Saturday, January 9, 2021

MMGM and #IMWAYR (1/11/2020): Operatic, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler

So that was a week. It took *checks notes* 6 days for 2021 to become even worse than 2020 was, thanks to a group of rioters breaking into the U.S. Capitol building in order to halt the certification of President-elect Biden's victory and allow President Trump to continue to hold the presidency—all at his encouragement. I've heard people say that Trump was going to incite violence sooner or later, the way he was riling up his base, but I don't think anyone actually thought the violence would happen. I have no useful insights to offer up after this nightmarish event, but I am glad to see that democracy remains at least mostly intact despite Trump's intentions. And it's strange, because had this awful event not occurred, Wednesday would have been a stunning rebuke of Trump—Democrats officially took a majority of the Senate after flipping Georgia (not the first state I would have expected to flip, but Stacey Abrams really is just that good!). President-elect Biden is preparing to take office once and for all now that his win has been certified—we can finally be sure that Trump will no longer be the face of our nation, which should make our everyday lives far more relaxing! And because Democrats also maintained their hold on the House, we might actually have a chance of passing policies in our government to benefit our nation over the next at-least-two years! (Imagine, a government actually passing policies. What a crazy thought, right?) (They better pass a federal law to reduce police brutality against Black people before the midterms!)

Important book news that you need to look at! Wednesday, January 6, 2021 will likely go down in history as an epic disaster, but something else happened that day that I imagine at least some of you missed due to everything else: the wonderful MMGM and #IMWAYR blogger Joanne Rossmassler Fritz (who blogs at My Brain on Books) had the cover of her debut MG book, Everywhere Blue, revealed on the blog MG Book Village alongside a fascinating interview! Please, please, please go over there, read the interview, gaze upon the absolutely GORGEOUS cover (I'm not exaggerating when I say it is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen), and get pumped for Everywhere Blue's debut on June 1!

With that, let's get to MMGM and #IMWAYR! Since I think we've all had enough of the United States for right now, today I am recommending a book published in Canada: the graphic novel Operatic, written by Kyo Maclear and illustrated by Byron Eggenschwiler.

This book straddles the line between MG and YA (literally—it's set in the last month or so of middle school), so it's perfectly appropriate and enjoyable for MG readers as well as YA readers.

(In the spirit of this book, where music is a central focus, I am writing this review while listening to one of my favorite albums ever: "A Good Day" by Priscilla Ahn. No clue if you care or not, but I'm still telling you!)



OK, first of all, the hardcover
of this book is so gorgeous:
the gold foil details, the fabric
spine, the attached silk
bookmark, the beautiful art...if
you read this book, buy a copy
to display!

          I must give a humongous thank-you to the #IMWAYR blogger Beth at Library Chicken for spotlighting this utterly gorgeous graphic novel, and thanks as well to Cheriee Weichel at Library Matters for also giving this book a shout-outOperatic tells the story of Charlotte Noguchi, or Charlie for short, who is just a month or so away from finishing middle school. Charlie's music teacher, Mr. Kerner (or Mr. K for short), has given his students a final assignment: to choose a song that has stuck with them personally and to explain why. That's not all Charlie has on her mind: a talent show is coming up at her school, she has developed a crush from afar on a boy named Emile, and she keeps noticing the empty desk in her classroom where a boy named Luka used to sit. Charlie doesn't know what to do about any of these things...that is, until she discovers the opera singer Maria Callas in Mr. K's class. As Charlie learns about Callas and listens to her music, she begins to see that following Callas's lead and stepping into the spotlight could be the solution to many of her problems.

