Review: Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed by Laurie Halse Anderson and Leila del Duca

Wonder Woman: Tempest Tossed book coverI was a little surprised to see a graphic novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, but of course I had to check it out. I'm not a superhero fan in general, but I sometimes make an exception for Wonder Woman. I'm glad I did this time. It was illustrated by an artist I wasn't familiar with, Leila del Duca, but she impressed me with her sharp style.

In this one, Diana is sixteen when the barrier protecting the island of Themyscira is compromised and she goes beyond it to help victims of a shipwreck. But she gets stuck outside and can't get back in. So she ends up in a refugee camp, where her language skills (apparently Amazons can speak every language) are super useful. Fortunately, she makes it out of the camp to New York, where she lands with a Polish immigrant and her teenage granddaughter, who Diana befriends.   

The story overall is one about social justice, which isn't a surprise from Anderson. I won't give away what the issues that it deals with are, but it's a good story. My favorite light moment is when Diana is introduced to traditional polka dancing and loves it, and her friend is mortified. Diana is definitely a fish out of water in America, which makes for both some funny scenes, but also an interesting and incisive perspective on society.

This book is a must-read for all you fans of Wonder Woman or Anderson. Also anyone who cares about social justice will likely enjoy it.

Review: Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung

A Quiet Girl in a Noisy World book coverI’ve just discovered a new gem in this author/artist. There were moments I was reading this when I thought Tung must have been channeling my thoughts word-for-word. Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert’s Story is a memoir chronicling Tung’s life from late grad school at the University of Birmingham in England through her first real job. She reflects some on her childhood and basically shows how she came to realize that being shy and very introverted is okay, not something to be ashamed of. Her art style is subdued in black, white, and gray watercolors and I really liked it.

One of the many areas where I especially felt like she and I were on the same wavelength was with books, which she loves (as do I). She goes nowhere without one, even if she knows she won’t be able to read it, because it gives her a sense of comfort and the feeling of a friend by her side. She says:

When I see a book I’ve read and liked on someone else’s bookshelf…

I secretly know we are going to be good friends.

She talks about how emotionally attached she gets to the characters in the books she reads, and how it feels like a relationship has ended when she finishes them. She watches emotional movies so she can have an excuse to cry without judgment.

I also could really relate to the way she seeks meaning in everything and feels the need to constantly be productive in some way. She says:

I always doubt that I’m living up to my full potential.

I should learn a new language every year. Or a new skill. Maybe I can take some classes.

I feel like I should constantly be doing something to improve myself, learning new things, and growing as a person.

When will I know it’s okay to stop?

Perhaps never…

When she is starting to realize she finds her job meaningless, she asks:

I did everything right at work today.

Why do I still feel so empty?

I also expect to find meaning in the things I do, and when work isn’t fulfilling, it’s so draining.

I loved how she conveyed what it’s like to meet new people.

Meeting new people

I’m so uncomfortable that this is pretty much how it is for me, too. Her general discomfort in social situations causes her a lot of stress until she finally accepts herself. She says:

I’m socially awkward and weird.

I’ve always felt like there is something wrong with me. I’ve been like this my whole life.

Sometimes her description of social interactions are so relatable. Here's the aftermath of one:

Aftermath of an awkward conversation

Some of it is kind of funny:

A conversation with a neighbor


Dissertation vs. socializing

Another one that made me laugh was her having to make a phone call for work in front of people:

Using the phone in front of people

I hate calling people I don’t know well, and with people watching... Well. But in all three of these cases, it might make you laugh, but it’s kind of a sad funny.

She doesn’t feel great about herself because of the pressure society puts on introverts to be extraverted. And especially as it relates to shyness—shyness is sort of forgiven in children, but once you’re an adult you’re supposed to have outgrown it and “come out of your shell.” Although she tries to be friendly, how she really feels is:

A mixture of frustration, insanity, and dying on the inside.

She famously overthinks everything, something I can totally relate to. She’s even got a sort of flowchart that shows the thought process she goes through when deciding to go to a social event or not:

Socializing flowchart

I loved how she talks about ”energy level” and how it reflects her ability to deal with social situations and her general emotional state. It’s true for me too that when I’m low on that type of energy, everything is hard to deal with:

Low energy and intensityThe good news is that by the end of the book, she has discovered and accepted her introversion, and no longer beats herself up over it.

