Tag Archives: social issues

Popular Hits of the Showa Era

Author: Ryū Murakami/Translator: Ralph McCarthypopular-hits-of-the-showa-era

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE (21+)

A random act of violence ignites a war between two previously laconic and loosely organized groups of individuals.  On the one hand, a group of young men who gather together for no particular reason and whose highest aspirations are to peep on the neighbor through the window and sing karaoke on the beach. On the other, a collection  of somewhat older women–“aunties” if you will–united by nothing more than a common personal name. But as hatred of the other group sparks, both the young men and the aunties suddenly find themselves united against each other, motivated and inspired in ways they’ve never known before. And the heat of that fervor drives them to find more and more creative ways to rain destruction on the opposing party.

I initially found Popular Hits of the Showa Era through a review by Arria Cross@Fujinsei–which you should go read right away, because it’s excellent and informative and also fun. One of the things Arria mentions about this book is the dark humor of it, and I can totally see that it is written to appeal to a dark sense of humor. Personally, I didn’t find it funny (sorry), but I can very much appreciate that there are people to whom this book would be absolutely hilarious in a disturbing sort of way. But even though I didn’t find it humorous myself, I still found this book enjoyable in other senses. For one, it’s an intriguing commentary and satire on contemporary Japanese society, and just the flavor of the culture is interesting. Even more so, I found the psychological exploration of the book to be fascinating–the way in which the characters were just drifting through life and also the way in which this conflict affected them, making them feel alive and purposeful. I kind of think the author’s telling us something dangerous and terrifying but also important about humanity here. And I have to warn, this is NOT a book for everyone, and I would advise to approach it with caution. Because it is very, very violent. Bloody and gory and explicit and violent. There’s purpose for that in the story; it isn’t violent just for the sake of being violent. But it’s still there, very much in your face for the entirety of the story. Finally, I did want to comment on the title: Popular Hits of the Showa Era. Each chapter title  is the name of a song that was popular during the Showa Era, and that song flavors and flows throughout the chapter in one way or another–not that it has a huge effect on the story itself, but it’s a nice touch.

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Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda

Author: Becky Albertallisimon vs the homo sapiens agenda

My rating: 5 of 5

Simon has met a boy . . . er, well, they haven’t actually met yet. But he and Blue found each other on their high school’s Tumblr, and they’ve been exchanging e-mails. And the more Simon gets to know Blue, the more he thinks he might really be in love with this guy, whoever he is in real life. Which is where things get sticky–because they go to the same high school and might actually know each other in real life, only neither knows the other’s true identity. Neither is openly out to the community at large, and Blue at least intends to keep it that way. That might not be so easy though, especially when Simon finds that Martin, one of this classmates, has gotten into his e-mail account, read his e-mails to Blue, and is now using them to blackmail him! Very sticky situation. Not that Simon doesn’t have enough other stuff to keep him occupied, what with friend problems, a big production coming up in drama club, and a family that wants to talk about everything.

I know, I know, everyone’s been telling me to read this book for like a year at least now. And yes, I really loved Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda. The writing style is excellent, fitting the YA genre well but in a way that would be interesting even for older readers. I really loved the transcribed e-mails and the way in which Simon and Blue’s relationship grew through them, the way they fell in love with each other without even knowing what the other person looked like or anything. Their relationship is really sweet and funny. I also loved that the story’s not just a romance or a coming out story, although it definitely is that–rather, it’s Simon’s whole life with all of it’s complexities and relationships. I love his family and the way their relationships work; it’s so nice to read a story with a supportive, functional family on occasion. (And is it just me, or did anyone else find Simon’s sister Nora to be fascinating? I really want to read her story now!) Also, I loved Simon himself–his personality feels authentic and complex, like the way he thinks he’s so profane and badass but everyone knows he’s just adorable, or the way he’s definitely a geek but not in any stereotypical way. Speaking of being a geek, there are tons of references thrown into this book, too. Anyway, I could fangirl about the positives of this book for basically forever . . . negatives? Well, yes, it is a bit profane, so just be aware it’s probably PG13 at least, but other than that, I can’t think of anything at all. I would say that Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda is highly recommended.