          Operatic is amazing, and I can barely find words to express why it is so amazing, but I'm going to try! Before we get to how this book understands middle school in a way few books do, or how this book's art could belong to a museum (seriously, I have Thoughts™), I want to discuss the musical aspects of this book. It recently occurred to me that, even just back in the late 1800s, there was literally no such thing as recorded music; you could listen at a performance or play and sing the songs yourself, and that was it. And what a shame that was for them—if anything good has come from technology, recorded music is it! Music sets the scene for so many of my memories—and creates memories where there would be none at all (like weekly drives to visit my therapist when I was younger). It's hard for books to capture how utterly amazing music is, due to the fact that—you know—there's no music in them! And yet Operatic manages. Firstly, not to get ahead in the review (even though that's exactly what I'm doing), but several of the gorgeous illustrations in this book capture exactly how it feels to listen to music—in one illustration, Charlie literally disappears into the music, free of that most awful of things to middle-schoolers or, well, anyone (including me): self-awareness. Also, Charlie's research about Maria Callas, besides making for an interesting biography of the singer, also shows that she is a surprisingly relatable figure to Charlie. I definitely understand the thrill researching singers and finding out that they're really like you! (That's why I love singer-songwriters—they actually believe what they're singing!) I also loved Mr. K, the music teacher, and how he brings his class through a tour of countless genres with historical or personal significance—the book points out that music and musical tastes can split people apart as much as they bring people together (an insight I was impressed to see, I might add), so I liked Mr. K combating this unpleasant aspect of music. Perhaps the best thing I can say about this book is that it has clearly got me thinking about music and how I relate to it—books that make you think are definitely the best kind!

          Next topic. As a self-described Nerd Who Doesn't Fit In™ (why, yes, I am enjoying the ™ symbol today), I have greatly enjoyed entering the phase of my life where I can surround myself with the people (or books, let's be real) that I identify with. I somehow managed to get so far into my little bubble of self-confidence that I forgot what Operatic reminded me of: all the "be yourself" garbage everyone tells you doesn't work when you spend weekdays in a place where countless people as insecure as you are use extreme peer pressure in order to ostracize people or worse and make themselves feel better by comparison in the process. (Seriously, when did we decide that being publicly shamed by a bunch of teenagers while your brain isn't even fully formed is just a rite of passage?) Operatic understands and depicts unflinchingly the horrors of middle school: the cliques, the not fitting into one of them, the bullying, the teasing, the rampant homophobia and such (why are we still doing this?), the inability to fight back due to the uniting of literally every single student against you so they, too can avoid bullying, etc., etc. Operatic doesn't go into anything horrifying (i.e. physically injurious), but it certainly acts as a reminder that middle school is just shy of a human rights violation. I also appreciated that this book doesn't take the stance of "Oh, Charlie stands up to the bullies and saves the day"—as much as I've gotten mad at book characters for doing nothing, I've also forgotten that kids who stand up to the bullies simply face coordinated harassment campaigns of their own—while the adults in power just sit around and do nothing (or, worse, pile on—thank you to all of the teachers who don't take all of their insecurities out on children, because there are quite a few that do). Again, as you can see, This Book Makes You Think About Things™ (OK, that's the last ™, I promise).

          I've mostly ranted about things and not given you all much of a sense of the book, so I'll try to rectify that now (not that I'm getting rid of my magnificent rants above or anything). I loved Charlie as a protagonist—she is simultaneously insightful and thoughtful about life (she narrates the book and shares many of those insights above, after all) and also a totally typical middle schooler, spending time with friends, listening to music, or doing that thing we probably all did once and learning way too many details about our crushes' lives (add middle-school crushes to the list of things this book depicts beautifully, by the way). I do love how graphic novels can easily depict the beauty of life without it having to come out the character's mouth and make them seem overly insightful—it's the best of first-person and third-person narration mixed together! (By the way, I also appreciate that Charlie is Japanese and her friends Addie and Mayin are Asian—it's nice to see this included and talked about but not made into a big deal). (I am resisting the urge to put a ™ after "big deal.") I also want to bring up Emile, Charlie's crush—besides doing his part to stand up to bullies and help others out (again, not that we should expect that, but it's nice to see), he is himself accepted by Charlie for his own quirks (an enormous interest in bugs likely related to his family's apiary—there's a reason gold bees run down the spine of this book). You'll like Emile as much as you like Charlie, and you'll like Luka as much as you like Emile—as we learn from Charlie, Luka was a rare student who dared to be himself and be confident. Being gay is something this book explores as well—shockingly enough, it is frowned upon in the nightmarish world of middle school, and this book does a beautiful job exploring the highs and lows (mostly lows, but a few highs) of such an experience.

