Saturday, November 22, 2008

Alexandria of Africa - Eric Walters

alexandria hyatt (*cough* paris hilton *cough*) is a spoiled little rich girl. think the flesh wastes of "my super sweet sixteen" (thank you charlie brooker for that vivid phrase). when she's caught shoplifting, a judge having a bad day decides that her lack of remorse demonstrates an attitude severely in need of adjustment. so he sentences her to a stint in a juvenile detention facility. at the end of the day the prosecution decides that they are willing to make a deal and offer alexandria a choice between serving a term in juvie or going to kenya with an organization called free the children where she will help build school houses. after a brief consideration she chooses the latter figuring it will be easy enough to avoid any real work and come home as if she's just had a vacation.

of course alexandria's pampered lifestyle sets her up for a bit of a reality check when she is faced with only having the bare essential on the compound once she gets to kenya. her fellow volunteers (alexandria is the only one participating against her will) are all so friendly and wholesome and the poverty of the people where they are working really start to get to her. of course she ends up experiencing things and meeting people that will ultimately change her for the better. a bit didactic , and the moral is obvious, but it's still a great read and i had trouble putting it down.

Broken Soup - Jenny Valentine

when rowan's brother jack died her family fell apart. since that day she's been busy just trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy. her father has left and seems to be blind to the difficulties that rowan is now facing with a semi-catatonic mother and a six year old sister that she is now caring for on her own. and suddenly one day things begin to happen. a strange boy at the supermarket hands rowan a photo negative claiming he saw her drop it, although she's never seen it before. at school the next day rowan is introduced to bee who saw the exchange and is interested to see what is on the negative. they go back to bee's house where they develop the photo in the tub, which turns out to be a picture of jack laughing.

this mysterious event is just the beginning, and suddenly things are getting better for rowan as she allows herself and stroma to be drawn into relationships with the friendly, outgoing bee, her laid-back father, and cure baby brother, not to mention harper, the boy from the shop who is traveling the world and lives in an ambulance. all of these people help rowan start to build a family again, but unfortunately before things can really get better they must first get much worse.

i really loved this book, and the fun notebook graffiti cover should entice people to pick it up off the shelf.

Godchild Volumes 1 & 2 - Kaori Yuki

gothic mystery manga. i like it. told in a series of short stories that pretty much stand alone, it unlike a lot of manga that i've read it doesn't seem to focus much on a continuous developing plot.

the earl cain hargreaves is a young aristocrat in victorian england with a dark past. it is said that like his namesake he is cursed by god. having endured a brutal childhood he now attempts to get on with his life while taking care of his young charge, his half sister, mary weather. wherever cain and mary weather travel though, it seems that trouble is never far behind.

all of the stories have a dark gothic tone to them that suggest the supernatural, but tend to have everyday explanations. think du maurier's "rebecca", wilde's "the picture of dorian gray" and conan doyle's "sherlock holmes" as shojo. and you're starting to get the picture.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Jellaby - Kean Soo

here it is. the 50th post of 2008. i did it. i have officially read 50 books this year. take that 50 book challenge! if you're interested google "50 book challenge" and check it out. mind you i've actually read much more than 50 books this year, but i only blog about the kid and teen books i read. i decided that my reading of grown up books shouldn't come with additional homework.

i think "jellaby" is a good book to hit 50 with. a graphic novel i've been meaning to read for a while. thank you kean soo for such a cute book. told in shades of purple, with the odd dash of colour, such as portia's red hair clip or jason's orange t-shirt, i couldn't help but be reminded of "harold and the purple crayon". and you could certainly do worse than that.

when portia and her mom move to a new town, portia has difficulty making new friends. of course i'm sure it doesn't help when her classmates are giving book reports on "horton hatches the egg" and portia decides to do "reason and emotion: classical and romantic philosophies in tom stoppard's arcadia". thankfully this is the only bit of academia in the book, otherwise i'm sure it would alienate it's intended audience.

one night portia looks out her window to see a strange dragon-like creature running off into the woods. she gives chase and brings the lost and frightened creature home with her. this is jellaby. although jellaby is a creature of few words, he is very expressive, and has a well-defined sense of right and wrong. when portia and jellaby witness the school bullies picking on the aforementioned jason, jellaby spurs portia to action. the three become friends and decide to work together to get jellaby to toronto where he will hopefully be reunited with his family. there's a great illustration of a go train station that really brought me back to my days in outer suburbia.

a wonderful graphic novel by a regular contributor to the popular "flight" anthologies.

