"review" · concenter · juvenile lit · recommend · series · Uncategorized · wondermous

{book} never a nothing girl

Icebreaker by Lian Tanner

Feiwel and Friends, 2015 (orig. 2013).

Hardcover 304 pages

“Twelve-year-old Petrel is an outcast, the lowest of the low on the Oyster, an ancient icebreaker that has been following the same course for three hundred years. In that time, the ship’s crew has forgotten its original purpose and broken into three warring tribes. Everyone has a tribe except Petrel, whose parents committed such a terrible crime that they were thrown overboard, and their daughter ostracised.

But Petrel is a survivor. She lives in the dark corners of the ship, speaking to no one except two large grey rats, Mister Smoke and Missus Slink. Then a boy is discovered, frozen on an iceberg, and Petrel saves him, hoping he’ll be her friend. What she doesn’t know is that for the last three hundred years, the Oyster has been guarding a secret. A secret that could change the world.

A secret that the boy has been sent to destroy, along with the ship and everyone on it…” –Publisher’s comments

I hugged the book before I read it, and you can be sure I hugged it afterward. Why? Because Lian Tanner has written one of my favorite Juvenile Fiction Series (The Keeper Trilogy) and she did not let me down in Icebreaker.

Tanner creates rather than contrives her characters and their conflicts. It takes reading the novel to realize what I mean by that difference between the creating and the contrivance. The characters experience real, important change, within the boundaries of their personality. You labor alongside them in those pivotal moments.

Icebreaker is not for those who like to anticipate the story and control every outcome. Tanner doesn’t make her adventures easy on the characters, why would she make it easy on the reader? Tanner’s characters earn their stunning heroism and heart. That Petrel would arrive to a transformative state is perhaps expected, but what of the others, and what of the winding series of events that traverse the massive and entangle innards of the Oyster? There are clues to mysteries (Crab) for the reader to guess successfully, but the overall the sensation of honestly not knowing what is coming next is marvelous.

Tanner complicates her otherworldly stories in painfully realistic ways. Both Petrel (aka Nothing Girl) and the strange boy she rescues have internalized the beliefs of their respective adult worlds—and they have to push back for the sake of everyone. Theirs is a violent and devastated world. The different factions are rational outcomes and hauntingly familiar, yet there is a fine and cutting edge of ridiculousness in the situation. So much of the violence is situated in willful ignorance and incredible egoism. Squid is a still, quiet breath of fresh air.

The presence of tribal leaders’ children in the story is notable; especially the handling of daughters (like Squid) as game-changers. The offspring represent the attitudes of their tribes as well as the opportunity for change. The Braids’ leader, Orca’s daughter, is a horrible fascination and was no doubt one of the most tenuous to write. How to convincingly affect change in relatively few pages, and can we trust it going forward? Nothing Girl and the “rescued boy” (who represent two sets of “others” or factions) are convincing actors, posing in alternate versions of themselves, playing the role survival requires of them. The reader is helped to understand that there is a lot at stake when it comes to who and when to trust—and how to prioritize needs and wants. From the get-go, the question of whether a Nothing Girl should have rescued the boy on the ice haunts the story: Is he worth it? Is she?

The harsh setting is fraught with the kind of danger that inspires courage and resourcefulness, though the survivalist Petrel would downplay such aggrandizement of her reality. Yet while she may not find herself exceptional or worthy of manning the story, the reader will see what her few friends do, worth the risk-taking. She is so earnest, so damned determined and requiring of love. She is so damned familiar.

How Tanner manages to make such a horrible moment near the end, the realization of Nothing Girl as Petrel, to be also humorous… She has great storytelling instincts. Tanner is thought-provoking in unexpected ways, reminding the reader always of perspective (that there is always more than one at play).

Icebreaker combines the most appealing traits of juvenile fiction: an exhilarating imagination and an increasingly necessary imperative: empathy.

I wrote this of Museum of Thieves way back when: “Tanner created a cast and setting of delectable proportions for which I found I was ravenous in Museum of Thieves and will sure to be again in City of Lies.” Go ahead and transpose Icebreaker and Sunker’s Deep; Tanner is a satiating must-read.


Of note: Perfect for tracing the pathways of character development over the course of a plot, no “convenient” gaps to leap over here.