Overall, this is an excellent portrayal of the shy introvert’s experience (though not all introverts are shy). It’s very sweet and a little funny at times, but always honest and real to Tung’s experiences. Many people will find this highly relatable, and I think it could even be helpful for some people who can’t relate to it (i.e., extraverts) to learn about the way the other half lives. I’m looking forward to reading her other book, Book Love (how can I not like that, right?).

Review: Pumpkinheads by Rainbow Rowell and Faith Erin Hicks

Pumpkinheads book coverI’m a big Rowell fan because I think she does a fantastic job of capturing the emotional truth of people in her characters. I was new to Hicks, but I quite enjoyed this graphic novel. Hicks’ art was sharp and evocative. It felt like she used an autumn color palette, too, that comes across as seasonal and vivid.

Deja and Josie have worked together every fall at the local but immense and involved pumpkin patch and now it’s their last year there before they go off to college. It has numerous stations, from Pappy’s Apples, the Corn Maize, the S’mores Pit, and the Haunted Hacienda. The two of them have worked at the Succotash Hut every year and they’re very good friends, even if the don’t see each other except in the fall.

Josie is a shy boy who’s harbored a crush on Marcy, a girl who works at the Fudge Shoppe, since he started there. Deja is an outgoing and bold girl who wants to help Josie seize the day and tell Marcy how he feels. They do something that feels wild and crazy to Josie—leave their station and go on a quest to find Marcy, who keeps getting moved from station to station right ahead of them. Along the way they run into many of Deja’s exes—boys and girls—and we learn just how timid Josie really is. He has a lesson to learn about pining for someone from a distance rather than paying attention to what’s in front of his face.

This is a cute fall story, very well-illustrated. Fans of Rowell should like it, and I’d imagine the same can be said of fans of Hicks (I’m planning to check out some of her other stuff).

Review: Chi’s Sweet Home by Konami Kanata

Chi's Sweet Home book 1Normally I stick with YA here, but I couldn’t resist reviewing what is probably my favorite graphic novel series, even though it’s totally for kids.

The Chi’s Sweet Home series is twelve short manga about a little kitten who gets lost in a park while out with her mama and two siblings. After looking for them, she collapses on the grass in exhaustion and depression. She is found by a family—the Yamadas—with a little boy named Yohei. They take her home and become cat owners, despite early attempts to rehome her. After some litter box tribulations, they name her Chi, which apparently (and hilariously) means something like ”pee.” In the beginning, Chi is all about trying to get home, remembering cuddling with her mama and siblings. But she’s very distracted by food, eating herself into a stupor and passing out in her cat bed every time. Eventually she becomes so entrenched with Yohei and the adults that she forgets she’s a cat. Then, when they start letting her outside, she meets other cats and has many adventures, both fun and frightening.

The series is really quite adorable. I mean, it’s hard to describe it otherwise. Konami captures cat ownership and cat behavior so, so well—she puts all these little details in there that you've probably forgetten about, but when you see them, you think, “Yes! That’s exactly what it’s like!” The way that food is the key to her heart and how she sleeps so hard, among others. In the first book, her first visit to the vet is pretty funny, especially once they get the thermometer out.

The art is simple and in soft colors, but somehow conveys a great deal of feeling from Chi, her cat friends, and the humans. I think the story in the first book isn’t the most exciting, but the story that spans the twelve books is deeper and more interesting. I definitely feel that if you like the first one—even if you don’t love it—the others will make you happy. The Yamadas go through a lot for Chi, even moving to a new apartment. I can say that the ending was a little bittersweet for me, because Chi had to leave some of her friends and family behind in order to stay where she felt she most belonged.

I should mention there’s one thing that some people might find a little off-putting (I feel like I should have, too, but didn’t), which is Chi’s baby talk that. It’s not every thought, but Chi’s R’s and L’s are often W’s, and W’s are often inserted in unnecessary places (“gowing” for going, “wittle” for little, “scarewy” for scary). This may simply be a translation thing since I haven’t been able to read it in the original Japanese. However, I think the series still worth trying (twying?) because it might be worth it.

