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

{comics} good literature

janefoxmecoverJane, the Fox & Me

by Fanny Britt, and artist Isabelle Arsenault

translated by Christelle Morelli and Susan Ouriou

Groundwood Books, 2013.

orig. Jane, le renard & moi (Les Éditions de La Pastèque, 2012)

Hélène has been inexplicably ostracized by the girls who were once her friends. Her school life is full of whispers and lies — Hélène weighs 216; she smells like BO. Her loving mother is too tired to be any help. Fortunately, Hélène has one consolation, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. Hélène identifies strongly with Jane’s tribulations, and when she is lost in the pages of this wonderful book, she is able to ignore her tormentors. But when Hélène is humiliated on a class trip in front of her entire grade, she needs more than a fictional character to allow her to see herself as a person deserving of laughter and friendship.–publisher’s comments.

Jane, the Fox & Me is simply stunning. I spent a long quiet moment after closing the book and muttering a ‘damn.’ Naturally, I think we should all now experience this graphic novel.

janefox1Isabelle Arsenault illustrates Hélène’s life in pencil; black and white overlay a depressing tonal grey. Hélène has not only been isolated but she is being brutally tormented. The insults written on walls, like her weighing 216, increase in her mind to 316 and more as the story progresses. However, contrary to what she tells her mother near the end, that she exaggerates, is dramatic, the story disallows us to believe all of what Hélène is confronted with is a figment of her imagination.

Her obesity is imagined. Arsenault does not depict even a mildly overweight girl. A problem that accompanies what seems real versus imagined is trying to negotiate what is normal–and how to negotiate conflict. It is horribly tense, anticipating Hélène’s school trip away for a couple of days, but there is the lovely reference to Jane Eyre just then…and the opportunity to see other students implement Hélène’s strategy for dealing with inevitable awkward moments like tent assignments.


The inclusions of Jane Eyre are beautifully done, in both the narrative Fanny Britt creates and the illustrations by Arsenault. Like Hélène, I, too, found myself preferring to linger in Brontë’s world where the aesthetic allows for lush color-work (gouache, watercolor), brushwork and a shift in a gentler drawing style. The foliage, vibrant with life, does begin to seep into Hélène’s world, though yet to find color. As with the book she is reading, she hides here in the foliage, too, aggrieved. Hélène figures that if Jane can overcome the tribulations of her youth to “grow up to be clever, slender and wise anyway” (16), surely she can as well. Even once she is grown, Jane has difficulties and Hélène wisely observes that “everyone needs a strategy, even Jane Eyre” (53). It is a subtle realization of the book that the reader needn’t be left imagining that Hélène will eventually become ‘clever, slender, and wise’ herself. She begins to demonstrate these future moments here and there as the book makes its way.

JaneFoxMe5“Its eyes are so kind I just about burst./That same look in another human’s eyes, and my soul would be theirs for sure.” note, how much this close up of Hélène looks like the young Jane.


For all the angst of shifting relationships with others and self, there are amusements to be found. Britt and Arsenault shift from of harsher lights into the lyrical; tempering, too, the lyrical with the serious study of their Hélène, her Jane, and her fox.  The fox…wow–the ways in which we internalize the metaphor, and not just other people’s ways of seeing us! Jane, the Fox & Me has some amazing narrative texture. Note how Britt incorporates the quotes of what was written on the walls into the sentence of the speaker. When we often label a narrator such as Hélène unreliable, rarely do we question what causes her to be so. Britt forces the question of what creates the narrative presented to us in Hélène’s voice. What words and ideas begin to compete and crowd-out (both literally in the visual text and figuratively) the negative commentary at the beginning?


Literati’s will appreciate Hélène’s refuge in books, finding their empathic nature well-depicted in Jane, the Fox & Me. It is nice how the mother looks to music. Neither is the conversation on clothing frivolous; that effort to find expression/identity.

Jane, the Fox & Me is neither heavy in text nor incomprehensible in its visual sequences. I cannot attest for the text in its original language, but the translations create a successful telling of Hélène’s story. As the seasons change and Hélène grows (again both literally and figuratively), things get better for our protagonist, and the reader perceives new lessons on the horizon for our growing-up girl. Though Jane Eyre is finished by the reader, Jane’s return to Mr. Rochester have yet the opportunity to make sense to the young Hélène.


Britt and Arsenault achieve so much in 101 pages. Jane, the Fox & Me is a richly textured and engrossing story that tells all too familiar stories of the relationships so many of us find in the world, our home, our selves…and our books. I only touched on a few things. I restrained from going on about the urban and nature, of fantasy and reality…or fox lore. It is something to experience for yourself.