My reviews of Museum of Thieves and City of Lies



"review" · arc · fiction · series

{book} a new(er) Flavia de Luce

As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust

A Flavia de Luce Novel, book 7

By Alan Bradley

ARC via NetGalley w/ gratitude to Delacorte Press*

Release Date January 6, 2015.

“Hard on the heels of the return of her mother’s body from the frozen reaches of the Himalayas, Flavia, for her indiscretions, is banished from her home at Buckshaw and shipped across the ocean to Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy in Toronto, her mother’s alma mater, there to be inducted into a mysterious organization known as the Nide.

“No sooner does she arrive, however, than a body comes crashing down out of the chimney and into her room, setting off a series of investigations into mysterious disappearances of girls from the school.”–Publisher’s Comments

I hadn’t expected another Flavia de Luce novel so soon, if at all. The Dead in their Vaulted Arches (Delacorte 2014) closed the overarching mystery of Flavia’s mother and suggested closure for Flavia’s antics in Bishop Lacey, thus relieving the small English village of more dead bodies. I’m not complaining. In fact, I was quite giddy to see As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust show up on NetGalley. While there was no expectation we would get a glimpse of Flavia’s new situation (as suggested in The Dead), there was a curiosity of how life at Miss Bodycote’s Female Academy would go. It goes well…that is, the story goes well.

One of the things I appreciate most about Alan Bradley and this series of his is his consistency of character. Sure, Flavia has grown over the course of several books, she is essentially a self that never fails to saturate the narrative in that lovely singularly dark way of hers. As it is, Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust opens with one of the most delicious Prologues ever. Bradley excels at opening a novel. The atmospheric arrives in the first sentence and settles in for the long haul. Where first person narratives splinter into multiple voices for set descriptions and the like, the de Luce novel never shifts from Flavia’s macabre and chemistry-obsessed point of view—which can be frustrating at times. She gets distracted by life-things instead of focusing solely on the case at hand. Neither is her distraction a complaint. The novels are character driven and if you’ve haven’t a fondness for Flavia near the beginning of the series, you are not going to be reading Chimney Sweepers.

We may think we have an inkling of the how the mystery will be solved, tracing the evidence as Flavia observes (straightforwardly or obliquely), Flavia will eventually withhold a conclusion. You’d think I’d tire of this formula, but I’m much too pleased that Bradley only withholds in a believable way and doesn’t cut corners by resolving the mystery in a leap even too imaginative for the clever heroine he’s constructed. No, much of the mystery of how the case will be solved is in the unpredictable nature of those life-things I mentioned. Flavia has a want to like people and belong. She requires sleep and emotions and the personalities of other characters. Bradley creates some interesting characters in Chimney Sweepers, many of whom are of Flavia’s ilk, defining Flavia’s difference in a newer way. We get a novel launching a query into whom Flavia really is and is to become. How much is she like her elder female relatives? What boundaries will she risk?

How much can one year change?

Bradley leaves some loose ends; relationships are still troubled; uncertainties still linger—some, anyway. What Bradley certainly does do is demonstrate an exhilarating ability maintain a good mystery in his heroine and her adventures. You can leave off at The Dead in their Vaulted Arches if you like and imagine the what-comes-next, or you can extend the anticipation another book, because I wasn’t expecting the way the what-comes-next is framed by this new conclusion in the Flavia de Luce series.

I really am curious: How much will one year change?


*I received the Advanced Reader’s Copy in exchange for a fair review and nothing more.


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

{comics} no sleeping beauty

The Rise of Aurora West By Paul Pope; J. T. Petty; David Rubín (Illustrator)

(First Second Books 2014) tradepaper.

Having read Paul Pope’s Battling Boy, naturally I was eager to seek out The Rise of Aurora West. We’d met Aurora West in Battling Boy as the recently orphaned (before our eyes) daughter of Arcopolis’ Science Hero Haggard West. The Rise takes us back to a time where Pope and Petty can flesh out a bit more of the mystery not only behind the up-and-coming hero of Aurora West, but the arrival and rise of the supernatural monsters terrorizing the city. You read with dread their development of a weapon to take down the elder West. The most compelling mystery for Aurora, of course, is the death of her mother and whether her imaginary friend was really all that imaginary–or harmless.

puzzling out the pieces

The ass-kicking adventures are tempered by familial implication and what a violent life-style costs. Haggard had to come to his own decisions about the monsters that haunt them, Aurora must as well. Haggard is driven by the desire to protect his daughter and avenge his wife. How might the ending of Rise and the events of Battling Boy affect the nature of Aurora’s own career as a hero of Arcopolis?

