October 24, 2016

Recent Reads

161. Fatherland
Family histories are often complicated, and in this one a daughter tries to make sense of the choices made by her parents. Mom flees Canada and her abusive husband, returns to Yugoslavia and moves in with her parents. She takes along her two younger daughters, but is forced to leave her son behind. Press rewind, and we meet Dad before he met Mom, and get more insight into his life experiences. There are really troubling scenes depicted, and I actually cringed several times. Flash forward to Dad who has joined a terrorist organization, and we circle back to the beginning, and things that Mom did start to make more sense.

Children are so often the causalities of adult wars, and this graphic memoir is the family history of one family set against the politics of the Serbian Wars. I really liked the black and white art, and learned some history in the process. However, I don't think the author was able to mesh the two narratives really well, and so much seemed to simply be skimmed over. Still, this is a worthwhile read if you are unfamiliar with the history of that part of the world. Rating: 3 stars.

162. Panther
Christine is a young girl who lives with a her father, and when her cat Lucy dies, Christine is grief stricken. In the midst of her grief, something magical happens: a panther pops out of her dresser and tells her that he is crown prince of Pantherland.

Sounds like a sweet story right? Well, it starts out that way indeed, but then this graphic novel starts to take on sinister tones that are quite unsettling. Panther is a master storyteller and manipulator, and he soon has Christine totally enthralled with him.

When I started reading this one, I thought it was for kids, the art is whimsical and lovely, and the way that Panther is illustrated is marvelous. But this is not a kid book, though I think that kids reading it might not pick up on the sinister undertones of the story. I read that the author says that the story might be about the sexual abuse of a child, and I can see how it could be interpreted that way. That this explores the slow burn of an abusive relationship is not in doubt, and as an adult reader I was both sucked in and deeply disturbed with how the story unfolds. The illustrations work to set the right ambiance; that slow seduction and isolation and complete control of a child is especially chilling juxtaposed with those cheery colors.

I would recommend this one for adults and older teens, and if you've read it I want to discuss that ending. Rating: 4 stars.

163. The Nameless City (The Nameless City #1)
This graphic novel, targeted for middle grade readers, is the first in a series, and is a fun and quick read.

The story explores the notion of the conquered and the conquerors, and how they view and distrust each other. The two main characters, Rat and Kaidu, represent these groups to a certain extent, and it is fun to see how their friendship develops. I really liked that Rat is a young girl who has grit, is tough, and is shaped like a girl, not a sexy view of what society wants girls to look like. I really liked the first few pages that explain the title, and the art is fun and colorful.

I wanted a deeper exploration of the themes touched on - but then, I am much, much older than the target audience - and I do plan on recommending this one to my nieces and nephews. Rating: 3 stars.

164. Pereira Declares: A Testimony
I read the translation by Patrick Creagh.

One of the fun things about planning a trip is figuring out which books to read to help set the stage, and this one is near the top for books set in the Azores or Portugal.

This novella is light in terms of pages, but not in terms of ideas. Pereira is an aging, overweight journalist with a love of "omelette aux herbes" and lemonade, with lots of sugar. It's 1938, and Pereira writes the culture section of an evening paper in Lisbon, and yes the Spanish Civil War is going on, and yes he seems to have failed to notice the menacing cloud of fascism over Salazarist Portugal, but give him a break. He is a literate man with a passion for poets, and is after all only writing the culture section, he declares. He is not longer a journalist, and has no intention of sticking his head into places it does not belong. One day he meets a young man who propels his comfortable existence into unexpected trajectories.

It's hard to put into words what a delightful read this is. There is much rumination on poetry, and literature, and death, and the resurrection of the body, and other delightful rambles. The repetition of the title over and over is an interesting device, and this little book is a reminder that sometimes we are the heroes of our own stories. Rating: 4 stars.

165. How to Talk to Girls at Parties
I gather that this is a short story from a collection that the artists decided to make a graphic novel. In classic Gaiman style, this is a strange story of two teenage boys who crash a party filled with willowy, exotic, pretty girls. The narrator of this story is Enn, a fifteen year old who cannot seem to talk to girls, so what happens next?

Gaiman has some lovely lines about poetry and art, and the art by Moon and Ba is lovely, but I didn't care for the story. Rating: 2 stars.

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