"review" · Children's · concenter · Picture book · recommend

{picture book} wonder-full

Just in time for a baby shower gift, one of my favorites (I have a print on my wall) came out with a new book: not that I wouldn’t have gifted the recently released board book version of Dream Animals (my review).

The Wonderful Things You Will Be by Emily Winfield Martin 

Random House, 2015.

Emily Windfield Martin’s latest opens with:

When I look at you

And you look at me,

I wonder what wonderful

Things you will be.

before the narrator begins to speculate what this new child will be. Later in the book, the reader will wonder aloud as to what the child will do:

This is the first time

There has ever been a you,*

So I wonder what wonderful things

You will do.

There are some things that will go without wondering. There are some things the narrator knows about the child, can anticipate.

I know you’ll be kind…

and clever…

The sentiments are more than wonderful and I had a customer (an aunt buying for a niece) admit to becoming verklempt before hugging it to her chest and walking toward the registers with it. Natalya is still in a stage of deep-sighing when I hand her sentimental things like this to read. Fortunately, there is humor; also, she has a fondness for Martin’s art as well.

I love love love the words and pictures on the spread where a boy sitting at a sewing machine holds up tiny pants for a squirrel. Natalya recommends the one below, the one with the band (which Martin admits is a favorite).

The Wonderful Things You Will Be has a page that reads:

When nights are black and

When days are gray—

You’ll be brave and be bright

So no shadows can stay.

The image is a girl in a red coat, hood back, contemplating the red balloon stuck in the branches of a tree at the edge of a wood.

I think the endpapers are pretty sweet, too.

I mentioned the male tailor, but Martin always features a diverse population unusual to most picture books. I adore the details and I love the charmingly peculiar she includes in her books, though it makes sense if you consider successfully writing for an audience with such charming peculiarities within their own imaginations. Martin is well-suited to picture book creating.

The Wonderful Things You Will Be is a lovely, serious yet playful addition to the family library. You can’t start too young with this one, nor can you out-grow it.

——

of note: Martin fans will recognize and smile at the appearance of the Kitten Bandit among others. also, fans, check out RandomHouse’s cool little option to send e-cards!

If I’d done some real planning, I would have hunted down a red/white striped footie-pjs to pair with the book.

*a line reminiscent of Nancy Tillman books of the same genre. I’m pleased to have word-choice and image aesthetic options in these books.

{All images are Emily Winfield Martin’s; do check out her work at ‘the black apple’. You can see great spreads of the book here.}

 

"review" · concenter · fiction · Lit · recommend · short story · wondermous · young adult lit

{book} the power & in just one body (of work)

Of note: my writing about an excellent short story collection equates to a long post. But I do give you a few paragraphs (up to the asterisks) before ~brief remarks on each of the stories.

The Thing Around Your Neck : a collection of short stories

by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Alfred A Knopf, 2009.

Hardcover, 12 stories. 218 pages. Library loan.

Adichie turns her penetrating eye on not only Nigeria but America, in twelve dazzling stories that explore the ties that bind men and women, parents and children, Africa and the United States. […] Searing and profound, suffused with beauty, sorrow, and longing, these stories map, with Adichie’s signature emotional wisdom, the collision of two cultures and the deeply human struggle to reconcile them. The Thing Around Your Neck is a resounding confirmation of the prodigious literary powers of one of our most essential writers.—publisher’s comments.

Even as a voluntary (and paying) student of literature, I find myself making the mental preparations for a Literary short-story collection. Occasionally, this will mean that I forgo the read at the time, believing I will be more exhausted than pleased by the exercise—because it so often is. The Thing Around Your Neck reads like I am sitting down with a storyteller who is merely intent on relating something about someone they know. I found myself disarmed. The subjects are not easy, but the reading is and its enjoyment is effortless.

In the past few weeks since I finished this collection, I had occasion to read a few different conversations where female authors have said (to the effect): when I write my female characters into difficult situations, I am considering verisimilitude, but just as importantly, I have an aim to demonstrate an empowered female response. Oftentimes, this means changing the script written by popular cultural beliefs. Adichie writes women who are seen questioning and resisting. Many of her female characters do surprising things—not always the easiest in consequence but the unexpected (w/in the cultural responses dictated w/in the story). I am still lingering on “The American Embassy,” which trades in a familiar theme in the collection: human dignity and the cost/risk involved in having a voice.  More than a few stories depict the female desire of another. Read this how you will, but I was drawn to the notion of envy—the sort of appeal that drives the desire to have what another has to positive consequence. This takes us back to demonstrating non-traditional choice-making. If memory serves, the parts of the body, the spirit, the vocations that attract the protagonist are significant, especial to their experience of said desire. Adichie employs eroticism in an enviable way…I’m telling you, her work has a rich eloquence that is both medicinal and sweet.