While the characterization in Battling was sound, it was good to learn more about Aurora’s background as well as become more familiar with her own Ms. Grately. Too, Rise sets up intriguing story lines for the next volume and the next issue of Battling Boy adventures. Rise functions successfully as a prequel, but it is a complex novel in its own right–one that would be a shame to miss.

Now for the art. I hadn’t thought nor expected a different illustrator. David Rubín is obviously talented, but I prefer Pope’s rendering of Aurora and company in Battling Boy. The smaller size to the novel was nice. It made me think Archie over epic fantasy superhero, but I was less taken with the aesthetic. The black and white befitting the size. And for a narrative told from Aurora’s POV, a shift in artwork suits the shift in mode.

Rise isn’t the current adventure, but a story of what was going on before Battling Boy arrived on the scene. In a genre that frequents artistic collaborations for design purposes or necessity, I should have better anticipated another hand. Rise sets itself apart from Battling in a good way, and an important way. You’ll want this volume (the first of two) for your collection–just adjust another expectation: that the volumes are not going to fit uniformly on the shelf. Not that Aurora could fit uniformly on a shelf somewhere. Watch out female comic book heroes.

{images belong to Paul Pope; J. T. Petty; David Rubín}

"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?”


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.


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

{images belong to Tony Cliff}

"review" · chapter/series · Children's · juvenile lit · recommend · series · Tales

{book} taking the case

Ivy_and_Bean_Take_the_Case_FC_HiResIvy + Bean: Take the Case (Book 10)

by Annie Barrows + Sophie Blackall (illus)

Chronicle Books, 2013. Hardcover, 126 pages.

Modeling herself after a classic film noir detective from her mother’s favorite film, Private Investigator Bean “laughs at danger! […] And she and her assistant, Ivy, are ready, willing, and able to solve any mystery you can throw at them.” If there were any mysteries deemed mysterious enough in Pancake Court, that is…

Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall deliver yet another delightfully creative and intelligent Ivy + Bean adventure. I was surprised to find, however, that plenty of the usual fans on goodreads did not care for this 10th installment. Most of the explanations focused on their “boredom during the first portion of the book” and its “untidy ending.” And I can see that, especially if one misses what is going on in the story.

A mystery was a question you couldn’t find the answer to. In Al Seven’s world, the mysteries were things like Who took Hester’s jewels? or Where was Sammy La Barba on the night of May twelfth? Bean didn’t have any jewels and she sure as heck didn’t know anyone named Sammy La Barba, but there were plenty of questions that she didn’t have answers to. […] What’s inside the cement thing in the front yard? What’s behind the Tengs’ fence and why do they lock it up? and What’s the matter with the mailman? when she asked these questions, her parents usually said something like It’s none of your business. That meant that there was an answer, but they didn’t want her to know it. (13-4)

Investigator Bean and her assistant Ivy are having problems solving mysteries that are impressive enough to satisfy the crowd (e.g. the other kids of Pancake Court), and apparently the reader (e.g. goodreads reviews). Or, rather, it is the answers that their investigations reveal that lack audience interest, because Ivy and Bean are not the only one’s who’ve always wondered about the cement thing, Teng’s backyard or the mailman. When they solve the mystery, the answer turns out to be a lackluster one. The girls are increasingly mocked and the pressure intensifies to find a mystery “strange” enough to satisfy their difficult crowd (which, granted, includes themselves).

Suddenly a rope appears and know one knows who hung it from Dino’s chimney. Every night knots add length as it begins to wind about Pancake Court. This is where the “big mystery” kicks in–but obviously not the story. In Film Noir, this is where the story would start, too. But this is Pancake Court and Bean is not a hardened, tormented detective. And this is Annie Barrows and Sophie Blackall breaking from the formulaic. In many ways, their willingness to dare something unexpected and different reclaims the word and idea of mystery; and in doing so, they do what they do exceptionally well: argue on the side of creativity and its prerequisite imagination and different points-of-view.

ivy and bean $(KGrHqNHJF!FFwcJd6+(BRkZVQp7cg~~60_57

Some mysteries are going to remain mysteries, like the one presented in the first chapter: Why would a mother who restricts Bean’s screen-watching-time to ten movies with a strict personal-parental rating allow her daughter to watch a film that breaks all but one of those rules? Barrows could have launched Bean’s new obsession from another source (as many other picture and early chapter books have done).

