A Graphic Memoir GSQ Review: Tomboy…

1

image

Welcome once again to a Good, Sad and Quirky review.  Today I have a memoir in graphic novel format that relates the tale of one Liz Prince, a girl who struggles to fit into the pre-packaged image of how a girl should look and how a girl should behave.  It’s a fantastically engaging book and one that may well become essential reading for anyone who feels that their biological attributes don’t match with society’s expectations as to how those attributes should be deployed.

tomboy

 

Tomboy is the story of Liz Prince – it chronicles the difficulties and triumphs she experiences from childhood into young adulthood and beyond, in identifying as a “tomboy”.  Liz likes baseball, superheroes and action figures, and feels most comfortable in jeans, a t shirt and her favourite cap.  She’s happy like this.  For her it is not a problem, it just is.  Imagine her surprise then, on discovering that the people around her, from her own siblings, to her classmates, to her teachers and coaches, seem to find this disconcerting in the extreme.  Tomboy covers the bullying that Liz experiences due to her boyish appearance, the difficulties in making and keeping friends that goes hand in hand with being visually different to one’s peers and the emerging problems that Liz encounters when trying to get to know boys in a romantic way while looking like a boy herself.  Tomboy is an important and emininently readable piece of work that speaks clearly to one girl’s struggle to figure out what exactly it is that makes a girl and where she fits on the spectrum of womanhood.

image
Wow. Don’t be fooled by the cartoony style of the artwork, this is a book that packs an ideological and personal punch.  Before even a third of the way through the book, Mad Martha was nodding and tearing up, so close to home were the situations and emotions presented here by Liz.  The book follows a a chronological order, opening on a scene in which four-year-old Liz is screaming in an attempt to stop her mother from putting her in a dress.  From there we move on with Liz into her years in primary school and on towards middle and high school, by which point being the only comfortable tomboy in a crowd of pubescent teens becomes quite a challenge indeed.  The book finishes with Liz finding some stable ground as an adult in accepting how she is and how she wants to be and discovering that there is a community in which she can be socially accepted.

The art, as I mentioned, is in the traditional cartoon style and is both easy on the eye and perfect for conveying the humour underlying many of the situations Liz finds herself in.  See for yourself:

There’s plenty in the storyline that is though-provoking and touching and challenging, but there’s also a lot here that will be very familiar to anyone who’s beyond the age of 15, whether they had trouble fitting in with peers or otherwise.  In one sense, Liz is telling the story of any-teen in the struggles she has in making friends and finding her place and her passions, but over the top of that is her specific story of gender-image, which will also strike a chord with many teens, wherever they fall on the spectrum of appearing to be socially-acceptable.

image

The only problem I had with this graphic novel is that I felt the pace started to drag a bit during the high school section of the memoir.  By that stage the issues that Liz was struggling with – particularly in terms of finding a romantic partner – had already been raised and the narrative seemed to get bogged down a little at this point.  That’s just my personal interpretation though, and I’m sure others will think differently.

There are also a few instances of swearing and “adult situations”, so if you’re not into that, steer clear.

Otherwise…I got nothing.  I really enjoyed Prince’s style in both artwork and written word.

image

Two parts of this memoir really stood out to me as being original, in the sense that I hadn’t encountered them in fiction before.  (I realise that this is technically factual, in that it actually happened, but it’s a subjective retelling and presentation of a particular person, and in that sense, it reads like fiction).  The first was the very clearly outlined difficulties that Liz encounters as a heterosexual female whose personal fashion preference is decidedly masculine.  I haven’t encountered this in any YA before and I think it provided a real sense of depth to the story.  It got me thinking about how personal presentation and sexual preference are linked in our minds…if we see a woman dressed in man’s clothing, do we automatically assume she is a lesbian? If so, why?  How does this affect young people as their identity is emerging in the teen years – do they feel pressure to conform to gender image expectations and how does this affect them psychologically if they do conform or if they don’t?  These are things that I am still pondering and it was wonderful to see these presented realistically for a YA and new adult audience.