The majority of the pieces are told by a first person female, but not all. There is a particularly lovely implementation of the female protagonist’s use of second person in two, and a fascinating first person male in another. Adichie situates exchanges of assumptions and generalizations the narrators themselves would find chaffing, but she provides more often than not that voice the reader can respond to with a ‘I know what you mean;’ ‘I am not alone.’ She is both foreign and achingly familiar.

The Thing Around Your Neck is not to be dismissed as “women’s fiction” as there is much to realize about social  & personal situations that go unobserved, let alone considered and discussed. Much of Adichie’s success in provoking such thinking is in how she works with characters, not caricature, sampling representatives or some such didactic alienating force.

___________________________________________

“Cell One” (pp 3-21) finally instills fear and selflessness into the brother of narrator Nnamabia who observes the complicity and enabling actions in the negative consequences of her culture.

We are introduced to structures of privilege and corruption, and of both son and gender preference.

“Imitation” (22-42) wherein resides one of my favorite lines in the book:

“One of the things she’d come to love about America, the abundance of unreasonable hope” (26).

Though pages in, it reflects the tone of the collection. In whom or what may Nkem place her hopes and her happiness. How does one define “happy” (40); the inhabitation of a role set down by whom? The conversation on the female body as a commodity not just prior to marriage but after is beautifully touched upon.

A gorgeous meditation on assimilation; the first, but not the last on this.

“A Private Experience” (43-56) moves in and out of time as two young women of potentially polarizing differences find commonality in a form of sisterhood whilst hemmed in by the violence that surrounds them.

The insight into the culture of Lagos and Nigeria continues; of varying outcomes…

“Ghosts” (57-73) introduces an old professor who runs into someone whom he believed dead. The appearance of a ghost does not alarm him for particular reasons and the meeting spurs further self-reflection.

This is the point where it really struck me that I was having tea with someone, not a paper preparation conference.

“On Monday of Last Week” (74-94) a young woman observes her new home (America) and its inhabitants to whom she is serving as nanny—particularly an affluent father of her helicoptered charge and the artist wife who appears, much to her distraction.

“She had come to understand that American parenting was a juggling of anxieties, and that it came with having too much food: a sated belly gave Americans time to worry that their child might have a rare disease that they had just read about, made them think they had the right to protect their child from disappointment and want and failure. A sated belly gave Americans the luxury of praising themselves for being good parents, as if caring for one’s child were the exception rather than the rule.” (82)

What Kamara comes to understand continues into more than a criticism but an observation of those tensions between maintaining an appearance and reality; of desire and repulsion. Appearances, the making them (e.g. the wife) and creating them (façade) is of enjoyable import in the story.

Different stories make me self-conscious in different ways; and sometimes one will contain all kinds of self-reflective appointments.

“Jumping Monkey Hill” (95-114) is the resort where Ujunwa is attending a writer’s retreat w/ other representatives of their African countries.

Here is one for writers, readers, and cultural studies with questions regarding type casts; authenticity; What is Africa; which Africa?; verisimilitude in fiction; who writes the narrative; the male gaze; the presence of the white foreigner; relevant issues like religious oppression, homosexuality, sexual harassment, oppression, independence. [such are the notes on my page.]

It is within Adichie’s artistry to bring so many voices and conversations together. And to maintain such a personal, individual focus on Ujunwa.

Adichie resists “type” because she knows the person tells the more effective story.

“The Thing Around Your Neck” (115-27) begins with:

“You thought everybody in America had a car and a gun; your uncles and aunts and cousins thought so, too. Right after you won the American visa lottery, they told you: In a month, you will have a big car. Soon, a big house. But don’t buy a gun like those Americans.”

How and where do you assimilate and yet maintain difference: who dictates those things? There is a lot of offers up for the taking, but at what cost? The second person speaking to herself negotiates the liminal spaces between where she was and where she is now, and her difference as individual and other—resisting cliché (normative scripts) and exoticization. The observations on poverty and privilege, the African female and the white male, and the ways some things are the same wherever you go. The struggle of give and take in the relationships written into the story are compelling, as is the courageous narrator. I will leave the title and its appearance in the story to you.

“The American Embassy” (128-41) places us in a detailed setting and the unraveling of the significance of Ugonna’s mother’s long wait in line alone.

