Author: Adam Gidwitz
Illustrator: Hatem Aly
My rating: 5 of 5
The year is 1242, and one dark evening a disconnected group of travelers find themselves together in a small French countryside inn, trading stories to pass the time. Surprisingly, the one evening it seems that all their stories are part of a larger story, a story of three children with seemingly miraculous powers and their faithful dog who is revered as a saint by local peasants. And the tale doesn’t end with the miracles these children have performed, for the very king of France has now declared war against these children. Perhaps, through their interwoven tales, the travelers can puzzle out why such a thing would be.
I was deeply impressed by Gidwitz’s work on The Inquisitor’s Tale. The story is obviously well researched, emulating a storytelling style similar to that of Chaucer’s tales (but in prose), which adds an air of authenticity. It also makes the development of the plot quite interesting, although the pace is slower than that of many tales because of the style. The story draws heavily on both historical research and on the saints tales and folklore of the day, creating a tale that is equal parts historical fiction and fantasy. It’s quite appealing. Also appealing are the characters and the manner in which they develop over the course of the book, particularly after the four of them begin traveling together. Oddly enough, the author does at times choose to use terms which wouldn’t have been common (or even known at all) in 1242–like “allergic” for instance; however, this practice does serve to keep the writing more colloquial, which fits the setting. One of the most powerful and poignant aspects of this story is the way in which it addresses the issues of ignorance and hatred of the alien that were present in that particular place and time, discussing these issues in a way that makes the reader sorely aware of the similarity there is to the discord present in our own day. A painful reminder that we could save so much heartache if we could just learn from history. I also appreciated the way in which complex and difficult theological ideas were incorporated into the story and the way in which the plot tended, ultimately, towards hope and encouraging the reader to be the change we want to see in the world. Demographically, The Inquisitor’s Tale is intended for an upper middle-grade audience, but I think it is an incredible story for anyone that age or older.
Author: Charles de Lint
My rating: 4 of 5
Grace has always followed her own path–or followed in her Abuelo’s in any case–what with her tattoos and rockabilly and her passion for hot-rodding old cars. Not what her mother would have wanted for her, perhaps, but it suits Grace just fine. Well, it did, until she happened to get herself killed–wrong place, wrong time. Which is when she found that those who die in said place, in the few blocks around the Alverson Arms apartment building, don’t move on like they’re supposed to. They become trapped in this strange afterlife world consisting of those few blocks. But unlike most of the people in this Alverson Arms world, Grace isn’t content to just “sleep” or fall into an endless routine. Especially after she goes back to the world of the living on Halloween–one of two nights each year when the boundaries are thinnest–and meets (and falls badly for) John, just a couple weeks too late.
I firmly believe that Charles de Lint is one of the best writers of urban fantasy out there, and I would highly recommend any of his books. The Mystery of Grace is no exception. It carries the feel and mechanics of his Newford books, but places the story in the Southwest–and he does a great job of incorporating the people, the culture, and the feel of that area into the story seamlessly. The whole concept of the story is really interesting, also, as is the way in which the reader gradually finds out more about what’s really going on. I really enjoyed the characters, especially Grace–and it wasn’t so much that I especially liked her, although I did, as just that she was so much herself, so complete and complex a character, that she was a joy to read. I really appreciated all the detail that de Lint casually scattered in to enhance her character. John was interesting as well, although I didn’t enjoy his chapters nearly as much as I enjoyed Grace’s. I did like the way the chapters switched perspectives back and forth though. And I loved that, while this is an a sense a “love story,” it wasn’t a mushy romance at all–it’s not chick-flick-y at all. What it is is unique and passionate and creative and thought-provoking and slightly creepy at parts. I would definitely recommend The Mystery of Grace, especially to those who like a good urban fantasy or ghost story.
Author/Illustrator: Faith Erin Hicks
My rating: 4 of 5
In a tale as old as boarding school accepting scholarship students, Jun enters the prestigious (read “stuffy”) Ellsmere Academy on the merits of her academic achievement alone. Not surprisingly, she runs into just the sort of problems you’d expect–snotty rich kids, uncomfortable uniforms, bullying. At least she excels at the school part and she’s not so concerned about making lots of friends. Unexpectedly though, Jun and her roommate Cassie swiftly become fast friends in spite of their distinctly different personalities. And together, the two friends determine to make it through the year at Ellsmere regardless of the problems that get thrown their way.