Jane, the Fox & Me is absolutely beautiful… and to be gifted simply. Please, do not assault a young reader with “the edification of this read” or in the company of a lesson plan on bullying or eating disorders or alienation or poverty, etc.  Jane, the Fox & Me is why artful storytelling matters. It can stand on its own and in conversations. If anything, pair it with a meaningful piece of classic literature or a trip to a nature preserve…


recommendations: if not already noted: girls, boys, grade-school upwards. for those who love the color orange. it’s great to be read by each if not together, though probably not too close to bathing-suit purchases. there are strategies you know.

of note: we’ll be visiting Arsenault’s work again during picture book month–which I think will happen more Summer than Fall.

{images belong to Isabelle Arsenault}


Brain Pickings‘ Maria Popova’s excellent review which includes more pictures (if you don’t mind being a bit spoiled) and this gorgeous summation: “Jane, the Fox & Me is an absolute treasure that blends the realities of children’s capacity to be cruel, the possibilities of transcending our own psychological traps, and literature’s power to nourish, comfort, and transform.”


"review" · fiction · foreign · Lit · recommend · Uncategorized

{comic} blue is the warmest color

blue is coverBlue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh

translated by Ivanka Hahnenberger

Arsenal Pulp Press, English edition, 2013.

published in France, 2010, by Glenat Editions as Le blue est une couleur chande.

Clementine is a junior in high school who seems “normal” enough: she has friends, family, and the romantic attention of the boys in her school. When her openly gay best friend takes her out on the town, she wanders into a lesbian bar where she encounters Emma: a punkish, confident girl with blue hair. Their attraction is instant and electric, and Clementine find herself in a relationship that will test her friends, parents, and her own ideas about herself and her identity.–publisher’s comments.

*********up to the asterisk line is closer to a reading and will not spoil everything about the story as I do hope you will read this for yourself at some point. After the asterisk, it is closer to “review” form (4 para.) if you desire to begin there.*******

Blue is the Warmest Color begins with a letter being read, cinematically it is a voice-over, “My Love.” The letter introduces Emma to the diaries Clementine (the author of the letter) has kept, but “all of [her] adolescent memories are in the blue one.” Along with letters read and the present-day thoughts from Emma, the blue diary is the source from which flashbacks of Clementine’s coming of age will be drawn. It is with this diary, Emma writes about the color blue, how “Blue has become the warmest color.”

blue is 9781551525136_1.480x480-75

Clementine’s diary takes us back to 1994, aged 15, and her first boyfriend, the one with whom she is unable to return affection.  Clementine’s reluctance is perceived even before the encounter with the girl with the blue-hair upon a street-crossing, but it intensifies afterward. Clementine struggles with this awakening, questioning what is natural and right. She tries only to do that which is expected of her, but she is uncomfortable within her own skin.

Maroh establishes the culture from which Clementine is emerging. Clementine’s outspokenly homophobic mother and just as repulsed father are fearsome. She begins to lose friends by just associating with her new friend, Emma. And they are just friends, Clementine and the blue-haired girl Emma. Emma is in a long-term relationship. She is older, lives on her own, and attends university. She doesn’t realize that Clementine’s longing for her has become painful with the passing of time. And Clementine experiences that age-old conflict: do you risk a friendship to profess your romantic love?

Clementine’s school mate Valentin is able to recognize her anxieties and becomes her lean-to. He helps her to become bolder, fight for herself. But in truth, it is that obsessive impulse (desperation) in love that creates boldness in Clementine.

Clementine and Emma find a more physical expression of their feelings for one another. Emma worries that Clementine is just curious, experimenting, and perhaps a certain audience will wonder the same: sexually confused teen and all that. The sex scene strips that all away. And yet, there are plenty of uncertainties to fuel the verisimilitude that marks the pair’s romance. For one, there is still Emma’s partner, Sabine. Time apart after various misunderstandings. Clementine’s parents.

There are few odd notes in Blue is the Warmest Color. Why, after discussing (post-coital) the phobias of Clementine’s parents, would Emma descend to the kitchen to get a drink—naked? It works rather neatly to punctuate just why Clementine has been so secretive, but it left me shaking my head. Fortunately, Emma’s family is willing to receive Clementine warmly. And here were get a second odd note: a 13 year leap through time. I didn’t expect that when she writes: “I grew up faster than I expected” (130), we would get to experience that same sense of time passing. Atop framed-out panels marking said passage, a nude Clementine (with longer hair, braided) lay in the fetal position. The images support the gestational image, her vulnerability, and the nurturing of a rebirth. And yet, we find that she has yet to come into her own. She still has difficulty becoming comfortable in her own skin.