 

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Tender Morsels

Author: Margo Lanagantender morsels

My rating: 3.5 of 5

WARNING: Mature Audience/Contains rape & incest

Ever since her mother’s death, Liga has lived in abuse and isolation, first from her father and later from the young men in her village. In a moment of desperation, Liga decides to end her own life and that of her baby daughter–only to have a most mysterious being interfere and offer her another way out: an exchange of her life in the real world for a safe life in her own personal “heaven.” And so, for many years, Liga and her two daughters live safely in peace . . . but the real world won’t be kept out forever, nor will strong-willed girls be kept in.

If you’ve read anything by Margo Lanagan, you won’t be surprised when I say that Tender Morsels was dark and unsettling. I think if you leave a book of hers undisturbed, you’ve read it wrong. Tender Morsels takes several story elements from the classic fairy tale, “Snow White and Rose Red,” and transforms them into a dark but hopeful tale. It wrestles with the harms women can and do receive from men–and with bringing that fact into balance with the wonderful, healthy relationships that are also possible. It deals with the concept of escapism and the fact that life is meant to be lived fully–the hurts, yes, but also the glorious joys and loves that it can bring. I think Lanagan’s handling of these concepts was well done; meaningful, conflicted, and thought-provoking to be sure. I also appreciated that she dealt with some very difficult topics without cheapening them by making them erotic or overly detailed, while still maintaining the painful emotional impact of them. Honestly, I probably should rate this book a 5 of 5, but it just didn’t work that well for me in some regards. I can’t even say why exactly . . . the plot was too loose and all over the place, perhaps? I’m not sure who the actual protagonist even is? I can’t even say how I really feel about the ending? Whatever the case, Tender Morsels was an excellently written story, just not one of my personal favorites.

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Ghosting

ghostingAuthor: Edith Pattou

My rating: 5 of 5

On the last weekend of summer, right before the beginning of senior year, a group of teens find themselves thrown together. Some of them have close connections. For others, any connections they may have had are by now ancient history. Others barely have any connection to the group at all. But on this one night, they go to a party together. And that’s when things begin to go horribly wrong.

Wow, incredible book. First off, Ghosting isn’t a ghost story–it has nothing to do with ghosts, except perhaps our own personal ones. Secondly, it’s nothing like what I was expecting from Edith Pattou; everything I’ve read of hers previously has been awesome fantasies or fairy tale retellings. This book is more like a modern-day nightmare, at least for the first part. It’s the tale of several teens–a largely diverse group–and one ill-fated evening where everything seems to go from bad to worse in an ever-increasing weight of bad karma. Drugs, alcohol, dares . . . and finally a gunshot. It’s pretty horrifying. But the author handles the whole situation very well. And the second half of the book, the aftermath if you will, is immensely healing, beautiful even. It’s the sort of story that both warns against making dangerous choices and also offers hope for those who have made those choices. I love that the entire story is told in free-verse poetry, from the perspectives of numerous individuals. The author does a great job of making each person’s voice and perspective shine distinctly. Ghosting is both a terrible and a beautiful story, definitely one that’s best for a more mature audience, yet one that is tasteful and meaningful. Highly recommended.

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Ann Tenna

Author/Illustrator: Marisa Acocella MarchettoAnn Tenna

My rating: 3 of 5

Ann Tenna and her higher self “SuperAnn” are agreed (well, Ann’s mostly forced into agreement): she’s to be reborn on Earth once again, a final chance to get things right. But 39 years later, Ann has completely forgotten her higher self, her mission, everything but her present life. And what a life! She’s made herself something of an internet legend with her brutal hidden-camera show. Not exactly getting it right, but definitely making good . . . until SuperAnn gets involved and reminds her what she’s really there for.

So as you can see, Ann Tenna only got a 3-star rating from me (which is still not bad, I must say). Basically, it was an interesting story, but I also had issues with it. For what it’s worth, I finished the entire graphic novel in less than a whole day, so it clearly wasn’t wholly bad. The concept was interesting, and the pacing worked well, never getting stale or bogged down. I think the graphic novel format definitely helped with that. As for the art itself, if worked for the story, hovering somewhere on the border between classic comics and the more contemporary graphic novel style–although I think for me the style and coloring tended just a bit too much toward the comic-book end of the spectrum. On a positive note, you’ve got a successful upper-thirties woman who is going on a journey of self-awareness and change; I feel like you get that a lot with teenage coming-of-age sorts of stories, but in the context of a more mature woman, I haven’t seen those themes developed much (maybe that’s just because I read a lot of YA, but it was still nice). The negative side of that is that I really don’t like who Ann is as a person–the whole dog-eats-dog mindset is not only foreign but utterly abhorrent to me. And I guess just the whole society she lives in is one I can’t relate to at all, so the story kind of lost me a lot in that regard. Basically, I have really mixed opinions about this graphic novel; I can’t say I strongly recommend reading Ann Tenna, but neither do I discourage reading it. Up to you.

