by Vera Brosgol
:01 First Second
Library book from Junior Library Guild
[#8 in my 75 book challenge]
I used to say that I wasn’t a reader of graphic novels, but I think that has changed. I’ve tried really hard to read as many as I can over the past year because my students are so in love with them. One thing I’ve learned is that I think I love First Second publishers. The graphic novels that come from this publisher have depth and appeal to teens that want a stand-alone YA graphic novel. If you are interested in their catalog of books, you can view it here (they published American Born Chinese, Level Up, Friends With Boys, and Americus).
So what is Anya’s Ghost about? Anya is a Russian girl trying to fit in to American culture. She’s been fairly successful at losing her accent and being “American,” but she’s also bitter, angsty, and totally in love with a dreamboat jock. When Anya falls into an old well, she meets the ghost of a girl who had died there a hundred years before — and takes the ghost home with her. Anya and the ghost, Emily, become friends and partners in crime…until Anya tries to solve the mystery of Emily’s murder and realizes that something isn’t right.
I loved Anya. She’s a curvy girl and she had a great character transformation throughout the novel. The story itself was actually downright creepy at moments (thanks for that, Vera). Like American Born Chinese, it really speaks to the teenage need to fit in, and this theme can extend beyond differences of culture to all differences that teens struggle with in high school. Anya’s voice in the novel is snarky, which will also appeal to teens. Consider these quotes from Anya’s snarky daydream about her jock-tastic crush boy:
“Oh, Anya! Let’s have an intense spiritual relationship for no believable reason!”
“I could lose myself forever in that dark hair and those sweet love handles”
The book fell short for me in terms of consistency and the ending. Near the end, the story took a sudden jump from the direction it was going and become a horror novel, but only for a few pages. This jump left some of the characters and sub-plots in the dust, not giving them a satisfying ending. Perhaps that’s just life, there’s always a loose end, but in this novel it forced me to bump it down a grade.
Final Grade: C I enjoyed it, I really did. It’s average because I enjoy most of the books I read (I wouldn’t finish them if I didn’t like them, right?). Of course this book definitely belongs in my library because my students will like it. They won’t care about the loose ends. It’s worth a read, and it’s a quick one at that. I have seen Anya’s Ghost on some Printz-hopeful lists this year, but I don’t think it will hold up in the intense discussions that the committee has behind those closed doors. Maybe an honor medal? In my mind it just doesn’t compare to American Born Chinese, which won the Printz 2007 and was delightfully complex.
The Name of the Star
by Maureen Johnson
Putnam, 384 pp.
Library book received from JLG
[#59 of my
52 60 book challenge]
Here’s what this novel has: Jack the Ripper, London, boarding school, ghosts, murder, make-out sessions, awesome best friends, mean girls, laughs, and fear. The scary/fear meter was running high with this one.
Rory has just left Louisiana to attend a London boarding school , where she’s learning to handle the academics and her new friendships. She’s also having to handle the news of the various Jack the Ripper copy-cat murders happening all over her side of town. Even with the CCTV cameras directly on the victims, no murderer has been seen and city is filled with both panic and morbid fascination. To make matters worse, Rory is directly pulled into the mess when she spots and speaks with a man whom the police later believe to be a suspect. But something isn’t right. Rory is seeing things she shouldn’t, and she has reason to believe she might be in real danger.
This was a good book. I looked forward to reading it every night, even if I had to double check the locks on my doors before getting into bed. The suspense was stellar, especially as Rory is trying to sort out what she’s seen. I know I criticize many female lead characters for not being three-dimensional and awesome, but I liked Rory. I don’t know what made her different from Anna in Anna and The French Kiss — maybe it was that she wasn’t so focused on boys? Rory had some light romance, but she was more focused on her friends, school, and situations bigger than herself (I can’t say more without giving away spoilers).
The Name of the Star is a departure from Maureen Johnson’s usual contemporary YA-fare because of the scary factor, but it does read like a contemporary YA novel through much of the story. The novel is the first the Shades of London series, and I will probably pick up the next book when it comes out. Though the ending was definitely satisfying, there was a mini-cliffhanger at the end that intrigued me.
Final Grade: B This book did what it was supposed to do, which was scare me AND make me laugh at the same time. I liked Rory, I thought the pacing was excellent, and the story was original. It was an enjoyable read, certainly a book I’d recommend to my students who enjoy a ghost story with some depth.
Friends With Boys
by Faith Erin Hicks
First Second Publishers
Release Date: Feb 2012
ARC received from NetGalley
I’m not typically in to graphic novels, but I have an interest in them on a professional level because they are so popular with my students. I’ve paid particular interest to graphic novels for girls, and I’m proud to say that graphic novels circulated pretty evenly between girls and boys at my school. I wanted to review this book because it looks like it would be a great addition to our collection.
The premise of the story also caught my eye: it is the story of a girl making the transition from homeschooling to high school. Maggie McKay has only known the friendship of her three older brothers, and she must navigate the (sometimes hidden) social rules of public school. She’s also haunted by a ghost, trying to make her first female friend, and missing her recently-absent mother. It’s a lot to fit into 211 pages.
Overall, I liked the story. Maggie is a tomboy and a little lost, but she’s likeable. All of the characters are likeable except for the villain, Volleyball-Star Matt. The primary story is done well and the drawings were fantastic! The main issues I had were with the ending. Is this a series? Because some of the plot lines just weren’t satisfying! There was a ghost in the graveyard that is supposed to be haunting Maggie, but that’s not really resolved. Where is Maggie’s mother? It’s kind of implied that she might come back and Maggie misses her terribly, but it’s left at that. No news either way.
One thing I found really cool is that the artist/author is posting the pages on her website with commentary. If you are interested in comic, graphic novels, or cool books for girls, I’d suggest you check it out.
Final Grade: C+
Good. Average. I liked it, but it was lacking in the ending. If it’s a series, that makes sense. I would buy this for my media center and continue the series, and I would recommend it to both male and female readers — especially anyone who feels like an outsider.
(I gave it a plus for having an amazing Zombie Musical in one scene, a la “Tiny Dancer” in Will Grayson, Will Grayson, as well as varied body shapes and sizes in the characters. Bonus points.)