This is one that moved me and is still sinking inward—in ways I can articulate and others I cannot. It is a provocative piece. Political causes and beliefs more often than not cost the lives of others, more than one’s own. And what does courage of conviction look like. And how do we grieve and move forward with the knowledge that risk has suddenly afforded us. The word “abandoned” comes to mind, and “home;” as does the notion of woman as cultural keeper of the hearth (tasked by whom?).

“The Shivering” (142-166) The ties that, well, introduce us at the very least. In an exchange of experiences: who is it all about? I’ll share two quotes that hardly work as summary, because as I began a summary, I realize I actually said nothing about it anyway and erased it.

“It wasn’t a crisis of faith. Church suddenly became like Father Christmas, something that you never question when you are a child but when you become an adult you realize that the man in the Father Christmas costume is actually your neighbor from down the street” (152-3).

“He used to make me feel that nothing I said was witty enough or sarcastic enough or smart enough. He was always struggling to be different, even when it didn’t matter. It was as if he was performing his life instead of living his life” (153 emphasis mine).

Adichie proves to be masterful with the titling of her work. And continues to prove diverse enough to write characters who are familiar not because they are always likable or easy.

“The Arrangers of Marriage” are many, from relatives to cultural tradition to pragmatism. Our first person female narrator arrives at her new home in America to begin a new chapter of her life with the husband arranged for her. This is another one of those stories you wish Adichie wasn’t so good with similes and metaphors when describing people. I’m trying to recall if it was this one or an earlier piece with the man whose teeth are likened to mildew. I had to stop then and share with the daughter who looked at me in awe.

I love this story in particular because while there are circumstances beyond the woman’s control, there will be an opportunity when it is not, and then it is she who will make the arrangements.

There is a lot of empowerment in community. A lot of terrible circumstances are brought about via men and women both, but so is wisdom, advice, and a helping hand out.

“Tomorrow is Too Far” (187-197) is the translation of a snake’s name: the echi eteka, who plays a role in the story, but really, tomorrow is too far for the child female protagonist. Both her mother (whom she lives with in the States) and her grandmother (whom she is visiting in Nigeria), prefer/privilege her elder brother. The tension for this “you” narrator is the weight of that cost of waiting (or not) for your turn.

The setting in the climate (literal and figurative) is oppressive. And but for the brother and the male cousin (who is not hierarchically good enough either due to birth placement), the cast is female and this emphasizes women’s complicity in patriarchical oppression—an oppression that does not only hold consequence for the female child.

This one is a must. It is provoking, engaging, and entertaining.

“The Headstrong Historian” (198-218) relays the importance of history, of legacy and heritage, of honoring yet rebelling. There is both a desire and a goodness in keeping record of history and leaving legacies, but some more are best left in memory-story-form. Some histories need not come with us, their performances unhealthy in their repetition.

The story echoes traditional storytelling form, demonstrating the pleasure of certain traditions being handed down and continued in the voices of the younger. The generational inheritances and shifts, the struggle with modernity, the timeless quality of it all; and the desire to preserve and the desire to change centers around the story of Nwamgba until it changes hands with a granddaughter.

It is a great punctuating piece to this powerful and empowering collection.

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · concenter · fiction · recommend

{book} ruby’s magic madness

ruby lu brave and true coverRuby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look

illustrated by Anne Wilsdorf

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2004.

Hardcover, 105 pages incl. “Ruby’s Fantastic Glossary and Pronunciation Guide”

Library borrow. Ages 6-10.

Most days the best thing about being Ruby is everything. Like when she’s the star of her own backyard magic show [“Ruby’s Magic Madness”]. Or when she gives a talk at the school safety assembly on the benefits of reflective tape. Or when she rides the No. 3 bus all the way to Chinatown to visit GungGung and PohPoh.
And then there are the days when it’s very hard to be Ruby. Like when her mom suggests Chinese school on Saturdays. Or when her little brother, Oscar, spills all of Ruby’s best magician secrets. Or when her parents don’t think she’s old enough to drive!
Come along with Ruby Lu in her chapter-book debut — which even includes a flip book of a magic trick — and share the good and the not-so-good days with an (almost) eight-year-old Asian-American kid.—Publisher’s Comments

When Natalya was in grade-school, the most popular chapter book choices for reading aloud to each other were those with a high whimsy, strangeness, or humor factor. Had I known Lenore Look existed then, her books would have been bought and shelved next to Junie B. and Dragon Slayer Academy. The Alvin Ho books (my first intro to Look) are awesomely funny, but Ruby Lu, she has an absolute charm all her own.

Anne Wilsdorf illustrative contribution reflects the spunky, live-wire world of Ruby Lu. They have a comic-realist balancing act that fits the character and her stories. They provide visual breaks in the text and clarify the events/antics of the story in a pleasing way. Wilsdorf and Look entertain.