We learn earlier that Sabine helped introduce Emma to community, to feeling liberated in her body and mind. Clementine emerges from Emma’s embrace differently. Hers is a different story.

 “For Emma, her sexuality is something that draws her to others, a social and political thing. For me, it’s the most intimate thing there is. /She calls it cowardice, but all I want is to be happy…/one way or another…/like everyone else” (131).

In the discovery of the other, her lover, Clementine would discover more about herself; by being open to Emma, she becomes open to herself. But the wounds fear inflicts on them individually and together haunt their relationship.



Blue is the Warmest Color is a story of love and betrayal, and of finding one’s way against odds that are both self- and culturally-inflicted. It wends its way from that physical and emotional infatuation, that obsessive longing toward an eloquent and abiding love that is no less passionate, but tempered by the maturity of time. Theirs is a love story.

While Clementine and Emma experience uncertainty and self-doubt at turns, the story begins on a note (a letter) of certainty that that persists. Blue is the Warmest Color demonstrates one of the best uses of the framed narrative. All that occurs in the middle, it is held secure in a knowing.  Emma and Clementine, each imperfect beings, will find their way to this deep understanding and be comforted by it, and so will the reader. Theirs is a true love, even if it is a tragic one. Theirs is a beautiful, hard-won love story we can read again and again.

The Artwork:

You’ll be shocked to find that the color of a warm blue stands out on the page, especially in the ink wash of the flashback/diary. Frames outside of the diary take on color, reds, yellows, greens, but even then the blues seduce the eye. We mind where it is used. I mentioned the overlay of a Clementine’s figure on a progression of framed images (130). She aids in a transition of color, taking on faint tones in her skin and hair while the bottom right frames placing her at age 30 and teaching are colored in. It is a subtle and beautiful transition to mark that unexpected passing of time. Frames are straightforward and text fairly easy to follow, though the squiggle off the speech bubble was sometimes tricky. Neither framing lines nor color differentiate dreams as Clementine finds these lines mutable, Emma ever in her thoughts, arousing her, etc. Maroh evades the fanciful, but strives for the impact realism lends her characters and the subjects that matter.

Aesthetically, the illustrations grew on me, but the artwork was not a first love, and I can’t say I yet am won over to it. I am glad I did not let this get in the way of reading Blue is the Warmest Color. A flip-through will not yield much in the way of story, either through text or image: be fair to you and Blue is and read this one through to avoid misapprehensions. The language a character uses reflects their age and experience, so passionate exclamations will be heard and seen; that said, neither are these moments devalued. These rave reviews, they are responding to the sincerity of the images and encounters. If you have experienced love, actualized or unrequited, brash or completely sane, you will be moved by Maroh’s story, by pages spare of text, yet always touched by that blue, and by a hopeful longing and a sorrow—I love that combination.

Recommendations: Blue is the Warmest Color is for people who love love stories; and I mean stories about real love, the sort that expose flaws and thrives despite them, the sort of story about love where love is built into the imperfections of the characters rather than the perfections of a clean and shiny narrative.


A caution for those of you who may be uncomfortable with nudity and sexual activity in a graphic novel…there is nudity and sexual activity in this graphic novel. It isn’t gratuitous, if that helps.

{Images belong to Julie Maroh}

"review" · concenter · fiction · Lit · recommend

{book} norwegian wood

Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakaminorwegian wood cover

translated from Japanese by Jay Rubin

Vintage Books (Random House), 2000 (orig. 1987)

tradepaper, 296 pages.

Toru, a quiet and preternaturally serious young college student in Tokyo, is devoted to Naoko, a beautiful and introspective young woman, but their mutual passion is marked by the tragic death of their best friend years before. Toru begins to adapt to campus life and the loneliness and isolation he faces there, but Naoko finds the pressures and responsibilities of life unbearable. As she retreats further into her own world, Toru finds himself reaching out to others and drawn to a fiercely independent and sexually liberated young woman.

A poignant story of one college student’s romantic coming-of-age, Norwegian Wood takes us to that distant place of a young man’s first, hopeless, and heroic love.–publisher’s comments.

Norwegian Wood is considered to be the more accessible of Haruki Murakami’s work. People refer to it as his “straight” novel. Turns out, nothing Murakami does is “straight,” thus the quotation marks are not merely for quoting another.