The second thing that jumped out in this particular memoir was Liz’s personal dislike (bordering on gut-wrenching hatred) of anything considered to be “girly”.  This was articulated fantastically throughout the memoir, and resolved somewhat in the latter part of the story as Liz begins to separate the idea or image of “girliness” being bad from the idea that being a girl (or a woman) is bad.  This part of the story raises some great questions about attitudes in wider society about females and femininity and the worth that is placed on boys’ activities (and therefore, boys) as opposed to girls’ activities (and therefore, girls).  While I’ve definitely come across these arguments in reading on feminism that I have eagerly devoured in the past, it was refreshing to see it presented in situ, as it were, as it unfolded in Prince’s life and development.

My overall take on the book?

A must-read, must-discuss, must-unpack book for anyone working with young people or anyone who has any interest in gender stereotyping.  And anyone who likes a good graphic memoir, really 😉

I realise I’ve blabbed on a bit here, but this really is one of those rare books that comes along and touches a nerve, inspires important discussions, and makes one cling all the more defiantly to one’s favourite, comfy, non-fashion-forward hat.

Tomboy is due for release on September 28th from Zest Books and I received a digital copy from the publisher via Netgalley.

Until next time,

Bruce

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//

An MG Aussie Maniacal Book Club Review: The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee…

4

 

manical book club button

Welcome once again to the semi-regular meeting of the Maniacal Book Club.  Today we are presenting an award-winning Australian book under its American title and cover, owing to the fact that we requested it thinking it looked very interesting, only to discover it was in fact a book that we’d previously seen and added to the TBR list under its original name.  Without further babbling, I present to you…The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee by Barry Jonsberg

 

22965455

 

Or, as it’s known in Australia, My Life as an Alphabet (also by Barry Jonsberg, obviously)…

17261404

 

Candice Phee is a twelve year old social outcast who reads the dictionary and Charles Dickens in her spare time and worries about the spiritual life of her pet fish.  Since her baby sister Sky died from SIDS seven years ago, Candice’s parents’ relationship has become rocky and her father has had a major falling out with his brother, Rich Uncle Brian.  When a new boy arrives in Candice’s class claiming to be from another dimension, it appears that Candice is about to make her first friend.  What follows is by turns hilarious, poignant and plain bizarre as Candice and Douglas Benson from Another Dimension attempt to sort out all the problems currently affecting those they care about most.  maniacal book club guru dave

Guru Dave

Whether comparing life to a categorical universe or attempting to reduce one’s life to fit within the confines of the alphabet, it is undeniable that young Candice Phee will discover that human existence often defies the limitations that we place upon it.  It is obvious that those around Candice are suffering in various ways and this delightful story emphasises that caring can come in the most unexpected of packages.  We could all learn from the easy manner with which Candice shucks off the taunts of her classmates and the openness she demonstrates in meeting a new friend. 

This book gives us the lesson that different is not necessarily bad – although sometimes it pays to get some help, depending on how different your differences are and the manner in which you acquired them.  For instance, a difference obtained after falling out of a tree could be a difference that sets one apart as charmingly quirky.  Or it could be a difference that is best addressed by the attentions of a neurological expert.

maniacal book club toothless

Toothless

No dragons in this book. Again.  There’s not any monsters at all actually.   There is a fish with a cool name though (Earth-Pig Fish) and some inflatable bosoms that are really funny (but also turn out to be really important and useful).  I think the book would have been better with monsters, or at least a big dinosaur.  I think Rich Uncle Brian could have bought one and given it to Candice for a present and it would have made the book a lot better.

maniacal book club marthaMad Martha

Today I will honour Candice’s story by writing a slightly awkward, alphabetical poem of sorts.

If Candice’s life were an alphabet, it would probably make more sense if recited backwards. 

If her life were an alphabet, it would probably be a lot less eventful, given that it would need to be condensed

into a form that is easily understood by small children.

Not to mention sung to a jaunty (yet memorable) tune.

If her life were an alphabet, it would probably start with U for unique.

Or maybe C.

For Confused reCollections.

Or maybe, most appropriately, with J.