Ways to Live Forever - Sally Nicholls

this is a sad book. so, if you're going to read it make sure you have a box of tissues handy. "ways to live forever" is the story of sam, an 11 year old boy dying of leukemia. told in the first person, in the form of diary entries, lists, and stories, sam shares with readers his memories and dreams.

nicholls' character is a smart, creative boy, whose questions about the bigger picture (life the universe and everything) have a certain urgency, due to his illness. sam spends a lot of time thinking about death. where do you go when you die? does dying hurt? how do you know you are dead? what if you were accidentally buried alive? his home tutor encourages him to do research to discover the answers to these questions.

sam is a lovable child, and his inevitable death, coinciding with the end of the book, although expected, is nonetheless incredibly sad. nicholl's deals with the death of a very real seeming boy in a very real seeming way. perhaps a good book to help those who know someone who is suffering from a terminal illness.

High School Debut Volumes 1 to 4 - Kazune Kawahara

this is possibly the cheesiest manga i've read in a long time. and that's saying something. but for some reason, despite the incredibly high levels of cheese (thank goodness i'm not lactose intolerant), i really like this series. it probably takes me about 30 minutes to run through an entire tankobon, so there's not really much in the way of a time commitment. and it's fluff, pure and simple, so there's not really much in the way of any sort of mental commitment either. and some days that's a good thing.

"high school debut" is the story of middle school jock haruna, who decides that when she enters high school she will put away the cleats in favour of high heels and try to make herself over to be more girly in order to get a boyfriend. needless to say haruna's natural inclinations lie more toward sweatpants and trainers, and her understanding of how to appear more feminine is culled from various teen girl magazines. try to imagine living your life based on rules laid out in "cosmo girl", "ym" and "seventeen". long story short; it's a complete disaster.

haruna decides she may need a little help with this goal, and decides to enlist the help of a coach, a "love coach". she chooses a cute upperclassman named yoh. she actually walks up to the guy and asks him to help train her to be more attractive. of course, no shock here, yoh looks at haruna like she's an alien, says "no", and walks away. this being a romantic high school manga though, yoh eventually changes his mind and agrees to coach haruna under one condition, she mustn't fall for him. well, we all know where this is going, right? right.

if you like fluffy manga in the spirit of "ouran high school host club" or "lovely complex" you might also get a kick out of "high school debut", just be sure to take your lactaid ahead of time.

Getting the Girl - Susan Juby

i've never read anything by susan juby before, though we do have all of her books at the library. but when this one came in i thought it looked kind of fun so i took it home. it's a fairly thick little book, a good 341 pages long, but it's light reading and i finished it in an evening sitting on the couch waiting for g. to get home from work.

sherman mack is a bit of a nerd, though he fancies himself a real ladies' man. much of his life is devoted to trying to make the women/girls around him feel good, and helping them out in anyway he can. sherman really is a nice guy, even if his somewhat overuse of the terms "mack daddy" (does anyone actually say that anymore?) and "the ladies" (ew) does get a little tiresome at times. however, nice guys aren't necessarily the popular guys, and such is the case with sherm.

when sherman starts grade 9 at harewood high he becomes aware of the school's sick tradition of "defiling" girls. when a girl is "defiled" her picture is stuck in all of the bathrooms with a big "D" on it, and from that point onward she is a social pariah, and can expect all sorts of rumours of the most heinous sort to be spread about her. sherman believes that his current crush interest is in grave danger of being the next girl to be d-listed, and so he vows to do everything in his power to find out who is behind the defilings and expose the truth.

armed with his friend vanessa's detective books, a talent for cookery, and a team of devoted if somewhat inept friends, sherman may have just what it takes to bring justice to the halls of harewood high.

Aya and Aya of Yop City - Marguerite Abouet

a pair of beautifully packaged graphic novels depicting urban middle class life in the ivory coast in the 1970s. the story (started in "aya" and continued in "aya of yop city") focuses on a female high school student named aya, her two girlfriends adjoua and bintou, and their families. i really enjoyed these two books. clement oubrerie's illustrations offer wonderful depictions of abouet's simple story about young women growing up in africa. sort of how "persepolis" offered us a glimpse into the life of a young woman growing up in revolutionary iran, "aya" gives us a glimpse of growing up in africa. one of the nice things about this story is that abouet presents the africa of her childhood, and although in abouet's africa things are not perfect, this is also not the negatively sensationalized africa of the evening news plagued by war, famine and aids. if you are a fan of more mature graphic novels like "persepolis" or guy delisle's travelogues, i highly recommend taking the time to read "aya" and "aya of yop city".