Guest Graphic Novel Review: White Bird by R.J. Palacio

White Bird by R.J. Palacio. Random House, 2019. 9780525645535. 220 pp

Wonder is a multiple award-winning children’s book, the story of August “Auggie” Pullman, a young guy with facial deformities who has to deal with bullies in his junior high after he stops being home schooled. The biggest bully at Beecher Prep is Julian who receives the most extreme punishment for the way he treats Auggie.
White Bird a sequel of sorts, or at least a related book — it’s a graphic novel told from Julian’s point of view when he Skypes his grandmother Sara (whom he affectionately calls “Grandmere”) for a Humanities project. Grandmere tells him about growing up in an affluent home in Germany where father was a well-respected surgeon and her mother was a math teacher. She was their only child and admittedly a little spoiled. Life was good until Nazis started raiding Jewish homes, schools, and businesses. Her mother was taken to a camp in Auschwitz. She didn’t and doesn’t know know what happened to her father. Grandmere’s school was raided but she was able to escape with the help of a social outcast, Julien, who hid her in his family’s barn. His parents hid her in the hayloft while the raids continued. She lived there for over a year until Germany surrendered. 
The white bird of the story is a dove that represents peace and freedom. Julien’s Grandmere reflects on how her father referred to her as a bird when she was younger, and as he threw her into the air. The imagery plays into the end of the story, too, after she hangs up the phone, picks up the newspaper, and sees a headline about the US border patrol.
This is a beautifully inked graphic novel, a haunting and powerful story of the Holocaust. Palacio is a brilliant artist and storyteller.
Thanks to Murphy’s Mom for this guest review.
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Graphic Novel Review: BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels and Ben Passmore

BTTM FDRS by Ezra Clayton Daniels and Ben Passmore. Fantagraphics, 2019. 9781683962069. 300pp.

Fashion designer Darla moves into a big apartment in an old building in the Chicago neighborhood where she grew up, the Bottomyards. Weird shit starts to happen. A dude working for the power company is pulled into the basement by some kind of duck-thing, then starts ranting about reptilian hybrids, and Darla and her friend find what look like entrails in Darla’s toilet. Cue a Scooby-Dooby-by-way-of-David-Lynch adventure with a bit of social commentary thrown in along with a few hilarious touches. My favorite character is Plymouth Rock, a rap star who dresses up as a pilgrim, and who also lives in the building.

This is a small format, original graphic novel from two creators who have been hitting home runs lately: Daniels (Upgrade Soul) and Passmore (Your Black Friend). It’s a beautiful bit of grotesque weirdness in which the writing and art really flow, and that you can read in a sitting. Enjoy.

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YA Book Review: What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee

What I Leave Behind by Alison McGhee. Simon & Schuster, 2018. 9781481476560. 199pp. (The page count is deceptive. The book has a few very short paragraphs of text on every other page, with the facing page having a single Chinese character for a number between one and 100, arranged sequentially.)

Will walks to and from the dollar store where he works, to and from school, past places and people. He talks to Superman (a guy who lives on the street), to a kid who shows him the butterflies that land on his garage, and to his socially challenged but kindhearted boss, Major Tom. Will thinks about cornbread all the time, which is a way of thinking about his dad, who used to make it. And sometimes he thinks about his friend Playa, who was raped by three guys at a party after Will left. He hasn’t talked to her about that, or about his dad, or anything for a while. But Will has a good heart, and after doing a few nice things for the kid with the butterflies, he decides maybe he can do a few nice things for Playa, too.

This is a short, poetic, big-hearted story that I read in a very short amount of time, and which I’m going to reread again, I’m sure.

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Book Review: The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain

The Gurkha and the Lord of Tuesday by Saad Z. Hossain. Tor, 2019. 9781250209115. 167pp.

After thousands of years, Melek Ahmar, the Lord of Tuesday, Most August Rajah of the Djinn, awakens in his stone sarcophagus. The spells that kept him there have rotted, like most of the earth. He soon meets a Hume who refuses to tremble before him, a pistachio eating Gurkha named Bhan Gurung who lives in a hovel in the mountains, with enough tech to create a healthy microclimate around him. Ghurung tells the djinn of Kathmandu, whose citizens are now governed by an impartial AI named Karma. They set out for the city because Melek Ahmar needs worshipers and is determined to rule again.

Soon Melek Ahmar is trying to raise hell there, to have a little fun and get some respect. Gurung wants revenge, but that comes later. There’s a well-behaved sheriff in town, and he and his lover, a high ranking soldier, may be all that stand between Karma and the Lord of Tuesday. It’s hard to raise hell, even for a djinn, in a paradise where everyone can pretty much have what they want. Maybe things aren’t quite as perfect as they seem in Kathmandu, though.