Clues to who-dunnit appear throughout the early mysteries before we’ve arrived to the Big Case. There is a lot to suggest the who and why by the time the crowd is threatening a revolt. Did the investigative reader consider all the angles? In Mysteries, does the reader really leave it up to the Investigator to do all the work?

<<spoilers alert!!! spoilers!!!!>>

Noting his presence/timing in text/illustration: Jake the Teenager. Why? to help a nutty neighbor out, or to amuse himself, or both? But why leave “The Mystery of the Yellow Rope” unsolved? because the magic of having a mystery is really what Ivy and Bean have discovered to be the most enticing part of a mystery. Think about how quickly the attitude shifted when questions were answered. Boring ol’Pancake Court became even more so.

“Al Seven is always wanting to solve mysteries,” Bean said. “That’s what I don’t get about him,” said Ivy. “Why does he always want to solve them? You solve problems, but a mystery isn’t a problem, so why does it have to be solved?” “Sometimes it’s a problem,” said Bean. “This one isn’t. Nobody’s getting hurt or anything. It’s a nice mystery.” [Ivy said.] (105-6)

Yet again they “solve” the mystery and it isn’t satisfying; the answer’s lack of logic doesn’t help. I am fascinated by the inclusion of the children’s impulse to inform their parents of the rope and inquire of the answer of them. It couples well with this (oft frustrated) need for immediacy and for any work they put in to be rewarded in a way that feels rewarding. The neighborhood kids aren’t getting the “niceness” of the Yellow Rope Mystery, nor are some of its readers, apparently; which is okay. I just find it a smart, creative shift of perspective.

<<spoilers!!!! over……>>

ivy and bean illu-IB_WalkAwayNot all mysteries can be solved, some you do not want to solve, and many have really lackluster answers. That the audience longs for creativity, not only in the mystery but its answers is a central conflict that Take the Case handles beautifully, because it remains a mystery as to why the demand for creativity often ends up in a loathing of the creative revelation or response; or is it? Is this all too much for a grade school chapter book? Hardly…which is why I really love knowing Ivy+Bean exists. In Literature, we expect the form to contribute to the coherence of the work. You needn’t a degree to discover it; if it does, I suppose it fails. I do not believe Take the Case fails. I am continually impressed with how thoughtful the crafting of this series has proven itself to be while yet possessing utter charm and entertainment.

For all the talk of mysteries, Barrows/Blackall keep the friendship center stage as the two explore a childhood and all its strange mysteries together. Like the mutually supportive fictional duo, Blackall’s illustrations are without fail a flawless partner in the rendering of personality the text would infuse into the characters and story. There is no second-guessing or mystery as to whether these to two will stick together come what may.

recommendations…girl or boy, gradeschool, who like humor, contemporary fiction, and friendship stories. A series for those who desire to nurture their young (or to-be) creative writer and reader of Literature. Not for readers who expect (and desire) a transparent tale and its simplistic ribbon-tied ending for their young reader.

{images belong to Sophie Blackall}

"review" · fiction · juvenile lit · recommend · sci-fi/fantasy · series

{book} the rithmatist

rithmatist coverThe Rithmatist (bk 1) by Brandon Sanderson

Illustrations by Ben McSweeney

Tor, 2013

hardcover, 370 pages. SFF, ages 12 & up.

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Chosen by the Master in a mysterious inception ceremony, Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings — merciless creatures that leave mangled corpses in their wake. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.
As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students study the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing — kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery — one that will change Rithmatics — and their world — forever. (Jacket Copy)

I know I will no longer look at the chalk art paving a good quarter of our summer evening walks the same again. Thanks for that Mr. Sanderson. Flayed bodies and ingested eyeballs… Of course, The Rithmatist is just a fantasy fiction, I’m just still a bit caught up in it is all. The novel is set in 1908 (?) and the United States are the United Isles (see one of Ben McSweeney’s wonderfully helpful illustrations below). There are “gearpunk” technologies, and somewhat altered histories…like the existence of Chalklings and the rise of a chose group of humans imbued with a special abilities to counter them using their own “magic:” Rithmatists. Sanderson translates his strange imagination well. And he has created a very capable character/guide in Joel who is obsessed with Rithmatics.


