MMGM and #IMWAYR: Marshmallow & Jordan by Alina Chau (plus the Holiday Picture Book Giveaway!)

I hope everyone is doing well! We spent an hour on Saturday doing that most wretched of tasks: changing the smoke detector batteries. I envy everyone who buys those new smoke detectors where you don't have to replace the battery for 10 years.

Today I am looking at an intriguing new MG graphic novel: Marshmallow & Jordan by Alina Chau. And I'm also hosting the Holiday Picture Book Giveaway with details at the end of this post!

Review of Marshmallow & Jordan:

Preview the illustrations on the publisher's website

        A few weeks ago, I scoured the website of First Second, the massive graphic novel imprint from Macmillan, for new MG/YA graphic novels to pre-order, and this book, which debuted on October 26, was the one I was most excited for (besides Other Boys)! (I mean, just look at that cover.) I haven't seen anyone talking about this book yet, and although it is not a perfect read, I am still excited to be bringing it to y'all's attention today!

        Our protagonist, Jordan, is the captain of the basketball team at her multicultural school in Indonesia, and she'd still be playing in the team games and making amazing shots if it wasn't for an accident that left her needing to use a wheelchair. Both Jordan and her kind friends on the basketball team assume her sports days are behind her...that is, until Marshmallow arrives. Marshmallow is an unreasonably cute baby white elephant (see the cover), and not only does he become a good friend to Jordan and her basketball friends (yes, it's slightly unreasonable—just go with it), but he also helps Jordan discover the sport of water polo, which doesn't require the use of her legs. Jordan excitedly joins her school's water polo team, but with her new teammates acting critical and getting in the way of her old friendships, Jordan has to try to carve out space both for her friends and herself. And it seems like something else might be going on with Marshmallow too...

        It took me a while to warm up to this book, and I definitely still have some complaints with it that I will intersperse through the review. But by the end of the book, my feelings were definitely more positive, and I will try to take a balanced perspective on this story's merits and flaws. Let's start by talking about Jordan, the protagonist of the story. Jordan is a delightful character—she maintains a good attitude even as she deals with struggles in her life, she tries hard to be there for her friends, she cares deeply about Marshmallow, and she also has a side that sometimes expresses as mischief, and sometimes expresses as just a drive to succeed. When Jordan discovers water polo, dedicates herself to it, and is prepared to help her team win, her enthusiasm, hard work, and courage are on full display—you can interpret it as a reminder of the value of kids' sports (a reminder I still needed even after reading A Map to the Sun), but you can also interpret it as just Jordan being the totally awesome kid that she is! I do also want to take a second to discuss Jordan being in a wheelchair. Alina Chau has (correctly) pointed out that children with different abilities are underrepresented in children's literature, but whether she (who is able-bodied) is the right person to be bringing that representation to readers is a difficult question to answer. But I will say, after reading Marshmallow & Jordan, I do believe that Chau indeed has done a skillful, sensitive job depicting Jordan's abilities, and even if the representation is not #ownvoices, I do think it will at least add to the collection of books normalizing these experiences. Jordan's different abilities do not define her, nor do they ultimately get in her way—she is just as much of a star athlete after the accident as before. Also, I greatly appreciate that we never find out what the accident that paralyzed Jordan's lower body actually is—I think including those details would have been a little too sensationalistic and would have made Jordan into some kind of spectacle, so keeping that out is helpful. My one critique of how Jordan is depicted is that, particularly on the water polo team, she faces some ableist assumptions from others that they never do specifically apologize for—even if the situation changes, I think a more obvious apology would further hammer home the message that ableism is never OK. But overall, I think the depiction of Jordan in this book is at the very least inoffensive, and might possibly even be valuable to young readers who can relate to her experience.