The story begins with a first person narrator remembering when he was 37 years old, on an airplane to Germany and an orchestra-cover of “Norwegian Wood” comes on the overhead as they are taxiing. The Beatles’ song takes him back to a meadow in 1969, when he would soon be 20. He remembers the meadow in incredible detail but the young woman he was with at the time would take longer to visualize. This is a problem for him because he promised to never forget her. And he doesn’t, it’s just that he doesn’t quite remember her, and even in the pages that follow, there are moments where Naoko remains elusive in more than a few senses of the word.

That particular memory of the meadow has served as a “symbolic scene […] it delivers a kick to some part of my mind. “Wake up,” it says. “I’m still here. Wake up and think about it. Think about why I’m still here” (5). At first I thought “I” meant Toru Watanabe (our unnamed for pages narrator), but it may be the “I” is Naoko. The older Toru decides to respond to the particularly hard kick at the airport by writing “this book. To think. To understand.” And perhaps to fulfill that promise of remembrance.

That is the frame, one would assume. And with the older narrator surfacing at rare moments, with outcomes, brief notes on what had happened since. But what he doesn’t do is close the novel with any summarizing thought or understanding. Whatever comes to light or was necessary for the older Toru must rise out of the exploration in memory and story and be enough for himself and the Reader. And was it?

Whatever it is that is troubling Naoko is not stated in clear medical terms. Her mystery is ours as we are to continue in the first person with Toru who has become tied to her through the life and death of a mutual friend, and cemented on the night of Naoko’s 20th birthday; a night that brings the lyrics to “Norwegian Wood” to mind unstrangely enough*.

There is a lot of death in this novel, most of it suicide, many depictions of mental illnesses, and a lot of frank talk about sex and sexuality. (If you are uncomfortable with uninhibited sexual interaction or talk, Norwegian Wood is not Victorian about things.)

Toru appears drawn to and to attract unusual and complicated people of the tormented sort. Naoko would write in a letter about a person’s deformities that everyone has them and that their idiosyncrasies are way of accustoming themselves to said deformities (87). It is more painful for some than others. So, while the “unusual and complicated” should mean everyone, Murakami implements his gift for drawing strange and compelling characters and selects a handful to enter a quiet Toru’s little world. Toru who is unaffected, concerned only with living a genuine life and often struggles with loneliness, the most earnest yet nonchalant person.

The book reads most like an accounting of Toru’s life. He’ll walk us through his day, which may or may not intersect any one of a small number of people who have impacted his life back then. Yet, even when we depart to spend time with Nagasawa or Midori, the two do not exist separately from the effects of Naoko. Naoko, whom we know going into the recounting had never loved Toru. It has strongly marked Toru and Naoko’s and they are hardly alone. Time and again within Norwegian Wood we see relationships of varying fashion in which one does not return the other’s affections to the same degree (if any). And for all the effort for transparency and speaking openly on a number of taboo matters, there are still the unsaid: the lies for self protection, the confusion that memory and emotion brings. These mark their relationship and those without as well.

It is of interest to see a level of meanness and forcefulness to the friends Toru makes since coming to Tokyo. Naoko is too fragile to be implicated, Kizuki always too young and too beloved. No one else is exempt. Nagasawa can be a horribly insensitive human, and Midori flat-out annoying in her determination to be the most sexually and gender liberated of young women who still struggle with the desire for fidelity and a male’s appreciation of her cute haircut. She can also be long-winded. Importantly, neither Nagasawa or Midori or Reiko want to live a life drug down by the past or propriety. They want to live in their bodies, in the present, but with a future in mind somewhere, and this becomes especially necessary to a young man who feels like his life was taken when Kizuki took his own (25).

One can make the leap to social commentary from there. In cultures where so much is shushed, repressed, unaided, the contemplation that death resides with us as we live becomes all too relevant. It is not just the ghosts, but how they became ghosts that kicks the living into waking. And there is social commentary, by the way.

