My rating: 4 of 5
Warning: Mature Audience
There are plenty of girls who would love some excitement in their lives. Miyuki-chan? Not so much. She’d be happy to be able to just go to school, work her part-time job, and hang out reading and playing video games like a normal girl. But Miyuki-chan has . . . a unique sort of problem. Adventure just seems to find her–and drag her into the midst of it, whether she wants to go or not. Whether it’s falling down the skating bunny-girl’s hole into Wonderland on the way to school or getting dragged straight into her video game to be the heroine, Miyuki-chan’s been there and done that. And probably will again. . . .
I may have mentioned before, but I love CLAMP’s manga, always. Having said that, Miyuki-chan in Wonderland is a bit different from anything else they’ve ever written. It consists of a series of short chapters (7 in all, fitting into a single manga volume), each focusing on a single, bizarre episode in Miyuki-chan’s life. I really like the character of Miyuki-chan; in a lot of ways, she’s your average high-school girl, only I’d say that she’s generally just a bit more blonde and go-with-the-flow in character than most. Overall, a nice kid though. The folks she runs in to on her adventures . . . not always so nice. And I must give the warning: this whole story is kind of yuri. I mean, there are some pretty sadistic individuals that Miyuki-chan encounters, all of them female. So, the end effect can be sort of hentai. One of the reasons I don’t like this one as much. But . . . Miyuki-chan always makes it out okay, so it’s not as creepy as it could be. And the situations she ends up in are certainly varied and imaginative–you kind of get the impression that the CLAMP members were just having fun and went with whatever they felt like writing at the time. On the plus side, there are some fun references, including references to other CLAMP works. (Oh, and I’ve mentioned this before, but check out Miyuki-chan making cameos all over the place in Tsubasa!) I guess I would mostly recommend Miyuki-chan in Wonderland to older readers who are familiar with CLAMP’s work and who enjoy something a bit off the wall (a more limited demographic than usual, I know).
Authors: Shaun Tan & John Marsden
Illustrator: Shaun Tan
Somewhere, a girl struggles through her own dark reality, a world depressed and distorted until it’s nearly unrecognizable–will she recognize the gleam of hope that follows her through the day? Somewhere else, a boy finds a . . . well, a thing . . . on the beach. He and the thing have fun playing together until he realizes that it’s hopelessly lost–and he has to figure out what to do with it! Elsewhere again, a group of docile natives find themselves overrun by dominating rabbits, first a few, then an overwhelming flood that is an irrevocable tide.
I admire Shaun Tan’s work greatly–he has the combination of boldness, discernment, and art to be able to pull off things that would look and sound absurd if other people wrote/drew them. Lost & Found is a collection of three of his earlier short stories–“The Red Tree,” “The Lost Thing,” and “The Rabbits” (which was written by John Marsden and illustrated by Shaun Tan)–all of which were originally published individually. I really like them in this collection though; with the way they’re illustrated, they seem to just flow into each other quite naturally. Thematically, they provide an interesting look into his earlier work in all of its odd, groundbreaking strangeness. I love that he uses such earthshatteringly unfamiliar material to bring into sharp focus things that are in many ways quite mundane. Do brace yourself when reading these stories–I think there’s a fairly strong initial negative reaction to “The Red Tree,” and “The Rabbits” is certainly thought-provoking and maybe a bit disturbing. But I truly think there’s a deeper positive buried under the negative which is honestly worth the time to reach. I would recommend Lost & Found to readers of all ages who are willing to look deeper and change their perspective.
Author: David Almond
Illustrator: Dave McKean
The gods have mostly finished creating a beautiful world full of all sorts of interesting things, but they got bored and lazy before they finished, and now they’re lazing about napping and dining. Meanwhile, the world is left with areas that are simply . . . empty. Living in this world are three children–Harry, Sue, and Little Ben–who take the time to really look at these holes in reality and to imagine what ought to belong there. But they go further than dreaming–they create their dreams out of sticks and clay and will them into life. It’s all wonderful and exciting until Harry and Sue dream up something terrifying . . . something that might be to terrible to be undone.
Well. Mouse Bird Snake Wolf is an imaginative illustrated short story, I must admit. To give it its due, it is creative, bright, cohesive, and has an interesting twist at the end. But . . . I don’t know. I’ve tried reading a few of David Almond’s books, and they never quite resonate with me–I think because there’s a lot of unusual philosophies woven deeply into them so that it’s hard for me to take them at face value. For that very reason, I don’t think I would give this book to children to read, even though it’s pretty clearly marketed as a children’s book; I posit that it is definitely an adult book with adult implications. I’ll let you read it for yourself and form your own opinions regarding that. As for the art, well, being a Neil Gaiman fan, it’s sort of a given that I also greatly enjoy Dave McKean’s work. I think his pictures suit this story nicely, in a weird sort of way. The colors, textures, contrasts, and shapes are probably my favorite part of this book . . . but I think most people would find the pictures to be the weirdest and most disturbing part. Sooo . . . if you’re interested in an unusual, philosophically challenging, and creepily-illustrated short story, you might find Mouse Bird Snake Wolf worth checking out. Frankly, I probably won’t read it again, for what it’s worth.