For Just-an-ordinary-girl-trying-to-make-things-right.

maniacal book club bruce

Bruce

Reading The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee was both a familiar and slightly unusual experience for me.  Told in a series of essays, each beginning with a successive letter of the alphabet, and letters to her (yet-to-respond) American penpal, Candice attempts to give voice to the important things in her life while simultaneously musing about how to make things better for those around her.  This format accounted for much of the “unusual” part of the reading experience, and while I did enjoy the narrative style, the 26-letter chapter headings did seem to make the book a little longer than it probably needed to be.

The familiar bit came mostly from seeing another young protagonist who may (or may not?) be identified as having Asperger’s Syndrome.  While it’s never explicitly stated that this is a label that has been placed on Candice, there are a lot of references to her social difference and her idiosyncratic manner in percieving certain situations.  I’ve read quite a few books with protagonists of this sort and so I quite easily fell into Candice’s narrative voice and turn of phrase.

There are a lot of funny situations in the book that caused me to either grimace in embarrassment or laugh out loud.  Two notable examples are Candice’s well-meaning attempts to address the problem of her favourite teacher’s lazy eye, and her life-saving deployment of a pair of inflatable fake breasts that Candice receives as a birthday gift from her only friend, Douglas Benson from Another Dimension.  Possibly my favourite bits of the story were Candice’s letters to her American penpal, who has not yet responded to Candice’s epistles – upon reading them, it is not hard to see why.

This, actually, reminds me of a good point to note – as a book from an Australian author, this book has a distinctly Australian sense of humour.  It’s dry and understated, and seems to fit quite well with a character like Candice who can be particluarly blunt in delicate social situations.  On the other hand, it also deals in a reasonably matter-of-fact way with a number of difficult issues, such as SIDs, cancer, difficult parental relationships, depression, and family conflict.

Although there were a lot of things I liked about the book, the overall impression I have is that it was just an okay reading experience.  The book never really drew me in to the point that I felt that I had to rush back to it and it wouldn’t be one that I would rave about to others.

However, it would be a good pick for those looking for an Australian book with a protagonist who is (possibly) on the Autistic Spectrum or a book about fitting in and dealing with family problems generally.  I’d also recommend it for those looking for something that’s reasonably light, funny and a bit quirky and different.

Overall, we give The Categorical Life of Candice Phee three (out of a possible four) thumbs up.  Toothless just never really got into it, but the rest of us liked it just fine.

image  image  image

The Maniacal Book Club received a digital copy of this title for review from the publisher via Edelweiss.

 

Until next time,

Bruce

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//

An Oddball Double Dip: A Smallgoods Saviour and a Shambling Detectives…

7

image

Welcome, fellow oddballs, to this double-dip of silliness.  Today I have adult fiction and YA fiction for you and they are linked by their commitment to the advancement of character groups too often overlooked in literature – specifically, undead detectives and homeless delicatessen workers.  Load up your bizarre (and slightly gross) savoury snack of choice and let’s jump right in.

Slimy Underbelly by Kevin J Anderson follows zombie detective Dan Chambeaux (“Shamble” to his friends) on a few cases with a definite supernatural twist.  Dan lives in the Unnatural Quarter, home to all manner of supernatural and/or formerly living residents whose existence came to be after an accident with a Necronomicon.  Now undead, not-human and ordinary folk rub along together in this interesting part of the city.  When a worsening stench overtakes the detective’s offices and a pre-pubescent supervillain presents with a case of wrongful eviction from his underground lab, Dan is forced to descend into the sewers to get to the bottom of the problem.  There he bumps into Ah’Chulhu, a tentacular-faced real estate mogul who is playing hardball with his tenants and the whole Unnatural Quarter property market.  As the plot (and the stench) thickens, Dan discovers that he must unearth Ah’Chulhu’s real motive before the entire Unnatural Quarter sinks below the level of social acceptability.  Throw in an Ogre opera singer who has lost his voice, a gang of violent garden gnomes on a spree of armed robberies, and an election campaign that could literally cause the earth to move, and you just know that things are about to get interesting.

