Sunday, July 15, 2018

MMGM (7/16/2018): Brave by Svetlana Chmakova

I don't think I've ever reviewed the sequel to a book the week after I reviewed the first book, but I enjoyed Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova so much (see my review here) that I had to recommend its sequel, Brave, this very week!

The main character of Brave (a graphic novel, like Awkward) is Jensen Graham, who was a minor character (mainly serving comic relief) in Awkward. Jensen sees each school day as a series of obstacles that he has to overcome before getting to attend art club (the same art club that played a major role in the previous book). These obstacles include math class, taught by a teacher who is mostly unsympathetic to Jensen's struggles in the subject, and constant bullying, usually due to Jensen's weight or obsession with preparing for the apocalypse (be it due to zombies or, as he was worried about in Awkward, sunspots). Art club starts to become unpleasant as well, as some of his fellow club members start to exclude and make fun of him at every turn. Jensen's only source of relief becomes doing chores for the school's newspaper crew, Jenny, Akilah, and Felipe, whom he has admired for a long time. Throughout the book, Jensen starts to rockily make friends with these three (and some other students), but conflicts with the other students as well as schoolwide drama due to the school's dress code (which prohibits short skirts) put Jensen's existing methods for surviving school to the test. As in Awkward, Chmakova is a master at creating compelling characters with distinct personalities. Jensen is lovable and fascinating, and you will find yourself rooting for him and feeling alongside him as the graphic novel progresses. Other great characters include newspaper crew members Jenny, the controlling editor who flip-flops between being friendly and kind, panicked and exasperated, or downright furious with no warning, and Akilah, Jenny's best friend who stays constantly kind, especially to Jensen, and pushes back against Jenny's more unpleasant attributes. Also as in Awkward, most of the students in Brave are willing to work hard and stand up for what they believe in, and watching their plans unfold is exhilarating and gives hope that good people still exist in the world. Bullying is a major focus in Brave, and it pointed out to me that one reason students do not speak about or report bullying is that they are simultaneously embarrassed and in denial about it (although luckily, Jensen's denial is not drawn out as it is in some other books). Rarely do I see sequels that are as good as the first book (especially when that first book is one of the rare books that I found myself reading in every spare second), but Brave is an absolutely spectacular book that every reader will rush through and think about for weeks after!

P.S. I will not have a review this next Monday, July 23, but I should be back by July 30. I also have a signed book giveaway coming up in the next few weeks, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 8, 2018

MMGM (7/9/2018): Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova

For MMGM, I am recommending Awkward by Svetlana Chmakova.

The protagonist of Awkward (a graphic novel) is Penelope Torres (also known as Peppi). Her life at middle school is okay, with her having friends and being part of her school's art club (which constantly fights with the science club). However, on her first day at school, when she dropped all of her things and a shy kid from the science club named Jaime tried to help her, kids in the hall made fun of her, prompting her to shove Jaime away and run off. Her constant guilt at doing so makes her feel miserable and try to avoid Jaime at all costs, but when he becomes her science tutor, Penelope and Jaime start to become friends. As the art club and science club are pitted against each other in a competition, Penelope has to balance working with fellow club member Maribella to print the club's comics in the school newspaper, keeping her still-amiable friendship with Jaime hidden from the other club members, and worrying about how to apologize for her behavior toward Jaime in the past. This book is absolutely wonderful—I finished it in just three days, and it only took that long because I was mesmerized by how beautifully drawn every character and scene is! The characters are vivid and well-written. Penelope is a well-meaning girl, despite her mistake earlier in the book, and her worries about school and interest in art make her a compelling character. Jaime is great as well: while a bit awkward initially, he is shown to be smart, kindhearted, and the only member of the science club who can overlook its conflict with the art club and make friends with one of its members. I do also have to mention how great Maribella is, as she charismatically leads the art club through making newspaper comics for the first time and manages to function despite extreme pressure from her father. The book is filled with revelations and plot events that will keep any reader obsessed with the novel, just as they did with me! Exaggerated expressions and running gags keep the book upbeat and funny, and it also features an immense amount of diversity: characters with Hispanic, African, and Asian origins, students wearing hijabs, people in wheelchairs, and both genders taking prominent roles in both the art and science clubs. All in all, Awkward is a touching, funny, and fast-moving book that has cemented itself as one of my favorites of all time (and prompted me to read the sequel, Brave)—please go buy a copy now and read it, as you won't regret it!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

MMGM (7/2/2018): Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg

For MMGM, I am recommending Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth by E. L. Konigsburg.

Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth is, as described in the title, narrated by a girl named Elizabeth. Her family has just moved to a new town, which she does not particularly like, and she is further irked by a mean yet popular girl named Cynthia. However, Elizabeth ends up befriending a girl named Jennifer. Jennifer tells Elizabeth that she is a witch, and she appoints Elizabeth as her "apprentice witch." At first, both girls have fun together, with Elizabeth following Jennifer as she chants, performs rituals, and talks about the books she has read on witchcraft (quite many, as she is an extremely prolific reader). However, Jennifer's controlling behavior and somewhat rude demeanor ends up leading to conflict between the two girls. The novel's author, E. L. Konigsburg, won the Newbery Honor for this book the same year she won the Newbery Medal for the classic From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler (read my review here), the only author to do so, before later winning the Newbery Medal again; as you might expect, the writing in this book is fabulous. Both Elizabeth and Jennifer's personalities and interests are fully fleshed out (one paragraph describes an assortment of topics that the girls discuss, while another section describes the sorts of things Jennifer would love to accomplish with witchcraft), and the story is rich with amazing prose, a fast-moving plot, and many incidents of humor, which keep the story's mood light. Konigsburg's portrayal of school and bullying is realistic as well. Jennifer, Hecate, Macbeth, William McKinley, and Me, Elizabeth is a fun and touching novel that readers of all ages will adore!

Sunday, June 24, 2018

MMGM (6/25/2018): Summerlost by Ally Condie

For MMGM, I am recommending Summerlost by Ally Condie.

(Note: The cover above is the original cover used on the hardcover edition, not the new cover used on the paperback edition.)

Summerlost revolves around Cedar, a 12-year-old girl whose life changed dramatically when her father and brother, Ben (who suffered from autism or a similar disorder), died in a car crash. Cedar, her other younger brother, Miles, and their mother move to a small town called Iron Creek for the summer, where Cedar meets a boy her age named Leo, who enjoys theater and works at the town's Summerlost festival, which puts on performances of Shakespeare's plays. As Cedar befriends Leo, she takes a job at the festival as well, where she sells programs to playgoers, learns about the actors and actresses who have participated in the festival (most notably the formerly-famous, now-deceased Lisette Chamberlain), and volunteers at the festival's costume department. One of Summerlost's best qualities is its characters. Author Ally Condie (best known for her young-adult Matched trilogy) has each character's personality and backstory down to a science, allowing you to connect with characters through their many memories (many of which are Cedar looking back on her father and Ben) or interests (ranging from healthy ones, such as Cedar and Leo's interest in Lisette Chamberlain's life, to unhealthy ones, such as the soap opera that Cedar and Miles are secretly obsessed with). Even the adults in the story, including family members, Gary (Cedar and Leo's supervisor at the festival), and Meg (somewhat-prickly-yet-kind costume designer at the festival), are fully fleshed out. Summerlost is also beautifully written, with figurative language that would make both English teachers and regular people drool and voices for each character that are so distinct that the story probably would have made sense without dialogue tags. Summerlost is a novel that is at times heartbreaking and at times fun and silly, making for a striking combination that will resonate with any reader!

Monday, June 4, 2018

MMGM (6/18/2018): Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan

For MMGM, I am recommending Save Me a Seat by Sarah Weeks and Gita Varadarajan.

Here's the publisher's description:

Joe and Ravi might be from very different places, but they're both stuck in the same place: school.

Joe's lived in the same town all his life, and was doing just fine until his best friends moved away and left him on his own. Ravi's family just moved to America from India, and he's finding it pretty hard to figure out where he fits in.

Joe and Ravi don't think they have anything in common, but soon enough they have a common enemy (the biggest bully in their class) and a common mission: to take control of their lives over the course of a single crazy week.

I really enjoyed this book! One of the best parts about it was getting to see unique ways in which people struggle in life. Ravi deals with having to learn new behaviors (such as not standing up when called on), having his name mispronounced, and being judged for his accent, clothes, lunch, and more, while Joe's auditory processing disorder (causing him to be easily overstimulated and distracted by noise) and extreme rate of growth make him into an oddity compared with the rest of the class (and his mother working in the cafeteria doesn't help). Both students are bullied by the same stuck-up boy, Dillon, making their school lives even tougher. Over the course of the book, both boys learn to be kinder and less judgmental and realize that they could possibly become friends. The story never drones on, partially due to the characters' distinct voices (Ravi and Joe alternate between narrating) and partially due to the eventful plot, which, despite being only a week long, is filled with events in both boys' lives at school and at home. The story also realistically depicts the many opportunities for bullies to pounce on other kids, while also showing both feasible and less-feasible-but-hilarious ways for those kids to stand up for themselves. Save Me a Seat is a rich yet rapidly moving novel that people of any age will both learn from and enjoy!

