Art Boss by Kayla Cagan
Piper Perish; bk. 2
Chronicle, October 2018.
Perky young artist Piper Perish has left Houston and made it to New York: She’s scored a job with former Warhol protégé Carlyle McCoy and is putting some of her artwork into his first ever fashion show. She’ll be able to start at art school if she can just get the finances sorted out and love is looming on the horizon with her student mentor, Silas.
Told through Piper’s journal entries and #NYSeen ink sketches, this is an upbeat story of a determined young woman who wants to make art that matters and be in control of her own present and future. Though she chafes at the way Carlyle seems to feel he owns her, she finds her artistic vision blossoming as she finds her way around the city.
This is a sequel to Piper Perish (2017), which I haven’t read, and it took quite a bit of time for me to sort out what was going on and what had happened in Houston. However, most of the characters from that book have been shuffled aside for a new close knit and supportive group of friends to replace the ones Piper left behind in Texas (all main characters are white with the exception of Joe, a fellow student, who has “honey-brown” skin).
Other than her featured NY paintings, I found it hard to get a handle on Piper’s artwork, though perhaps that is intentional to allow the reader to visualize if for themselves. Similarly, her new best friend Grace is a poet but we never actually see any of her poetry (perhaps for the best, it can often be a bit cringey when novelists write young adult poetry) but we do get to hear her philosophy.
Piper’s time in New York is something of a contemporary fairytale stripped of most of the urban grit of the real city, but features many real places giving the narration authenticity. As she hurtles her way through her first few months in the city gulping in all the new experiences, it is easy to root for someone who is so committed and open, and who ends up with a plan for her next adventure.
Reviewed from an ARC.
Algeria Is Beautiful Like America by Olivia Burton; illustrated by Mahi Grand and translated by Edward Gauvin
Lion Forge, 2018.
In this elegant graphic memoir, originally published in France in 2015, the white French author goes to Algeria to visit the places her settler family had lived in before they left in the 1960’s after the War of Independence. Olivia has her grandmother’s written memories to guide her along with a local contact called Djaffar.
The novel switches between the present day, her family’s time in Algeria, and Olivia’s and her mother’s early years in France. Olivia’s views on France’s presence in Algeria had been formed by her relatives’ rosy stories of their colonial past, but these were challenged by her school and college friends. It is only now, years later, when she is actually in the country that she can form her own perspective.
A map on the endpapers – clean at the front and marked up with the route and notes at the back – gives a guide to the trip. The detailed black and white illustrations, augmented with the occasional color “photograph” from Olivia’s trip, show the present and the past and their frequent overlap. The scenes of her quest capture the charms of the people, the buildings, and, with an occasional double page spread, the landscape of Algeria and she finally understands why her mother could never find anywhere to settle in France.
As Olivia and Djaffar drive into the Aurès mountains, they find many people who knew her family and are happy to show her their old houses. Even in Algiers, she is welcomed into the family who have lived in her grandparents’ apartment since they left.
Some of this historical background might be a bit challenging for Americans as it assumes at least a basic familiarity with France’s troubled relationship with Algeria, and though there are footnotes to help on specific points, there is no author’s note with some more general background. Nonetheless, it is an evocative memoir about uncovering the past and exploring how it has impinged on the present.
Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green
Using deceptively simple drawings and a shades of gray palette, British illustrator Green relives her battle with eating disorders from a young age through to her young womanhood.
Even as a young girl, Katie had a difficult relationship with food. As she enters secondary school, and social pressures increase it develops into full blown anorexia. Green pulls no punches about how it affected her and her family. After ineffective treatment after ineffective treatment, her father takes her to see an alternative therapist and while initially his support and confidence building seems to really help her, it later becomes something much darker.
Green shows how her eating disorder is a manifestation of her need for control and perfection, and how long term therapy ultimately helps her, though not in a dramatic “breakthrough” way, rather in a series of small realizations.
With just a few lines, Green is able to convey the depth of her problems. There are many spreads showing her looking in a mirror, and reflecting what she is seeing. The device of using a noisy black cloud over her head to show her disorder which grows and recedes, overwhelms and surrounds, and never quite goes away is illuminating of the omnipresence of her troubles.
I think this graphic novel does a superb job of showing how eating disorders are related to other psychological problems; how girls with these troubles are able to skate by without people really noticing, or noticing and not realizing the depth of the problem, and how therapy can be such a powerful tool to combat it.
As a high school librarian I feel this is such an important book to get into the hands of young women who are under such pressure to perform academically, and to conform socially and physically. Maybe for one or two of them it will show them that they’re not alone.