There is a straightforward style in the telling of the story that suits Ruby Lu very well. There are little neighborhood stories that characterize and are characterized by Ruby Lu. Certain interests and attributes thread the small chapter book together. Look begins with the things Ruby likes and then dislikes and as the story progresses Ruby’s relationships with many of these things vacillate based on circumstance. Her baby brother is a great example of this…so is Chinese school. Her “likes” rely on what suits her, and when—sound familiar?

But Ruby is true, true to self and whilst learning is undeniably Ruby Lu—actually, I wonder now if most of the learning is on the part of the reader. Ruby’s bravery is a bit foolhardy at times—there is a marvelous mouth-covering sequence suspending the reader between horror and humor. But her bravery allows her to endure the uncertainty of whether she can learn what she needs at school, whether the bully can be revisited, or whether her emigrating cousin Flying Duck will an embarrassment or a familiar.

ruby-lu-brave-and-true-illustration-anne-wilsdorf-001

Ruby Lu has her charming little quirks that celebrate individuality and, well, childhood; and she isn’t the only one. Ruby’s family is sweet, very present and parental—including the grand-parental. I adore her family and her little Seattle neighborhood.

With concerns over her Asian-cultural education and Ruby’s concerns of integrating her emigrating relative, Ruby Lu has the double-pleasure of telling a story specific to the Asian-American protagonist and providing a glimpse for those with different childhood experiences. Look thoughtfully includes a “Glossary and Pronunciation Guide,” but if there are any worries that Look’s chapter book reads “educational,” relax. Learning about Ruby Lu and life on 20th Avenue South is as effortless as Look makes her storytelling ability appear—which is incredibly fluid and compelling. Look draws such a delightfully funny and fierce heroine, you are guaranteed to enjoy having this one read-aloud to you.

—————————-

{image belongs to Anne Wilsdorf}

other books in the Ruby Lu series: Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything (2006) and Ruby Lu, Star of the Show (2011).

———————author——-

lenore lookLenore Look is the award-winning author of numerous children’s books including the popular Alvin Ho series. other books: Love as Strong as Ginger (1999); Henry’s First Moon Birthday (2001); Uncle Peter’s Amazing Chinese Wedding (2006); Polka Dot Penguin Pottery (2011); Brush of the Gods (2013)

Learn more about Lenore Look on her site; there is a nifty “q&a” page open for questions wherein I learned much, but here is a few things: She started writing when she was 6 and published her first book 31 years later (‘kento’) ; Look is “from Seattle, WA. [Her] parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all emigrated to the U.S. from China’s Guangdong province. [… ] My parents speak only Chinese to one another and to their children, so Toisanese, which is the country-cousin version of Cantonese, was my first language. I also understand Cantonese, which is more widely used, so I use it in my books (‘tanja’); & in answer to ‘aiden’: “I have two favorite books that I love equally and re-read nearly every year. CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White, and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee.”

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · fiction · mystery · sci-fi/fantasy · series · young adult lit

{comic} questions

ACjacket_smallWho is AC? by Hope Larson, illustrated by Tintin Pantoja.

Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2013. hardcover, 176 pages. 12 & up.

borrowed from the Library because you know I am a big fan of Hope Larson’s work.

“Meet Lin, a formerly average teenage girl whose cell phone zaps her with magical powers. But just as superpowers can travel through the ether, so can evil. As Lin starts to get a handle on her new abilities (while still observing her curfew!), she realizes she has to go head-to-head with a nefarious villain who spreads his influence through binary code. And as if that weren’t enough, a teen blogger has dubbed her an “anonymous coward!” Can Lin detect the cyber-criminals vulnerability, save the day, and restore her reputation?

“With ingenious scripting from graphic novel phenom Hope Larson and striking art from manga illustrator Tintin Pantoja, this action-packed story brims with magical realism and girl-power goodness.”—publisher’s comments.