        Now let's take a moment to discuss Marshmallow. For a character who doesn't actually speak, Chau characterizes Marshmallow impressively well. He shares Jordan's peaceful, positive demeanor (which, honestly, is the demeanor of this entire story), and although he needs help from Jordan and others in the story, he is also able to give back and help Jordan as well by helping her discover water polo. You can tell that he and Jordan share a deep, meaningful bond. Oh, and did I mention that he is SO CUTE?! (Almost cute enough to convince me that everyone would just let him wander loose through the city and enter the school building and go to the ice-cream shop without totally freaking out. Almost.) And I will also say, we learn things about Marshmallow as the story goes on that are utterly brilliant—and incredibly well-foreshadowed too! But I must make the critique that the actual scenes in which those details are revealed feel like they move too quickly—and there is also a minor choice made regarding Marshmallow that didn't bother me hugely but felt out of place. Still, the fact that this story has an adorable and lovable elephant companion in the first place is a major plus!

        Now I'm going to discuss the basketball and water polo teams (although really, I'm going to use this paragraph as a catchall for all kinds of random stuff). Although it would have been helpful to know which character was which earlier on (there is concept art in the back matter that has all the characters labeled—why didn't we get that in the actual story?), I eventually figured out which names to put to which surprisingly-well-developed characters! The contrast of the basketball players, who are Jordan's wonderful friends, and the water polo players, who take a while to warm up to Jordan, adds a much-needed bit of conflict to a story that honestly felt a little too upbeat for the first 100-150 pages. And I particularly was intrigued by the character of Kemala, the leader of the water polo team—not only does Jordan have a good reason for becoming distant from her friends (pressure from Kemala to do better on the team), but Kemala actually also has a good reason for pressuring Jordan so much—and there's another good reason behind that good reason! Considering that smaller things like dialogue in the story felt off-kilter at times (we don't need quite that much all-caps or exclamation points for a normal conversation), I appreciated that the major logic of the story was pretty rock-solid! And of course, it's also wonderful to see that both teams are so diverse (as makes sense for a multicultural school), without the story making a big deal of it. My one major complaint is, again, the last few scenes involving the water polo team move too quickly, with scenes that I was expecting to see actually being quite abbreviated, and one scene appearing to be hypothetical until you realize at the end that it was literally happening the whole time (it would have been clever if I didn't go through the whole thing with no tension at all because I thought it was all hypothetical!). Also, this has nothing to do with the teams, but I will say that Marshmallow & Jordan has some delightful back matter—beautiful concept art, a few pages of real-world facts about Indonesia, some recommendations for Indonesian food (food), a glossary of Indonesian terms from the story, an author's note, and some adorably illustrated acknowledgements!  

        Now for the art! I can’t lie, when I saw this book on the First Second website, I didn’t really buy it because of its plot—I bought it because of the art. So let’s talk about it! Alina Chau illustrated this entire graphic novel in watercolor—and considering that it is 384 pages long, that is an almost-superhuman feat (and explains why the book is releasing 3 years after the intended date of "winter 2018" listed in this interview). Chau’s art is vividly colored and detailed, mirroring the blend of peacefulness and energy that we get from the story’s plot itself. Landscapes, city streets, and even the water that Jordan plays water polo in are brought to life with varied colors and shading, which also makes each scene easy to parse at a glance—although you might find yourself pausing anyway to take in the beauty from time to time. And Chau has a knack for page layouts as well—she uses fewer and larger panels than most graphic novels, which makes things easier to follow, and there are a ton of lovely full-page or double-page spreads, as well as clever “chapter” dividers that have their own inset illustration tangentially related to the story (almost like a TV show camera panning across the scene before settling on our characters). Although the dark black speech bubble outlines and text contrast a little weirdly with the lack of rigid boundaries in the illustrations, they do aid greatly with making the text readable, making them a nice example of function over form. I will say, I found some of the facial expressions in the illustrations to look a little bit strange—characters who were supposed to look jokingly angry looked genuinely ready to strangle someone else, and characters who were supposed to be grinning sheepishly instead just looked kind of creepy. And I will make another complaint about the art, although it is also a compliment—I wanted to see even more varied scenes in Chau’s lovely illustration style, since there is a surprising amount of visual repetition in what we do see. But I wouldn’t be asking that if I didn’t think the art was this good! (I encourage you all to click the link under the book cover and preview the illustrations for yourself.)