Did I like Norwegian Wood? I admit to counting pages upon occasion. I started to notice the chapters had a tendency to run the length of a sequence with a character. So when Midori would get going, I found myself skimming, would stop, and start again. She was fine for me at the beginning of her but became too much by the time she begged Toru to take her to an S&M flick because she likes p*rn. Her sulking for a space was the nail in the coffin. It was hard to share Toru’s patience with Naoko, which is very likely a personal flaw of mine. I adored Toru more and more and I appreciated the building and disintegration of his story with Naoko. I even like that ending—as much as I was cursing Murakami with Sean (whose read a few others of his work). Good writing can carry me through the dullest, most tedious work and I think Murakami would be fully capable of doing so. That said, it wasn’t always dull or tedious, just thick with portent housed in a character who has a lot of drama no matter how much he wished it opposite. There are so many tragic aspects to the read I feel nothing but a deepening sigh, sharing Reiko’s sentiment about never wanting to be younger again. I love Reiko. Many would go to melancholy as a descriptor. It is an excellent coming-of-age that I think not only males will identify with, as Murakami has a way with strong female characters, even his most delicate in Naoko. Murakami is an author of works everyone should attempt reading just once, and I think the accessibility of Norwegian Wood is in the likelihood that any reader should find something(s) within it that resonates within them.

recommendation and of note: young adult upward. familiarity with the 60’s not just here but abroad is good; familiarity with the understanding of cultural revolutions is of significant aid. A reader of Literature tend to geek on the references and their implications. Pair this reading with Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, for instance. and do read the “Translator’s Note”–after.

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

{book} ico: castle in the mist

ico castle in the mist book coverICO: Castle in the Mist by Miyuki Miyabe

very nicely translated by Alexander O. Smith

Haika Soru published by VIZ Media, 2011 (orig. 2008)

based on “ICO” an award-winning video game for the PS2 (Sony Computer Entertainment, 2001) & now PS 3.

Tradepaper, 370 pages. 13 & up

A boy with horns, marked for death.

A girl who sleeps in a cage of iron.

The Castle in the Mist has called for its sacrifice: a horned child, born once a generation. When, on a single night in his thirteenth year, Ico’s horns grow long and curved, he knows his time has come. But why does the Castle in the Mist demand this offering, and what will Ico do with the girl imprisoned within the castle’s walls? –back copy.

When Miyuki Miyabe comes to ICO she writes a world she has made her own. As she states in “Preface,” given “free reign with the story and world found in the game” by the producers and creators, she found her “own path through the tale.” She uses and develops elements and characters, but “the order of events, the solutions to puzzles, even the layout of the castle have changed.” The designated status as novelization honors the originators of her inspiration, but make no mistake that Miyabe lends the story a heart and a craftsmanship that is all her own.

A story of an unknown place, / Told in an unknown age. (epigraph).

The time had come for Toksa Village to offer its sacrifice to the Castle in the Mist. It had been their misfortune to have a horned child born into their midst years earlier. “The loom had fallen silent,” the first line of the story reads. The silence of it is noticeable to the elder of the village even as the darkness in the tone of Miyabe’s tale begins to settle. This is no story of a people fully convinced in a duty that was established many long years before. A terrible fear is made apparent even as the reasons why they should fear are not. The Castle is a bogeyman in a lot of ways, a scary unknown that lingers in the customs and lore of the villagers. Even as Miyabe crafts a world with enviable fluidity, she infuses the story with a simultaneity of dread and eagerness for that unknown: the Castle in the Mist.

I adore the sort of tale that throws you straight in and erects the world around you as the world itself continues forward in its dilemma. Miyabe moves through characters and time with an organic sense of story, establishing the mystery the rest of the books sets out to uncover: What is the Castle in the Mist and why does it demand a sacrifice? And what role does Ico really play in a story so steeped in religious and magical aspect?

Ico, born of a normal village household, differs from the others of Toksa in more than existence of his horns: he does not fall ill, heals quickly, is fast and strong and agile. He is considered soulless (as if it already belongs to a god), yet is depicted clearer of heart. Ico is sweet without being cloying. A good hero who in his youth loves and is loved; which makes the loom cease beneath the hands of a distraught foster mother; which makes an eager friend (Toto) become one of the better story devices I’ve seen.

Miyabe is very skilled at setting up plausible situations for later. Knowing that ICO finds inspiration from a video game, it was difficult to read this without having aspects of a game in mind and so I read many instances as if they were a game world’s tutorials. A situation met/explored on an easier level so as to be ready when things become increasingly difficult, and Miyabe does take the ICO to some very tricky levels. She diligently avoids misuse of myth or mysticism for the sake of ease. She puts the solutions herein, we just have to recognize them, just as Ico must.