I know I tend to rely on the publisher’s synopsis for its precision in “reviews,” however, I quote it here because I had to use it to orient myself—after I’d read the book. Granted, it was late when I read it, but Larson and Pantoja move quickly and I found myself with questions of identification that I’m not sure the novel intended.

who is ac1_004

The story seemed straightforward enough. Budding writer and zine self-publisher, Lin has created a fictional superhero named Rhea Ironheart, but in her new town, Lin finds herself to have become a superhero of fictional proportion, strikingly similar to Ironheart. But where fantasy was just fine, being a super-heroic figure herself is problematic, and not just because of curfew or angry bystanders. A superhero was not how this author was willing to courageously put herself out there.

who is ac page

Who is AC? features a lot of courageous risk-takers from the awkward boy asking a hot girl out to self-publishing to blogging difficult emotions without regret. The problem of putting yourself out there, in print, in-person or on-line are the trolls and digital shadows, or trying to disappear or change when identity takes on additional technological complexities. And there is also the trouble with reality versus the identity projected onto a person by another. How can someone tell what is really going on if there isn’t a conversation, but a bunch of one-sided speech/documentation. Audience figures in, the need to be seen and heard—really seen and heard. We see a disconnect in reality , too: in the comparison’s between Trace’s family and Lin’s.

Hope Larson is gifted when it comes to characterization and familial and friend interaction; and this is what really anchors the story when everything else seems racing forward and far-flung. Her fluid transitions are beautiful, but end up shoving me into the action, often into another character’s sequence. “Can Lin detect the cyber-criminal’s vulnerability, save the day, and restore her reputation?” Can she? Does she?

who is ac double

I love the multicultural town, the multiracial family, that Lin rides a bike and publishes zines. The illustrations are fantastic! And the reluctant hero is a girl who should hold up to some great storylines where the magically real intersects technology. Her enlisting the talented Pantoja to render an adventure that involves concerns popular to manga. Who is AC? is an intriguing intersection of American- and Japanese-influenced comic storytelling.

According to Booklist, “Fans of Naoko Takeuchi’s Sailor Moon will find a lot to like here, and the added technological twist adds a freshness to the subgenre.” (Mar. 2013)

Who is AC? is an ambitious comic book to remain only singular volume, because it leaves plenty of strings to fill-out a series. For instance, forget who AC is; Lin’s new and strange alter-ego dubbed by an angry caller. I want to know who is responsible for creating her in the first place. Said cyber-criminal is the true oddity and just what the hell he is up to is confusing—unless confused is what he intends to render his hapless victims. Cue even weirder cyber-girl straight out of Tron. There isn’t time to possibly explain her in the novel either.

who is ac ac

What seems to matter most is Lin coming to grips with the change, to surrender herself to it to some degree and begin to ask and answer the titular question. It really is only a beginning. The question then becomes, was I excited enough to want to follow Lin and company into subsequent stories. Perhaps if I were some years younger, such as the age of the intended audience. As it was, I found myself impatient with what ultimately amounted to gestures.

__________________

a concenter-quality read: the diversity in lit qualification is evident; the protag and portrayal of family life and community yields verisimilitude and well as empowerment.

{images belong to Hope Larson and Tintin Pantoja}

"review" · concenter · fiction · Lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · young adult lit

{book} of all possible worlds…

best of all possible worldsThe Best of All Possible Worlds by Karen Lord

Ballantine Books|Del Rey, 2013.

hardcover, 303 pages. Library borrow.

A proud and reserved alien society finds its homeland destroyed in an unprovoked act of aggression, and the survivors have no choice but to reach out to the indigenous humanoids of their adopted world, to whom they are distantly related. They wish to preserve their cherished way of life but come to discover that in order to preserve their culture, they may have to change it forever.

Now a man and a woman from these two clashing societies must work together to save this vanishing race — and end up uncovering ancient mysteries with far-reaching ramifications. As their mission hangs in the balance, this unlikely team — one cool and cerebral, the other fiery and impulsive — just may find in each other their own destinies… and a force that transcends all.—Publisher’s comments.

You know how an occasional character or two will channel a familiar voice or face? Dllenahkh, the third-limited narrator (in alternation) of Karen Lord’s The Best of All Possible Worlds, brought the dulcet tones of Spock with an edge of Sherlock to surface. His situation of a recently annihilated nation didn’t hurt either. But the predominant first person voice of Grace Delarua rather pleasantly brought my friend Leah to mind. Think: intelligent, emotionally sensitive, snarky, laughter-loving, possessively independent, fiercely loyal to tribe, lover of the pretty and companionable. She will underestimate herself at times, admits to vulnerability, but is incredibly courageous. Even thinking beyond the measures of these attributes Lord concocts for her heroine, Leah would even share similar psi-abilities. She is smart, loving, and funny—Delarua, my friend Leah, and Karen Lord.

“He frowned in puzzlement as he tapped in our destination. ‘Why are you thanking me? I haven’t done anything yet.’

‘You listen to my crazy ideas and make sense out of them. That’s worth some thanks.’