Aged 16, Joel attends a private and prestigious Armedius Academy in New Brittania, one of 8 schools for Rithmatists, but he isn’t there to study with the guarded and private group. He is in the general education section, and only because his acceptance had been finessed by his late father, the Academy’s chalkmaker, and his still living and overworked mother who is a cleaning lady on the grounds. Not only denied an opportunity to be selected as a Rithmatist and kept separate from their society, he is also incredibly poor and held apart from the more elite of his fellow students. This stings; yet it is especially hard for Joel to have so much passion and knowledge about Rithmatics and not have been “incepted,” chosen, it is insult to injury when disallowed the opportunity to learn alongside them. Especially when he finds himself in the company of loud and provocative Melody, a Rithmatist who is resistant to her calling (she has her reasons).

Melody is a live-wire. She brings out some of the best and worst in Joel. Another great source of exchange with Joel is Professor Fitch (who was voiced by Jim Broadbent in my brain throughout). These are the type of characters who move stories and grow our protagonist with the kind of heart and humor I look forward to in a work. The most sinister goings on are also quite satisfying. Like Joel (and even Melody), I found myself conflicted, the crime, the adventure of it is exciting, I shouldn’t wish for more… Sanderson can be chilling.

Sanderson plays a light but deft hand in building a world and its fascinations (characters, places, politics, histories, religions, peculiarities and gear-works), as well in garnering my interest and comprehension despite topics that sound suspiciously belonging of geometry (maybe calculus, but I couldn’t identify that when, how would I now?). The story moves and while I appreciated the first two Parts allowing me 100 pages stretches after which I could mind dinner or the late hour, I was always happy to return. The Rithmatist was able to surprise and delight me and I looked forward to the “what next”…still looking forward to it, actually.

I look forward to the next installment, but I would hate to leave the impression that this is one of those Teaser Book One’s that fulfill none of their promising threads. The disappearances? there is a resolution there, and Joel is at a place of satisfactory progress (as well as Melody and Fitch).


a few things in particular that I appreciated: The illustrations that accompany every chapter and within adding that visual dimension to the lessons on rithmatics; the unicorns are incredibly entertaining. I appreciate the inclusion of the guts and arrogance of youth as well as the affection with which adults are drawn. Sanderson is also very good with intrigue, teasing out a curiosity as to what he will do with allusions to other places and potential events while maintaining a very engrossing present. He is also very good with horror, so much so I really wanted a bit more of that; except I didn’t, if you know what I mean…

If you can’t tell: I do recommend Brandon Sanderson’s The Rithmatist.

recommendations: boys & girls, 12 & up. Interest in Fantasy or Sci-Fi unnecessary: good characters, a taste of the historical, and good adventure (to include creepy villainy) will go far with less avid readers of the genres. I think many Harry Potter fans will be so pleased to find The Rithmatist, but I do not want to mistake any similarities beyond: brilliant characters, highly imaginative worlds, and the exhilaration and enchantment that keeps the pages turning, only to later fluster, suddenly realizing you will have to wait (until 2015) for the sequel (even if Sean refuses to sympathize because Sanderson should dedicate his precious time to another Way of Kings installment!). Joel and company are very much their own, and attempts to clone primary characters or plot turns  from HP will be frustrated, or maybe used against you quite deliciously.

{images belong to Ben McSweeney}

"review" · comics/graphic novels · fiction · Illustrator · juvenile lit · recommend

{comic} her permanent record

Amelia Rules! Her Permanent Record (#8)

by Jimmy Gownley

Atheneum Books for Young Readers (Simon&Schuster), 2012.

I’m not entirely sure how Amelia Rules! has stayed as small as it has. Early on it was on every short list of comics to recommend the juvenile set. Goodreads does not even have the eighth and final installment up. And I’ve found Libraries to be random with which volumes they had. I know I have fallen down on our own collection, but this is one series that really deserves a lot of attention. The only real good news that comes with the final installment is that the series will be easier to collect under Atheneum’s imprint.

