside, “Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death” didn’t have the oomph that I wanted from it. While I liked Ivy as a mother figure, her relationship with her three ‘daughters’ Rose, Hazel, and Thorn didn’t get enough deep dive attention. The affection was there, sure, but we didn’t really get to see it build and transform, as a time jump to speed up the plot deprived us of the actual character and relationship development. Another quibble I had was that the relationship between Ivy and Harley Quinn wasn’t nearly sapphic enough. There was something of a hint towards them perhaps being an item if you knew to look for it, but there was a bit more attention towards Ivy’s scientist colleague Darshan and the sexual tension there. To Chu’s credit, while Darshan is a nice addition to the story, his relationship with Ivy doesn’t really go anywhere. But the fact that even the hint of her being with a guy got more attention than the long standing undertones of the Ivy/Harley relationship made me even more frustrated.

And finally, I didn’t really care for the artwork. The reason for this is that while this story really is great in that it puts Ivy at the front and gives her agency and a lot of cool things to do, the character design was definitely still through the male gaze.

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What is going on with these proportions?! (source)
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And what is the point of this may I ask? (source)

It just doesn’t fit with the tone of the story.

I’m glad that Poison Ivy got her own story where she could show off her strengths, and there were certainly good things about “Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death”. I just wish that we had gotten more. But if you like Poison Ivy, you will find things to like here.

Rating 6: A perfectly fine adventure starring one of my favorite anti-heroines, but I really wanted more from it.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death” is included on the Goodreads lists “Biologically Interesting Sci-Fi”, and “Ladies of DC”.

Find “Poison Ivy: Cycle of Life and Death” at your library using WorldCat!

Bookclub Review: “Almost American Girl”

40030311._sy475_We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing bookclub running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is “American Girl Readalikes”, in which we each pick an American Girl book and a book that can be connected to it, however tenuous as it may be.

For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!

Book: “Almost American Girl” by Robin Ha

Publishing Info: Balzer + Bray, January 2020

Where Did We Get This Book: The library!

American Girl Book: “Felicity Saves the Day” by Valerie Tripp

Book Description: A powerful and timely teen graphic novel memoir—perfect for fans of American Born Chinese and Hey, Kiddo—about a Korean-born, non-English-speaking girl who is abruptly transplanted from Seoul to Huntsville, Alabama, and struggles with extreme culture shock and isolation, until she discovers her passion for comic arts.

For as long as she can remember, it’s been Robin and her mom against the world. Growing up in the 1990s as the only child of a single mother in Seoul, Korea, wasn’t always easy, but it has bonded them fiercely together.

So when a vacation to visit friends in Huntsville, Alabama, unexpectedly becomes a permanent relocation—following her mother’s announcement that she’s getting married—Robin is devastated. Overnight, her life changes. She is dropped into a new school where she doesn’t understand the language and struggles to keep up. She is completely cut off from her friends at home and has no access to her beloved comics. At home, she doesn’t fit in with her new stepfamily. And worst of all, she is furious with the one person she is closest to—her mother.

Then one day Robin’s mother enrolls her in a local comic drawing class, which opens the window to a future Robin could never have imagined.

Kate’s Thoughts

I had not heard of this book before it was picked for our book club session in March, and therefore going into it was a bit of a blind dive in. I had heard of Robin Ha’s previous book, “Cook Korean! A Comic Book with Recipes” but I knew that this was going to be a bit different. I figured I’d read “Almost American Girl” over the course of a few days, but then I ended up devouring it in nearly one sitting. I loved it that much.

The first thing that struck me about this book was how gorgeous and unique the art was. The colors are a watercolor-esque aesthetic, and it had both a calming effect as well as really evoking the emotions that were coming off the page. Robin’s transition from her life in Korea to her sudden shift to America was emotional and very difficult, and Ha used the imagery in both the pictures themselves and the color schemes to portray all of the ups and downs of Robin’s feelings during that time. From stark reds or darkness during difficult times, or almost glowing and bright colors in times of happiness, Ha uses the artwork to her advantage in her storytelling, and I really liked it.