MMGM (6/11/2018): Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

For MMGM, I am recommending Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan.

Here's the publisher's description:

Award-winning graphic novelist Matt Phelan delivers a darkly stylized noir Snow White set against the backdrop of Depression-era Manhattan.

The scene: New York City. The dazzling lights cast shadows that grow ever darker as the glitzy prosperity of the Roaring Twenties screeches to a halt. Enter a cast of familiar characters: a young girl, Samantha White, returning after being sent away by her cruel stepmother, the Queen of the Follies, years earlier; her father, the King of Wall Street, who survives the stock market crash only to suffer a strange and sudden death; seven street urchins, brave protectors for a girl as pure as snow; and a mysterious stock ticker that holds the stepmother in its thrall, churning out ticker tape imprinted with the wicked words “Another . . . More Beautiful . . . KILL.” In a moody, cinematic new telling of a beloved fairy tale, extraordinary graphic novelist Matt Phelan captures the essence of classic film noir on the page—and draws a striking distinction between good and evil.

Many, many months ago, I read about this book on a fellow MMGMer's blog. I've unfortunately forgotten where I read it, and former MMGM showrunner Shannon Messenger has taken down her old blog with past MMGM posts and replaced it with a new website (which you can visit here!). However, I would like to thank whoever recommended this book, because I adored it! The art of the novel is absolutely gorgeous, usually drawn in blacks and grays with some red added in (such as for the apple). Despite lacking many words (the only text is character dialogue), the story is still rich and thrilling. I read the whole book in two sittings (a total of about 45 minutes), desperate to find out about what the stepmother would do and about the fates of both Snow White and the "Seven" (the dwarves, reimagined as a group of homeless, orphaned children of varying personalities). Each character does just enough in the story to make them seem deep and realistic, and watching them travel throughout the wonderful setting (New York City during the Great Depression) was a treat! Snow White: A Graphic Novel is an excellent reimagining of the fairy tale that adds substance, beauty, and suspense, making a fabulous novel that you won't want to miss!

Sunday, June 3, 2018

MMGM (6/4/2018): Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, with illustrations by Nicholas Gannon

For MMGM, I am recommending Bob by Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, with illustrations by Nicholas Gannon.

Here's the publisher's description:

It’s been five years since Livy and her family have visited Livy’s grandmother in Australia. Now that she’s back, Livy has the feeling she’s forgotten something really, really important about Gran’s house.

It turns out she’s right.

Bob, a short, greenish creature dressed in a chicken suit, didn’t forget Livy, or her promise. He’s been waiting five years for her to come back, hiding in a closet like she told him to. He can’t remember who—or what—he is, where he came from, or if he even has a family. But five years ago Livy promised she would help him find his way back home. Now it’s time to keep that promise.

Clue by clue, Livy and Bob will unravel the mystery of where Bob comes from, and discover the kind of magic that lasts forever.

Wendy Mass and Rebecca Stead, two masterminds of classic, middle-grade fiction come together to craft this magical story about the enduring power of friendship.

If you've read my past posts, you might know that I love both Wendy Mass (see here, here, and here) and Rebecca Stead (see here, here, and here). Therefore, when I first read this article first announcing Bob, I was extremely excited, and the book did not disappoint! One of the best parts of this novel is how Livy and Bob are written. Like characters in the authors' other books, they seem extremely real and have extremely distinct voices; Livy, age 11, can be loving and silly or logical and a bit cynical, while Bob remains immature but kind. The relationship between both characters is strained at times (especially when Livy first returns), but watching them get to know and like each other again is very enjoyable. The book often deals with issues relating to families; Bob has no family that he knows of, while Livy is dealing with both a new baby sister and the fact that, during the trip, she will be staying alone with her grandmother for several days. Getting to see the Australian small town that Livy's grandmother lives in and how it has been affected by a drought is also interesting, as is watching Livy and Bob have fun talking, playing chess, or exploring and trying to figure out who exactly Bob is. Bob's combination of magic, mystery, life in a small town, and the innocent relationship between two friends makes it a touching, enjoyable read that you won't want to put down!

P.S. I don't often mention the design of a book, but Bob's design is so beautiful that I have to! The illustrations by Nicholas Gannon, drawn in brown to match the cover and other accents, are lifelike and help make the story vivid or even provide closure (in the two drawings that end the book, take a close look at what Livy is wearing). The book has a pretty font, which vaguely reminds me of a typewriter, as well as lovely accents (branches surround each page number, while feathers from Bob's chicken suit are scattered throughout the story). The shiny stars and raindrops embedded on the dust jacket are the final proof that Bob is one of the most elegantly designed books I've ever read!