        So that's what I have to say about Marshmallow & Jordan! Sometimes, it felt like there was a clumsily executed thing for every good thing in this story, and it really did get on my nerves in the beginning/middle of the story. But by the end, I had warmed up to this story quite a bit. This book has gorgeous art, delightful characters, and an overarching plot with some truly clever ideas and foreshadowing—and it's also valuable representation for individuals of other races, nationalities, and abilities! If your TBR list is already feeling a little full, I probably wouldn't move this book to the very top—I'm afraid it's a little too awkwardly written at times to bring it into the best of the best of graphic novels. But if sports, adorable elephants, or meaningful representation strike your fancy or that of a young reader you know, pick up a copy of this uplifting, meaningful, and visually striking story—it's worth your time!

My rating is: Pretty good!



My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 4!







Holiday Picture Book Giveaway:

With the holidays approaching, I know many of you may be looking for gifts for family members (or yourself)! I feel like most books are hard to give as gifts, since you never exactly know what people will want to read. But as I thought about it, I realized that picture books might be a better fit for the holidays—they're short and sweet, so the kids/families in your life will actually read them, and you can even read them yourself to family if you want to make it a gift to yourself too! (And considering how good these books are, trust me—you'll want to read them too.)

So with all that in mind, I am hosting the Holiday Picture Book Giveaway! The format of this giveaway is a little bit different—there are 9 books listed on the form, but there will only be 4 winners. Basically, you choose which book you want, I randomly choose 4 entrants as winners, and then I buy the books each of those entrants asked for and have them shipped directly to you from Amazon. I was originally only going to have 4 books for 4 winners, but then I realized that if I'm buying them all new anyway, I can give you all a choice as to what you want!

The books you can ask for in the giveaway are A Big Mooncake for Little Star, A Map into the World, Leave Me Alone!, Outside, Inside, Eyes That Kiss in the Corners, The Rabbit Listened, Sulwe, My Best Friend, and It Began With a Page (the authors are listed in the Google Form below). I hope some of these books appeal to you, and I hope my giveaway brings both you and whoever might be receiving these books a bit of holiday joy!

Unreasonably-long giveaway rules:
  • Each entrant is only eligible to win one (1) book.
  • If you win a book, there is no actual requirement that you give it as a gift—feel free to keep it yourself if you so desire!
  • Entrants must have mailing addresses in the United States or Canada. (Please note that I have had mixed experiences shipping to Canada using Amazon, but it looks like all of these books can be fulfilled directly through Amazon.ca, so it should be relatively simple this time. Hopefully.)
  • Enter using the Google Form below, NOT the comments.
  • Winners will be selected randomly.
  • You must enter an email address so that I can contact you via email for a mailing address if you win. I will not keep or share your email address or mailing address.
    • Please, please, PLEASE give me an email address that you check regularly (including spam/junk), as I will choose a new winner if you do not respond to my initial email within 48 hours.
  • You must also enter a nickname for me to post on my blog if you win; it does not need to be your real name (although it can be if you want).
  • I have included a place to enter a blog or website URL that I will link to if you win, since I know many of my entrants are fellow bloggers! Please note that such a URL can be identifying information, so leave this place blank if you do not want such information shared with my audience. Also, I will not link to any blogs or websites with objectionable content.
  • The last full day to enter this giveaway is Monday, November 22, 2021, as I will close the form the morning of Tuesday, November 23, 2021.
  • Once you submit your form, scroll to the top to see the confirmation message (otherwise, the form will look like it just disappeared). And if the form looks grayed out, scroll up to finish the CAPTCHA.
  • Google Forms should send you a confirmation email once you submit your form.
  • If you are reading this post in your email, click the "Read post in browser" link at the bottom to see the entry form—in your email itself, the form will not be displayed (or if it is, it will not work correctly).

Comments

  1. I realize that I haven't looked at the CYBILS database since nominations closed and reading your review of a graphic novel reminded me that I should check out what's on my potential finalist list!

    Smoke detector batteries are my nemesis! They always go off at 2:00am, why is that?! We installed the 10-year version about 18 months ago and 2 of the 5 have gone off already. My solution was to pull them out of the ceiling and not replace them. I am so done with smoke detectors.