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More Happy Than Not

Author: Adam SilveraMore Happy than Not

My rating: 4.5 of 5

WARNING: MATURE AUDIENCE

Every life is a mixture of good stuff and bad stuff. Aaron Soto is no exception, and he tries to be happy with what he’s got. But sometimes it really seems the good just isn’t enough to make up for the bad. Sure, he’s got an incredible girlfriend, a job, a home–but he’s also got the memories of his father’s suicide, his own attempted suicide, poverty, friends who don’t really care. Sometimes it’s so overwhelming that the memory-altering procedure offered by the up-and-coming Leteo Institute really seems like a good option. But when Thomas comes into Aaron’s life, always knowing just what to say, things begin to change . . . for better or for worse.

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I picked up More Happy Than Not, and in a lot of senses, this isn’t a book I would usually read. But I have to admit, it pulled me in, right from the first few pages–and the great pacing and interesting story continued throughout. The writing style is very engaging, a personable first-person taste of Aaron. And while his story is certainly sad, it never gets depressing to the point that I didn’t want to continue reading–a balancing act that takes some talent to pull off. There are a lot of things about Aaron that I don’t really care for (like the way he can’t stay committed to a relationship), but the transparent depiction of the conflicts he goes through within himself are honest and moving. And the struggles he deals with in realizing and dealing with his sexuality in a number of senses is eye-opening. I do have to say, the cyberpunk Leteo thing threw me when it became a bigger part of Aaron’s story, although it had kind of been hinted at right from the beginning; I guess I’m just blind in that sense. And the ending really threw me, but at the same time, it works quite well. Finally a word of warning: this is an older YA book, and there is ample sex, drugs, language, violence, etc. But for a mature reader looking for an engaging but challenging story, I think More Happy Than Not is a great choice.

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When Marnie Was There

Studio GhibliWhen Marnie was There

Written by Keiko Niwa, Masashi Andō, & Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Produced by Yoshiaki Nishimura & Toshio Suzuki/Directed by Hiromasa Yonebayashi/Music by Takatsugu Muramatsu/Based on When Marnie Was There by Joan G. Robinson

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Anna very well understands the way the world works, the fact that some people are accepted and others are necessarily outsiders for whatever reason. She doesn’t question that she herself is an outsider, alone at school, ill-tempered at times, a worry to her foster parents. When her asthma causes the doctor to recommend she be sent away to get some fresh air away from the city though, things begin to change a bit. She stays with relatives (of her foster parents) on an out-of-the-way island where everything seems to be more laid back and she can spend time exploring and drawing alone without being fussed over so much. And in her explorations, Anna finds herself drawn to an old, abandoned manor house across the bay . . . . and it’s at that old manor that she meets Marnie, a girl who will change her life in all sorts of unexpected ways but also a girl who will baffle Anna in many ways.

Okay, before anything else, I’m just going to say that there are going to be spoilers here. Because I have no idea how to honestly review this movie without spoilers. Sorry. So . . . I truly enjoyed When Marnie Was There, although I was kind of baffled through most of the story. It was worth sitting through the confusion, because when everything was explained it was extremely moving to the point that I cried. The way the story develops is almost dreamlike at parts, or rather, it’s as though dreams are being woven throughout Anna’s reality. Or perhaps it’s more as though two disparate points in time are briefly connected. In any case, although at times confusing, the friendship that develops between Anna and Marnie is really sweet and cute. And this is where the spoilers come in: the story totally seems like it’s shoujo ai through most of the plot, but the end reveals something very unexpected and different and absolutely touching. All in all, it’s a sweet story that’s developed quite nicely with plenty of drama and mystery. I appreciate that it also delves into deep issues like child neglect and the insecurity that orphans can feel sometimes even in loving homes. And of course, being a Studio Ghibli film, the art is absolutely stunning; I always enjoy their attention to all the fine details that make the illustration not just nice but amazing. Essentially, I would recommend When Marnie Was There to pretty much anyone, although I will note that if you’re not comfortable with shoujo ai, you might find watching this a bit weird (even though it’s technically not).

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