He let the autopilot take us and turned to face me, eyes flashing. “What you describe as the product of a mental imbalance, I would classify as swift, intuitive thinking to arrive at creative solutions.” (249)

Carrying off a light-hearted amusement amid a pretty serious occasion is a trick Karen Lord makes appear effortless. Moving forward and remembrance, maintaining histories and beginnings, the tensions of what is “appropriate” in any give situation are reflected in the solemn and the lightness of being. Setting elements of romantic-comedy amid relief & rehabilitation post-mass-genocide is daring, and with Lord’s confidence, successful. The fulcrum upon which The Best of All Possible Worlds is hope…and grace. Relationships require both and the novel centralizes its story around the discovery and recovery of relationships.

“I have come to the conclusion that while superiority may be our most obvious flaw, it is not the most dangerous one. […] I believe that our main flaw, and one I acknowledge in myself, is not that we consider ourselves superior but invincible. This makes it difficult to ask for help, even from our own”  (188).

Having worked with Second Assistant Delarua as a biotechnician helping the Sadiri homestead on the Cygnus Beta, Councilor Dllenahkh enlists her aid in a survey of the planets other emigrants who, in any way (phenotypically, traditionally, genotypically), would be a good source for mating partners. Delarua discovers a lot about herself along the way, but so does Dllenahkh and other crew-members whom Lord makes irresistible. The social commentary is served alongside endearing characters and the gorgeously bizarre—e.g. The Fearie (119). Conversations surrounding pregnancy and the female professional (158), victim-blaming (i.e. p 152), and human trafficking (~171) to name a few, are nestled among action-adventure sequences, physical comedy, workplace-friendship-family drama, and time-travel.

There is plenty of science in the fiction. I was especially drawn to the inclusion of lore. But I dig the multi-faceted discipline of Anthropology, which is the predominant science of the novel—thus the Ursula K. LeGuin allusion in jacket copy. Lord is not at subtle as LeGuin, lulling you into critically considering an alien race before realizing she is really talking about humanity and our conditions (individually/socially), and her tone is more conversational than her predecessor. Neither does Lord try to rename the familiar like the impulse seems to be for many science fictions. The vernacular is close and pop cultural references feel as recent as now (not future-alien-earth)—watching “holovids.” The time-travel is pretty complicated , the telepathic, psionic elements of particular interest. Lord proves herself a capable conversant on these subjects but does not bog down the story. It is as if Lord is less interested in hiding the SFF fact that we are talking about humans and contemporary social realities, and more interested in the transparencies SFF have to offer. I’m thinking about how she begins with the humanoid-familiarity first before introducing the alien, or even the science. She draws from human experience in imagining The Best of All Possible Worlds in plenty of interesting ways, but I am presently infatuated with one in particular.

The End of the Laughter. I recognize this one,’ said Joral. ‘Is this the adaptation of Enough, the taSadiri tale of a man who kills his unfaithful wife and her lover?’

‘No,’ said Tarik, shaking his head firmly. ‘You have made a common error. In this one, he kills the man that he mistakenly thinks is her lover while her real lover gets away. This is an adaptation of the Ainya play Deception, not Enough.’

“Okay, not meaning to muddy the waters,’ I said, ‘but I’m fairly certain that what we have here is a version of Otello, one of the old Terran standards. Kills his not-unfaithful wife on the says-so of a man who was out to get him.’

Lian approached the poster more closely and read the fine print at the bottom out loud. ‘Based on the Italian opera Pagliacci.’

We crowded around the poster. ‘Who dies?’ asked Tarik with interest. ‘And was the infidelity real or alleged?’

‘Is there some other production we might attend which does not illustrate that dysfunctional pair bonding is endemic in most cultures?’ asked Dllenahkh with heavy disapproval. (140)

In my albeit limited experience with science fiction, I am almost always left with the impression that a planet is homogenous. When encountering this “new life and new civilization” (Star Trek) on (or from) planet $@#!, the life-forms and society  depicted is indicative of the planet’s whole. As Lord traverse’s Cygnus Beta, its Terra-formed populations become reminiscent of our own diverse global landscape; folk lore is one indicator (Celtic, Chinese, etc.), an isolationist island country that observes hierarchy and strict decorum?? and Cygnus-Beta is proud of its shared heritage among the emigrated natives: “There isn’t a group on Cygnus Beta who can’t trace their family back to some world-shattering event. Landless, kinless, unwanted—theoretically, the Sadiri would fit right in” (9). The Cygnian society is willing to host and aide the refugee. Lord moves in and out of time, uses fictional and non-fictional allusions, but the references are Earth-as-we-know-it-based. A planet can and does support diverse life and civilizations. And a single government may; which is where the global exploration works to demonstrate. The planet could be seen as a single country, or no; but there is the greater government with its structures in place. There is policy and protocol that presides over the mission and the civilizations met. This government then, is influenced and linked to one greater than itself. The problems and pleasures of multi-culturalism is explored and the end result of the relationships within the novel can evidence a powerful message.