The Midnight Gang by David Walliams; illustrated by Tony Ross
Harper Collins, 2018 (originally published in the UK in 2016)
A wacky novel celebrating the imagination, creativity, and kindness of children, set in an oddly anachronistic English hospital. When Tom gets hit on the head by a cricket ball at his boarding school, he is whisked to the children’s ward in London’s Lord Funt Hospital. There he discovers the Midnight Gang, fellow child patients who escape from their beds at night to make a dream come true for one of their numbers with the aid of the porter.
A lot of this is very sweet, gently funny, and anarchic in a Roald Dahl sort of way and Tony Ross’s whimsical and exuberant illustrations compound the comparison. However, the novel is old-fashioned though not in a good way, feeling reminiscent of a children’s story from the 1950’s complete with all the oblivious racism and classism of that time. The only person of color is the “dinner lady” Tootsie with her “huge Afro hairstyle” , who speaks “as if she were singing a song.” Dilly, one of the hospital cleaners, is a lazy caricatures of English working class incompetence, complete with cigarette permanently dangling from her mouth.
Other adults including the matron and the headmaster of Tom’s school who are straight out of the Dahl-playbook of cruel child haters. The Midnight Gang themselves are swiftly delineated: Amber is bossy, Robin is a smart alec, George is fat. Only the very sick Sally, left out of the gang as she is too weak to join in, and Tom himself who is a lonely and bullied child, show any semblance of being characters.
Mr Walliams is very popular in the UK as both a comedian and children’s author and he has had several books published in the US, including The Demon Dentist (2016). However, this book feels like a misfire to me and I wouldn’t recommend it to even the most Anglophile kid.
Pigs Might Fly by Nick Abadzis ; illustrated by Jerel Dye
First Second, July, 2017.
In this exuberant middle grade graphic adventure novel Lily Leanchops, a teenaged pig, makes an airplane that can fly without the use of magic and uses it when the Warthogs threaten to invade Pigdom Plains.
With a mix of science, magic, and myth, Abadzis’s (Laika, 2007) plot is a little long-winded as Lily finds out what is really motivating the Warthogs and attempts to prevent the attack on her homeland, but witty porcine wordplay, from place names including the Bay of Pigs and Piggadilly Circus to expressions like “Hogforsaken,” keeps the story entertaining.
With an Edwardian setting and character types, Dye’s illustrations, placed in a mostly conventional comic book layout, are colorful, energetic, and expressive and the lively near-human anthropomorphic pigs have a variety of skintones from pink to tan to dark brown.
Lily’s story arc, from being disbelieved by her father, the famous inventor Hercules Fatchops, to being the “Aerial Honker” that fights off the invaders, is somewhat conventional but gives the reader a determined and plucky protagonist to root for.
An unexpected last page twist sets up a sequel and leaves room for further exploration of this world.
Black History in Its Own Words written and illustrated by Ronald Wimberley
Image Comics, 2017
This visually stunning collection of bold portraits of Black icons paired with quotations started as a Black History Month project by Ronald Wimberley in 2015 for an online political comics newsletter, The Nib.
Each double page spread has a high impact black and white comic book style portrait set on a colored background with a quotation incorporated into the illustration. On the facing page, there is some biographical information, sometimes straightforward, sometimes quite sophisticated. There is also usually the source of the quote. The order of the portraits is a little random – done by date of production and no other discernible organization.
The author has selected his subjects as “people whose words and lives spoke to me personally” and these include Civil Rights notables, such as Angela Davis and Sojourner Truth, and cultural figures including Spike Lee, Prince, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Barack Obama are notably omitted while more obscure figures, like punk rocker Poly Styrene, are included.
The quotations do not follow a particular theme, and a few lack meaning without context, but overall they add up to an individual and poetic portrayal of Black thought.
However, though the majority of quotations have sources and dates, there are a handful that don’t, and the Works Cited at the back of the book is in unreadably miniscule font.
Thought-provoking browsing for teens and adults.
Prom: The Big Night Out by Jill S. Zimmerman Rutledge
Twenty-First Century, 2017.
Psychotherapist Zimmerman Rutledge looks at one of the American teen’s rites of passage: the prom. Starting with traditional proms from their beginning as middle-class versions of the debutante ball, the book then briefly examines changing cultural attitudes since then, and how this has affected prom.
However, the author’s intent is also to show that prom is not stuck in the unenlightened 1950’s, and there are chapters about how proms are now integrated and (mostly) welcoming to LGBTQ couples, and photographs to reflect this.
Prom fashion is a central theme, though there is a scarcity of photographs of many of the dresses described, including in a section on how fabulous dresses need not cost a fortune.
The author tries hard to moderate the perception of prom’s weighty significance with a rather-longwinded chapter of tips and not always rosy reflections from twenty-somethings; and there is advice on dealing with the pressures that can lead to a challenging experience, along with helpful resources.
Though there are few nonfiction books on this topic, a mismatch between the style of the book (chatty tone, large font) and the age of the intended audience make this a discretionary purchase for libraries but it may be of interest to some teens.