From the very beginning, clear notions and directives on right and wrong become confused; the popular logic subverted with Toto and our first taste of real destiny. And we could expect nothing else as Miyabe seats her novel in a sign of a rebellious spirit written into the very first sentence. I’m out of my depth with Japanese myth perspectives,* but Ico undermines the traditional image of a horned character for western cultural readers. ICO moves on to muddy the absolutism of Light and Dark. And relationships are not left to the skeletal forms of (world constructed) expectation. Perhaps the true distress experienced in the novel is deciding which position/perspective to support—in this we have plenty of avatars at our disposal.

ico_castle_in_the_mist_reprint_poster 2008

Ico dreams of her before he happens upon her, the girl in the iron birdcage, our deuteragonist. He is enthralled, taken with the desire to rescue her even as he doesn’t understand her or the troubles she will cause him. She is like a key, unwittingly sharing her memories with him, able to open closed pathways. She is called Yorda. Like the game, the shades are determined to recapture her and Ico has to mind the fragile figure of her; which is a bit frustrating. Already ICO tests (and will continue to test) the pacing with it topographical challenges as Ico traverses the labyrinthine Castle. True to gaming form, there are puzzles and even tasks in the novel’s questing. And true to said form, ICO is building notions into the greater structure of the story. The Castle and her contents becomes more a character, though hardly illuminated and progressively more sinister in both its revelations and obfuscations. Yorda is much the same in characterization.

I was invested in the read by the arrival of “Chapter 3: The Cage of Time,” but I’m pretty sure I held my breath many times after—I think it helps me read faster. We move to Yorda’s point-of-view and the doll-like figure wakes. Miyabe overlays sequences with a deft pen. That organic movement in time and story returns to focus and we are given new fascinations in Yorda, her parents, and Ozuma (to name a few). Yorda was a puzzle before, but what the hell!

Miyabe makes Yorda make sense. She is the maiden to her witch mother. That she is beautiful creates an allure that is not necessarily typical. She captivates, and it is an understated power. Where her mother holds power by inciting fear, Yorda wields a vulnerability that one wants to exploit or rescue but always underestimates. Yorda is a play on how we perceive the vulnerable and how we mistake the interchange of beautiful, lithe female as delicate versus the psychological complexities of her situation as Yorda. She is claimed by both her father’s and mother’s blood; one Light (goodness) and the other Dark (destruction). And when she is good, she is destructive. Yorda’s dilemma is rich and wrenching.

[!! potential spoiler] It is vital for Yorda to be her father’s daughter, because that means she has an option to be someone other than her mother. Yet in order to be good, does she not need to be the loving (aka dutiful?) daughter to her mother? Can she still be good if she had not failed to destroy her mother? [spoiler end !!]

Ozuma, Ico’s horned ancestor, is also a story who is rich and wrenching. And the Queen…if only she were not the only villain, but as the primary sense of torment, she gave me the chills. The Queen is as effective in inflicting wounds with truth as she is with lies. Everything about and within the Castle is her descriptor, as intended, but with perhaps more attention than we spare; especially when we find ourselves not ascribing upon her as much detail as we could, the Tower of the Wind, for one (oh, the symbolism, the attributions, and the implications). As it is she appears truly unstoppable.

So many great heroes came before Ico, with power outside of luck, foreknowledge beyond wits, and yet it is Ico who would be great. When Ozuma talks about the horned ones, their creator and purpose, we are more deeply saddened by the sacrificial system, but we are also offered hope. Ico is perceptive and self-determining, those are his most rewarding/rewarded traits; telling for a novel investigating the systems of control and those who dare push against their boundaries, let alone break free of them…


recommendationsICO intends to induce horror in various fashions, so I’d recomment 13&up with the understanding that this is not just a book for teens or young adults; in fact, some of the depth of the morality questions may not ping with too young readers. For those who love good fantasy, dark lore, adventure, and/or gaming sensibilities.

of note: Ursula K. LeGuin’s short story “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” came swiftly to mind with ICO and it never really left me; in a nice way. The cover of the edition I read is the same cover used for the PS2 game for European and Japanese distribution, “painted by director Fumito Ueda and inspired by Giorgio de Chirico’s The Nostalgia of the Infinite” (wikipedia “Ico“). The second image is a 2008 reprinting poster of an edition cover illustrated by neonvision.

wogf_250*I skimmed a google search yield of Oni (?).

———————> I found and read ICO: Castle in the Mist via and as part of the Worlds Without End (WWE) Women of Genre Fiction Reading Challenge.

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

{book} nora the mind reader

DAY 31

Nora the Mind Reader by Orit Gidal

illustrated by Aya Gordon-Noy

translated from Hebrew by Annette Appel

Enchanted Lion Books, 2012 (orig. 2011) ages 4-8

The last is certainly not the least in this case. I love this one!