Or you can just be wildly entertained by The Best of All Possible Worlds, but I find Karen Lord to be too assertive and intelligent of perspective to ignore. She just makes the reading easier. The easy familiarity fosters the human potentiality of allowing the other their dignity and value; exhibiting hope and grace; that maybe we could do all of this without losing our-selves: a relevant anxiety for many right now. Lord explores this with humor and grace.

——————

recommendations… an accessible novel for non-readers of SF. for those looking for depictions of people of color and culture that differ from White and nuclear.

Was one of Carl V’s favorites of 2013 over at Stainless Steel Droppings in which he writes:

“In addition to the way in which the story is different than most science fiction one would pull from the shelf, the reason it stands out is that you get to know these characters and develop an emotional bond with them. You care about what happens to them and you keep reading hoping that your desires will find fulfillment. This was my first experience with the work of Karen Lord. It will not be my last, she is a true talent.”

thanks again Carl for the book recommendation!

of note: I’m still working to articulate this: but I didn’t want to leave this post w/out suggesting that there is something Karen Lord does as a storyteller that only she, as a female storyteller can do…in an argument as to why we need published-access to female writers and/or a writer of color: The Best of All Possible Worlds is the most positive consequence of greater diversity in Literature.

2014sfexp400read for The 2014 Sci-Fi Experience…and my own desire to read toward Diversity in Lit.

karen lord————————author———–

Born in Barbados, Karen Lord is an award-winning author of Redemption in Indigo (2010). Expect Rafi Delarua’s return in August 2014 w/ The Galaxy Game. She has BSc in Physics and cites martial arts/fencing as a hobby (link). She has “has taught physics, trained soldiers, worked in the Foreign Service and earned a Ph.D. in the sociology of religion” (2013 Bookpage interview w/Gavin Grant).  From the Bookpage interview:

“I know you read far and wide. Have you read anything recently you’d especially recommend? [recs linked]
I love to recommend Caribbean science fiction, [like] Ghosts by Curdella Forbes (2012) and The Rainmaker’s Mistake by Erna Brodber (2007). I’ve gained a new appreciation for short story collections. I recently read Ted Chiang’s brilliant Stories of Your Life and Others (I know, I’m late). Karin Tidbeck’s recent debut collection Jagannath is beautiful, and The Weird anthology, edited by Ann and Jeff VanderMeer, is essential reading.”

Learn more about Karen Lord: her site; & note her “Reading List”.

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · young adult lit

{comic} the art of shadows

will and whit coverWill & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge

Amulet (Abrams), 2013. Trade Paper, 192 pages including “soundtrack,” author’s “inspiration board” for book, & recipe for “Blue Crush Cookies. ages 12 & up.

Laura Lee Gulledge’s debut Page by Paige (2011) involved not only a great story about moving to a new place, finding new friends, romantic drama, and discovering the self, but it was full of inspiration for creative-minded readers and indie-scene and nerd-world allusions. Her sophomore return of story, inspiration, and pop culture is just as satisfying.

“This is the story of how I escaped my shadow.” Will (end of “chapter one”)

Will and Whit Illustration

Wilhemina “Will” Huckstep is all about old fashioned things, helping out her Aunt at the family antique shop, creating lamps out of found objects, and “unplugged” summer adventures with her friends before her senior year of high school. But as Hurricane Whitney charges towards her small Virginia town, so does the one year anniversary of her parents death. And with the promise of an extended blackout, her fear of the dark intensifies. Fortunately, Will is not alone. She has a loving aunt, her best friends Autumn and Noel, and a new creative venture (replete with new pals) when she discovers an arts carnival has been formed in town.

will sample 2a

When Will talks about the shadows that haunt, Gulledge interprets them into shapes that relay the underlying anxieties Will is dealing with as the everyday of her summer progresses. The bicycle takes on a shadow of a bicycle built for 3, saddles empty but for Will’s. The shadow of the house is a row of headstones. Life is moving forward despite them, and Will seems determined to continue with it, constructing lamps to ward off the dark corners and still moments where painful things intrude. The storm facilitates a confrontation, but hers isn’t the only conflict.

willwhitNoel, the only male of a trio of friends, has been harboring a crush on Autumn for a long while. But she isn’t going to wait around forever—not that she is terribly ambitious, which is a lament of her highly-motivated Indian physician parents. Noel is perusing Culinary Schools, but Autumn despairs of pursuing much more than her Puppetry, and even there she is shy.