Anyway, this series is definitely for cat people. If you don’t like cats, I imagine it would be boring and tedious. But if you do like cats, you will probably enjoy it, whether you’re six or sixty-six. The original versions are out of print, but you can get them used for pretty low prices. Plus, there are new versions out that appear to be longer, omnibus editions (I think there are four that complete the series).

Chi's Sweet Home book stack

Review: Awakening (Monstress #1) by Marjorie Liu and Sara Takeda

I haven’t been reading a lot of graphic novels lately, probably because I’ve been on more of a contemporary kick and most graphic novels are fantasy or sci-fi. But this one caught my eye at Barnes and Noble because of the art on the front—and the cat I saw on the back when I turned it over. It comes highly recommended with two blurbs by Neil Gaiman as well as ones from EW and Cosmopolitan. 

Monstress Awakening book cover

Monstress is an epic steampunk story about a survivor of a devastating race war between humans and Arcanics. Seventeen-year-old Maika Halfwolf may have survived the war several years earlier, but that doesn’t mean she knows her past. It’s a mystery and she’s desperate to understand it, so she is searching for answers as the story opens. She kills a dangerous woman and steals something that belonged to her, which triggers all sorts of badness. As the book continues, Maika’s joined by a half-fox named Kippa and a two-tailed poet cat named Ren (both of whom are very cute, in case you were wondering). Maika has some impressive powers which she uses to brutal effect when she needs to, but she also has a monster inside her that she’s fighting for control of her body. 

Although the story is good, I have to admit sometimes I got a little lost reading it because it is deep and complex (particularly as relates to the politics). But this isn’t really a bad thing because there are plenty of people who adore stories like this. For me, the best part was the art, which was beautiful—dark and evocative. Oh, and it doesn’t hurt that the themes of feminism and diversity are right there for all to see. Because while it’s steampunk, it’s not set in alternate England—it’s more alternate Asia somewhere. And it’s peopled mostly by women, who run the gamut when it comes to being good or not.  

Review: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

Nimona book coverI don’t remember how I found out about this graphic novel, but I’m glad I did, because it was highly entertaining. Although art is generally a matter of personal preference, I liked it. The book features Nimona, a shapeshifter whose base form is that of a teenage girl, and Ballister Blackheart, the kingdom’s purported notorious villain. Blackheart has a vendetta against Ambrosius Goldenloin, who destroyed Blackheart’s right arm. These are the folks you see on the cover. The comic is set in a vaguely medieval world with advanced science. It’s clever and even subversive at times, all while managing to be hilarious.

Nimona hangs a stocking

Oh, and there are dragons.

Blackheart is in a bit of a rut as the kingdom’s supervillain, though his scientific experiments are continuing. He has an issue with killing people, so mostly he’s a nuisance. Enter Nimona, who shakes things up as his self-appointed sidekick.

Nimona's a shark

She’s precocious and annoys him at first, but she’s relentless enough in her commitment to him and her interest in furthering his supervillain career that they take on the Institution of Law Enforcement, who Goldenloin works for.

Nimona meets Goldenloin

Back in the day, Goldenloin and Blackheart were heroes in training, but now Goldenloin is the sole hero of the kingdom. The Institution isn’t as squeaky clean as they would have everyone believe. No, they’re carrying out dangerous experiments that are risking the health of the entire population. Things escalate and Blackheart and Nimona have several violent encounters with Goldenloin and/or the Institution, culminating in one big battle.

I loved the fact that Nimona doesn’t have a perfect model body—she’s got these big thighs that made me adore her. And I appreciate it all the more because she’s a shapeshifter, after all—she could take any form she wanted. I also loved that the kingdom’s legendary hero was a woman who slayed a giant scaled creature rumored to be a shapeshifter. The clever “mad scientist” that Blackheart turns to in an attempt to save Nimona is also a woman.

The major characters are all complex, but Nimona and Blackheart are both especially good. Nimona is damaged (as an abandoned child), impulsive and gung-ho about everything. Blackheart is always subdued and deadpan. And their father-daughter-like relationship is cute to watch.

Nimona's a sore loser

Their dialogue is always funny and full of subtext giving sneaking glimpses into their insecurities. And there’s more than meets the eye with Blackheart and Goldenloin, reminiscent of Rainbow Rowell’s Carry On.

I’ll leave you with my favorite scene:

Nimona watches a movie