          One last thing about Operatic. The art in this book, drawn by Byron Eggenschwiler, literally belongs in a museum. Eggenschwiler's style, characterized by crosshatching, a combination of detailed images and almost-scribbles when necessary, and gorgeous use of color, does an incredible job of conveying motion and emotion, and there are so many panels (Charlie in her bedroom, Maria Callas singing, etc.) that you can't help but stop and stare at. (It helps that there are many full-page illustrations to give Eggenschwiler's talent room to shine!) While most of the art in this book is so realistic you can get lost in it, Eggenschwiler includes the occasional surrealist illustrations to further convey feeling and bring you into the inner worlds of the characters as well as the surface world of the book. (Preview the art of the book here.) I also loved the color scheme, which switches between yellow, red, and blue. First of all, I did not know that yellow could work as a color scheme, but it does—you just have to make use of the ochre shades in addition to the brighter yellows! Also, color both helps to separate storylines and acts as a metaphor, with the separation visually conveying what it is like to become an outcast. In general, I feel like the illustrations of this story lean more toward picture book than comic book, so if you're a fan of picture books but worry that graphic novels will be too strange, you might find yourself at home in Operatic!

          What really struck me about Operatic is how, rather than following some incredibly deep storyline that many middle schoolers will not relate to or sacrificing beauty to make a relatable story, Operatic actually manages to find the beauty and depth in a perfectly pedestrian and awful middle-school experience. It's a book that middle schoolers can relate to and a book that bookworms can pore over and learn from (and so can middle schoolers, to be honest). I really cannot recommend enough that you pick up a copy of this wonderful book—it is a shining example of the MG genre!

My rating is: Stunning!



31 comments:

  1. Yes, I think our whole country (most of it) will breathe a big sigh of relief on Jan. 20. Last week was just horrifying, not to mention what the rest of the world thinks after the last 4 years. We have a lot of healing to do.

    Operatic looks and sounds just wonderful! I hadn't heard of it before, so thanks for the heads up.

    Hope you enjoy your books this week - and we have a much quieter news week!!

    Sue

    Book By Book

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    1. I completely agree! While our problems and division will be far from solved with the inauguration, at least things will be far more stable. I'm glad Operatic sounds good—I'm always thrilled when I can show people great books they might have missed otherwise! Thanks so much for stopping by, and enjoy your books this week as well!

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  2. WOW, Completely! Thank you SO MUCH for the shout-out about my book's cover. So kind of you! Yeah, it did kind of get lost in the day's news, but our country is far more important. I really hope there's no more violence before January 20th. And OPERATIC sounds like a book I need to read and own -- not just for the music but also for the artwork that belongs in a museum!

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    1. Of course!!! I really am so excited that I don't think it would have been possible not to tell everyone to go look at your cover reveal! I definitely hope there is no more violence before the inauguration as well. Operatic is definitely worth taking a look at! I really hope you enjoy it, and thanks so much for stopping by!

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    2. Just checked out your cover reveal and information about the story. Love the cover and the story. Left a message and shared on twitter. Look forward to reading your book when it's released in June.

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  3. Operatic sounds great! I will definitely have to read it soon. And you're right, 2021 has been terrifying so far. I will cry happy tears on Inauguration Day!

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    1. I'm glad Operatic sounds good! I will definitely be thrilled on Inauguration Day as well. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  4. I'm very much with you on what a week it's been and the whiplash of seeing 2021 so quickly one up 2020 in such a horrific way. Thank you for bringing Joanne's cover reveal to my attention--because you're absolutely right that in the middle of all this, I'm missed that.

    Thank you also for introducing me to Operatic! I've come to really love graphic novels and this sounds like a peer amongst them. I have a feeling I'm going to gobble it up. :)

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    1. It's definitely been a crazy time, but everyone in our world seems to have the capacity to survive pretty much any awful stressor that's thrown at them, so that's good! I've been reading and reviewing tons of graphic novels recently as well, and I'm glad Operatic sounds appealing to you! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  5. Thanks so much for letting me know about Joanne's cover reveal. I didn't want to miss it. And Operatic sounds fantastic from your review. I have to start reading more graphic novels.

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    1. Of course! I've really been enjoying graphic novels lately, especially since there are so many excellent ones! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  6. I love the opera and attend at least 10 of the livestreamed Met HD performances a year on Saturdays at movie theaters -- but COVID put that on hold last March. Watch some of the operas they are livestreaming online. So, this novel would definitely appeal to me. (I nearly majored in music in college, but changed to journalism.)

    Yes, agree with your comments about January 6. Look forward to moving forward, but have some concerns about how we deal with the white supremist group going forward -- it will take years. But it's important to see the dark so that we can heal it. I have faith in our democracy.