Gurung is a hilariously deadpan man who stands out in his crowd of zeros — he not only has zero karma points, he’s removed the implants that allow him to be recognized as a citizen and to interact with the virtuality. Melek Ahmar is as full of himself and his power as he is with disdain for everyone else, and is constantly spouting insults and bragging. The sheriff is a puzzle, one of the only folks still determined to contribute to a society where no contribution is required.

This is a fun, very readable novella.

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Graphic Novel Review: Murder Falcon

Murder Falcon by Daniel Warren Johnson (writer, artist) and Mike Spicer (colorist). Image, 2019. 9781534312357. Collects #1-#8 and a bunch of covers, so it’s a good value at $19.99.

Giant monsters are attacking but don’t worry, Jake brought METAL (and his guitar). When Jake starts playing, a muscular cyborg bird, Murder Falcon, appears and saves the day. The harder Jake shreds, the stronger MF becomes.

If you need to know more than that, this book isn’t for you, though it’s worth noting that the art is fantastic, the writing is great, and there’s a lot of heart in this book. The monsters are amazing, too.

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Oh Josephine! by Jason

O Josephine! by Jason. Fantagraphics, 2019. 9781683962106. 174pp.

Another book full of deadpan, four-panel perfection from Norwegian cartoonist Jason. There are four graphic novellas in this book. The first, in which Jason walks Ireland’s Wicklow Way, includes absurd moments like when he gets lost and imagines Bono and others commenting on a news story about his death. Napoleon appears in one, and in another there’s a crime and a woman trying to choose a name for her baby. My favorite is the short, absurd biography of Leonard Cohen — I have no idea how much of it is true I didn’t expected it to make me laugh so much. Highly enjoyable.

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Graphic Novel Review: Commute: An Illustrated Memoir of Female Shame by Erin Williams

Commute: An Illustrated Memoir of Female Shame by Erin Williams. Abrams Comicarts, 2019. 9781419736742. 295pp.

Erin Williams wakes up, puts on her makeup, walks her dog, and takes the train to work. Some of the people she encounters are pleasant. One guy, a pain in the ass, takes the last window seat just to take it away from everyone else. Another reminds her of someone she took home when she had her period. A man in a blue suit keeps looking at her, making her feel both threatened and lonely. This makes her think about someone she met at her grandfather’s funeral, and when she finally saw him as a predator, she realized how desperately she wanted to be seen (and how he didn’t see her at all).

This is a compelling string of consciousness look at not just Williams’ commute, but her relationships and her daily fight for control of her body, both in public and private. It’s darkness, the discussions of rape and alcoholism, is balanced by her humor, honesty, and the spare, poetic way she leads the reader through her thoughts and experiences. It’s a hard book to describe or booktalk, but it’s worth picking up.

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Book Review: State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease by Haider Warraich

State of the Heart: Exploring the History, Science, and Future of Cardiac Disease by Haider Warraich. St. Martin’s Press, 2019. 9781250169709. 337pp with an index.

Cardiologist Warraich writes about the history of heart disease in an incredibly compelling way, weaving personal experiences with tales of the history of the science. This includes many stories of poor research, ineffective treatments, and sketches of cardiology’s most famous and infamous personalities.

My favorite parts in the book were about the importance of double blind studies, and how we as people are all apt to believe anecdotes without really looking into the details. He’s convinced me to look past the news stories I hear about medical treatments and to start looking for cold hard facts and citations. (I’m going to be even more of a a pain in the ass to my doctor from now on, basically. I’ll blame Dr. Warraich.)

Overall the book gives a great sense of how far the treatment of heart disease has come, with a nod to many of its problems and a dash of hope for the future. Dr. Warraich does this all without BS or trying to sell anything. I took comfort in his honesty even though many of his stories about patients end with their deaths.

(Is it a coincidence this is my Halloween book review? No. Now you know what terrifies me.)

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Graphic Novel Review: Simon & Louise by Max de Radiguès

Simon & Louise by Max de Radiguès. Translated by Aleshia Jensen. Conundrum Press, 2019. 9781772620351. 123pp.

It’s the end of the school year. Louise is heading for Montpellier for the summer, but Simon just got a phone so they should be able to stay in touch. Simon’s story: Soon after she leaves, Simon sees that Louise has updated her status to single. She says her dad says she’s too young to be in love, and that she’ll see him in September. Simon decides her dad can’t keep them apart, lies to his mom about going on a trip with a friend, and starts hitchhiking to Montpellier to find her. (Minor spoiler: his trip is a bit harrowing and doesn’t end well.) Switch Louise’s story: A friend of hers was the one who changed her status. She was momentarily annoyed, but then wasn’t. She goes on a date with a boy who seems nice, but then isn’t (and then totally stands up for herself).

I love the way both Simon and Louise have both good and bad experiences over the summer. Despite a rough breakup it manages to end on a friendly note. It’s worth reading (and trying to get teens to read). (Note this was originally published as two full-color graphic novels in France.)


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