18184424Dip into it for…

…a fun and silly detective romp that bursts with characters who reside slightly left of centre.  This book really worked for me as light refreshment during a heavy review period and I was most appreciative of the brain-break.  The highlight of the book for me was most definitely the array of oddbod characters, from Dan himself, to the beleaguered Ogre Stentor, who spends most of the book shouting (in a stage-whisper), “Help! Someone’s stolen my voice! If found, please call the police!”, to the Aussie-accented Ah’Chulhu, who reads very like a slimy-faced Steve Irwin, to a helpful barbershop quartet of toad demons.  Really, the book has everything.

Don’t dip if…

…you’re after serious noir or detective work that doesn’t involve werewolf prostitutes.  There. I said it.

Seriously though, if you aren’t up for a gobful of silliness and disbelief-suspension, you should probably be moving right along.

Overall Dip Factor

This is the perfect book for when you don’t want to have to work too hard and you’re looking for something that is original and fun and will give you a hearty chuckle or two (or more).  I did feel that the plot dragged in a few places (mostly for me it was during the sections involving the weather wizards and their constant bickering.  Although admittedly, one of the weather wizards becomes an important character later in the story and therefore redeemed this plotline a little).  Being a country-monster of Ah’Chulhu, I was slightly affronted that an Australian was cast in such an evil light, but he has his soft side as well, so I ended up forgiving Anderson for that one.  Overall though there are plenty of intertwining plotlines and original characters here to keep even the most cynical, cranky reader from getting too snarky.  Slimy Underbelly is a great pick for when you’re sunning your skin/tentacles/fur/scales/rippling bubonic flesh on a beach (or similar) and you just want to relax and escape into a world that is slightly more bizarre than your own.

**I feel I have to point out that I did pick up one little flaw in Ah’Chulhu’s authentic Australian-ness.  At one point, while dismissing the zombie detective, Ah’Chulhu uses the word G’day. Typically Australian one might think, except this term is only ever used by native speakers in greeting, never in parting.**

Now onto some oddness for the young adult market….

Welfy Q. Deederhoth: Meat Purveyor, World Saviour by Eric Laster is a humorous sci-fi romp set partly in a delicatessen and partly in an alien world in the midst of an invasion (by a second alien species).  The book opens with Welfy, hungry teenaged lad of no fixed address, attempting to find work in exchange for something to eat.  Morton, owner of Grammercy Deli, takes pity on Welfy and gives him a job, thus beginning Welfy’s exposure to the aliens among us (well, kind of).  On descending to the deli basement, Welfy is transported into an alien world, in which he is immediately mistaken for “The One (with a dirty apron)”, a prophesied hero sent to save the Brundeedles from the oppressive and violent Ceparid race.  Along with the alarming discovery that he can now pull weapons from his deli apron pocket, Welfy meets a whole host of Brundeedles, including Princess Nnnnn and her little brother Raoul, and her husband, the jealous Prince Ffff as he fights alongside them to save the Brundeedles from assured destruction.  But hang on – how is it possible for a deli basement to hide a portal into another point in space?  Welfy is going to need all the help he can get from both sides of the galactic divide  (as well as an apron pocket full of weapons-grade salami) in order to save the Brundeedles and figure out his true destiny.

welfyDip into it for…

…a wholly original take on the “undiscovered hero” plotline for the upper-middle grade, lower-YA audience.  This reminded me of nothing so much as Adam Rex’s The True Meaning of Smek Day, not only because of the sci-fi themes, but also because both books feature a fun balance of humour and action with a healthy side order of silliness.  Books like this work, in my opinion, because although they contain situations and/or characters that defy logic and disbelief suspension, the characters within the story take the story seriously, and because of this it’s much easier to get sucked in to the plot.

Laster has also managed to create a pretty complex protagonist in Welfy.  He’s a homeless kid with an uncertain family history and a more recent track record in foster care.  He’s also a mature and humble sort of guy, prepared to work to get ahead.  I appreciated also the poignant moments amongst the alien chaos.  The author has really done a good job here providing insight into why life on the street might be preferable for some young people than staying in the foster care system.