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    1. That's really neat that you enjoy the opera! It's a shame how performing arts have basically gone on hold during the pandemic—my family was looking for a virtual version of the Nutcracker to watch in December, and there were only prerecorded ones (since you can't really socially distance during a ballet), and even then, only a few ballets had the foresight to film one of their performances! I'm glad Operatic sounds good! I also agree that we likely can get through this time in the US, but it won't be as simple as moving to the next president. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  7. I too loved Joanne's cover. She was one of the original MMGM'ers and I can't wait to read her new work.
    I hadn't heard of Operatic and it sounds like a well done story. I've put it on my TBR list. Thanks for featuring on today's Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

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    1. I'm really excited to read her book as well! I'm glad Operatic sounds good! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  8. This is a new-to-me book. Sounds interesting!

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    1. I'm glad! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  9. Oh my goshhh this book sounds so marvelous! I love graphic novels too. I agree that ones done well, (like this one, it seems), make life just seem so beautiful and filled with wonderful things. I luckily avoided most of middle-school life, but I vividly remember the sheer terror and anxiety simply existing in middle-school caused. I love that this book was able to show that, and that it also managed to show the beauty of finding new things (especially music!). I love that it normalizes having a diverse cast of characters too. Thank you so much for your thoughtful review!!

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    1. I'm glad Operatic sounds good to you! It really does turn the highs and lows of middle school into a work of art. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  10. I have loved Kyo Maclear's other books, like Bloom & It Began With A Page, and a chapter book from her is new to me, but you've made it seem so good. On my list!

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    1. Awesome! I haven't read any of Maclear's other books, but I really should, since her talent is apparent from this book. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  11. You are right about the cover of Everywhere Blue is just stunning. Also thanks for the mention of my blog. I adored Operatic. It was a cybils finalist last year so I ended up reading it twice. I appreciated it even more the second time round.

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    1. I should plan for a reread, then! I'm glad it was recognized by the Cybils. Thanks so much for highlighting this neat book and for stopping by!

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  12. This sounds intriguing. There's a lot of MG books about art, but not so many about music. It also sounds like it deals with middle school issues in a very realistic way.

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    1. You're right, there are very few MG books about music. The only one that's coming to mind besides this one is Genesis Begins Again by Alicia D. Williams. Operatic definitely addresses middle-school issues quite well! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  13. I sure hope Sue is right in thinking we’ll be able to breathe a sigh of relief on Jan. 20. Nevertheless, I still feel on-edge, wondering what new protests have been planned for between now and the 20th (and whether they’ll turn violent, again).

    Fantastic review! I’ve been meaning to read this one and I’ve just now put in a request for it from our college library. From the storyline to the description of the artwork, it sounds like something I’ll fully enjoy. I was actually a musician from a pretty young age, competing in both vocal and instrumental through my teen years to becoming a Vocal Performance major throughout my undergrad. It wasn’t until about a decade after my music degree that I found myself falling into the field of library science and educational technology. In any case, this sounds like a wonderful book to add to my collection. (I’m so proud of you for resisting the “Big Deal™” urge! LOL!).

    Thanks for the heads-up on Everywhere Blue. I have it on my TBR list and I totally missed the cover reveal! Also, I did enjoy listening to Priscilla Ahn while reading your post. :)

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    1. That's awesome that you got a music degree and have experience in music—Operatic will definitely be something you enjoy! I think I forgot to mention in the review that there are a few references in the book to other real-life bands and singers, which I imagine you would appreciate. I am definitely worried as well about what is coming next for the US—I am trying to look at the positives, but it's definitely hard with all of the negatives! Also, I'm so glad you tried Priscilla Ahn's music—I've loved her songs for years! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  14. You always have such thorough and interesting reviews. This sounds like a terrific book, although I am not a big fan of graphic novels. Thanks for telling me about it. I hopped over and took a look at Joanne's book cover. Everything Blue is gorgeous. Thanks for the link.

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    1. Thank you so much! Operatic is definitely a great book. The cover for Everywhere Blue is absolutely beautiful as well! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  15. Wow, I'm honored that my tiny report on Operatic helped instigate this lovely review. It makes my tiny project of reading through all the Cybils seem even more worthwhile!

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    1. I'm so glad! I really appreciate you recommending this book, as I would likely not have seen it otherwise! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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Please feel free to leave a comment—I always love reading them!