Noel’s younger sister Reese is the light-spirited buoy of the novel, humorously negotiating the necessary shift from IM to in-person gossip and event documentation. Her artistic pursuit? jewelry. The Arts Carnival introduces Ava (a songstress), Blake (dancer), and Desmond (movie maker) as well as potential love interests and a venue for pushing the artists to the next level—which for Will, may be sculpture.

There are plenty of fears going around and while Gulledge does not treat them lightly, she has a deft hand at bringing her characters and story together without sinking the boat early and asking us to tread through suffocating angsts. She tackles hard issues and contemplates different ways of channeling ideas and emotional energies.

I need to try out the soundtrack set out for each chapter. We have most of the songs. Even still, I love their inclusion.  And I have to say that Gulledge’s pop culture references are hug-worthy. I was geeked to read the Sally Sparrow quote (from Doctor Who’s “Blink”), an allusion to Lord of the Rings, and in the cemetery there are headstones for Rory & Amy Williams (shared), Wash (Firefly/Serenity), Joyce Summers and Tara Maclay (Buffy).

I continue to find the storytelling aspect of Gulledge’s b/w illustrations really attractive and fun. Will & Whit is beautifully-fashioned. Gulledge’s work is easy to recommend, and I can’t wait to see what she will come up with next.

WillWhit019-final-660x335-1378827184

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recommendations… girls & boys 12+, if one likes stories about friendship, family and/or contemporary dramas; accessible to fans of comics or no; certainly for the creative-minded, music-scene-infatuated, and/or nerd-girl (or -boy); are fans of Hope Larson, as her work came immediately to mind (which is a good thing).

a concenter-quality read: significant characters of color, diverse community.

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book trailertumblr project bk site (incl. musical)–

my review of Page by Paige

{images belong to Laura Lee Gulledge}

"review" · comics/graphic novels · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series · Tales · young adult lit

{comics} delilah and her lieutenant

or is it The Lieutenant and his Delilah…?

delilah-dirkDelilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant (book 1) by Tony Cliff

First Second Books, 2013. Tradepaper, 176 pages. first half sample.

Delilah Dirk is the heroine of a series of adventure comics set during the early 19th century. Each story is completely self-contained, and they’re suitable for readers of all ages!” –site.

as for the and the Turkish Lieutenant:

“First, Delilah Dirk causes his execution. Then, she saves his life. Honour-bound to return the favour, Selim, the titular Turkish lieutenant, plunges into a world of danger and excitement. What will he sacrifice to repay his debt?”

DelilahDirk2

Tony Cliff renders 4 truly beautiful chapters of a Delilah Dirk adventure narrated by Selim, a gentle, tea-loving Turkish lieutenant swept up in her latest scheme: to rob a dangerous Sultan in Constantinople.

delilah dirk excerpt

Using Selim as the narrator facilitates a wonderful introduction to Delilah Dirk. Raised an English ambassador’s daughter, she has traveled the globe and learned skills from various exotic locations that contribute to a completely daring bad-ass heroine of epic-Indiana-Jones-proportion. Selim is less the risk-taker of this unlikely pairing; and as far as the story goes, he is the more mysterious character. His own characterization pulls her back from becoming a caricature—if having such a heroine could be deemed caricature-esque.  Their individual personalities, senses of humor and adventure collide and complement in entertaining ways. He is gentle where she is ferocious; longing for comforts while she mans an airship; and their aptitudes differ. That the story is one of friendship is as unexpected as their companionship.

delilah dirk bk 1

Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is as dynamic visually. It is flat-out pretty, illustration, ink, color, letters, its one of the easiest-on-the-eyes comics you’ll come across. And it is fluid, so much so that you eye-blink your way out of a magically real sequence that encloses one of the loveliest illustrations in the book—page 64. The energy is in the figure and antics of Delilah Dirk, in the expressive range of Selim’s visage , and the carefully paced frames racing and climbing across pages, looking for the restful vista of a full-page panel. There are tensions between the carefully contained and the explosive energy in the pairing of Delilah and Selim, and panel and page. The crafting is subtle and I had to recover from an infatuation with the art to re-view it.

delilah dirk coverLovers of potentially foolhardy adventures will enjoy Tony Cliff’s beautifully rendered work, but I think those who also possess an eye for craft will experience the most pleasure. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant is an exciting comic you’ll not want to miss.

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a concenter-quality read: significant poc characters, foreign setting, gender defiance

{images belong to Tony Cliff}