A clever, sensitive story that explores the difference between what people say and think in a smart and imaginative way.—publisher’s synopsis

One day Nora comes home from school upset, a boy told her she had flamingo legs. Her mother tells her that “people don’t always say what they think, or say what they think they are saying.” Sometimes the message is confused and unintentionally harmful. But how in the world do we figure out how to interpret what people say to us? Nora’s mom has a magical object that when Nora looks through it she can hear what they are saying and see what they are thinking. So while the boy says “flamingo legs” he is thinking her pink outfit makes him think of flamingos—and not in a bad way. You can see from his book that he is interested in the natural sciences and later you can see that he is interested in Nora.

Nora is determined to say what she is thinking, what she means, and it is nice, but we still have to figure out the people who do, do not, and are of that category of “don’t always say what they think they are saying.” There is a cute sequence of a boy thinking he wants chocolate and the conversation with his adult going very differently, but oh so familiar-like. He had a one-track mind but a whole arsenal of ways to ask/steer his adult toward it. Orit Gidal plays out all kinds of scenarios from dog checking out dog, to friends, to flirting. As the story progresses, Nora grows more confident, no longer needing her wand. And it is reassuring to see that the parents’ speech bubbles match their thought bubbles there at the end.

pre-text image. love that the thought bubbles are like blowing bubbles bubbles.


Illustrator Aya Gordon-Noy creates lively scenes using mixed-media. Nora has this awesome crayon scribbly hair using different colors, her dress with a few strokes of thick paint. Some of the pages have text from the original language inked into the background paper. Gordon-Noy’s use of dimension and a lovely sense of humor proves a perfect match for Gidal.

The subject is smart, to say nothing of relevant, and Orit Gidal and Aya Gordon-Noy carry it through brilliantly. Check this picture book out!

{images belong to Aya Gordon-Noy}

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

{book} hugs and kisses

DAY 11

Hugs and Kisses (Mama, ich hab dich lieb)

by Christophe Loupy & Eve Tharlet translated by J. Alison James

A Michael Neugebauer Book (Switzerland)/North-South Books (NY/London), 2001.

“Hugs the puppy sets out to collect lots of wonderful kisses from his animal friends, but in the end he discovers that the best kiss of all is the one he gets from his loving mother.” –publisher

This was one we kept on Natalya’s book shelf through her childhood. It just a sweet sweet story partnered with glowing illustrations. Stories of hugs and kisses tend to retire with board books, and those like Hugs and Kisses and Audrey Penn’s The Kissing Hand fill an important niche.

The images are adorable and the kisses can seem kind of silly in a fun way, so an early, early reader or non- can enjoy Hugs and Kisses but this book is best experienced snuggled into it. It has tendencies towards mom-time, but I’d hardly let that get in the way. Maybe it could spur an interaction about how being with dad makes Hugs feel, or even his siblings. And Hugs does learn that Mom isn’t the only source of positive affectionate interaction.

“A kiss from a duck is refreshing, A kiss from a horse is warm, A kiss from a pig is tender, …”

For the tactile and sensitive individual who is still exploring the world and their relationships with it, it is a good feelings book not only emotionally but in thinking about the different textures of the natural world, too. The narrative welcomes the reader/listener to imagine what those kisses feel like. Hugs expresses a kind of wonder and anticipation in the illustrations and text. He’s delightful.*

So, admittedly, I attach some sentimentality to this particular picture book. But it is precious. It shares the reader/listener’s childhood with them. It isn’t instructing them or the parent. It isn’t commiserating on a particularly sensitive subject that we might have to laugh about before we can talk about it. It is very simply Hugs and Kisses.

*of note: you may not want to read this with a child who desperately wants a pet.

{images belong to Loupy/Tharlet}

"review" · fiction · Lit · recommend · Tales

the boy with the cuckoo-clock heart

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart by Mathias Malzieu

translated from French by Sarah Ardizzone

Alfred A. Knopf, 2010.

Hardcover, 172 pages.

Ages: Adults

I checked this out from the library based on its premise. I had not seen the cover everyone rightfully raves about (see below).


FIRSTLY: don’t touch the hands of your cuckoo-clock heart. SECONDLY: master your anger. THIRDLY: never, ever fall in love. For if you do, the hour hand will poke through your skin, your bones will shatter, and your heart will break once more.

Edinburgh, 1874. Born with a frozen heart, Jack is near death when his mother abandons him to the care of Dr. Madeleine—witch doctor, midwife, protector of orphans—who saves Jack by placing a cuckoo clock in his chest. And it is in her orphanage that Jack grows up among tear-filled flasks, eggs containing memories, and a man with a musical spine.