The story, too, was compelling and very readable. While I was absolutely interested in Robin’s story as a girl who has to completely shift from one culture to another, Ha also makes a point to show the point of view of her mother, who made the decision to take her daughter from her life in South Korea and move them to Alabama without any hint or forewarning. I thought that at first I was going to have a hard time with her mother (while still trying to recognize the cultural differences between my experience and hers), but, like Serena mentions below, Ha was very deliberate in wanting to give a full picture as to how hard she had it and why she would take such a huge risk. And, on a personal note, I think that now that I’m a mother to a daughter (who is still just a baby, mind you) I was especially moved by their relationship, through the good times and the bad.

Ha also did a very good job of showing the straddling of traditional cultural expectations, and the different expectations that the children of immigrants may have. Ha’s step family was a mixed bag of those who thought that Robin and her mother should be adhering to the traditional roles they would have had back in South Korea (even though Robin’s mother didn’t feel like she had a place in that society as an opinionated single mother), and those who wanted to just fit in in American society. That was a theme that I wasn’t really expecting from this story, and I thought Ha was very careful in making sure not to say whether these expectations were right or wrong. Well, except in the case of her step-cousin. That girl was just mean. But we also got to see Ha make connections to other Korean-American kids her age as time goes on, and how once you do find that place in a community that ‘gets it’ it can make a world of difference in one’s life.

“Almost American Girl” was a moving and wonderful graphic memoir. I am so, so glad that we read it.

Serena’s Thoughts

As I’ve said many times before, a big part of my appreciation for bookclub is how it challenges me to read outside of my typical genres. Unlike Kate, I rarely get around to graphic novels, even though I tend to enjoy them when I do  read them. I was excited, then, when I saw that we’d be reading this book next!

This book had a lot of great things going for it, from the excellent looks into a girl’s experience as an immigrant coming to the U.S., to the exploration of her mother’s life and choices, to the beautiful use of the artwork to display the myriad of emotions that Robin experiences as she adjust to her new life. I’ve read a handful of other “immigrant experience” novels and they have all had something unique to offer as no “experience” will be the same, obviously. One thing that I think this story really highlighted were the challenges of language for Robin and the impact this had on her adjustment to life in the U.S. The use of the graphic novel format was cleverly used in this instance to replace speech bubbles with nonsense jargon to highlight how difficult it was for Robin to follow along in conversations, especially when the speaker was talking quickly.

I also really liked the inclusion of the mother’s story. From the beginning, seen through Robin’s eyes, it is challenging to understand the choices Robin’s mother has made that has lead to the complete upheaval of their lives. But as the story continues, we learn more and more about Robin’s mother’s past, the challenges she faced living in Korea as a single mother, and the values she saw in coming to raise her daughter in a completely foreign and new country. And even after that one major choice was made, we see the struggle and the myriad of choices, both good and bad, that Robin’s mother faces in the U.S. while trying to make a new life here.

Lastly, I really enjoyed the last portion of the story that shows Robin briefly returning to Seoul when she’s in college and finding that she no longer fits there either. It’s an interesting look again at the differences between Korean and American culture, and touches on a side of the immigrant experience that is often skipped over. How, on returning to one’s nation of origin, many can find that they no longer fit in within that culture either.

I really enjoyed this book. I think the artwork was beautiful, and I loved the story itself. I highly recommend it to pretty much everyone!

Kate’s Rating 9: An emotional and personal memoir that tackles culture, the immigrant experience, identity, and the importance of community, “Almost American Girl” was a heartfelt and moving read.

Serena’s Rating 9: Through beautiful artwork, “Almost American Girl” presents a moving story of the immigrant experience full of challenges, sorrows, and joys

Book Club Questions

  1. How does “Almost American Girl” compare to other “immigrant experience” novels that you have read?
  2. What did you think of the artwork in this book? Was there anything in particular that stood out to you?
  3. How did you react to Robin’s mother’s parts of this book? Did you feel like you understood the choices that she made?
  4. How did you find Robin’s step family and the way that they treated her and her mother?
  5. Do you think that today Robin would have had the same experience when coming to a completely new culture and country? Why or why not?
  6. How did you feel about where she ended the story in terms of where she was in her life at the time? Did that seem like a good way to wrap the story up?

Reader’s Advisory

“Almost American Girl” is included on the Goodreads list “Great Graphic Novels Released in 2020”, and would fit in on “Books and Boba Reading List”.

Find “Almost American Girl” at your library using WorldCat!

Next Book Club Book: “This Place: 150 Years Retold” by  Kateri Akiwenzie-Damm, Sonny Assu, et al.