Amelia Louise McBride has lived it all: from surviving her parents’ divorce, to weathering the terror of Joe McCarthy Elementary, to handling devastating crushes (not-so-)gracefully. What more could life possibly hurl her way?

Then Tanner disappears, humiliated by an ex-boyfriend’s tell-all book, sending Amelia into full panic mode. And when she boards a bus on an epic journey to find Tanner–with frenemy Rhonda in tow, and a little help from a certain boy she never thought she’d see again–it quickly becomes clear that if Amelia has learned anything in her eleven years, it’s that life is neverthrough with surprises.

In his heartwarmingly hilarious eighth volume of the acclaimed Amelia Rules! series, Jimmy Gownley takes us on Amelia’s most thrilling adventure yet–and back again. Because in the end, don’t we all end up right where we started?—jacket copy

You do not have to have read the previous 7 books to find plenty to laugh about and enjoy in Her Permanent Record, Jimmy Gownley has a way of finding scenarios and characterization in every volume that will humor and resonate. That said, the best enjoyment comes with having read them all as Gownley has a way of thanking his fans with references to past volumes here and there.* And really Gownley does return Amelia to every book along the way, starting with the beginning, literally and figuratively. Each iteration of past Amelias (1-7) greet the present day girl (8). This is not a new device for this series and because it isn’t new, it doesn’t feel contrived. As it is, the appearance of the multiple Amelias tracks her growth and the events that inspired it. But Gownley is also addressing another aspect that is: who is Amelia now, and has she really changed? I found it a beautiful aspect of this story that while Amelia has grown and changed—and not just physically—she has maintained her Amelia-ness; which is something we absolutely do not want to see changed. But Amelia is complicated, just as Tanner, and Rhonda, and that boy who makes a return we didn’t expect…

Gownley has been blissfully consistent throughout with his characters, and Her Permanent Record makes this inescapably true. There has been a lot of development invested in the cast, but as with Amelia, they circle their own unique qualities—for good or bad. And as with real life, many of the good and bad are tied to a single characteristic. What makes Tanner vulnerable can be an advantage (to Amelia especially, but her fans, too) and a disadvantage (to her family and fans). Rhonda is one of the best best friends in literature because she and Amelia argue like mad, they’ve lines that do not change even as the lines that illustrate them do (e.g. Rhonda’s hair)—I’ve loved watching those two grow up together.

The question of what will go on her permanent record is lovely. I like the file notes from Amelia’s years at McCarthy Elementary. They are a love note to fans, a smile for the havoc Amelia tends to wreak, but they work, too, as chapter dividers. You see the personality and the follow-up in their subsequent pages. The record collects memories, a nice farewell, yet while Gownley reminisces, the book is deciding on who Amelia really is, present tense. And the end lends the reader an optimistic future.

There is a nice return to the first book. this idea that Heroes can fail us. Amelia has a long road of dealing with the fall-out of her parent’s divorce, and Aunt Tanner comes to the rescue in a lot of ways. But what happens when she isn’t 100% whom we thought she was? What if she falls?

A message that hits home over and over in these books is there is a humanness that defies censorship and conformity. There are a lot of messages of “being you” and the “be the best You that you can” in books for this age group, but few take control and own their “you-ness” like Amelia does, may be because they are unwilling to be as subversive as Amelia can be…

Amelia has been through a lot, often they are things you do not get very often in juvenile fiction, but they are familiar nonetheless and Gownley has created a character who can and will meet the challenges. Does she break some rules along the way? Yeah. But not without questioning them and their context (either before or after). And never without consequence. There are those cringe-worthy moments. Hers is the childhood many will find similitude. She is beautiful and I am going to miss her.


* “speaking of treats for careful readers…there are two in Her Permanent Record. 1. The video messages to Tanner contain a hidden message, a good old-fashioned rock quote to throw back at Tanner in the end. I’d love to see if anyone finds it. 2. If you’ve read all of the books carefully, you should now be able to deduce Pajamaman’s real name. First and last.”–Jimmy Gownley from his  Interview with John Hogan at  Graphic Novel Reporter.

{all images belong to Jimmy Gownley}