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    1. I'm definitely curious myself to see what finalists I will be reading too! And your comment prompted me to go look at the Cybils database and website, and apparently, one of my reviews was quoted on the Cybils blog! So thank you for prompting me to go look at all that.

      I do not know why they always go off at 2:00am, but it is a well-documented phenomenon! And oh no—I guess those 10-year ones aren't much of a solution after all. We have one smoke detector (not a super-important one, since there are some right near it) that just stays on the wall with no batteries so the wall-mount is covered up, but it long ago started going off (not a battery chirp, but an ACTUAL alarm) for literally no reason at all. So that's fun. Thanks so much for stopping by, Helen!

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  2. Glad you enjoyed this book overall even though you were annoyed with parts of it. And awesome that you enjoyed the illustrations, which is important with graphic novels.

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    1. Thank you! That's definitely a nice summary of how I felt—there were frustrating bits, but it was fun overall! And I feel like some graphic novels do have the strangest illustrations, but the style in this book absolutely worked for me. Thanks so much for stopping by, Natalie!

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  3. I appreciate your honest review... especially since I don't tend toward graphic novels.

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    1. Of course! I know a lot of readers aren't huge fans of graphic novels, and I try to make sure they can get a sense from my reviews if the books are worth getting out of your comfort zone for because they're that good...or not! Thanks so much for stopping by, Sue!

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  4. The artwork for that graphic novel caught my eye as well. Thanks for a very honest review!

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    1. It's definitely eye-catching, both inside and out! (I'm actually displaying it on my shelves right now, because the cover is so pretty.) Thanks so much for stopping by, Earl!

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  5. According to my Goodreads account, Alina Chau is a completely new author to me. 😲 And I don't even recall hearing about this title until today, so WOW! As I was sharing on Karen Yingling's blog recently, I'm glad that various representations are now more readily available to readers - exposing children to so much variety they may not ever encounter in their regular lives. It's a huge responsibility to write about experiences that an author doesn't know personally or intimately. I know it's a completely turn-off to some people, however, there are times that it can be done beautifully when a writer seeks necessary experience/involvement, engages in in-depth research, and involves others as sensitivity readers. Regardless, they will certainly be held accountable by readers, everywhere. Thanks for another fantastic review and I'll be popping back on to check out your giveaway soon. ❤️

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    1. I hadn't seen anyone else discussing it either—I'm not sure why, since it's worth talking about! And Chau has actually illustrated a ton of picture books, according to her website, but this is her graphic novel debut, so that might be why she is new to you. And I definitely agree with your point about representation! I think I get nervous because I'm generally not the person who can even tell if non-#ownvoices representation is well-executed or not, as opposed to in #ownvoices books, where I do tend to assume (rightfully or not is another question) that the story has some element of authenticity, just automatically. But I think there are definitely cases where authors can sensitively and valuably represent others, and I think this book is one of those cases! (I believe Chau actually did have a sensitivity reader read this book, which helps.) Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment, Shaye!

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  6. I've noted the book, am enjoying what graphic novels I do read, so this one will be on the list! I do wonder about who feels they can write about a topic? I have a niece with cerebral palsy & although I've watched her grow up, she could have used a realistic portrayal of her challenges, defeats & accomplishments. There were none growing up & she faced so many exclusions. You are so kind to do a giveaway. I won't enter because I've read all the list, but thanks much for the generous offer! Happy Reading!

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    1. I'm glad you've been liking the graphic novels you've read lately! And that's an excellent point—there's never enough representation anyway, so it's always nice to see more of it from different viewpoints so that people like your niece can benefit. And that's wonderful that you've read all the books on the giveaway! Thanks so much for stopping by, Linda!

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  7. Don't you just love First Second?? I always want to review every book they publish! This sounds like a fun book with some very important messages. Kids & teens with disabilities are WAY under-represented in MG and YA books! I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I think it's fine for anyone to add to the (fiction) books for under-represented people, as long as they do their research and are accurate. We need more representation, and I don't care where it comes from! And, as I said, there is just so little for kids with disabilities.