Author: Ransom Riggs
Ever since he was little, Jacob has been regaled with his grandfather’s stories of being pursued by monsters and finding refuge on a remote Welsh island with a bird and a collection of exceedingly unusual children–he even had seemingly impossible photographs to substantiate his stories. Of course, Jacob realized as he got older that the photos had to be fakes and the stories were figurative–a way of discussing the horror of being a Jewish child pursued by the Nazis and driven to find refuge in a foreign land. Still, when his grandfather dies suspiciously, Jacob finds himself haunted by the old man’s dying words–to the extent that he is driven to journey to his grandfather’s Welsh isle in hopes of discovering the truth.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is an eerie, thrilling, eccentric story . . . something of a Twilight Zone meets Gakuen Alice meets Lovecraft meets Peter Pan, to be honest. It’s part chilling thriller, part whimsical fantasy, part WWII historical fiction, with some achingly sweet romance thrown in–a nice mix, if unusual in the extreme. The characters are well crafted and fit nicely in the plot; I found myself particularly drawn to the invisible Millard with his easygoing yet slightly OCD personality. The inclusion of numerous extraordinary old photographs–or one might say rather , the outpouring of the story from said photos–makes an already intriguing book quite outstanding. My one complaint is that it has a cliffhanger ending–you’ll have to read the following volume(s) to get any kind of satisfactory conclusion. Still, I think I’d generally recommend Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children to anyone who enjoys thrillers and who is okay with a fantasy element in the mix.
Author/Illustrator: M. K. Perker
Peter used to be an esteemed expert in rare, handwritten books; however, poor choices have caused him to lose trust in that area, and now he’s stuck in an office job that holds no real interest for him. Rather, his haunted, overactive mind keeps him awake until late at night, and then he doesn’t even bother to show up to work on time. One sleepless night, his roamings bring him to Insomnia Café, where he meets a saucy waitress, Angela. Fascinated by his interest in rare books, Angela takes him to a special, secret library . . . one filled with books that are currently being written.
Insomnia Café was quite an interesting graphic novel, although a bit off my usual track. It’s the sort of story in which you’re not actually sure whether it’s a fantasy or if the main character is actually crazy or what–kind of like K-Pax or Shutter Island. There are enough hints that something’s off to clue you in pretty much from the start, but the author keeps you guessing a bit right up to the last chapter. This is a quick read–I finished it in one sitting easily. I must note that it’s best for an older audience (probably at least 18+) for language (a lot), crudeness, and violence. Still, the story was really interesting. The art is also unique; it reminds me almost of newspaper caricatures, that sort of over-emphasized, stylized drawing. So, I would recommend Insomnia Café to adults who enjoy graphic novels with a mystery/drama/thriller sort of feel.
Author: Daniel Pinkwater
Unwilling to stay bored in her own plane of existence, Audrey hops on a bus and travels to what is presumably our own plane of existence. After a while, she catches a ride to New York, but due to various circumstances, only makes it as far as Poughkeepsie, where she finds a job in a bookshop dedicated to extraterrestrials . . . where her cat-whiskered appearance is a selling point as the shopkeepers are convinced she’s an extraterrestrial herself, despite her best attempts to explain her origins. While in Poughkeepsie, Audrey meets others who make her seem nearly normal: a mountain dwerg who thinks she’s crazy, a professor who actually is crazy (but only part of the year), and a creature who makes everyone else cringe in fear but who looks like an adorable puppy to Audrey, to name a few. Not to mention the fact that everybody thinks Audrey is another cat-whiskered girl who apparently lived in the area, like, a hundred years ago!
I admit, I originally picked this book up because of the title–I mean, who wouldn’t want to read the Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl?! When I saw the Neil Gaiman & Cory Doctorow recommendations on the back, I was doubly hooked, and I certainly wasn’t disappointed in what I read. Reading this book feels like joining a secret society or something niche like that–it’s super weird in the best way possible, with all kinds of things that don’t make sense at all, only they actually do. And the characters are such a zany mixed up bunch–they’re super fun to meet along the journey. Seriously, Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl is a trip you won’t soon forget–I highly recommend checking it out!
Authors/Illustrators: Rob Reger, Jessica Gruner, & Buzz Parker
Whether it’s inviting her ghost friends for tea, surviving an excruciating afternoon in traffic school, or cooking up a batch of rock soup (not necessarily intended for human consumption), Emily Strange is ready to rock. Actually in this, the fourth volume of the Emily the Strange comic book set, Emily is set to explore all things rock. As with the first volume of the comics, it’s both cool and somewhat weird to see Emily in graphic novel format. Emily the Strange: The Rock Issue is a huge mishmash of short comics, pictures, advertisements, etc. My personal favorites were the rock soup short and the two-page spread showing Emily’s cats demonstrating various rock styles. There were plenty of other interesting features, although on the whole this volume didn’t appeal to me as much as the first volume did. That’s my own fault though–I like rock, but I like a lot of other stuff just as well if not better. (Actually, as I’m writing this, I’m listening to Vocaloid–mostly Kagamines.) So, while it will probably never be my favorite, I did find Emily the Strange: The Rock Issue to be an interesting graphic novel and one which does suit the main Emily Strange series, although in a weirder than normal way.