I’ve never really read much Faith Erin Hicks, but I was pleasantly surprised with what I found in The War at Ellsmere. As mentioned above, the plot isn’t anything particularly outstanding: poor kid, rich school, bullies, rivalry, the one friend who sticks around no matter what. Pretty standard stuff. But what Hicks does with these typical plot elements is pretty spectacular, actually. The art is bold and expressive, which definitely helps. But where she excels the most, I think, is in crafting believable, interesting characters that the reader enjoys and empathizes with. Jun and Cassie are definitely two such characters, and their interactions totally carry the story. On a side note, the touch of magical realism thrown in at the end was . . . interesting. It worked with the story, but as with Larson’s Mercury, it was surprising and difficult to mesh with the rest of the graphic novel. Still, for those who enjoy a high-school graphic novel with great characters, The War at Ellsmere is definitely on my list of recommendations.
Editor: Kazu Kibuishi
My rating: 4 of 5
The great thing about doors–and perhaps the scary thing, too–is that you never quite know what might be behind them. Just look what Lucy found when she opened the wardrobe doors to play hide-and-seek! In this collection of graphic shorts, we find (and open) doors in closets and in tombs–even in the mind itself!
I have loved Kibuishi’s Amulet books, so I was very curious to see what sort of collection he would pull together. And I must say, I very much enjoyed this collection. There’s a lot of variety, but the “hidden door” theme ties the stories together nicely. There are funny stories, and thought-provoking stories, and wonder-filled stories–and maybe they’re all a little bit of all of those. In any case, they share a beauty, charm, and warmth that is quite delightful, one that can be appreciated by everyone from grade-school kids to adults. Definitely recommended–especially for those who would like to try out the writing styles of different graphic novelists.
Contributors: Kazu Kibuishi, Jen Breach, Jason Caffoe, Steve Hamaker, Faith Erin Hicks, Douglas Holgate, Johane Matte, Jen Wang, Mary Cagle, Denver Jackson, & Noreen Rana
Author/Illustrator: Svetlana Chmakova
My rating: 4.5 of 5
Peppi Torres manages to thoroughly mess up her first day in her new middle school by 1) tripping in the hall and dumping all her books, 2) getting helped by Jaime, a quiet kid with a reputation as a huge nerd, and then 3) pushing him and running away. Following this fiasco, Peppi does manage to find a place for herself in the school’s art club where she makes some good friends . . . even if she’s pretty much on her own during the rest of the school day. She still feels awfully guilty over pushing Jaime, especially when he begins tutoring her in math. And life becomes even more complicated when Peppi’s art club and the science club–of which Jaime is a member–become locked in a fierce competition for a table at the school’s cultural festival. Totally awkward, especially since Peppi finds that Jaime might actually be a great friend.
I absolutely loved Awkward! I can’t believe I haven’t seen it getting more love. This is a fantastic realistic slice-of-life school story for everyone–in graphic novel style. The setting is middle-school, so obviously that’s the primary intended audience, but the story is great and the messages it holds are valid for everyone (I’d say upper elementary and older). The writing tone is great–it captures that, well, awkwardness of being in middle school and figuring life out and all extremely well. The things Peppi goes through are credible, the sorts of issues that real people actually deal with. But the story is also funny and immensely positive in its message. It’s a great encouragement to work hard, work together, make all sorts of friends, and believe in possibilities. The characters are rich and fun to read, full of personality and individuality. And the art does a great job of reflecting this, with expressive character designs, attractive coloring, and a layout that’s easy to follow and focuses strongly on the people. I would definitely recommend Awkward to all sorts of people, and especially to those who enjoy graphic novels or are at that, well, awkward stage of life themselves.
Created by Eyzi
My rating: 3.5 of 5
How precious is your time really? Jung’s life has been so busy that he only has today to spend with Ai. What choices should he make so that the time they have together is well spent?
Carpe Diem is a super-short kinetic novel that’s free to play on Steam (took me a whole 12 minutes). The entire plot centers on Jung’s day with Ai, and the camera angle is always focused on her and her adorable anime-style expressions. In general, simple but very cute animation. There’s a nice improvised-sounding piano soundtrack as well. You get one major choice, and from there the story pretty much flows to the same ending without any other real player interaction–so sit back and watch the day unfold. I loved the surprise ending; that totally took the story from “meh” to “quite nice” in my books. For a free game that doesn’t chew up lots of time, I think Carpe Diem is not only fun but a great reminder to spend our time wisely.