Don’t dip if…

…you expect your sci-fi to be heavy or serious, or you find characters with unpronounceable names irritating.  There is a fair bit of “Brundeedle language” spoken in certain sections here and I can imagine that some people might find it a bit annoying to read bits of…well, unreadable text.  You’ve been warned.

Overall Dip Factor

This is going to appeal to sci-fi fans of all ages and those who are prepared to take a chance on a story out of left field.  Vegetarians need not apply.  The cover actually gives a pretty good overall impression of the contents and atmosphere of the story, and I would love to see this story in graphic novel form in the future.

To add to the whole “this book is a bit different to your average” theme, Laster has thoughtfully provided an appendix  which outlines how to translate Brundeedle language into English.  And for those stout-hearted code-breakers among us, he’s also included a news article written in Brundeedle language in order for you to practice.  Finally, the book includes a little teaser of a story called “The Case Files of Erasmus Twiddle”, so you can’t complain that Laster hasn’t given you some bang for your buck.

Give it a go if you want to pull something different out of the hat apron.

Until next time,

Bruce

* I received both titles from their respective publishers via Netgalley*

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//

An Unseasonal ARC Haiku Review: Santa Clauses…

7

Welcome one and all to our unseasonably jolly post! It’s Mad Martha with you today, bringing you an early Christmas present – Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole by Bob Raczka and illustrated by Chuck Groenink!  Despite having verbal first names in common, these two clever blokes have combined their talents to create an eye-soothing Christmas miracle of a picture book, filled with haiku to enhance the poetical pleasure of your preparations for the big, exciting, big, stressful, exciting, big celebration that is Christmas.

The book opens on December 1st, with a haiku-ish weather report accompanied by Santa (in casual attire) amidst a snowstorm of just-delivered mail.  From there we are treated to a haiku a day, covering all the bustle and administrational organisation that goes on at the North Pole in preparation for that night of nights.  Who would have thought that Santa himself is subjected to the trifling annoyances of the season, such as untangling festive lights and replacing faulty bulbs? Other poems inform us that Santa and his Northern folk also partake of the more joyful traditions of the season, including stringing popcorn garlands and sharing favourite Christmas stories beside the fire (or in the barn!).

santa clauses

Advent calendar

of haiku will be our new

yearly tradition

As lovers of haiku, we around the shelf were overjoyed to find this beuatiful new rendering of the familiar lead-up to Christmas type of book.  It’s such a simple idea and a fantastic way to introduce children to this form of poetry.  I suspect parents will enjoy it also, given that it provides a nice break from having to read rhyming stories about Santa repeatedly from September onwards!  So the haiku format was always going to be a winner for us, but the icing on the cake is the amazing quality of illustration that Chuck Groenink has achieved.  The pictures are soft and inviting and but still reflect the mystery and anticipation of the season.  For someone living in the (blistering) Southern Hemisphere, Christmasy books that emphasise the snowiness that we don’t experience here can often feel a little bit annoyingly exclusive, but Groenink’s imagery conveys the comfort of familiar family traditions and the atmosphere of a little community coming together drew us in as something we could connect with, rather than emphasising our lack of cold at Christmas time.

image

We at the shelf love this book so much that we are going to buy it in hardcover and begin a new pre-Christmas advent ritual of reading it in the run-up to Christmas.  Much more satisfying than that Elf on the Shelf business. Does anyone else find that Elf a little bit disturbing? Like a little malevolent minion watching all that’s going on…with his eyes…always watching.  It’s all a bit too 1984 for me (the book, not the period in history).  We suggest that you do the same and bring a bit of haiku into the Christmas season.

Santa Clauses: Short Poems from the North Pole is released on September 1st, so you have plenty of time to acquire it before December!

Cheerio my dears,

Mad Martha

*I received a digital copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review*

twitter button Follow on Bloglovin Bruce Gargoyle's book recommendations, liked quotes, book clubs, book trivia, book lists (read shelf)

//