    Great review!

    Sue
    Book By Book

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    1. First Second is seriously great—I have another book from them that just came out that I am very excited to read! And I think that's a very fair opinion to have—it's definitely a great thing when underrepresented groups can get more representation, regardless of the source. And kids with disabilities in particular are very underrepresented! Thanks so much for stopping by, Sue!

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  8. This is a new-to-me book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. The cover is fantastic.

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    1. The cover is definitely wonderful! I hope you enjoy this book if you get a chance to try it. Thanks so much for stopping by, Lisa!

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  9. I'm glad you stayed with this to the end. I've often feel the same way when a story doesn't take off right away. Some very important messages in this one. Thanks for featuring on MMGM. Also thanks for the giveaway. I won't be entering myself but have forwarded your post to several parents and primary teachers.

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    1. I'm glad I stayed with it too—the ending was definitely more rewarding! And thank you for sharing the giveaway with others as well. Thanks so much for stopping by, Greg!

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  10. A lovable elephant companion! There's something about elephants that always draw me in!! I'll see about checking this one out!

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    1. I think elephants are pretty much a foolproof way of making for a fun story! I hope you enjoy this book if you get a chance to try it. Thanks so much for stopping by, Maria!

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  11. Enjoyed your review! That cover alone sells the book and I'm glad you persisted. It sounds adorable and I especially like that it features a child differently abled. I should check this one out! Thank you for the wonderful gift giveaway. I was only familiar with one of the books, so read all of your comments and ended up not knowing which book to select. They are all excellent!

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    1. The cover is definitely excellent, and I'm glad I kept reading as well! And yes, it's great representation too. And I'm glad you appreciated the giveaway—I chose the books that were my personal favorites of the picture books I've reviewed lately, so I can imagine it would be hard to pick if you hadn't read most of them already! Thanks so much for stopping by, Patricia!

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  12. I am a big fan of graphic novels. I am glad to hear that this one grew on you by the end. Thanks for the awesome giveaway! ~Jes

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    1. I'm glad you enjoy graphic novels too, and this one definitely improved as I kept reading! And I'm glad you appreciate the giveaway too. Thanks so much for stopping by, Jess!

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  13. Thanks so much for posting the link to previews of the art from this novel. It is indeed gorgeous.
    I always appreciate reading your thoughtful reviews of the graphic novels you read. Like Helen, I haven't checked the Cybil's site since nominations closed. Luckily, I am a finalist and don't really have to worry until January 1st!

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    1. I'm glad you took a look at the art and liked it as much as I did—it's pretty much the whole reason I bought this book! I'm also really glad to hear you appreciate my reviews—that means a lot from a fellow graphic novel lover! And I'm glad you don't have to worry too much about the Cybils until January 1—I'm judging for the first time this year, but I'm also in Round 2, so I'll be keeping an eye out until then. Thanks so much for stopping by, Cheriee!

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  14. The artwork is wonderful! It (and the title) caught my attention too.Thanks for sharing such a thorough and thoughtful review.

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    1. I agree, the art is beautiful, and I'm glad the book intrigued you! And I'm glad my review was helpful as well. Thanks so much for stopping by, K.A.!

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  15. Ah, smoke detectors. I have a wonderful son-in-law who takes care of that chore for me. This sounds like a very unusual book. I was struck by "Jordan discovers the sport of water polo, which doesn't require the use of her legs." Really? I think water polo players would dispute that. Honestly, that put me off. Authors need to do their research. I really don't read many graphic novels, so I will probably pass on this. I think it's incredibly generous of you to run a picture book giveaway. You are offering some lovely books. How nice of you! I think I will pass and leave it for those with little ones. Thanks for your very thoughtful review.

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    1. That's wonderful that your son-in-law takes care of that for you! And I think I phrased that poorly about the water polo—I meant more that it would be easier to do without the use of one's legs. You'd of course need to compensate with serious upper-body strength, but I can imagine it would be doable with a lot of practice! And I'm glad you appreciate the picture book giveaway! Thanks so much for stopping by, Rosi!

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