As Jack gets older, Dr. Madeleine warns him that his heart is too fragile for strong emotions: he must never, ever fall in love. And, of course, this is exactly what he does: on his tenth birthday and with head-over-heels abandon. The object of his ardor is Miss Acacia—a bespectacled young street performer with a soul-stirring voice. But now Jack’s life is doubly at risk—his heart is in danger and so is his safety after he injures the school bully in a fight for the affections of the beautiful singer.

Now begins a journey of escape and pursuit, from Edinburgh to Paris to Miss Acacia’s home in Andalusia. Mathias Malzieu’s The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a fantastical, wildly inventive tale of love and heartbreak—by turns poignant and funny—in which Jack finally learns the great joys, and ultimately the greater costs, of owning a fully formed heart. ~publisher’s comments.

Mathias Malzieu’s The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a lovely dark tale about hearts that won’t let go.

I can say I enjoyed the read. I can’t say I know yet what to do with it.

Edinburgh and its steep streets are being transformed. Fountains metamorphose, one by one, into bouquets of ice. The old river, usually so serious, is disguised as an icing sugar lake that stretches all the way to the sea.  The din of the surf rings out like the sound of windows smashing. Miraculously, the hoarfrost stitches sequins on to cats’ bodyies. The trees stretch their arms, like fat fairies in white nightshirts yawning at the moon, as they watch the carriages sliding over the cobblestone ice rink. It is so cold that birds freeze in midflight before crashing to the ground. The noise as they drop out of the sky is uncannily soft for a corpse.

This is the coldest day on earth. And I’m getting ready to be born. (3-4)

Malzieu has a way with images and that alone is worth the read. The fantastical woven amidst the grit of realism is something I love in a story; Malzieu firmly sets the reader into wonderful possibility and painful familiarity. A boy with a cuckoo-clock grafted into his chest, echoing/prompting his heartbeat and young/first love.

The fairy tale aspect to the novel is convenient. It allows for the strange to find new expression in timeless emotions/conditions. The cuckoo-clock works and the way in which Malzieu carries it all off is astounding.

the narrative…The narrative is a bit tricky. The narrator is Jack, the boy with cuckoo-clock heart, and yet the tense is not in the past; which is jarring when an infant remembers and uses impossible similes. And at one point he shifts to address Madeleine directly.  By the end you wonder to whom Jack is speaking and why the story is being told (even as it isn’t exactly being told). Much of the story is dominated by Jack’s obsession with Miss Acacia, but this central focus provides a parallel for other characters’ obsessions. It also serves as a distraction. The story is as much if not more about Jack and Madeleine, than Jack and anyone else.

Another aspect of the narrative is in the first person’s singular perspective. Flaws in Miss Acacia that Jack observes is quickly blanketed with layers of adoration, re-positioning her back into saintly light. He is a boy deeply in love and it becomes as if his heart has been grafted onto hers; a strange and awkward appendage; and image that makes all too much sense. The singular perspective also allows for the reader to be jarred as Jack is when a revelation finds us near the end of the novel.

characters…I loved the idea of a mad midwife prosthetic engineer. The 19th century Dr. Madeleine alone should excite Steampunk readers. Then Malzieu would add George Méliès as a character; which is an interesting choice: a personage who fits well into the story, a figure well-suited to befriend and advise Jack.  He makes for a brilliant male counterpart to Madeleine, and father-type to Jack. A man that dreams as grandly as Jack, and who has loved as grandly.

As love stories go, Miss Acacia, however lovely to laugh scornfully at upon occasion, was a figure I can only imagine understanding. I think Jack’s obsession may speak more clearly to someone other. But I did linger over moments of Jack’s emoting that was too prettily put to ignore. The way he speaks about her at times is painfully beautiful, which makes any rejection harder to bear. The trajectory of their story is not for happy endings, you hope, and yet not. And it may well have a happy ending; as Méliès ending makes room for hope.

The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart creates and bears plenty of bumps and bruises along the way. It has adult sensibilities which remind the reader that even as the narrator may be ten as he is experiencing something, his consciousness really must be that much older; a consciousness that is intent on connecting with an adult audience. The perceptions become easier to believe as he ages. The story has a fascinating quality to it, primarily held in the images Malzieu has wrought; this forgives the jostling shifts and turns in the overall telling. The crafting of The Boy with the Cuckoo-Clock Heart is a bit rough and raw, a bit crooked, but the real heart of it is good and worth the while.


Check out these wonderful write-ups:

Irena’s review at This Miss Loves to Read

and Darren’s review at Bart’s Bookshelf.