Monday, May 27, 2013

Review: Chopsticks by Jessica Anthony & Rodrigo Corral

ChopsticksDescription: After her mother died, Glory retreated into herself and her music. Her single father raised her as a piano prodigy, with a rigid schedule and the goal of playing sold-out shows across the globe. Now, as a teenager, Glory has disappeared. As we flash back to the events leading up to her disappearance, we see a girl on the precipice of disaster. Brilliant and lonely, Glory is drawn to an artistic new boy, Frank, who moves in next door. The farther she falls, the deeper she spirals into madness. Before long, Glory is unable to play anything but the song "Chopsticks."

Stats: YA Graphic Novel, 272 pages, Published by Razorbill, February 2012 .

My Rating: 3 STARS

You have a story. How do you chose to tell it?

Chopsticks is the kind of book you read more then once in a single sitting, well technically not read per say, but the type of book you observe multiple times.

This book is about more then just words on a page, instead Chopsticks chooses to tell its deceptively layered story through images and emotions instead of just plain old text. These various photographs, letters, paintings, drawings, and mementos tell a chronicle of Gloria "Glory" Fleming, a young piano prodigy, and her great young romance with her neighbour Francisco Mendoza. But there could quite possibly be more then meets the eye when it comes to the real narrative being told. There are two very different sides to this story and the only thing that matters in the end is which side you choose to believe.

My hat is truly off to these creators! This form of creating a story must be no small feet to do. I can't imagine the work that must have gone into collecting all the resources and putting something this complex together. What might seem like a simple structured story takes on new meaning when every detail must have been planned and scrutinised again and again before this ever made it to print.

But with all that out of the way, let's get to the nitty-gritty of things. I liked the book, but it didn't completely amaze me. It was fun to flip through and interesting enough that the characters sucked me into their world, but Chopsticks is not without its detractors.

For one, I can't see this being particularly memorable on the whole. I know I'll remember that I once flipped through a book that was told through images instead of words, that will stick with me, but I don't know if come tomorrow morning I'll still care about Gloria and Francisco. This felt like just a tiny little blip on my radar compared to the feeling I get when I read a novel, or even a graphic novel, that I find equally interesting and compelling.

Another really major issue I had was that just by the nature of the medium, the scope of the story is very narrow. It's sort of like staring down a cardboard tube. You can see a tiny part of what you know is there, but your brain will have to fill in the rest and build extra dimensions to a two dimensional story. Now, the more you understand story structure and characters the easier this will be, but I found myself having a lot of trouble at times with the limitations of a story with such a very selective perspective. It made it less believable, less engrossing, that I didn't have any sort insight into anything but the three characters the book offers.

Needless to say, this book has me a little mixed. I liked it and while reading it I really liked it, but the longer I let it sit the more I have to go back to it and refresh my memory. I have a feeling this is something I'll come back to a few times in the next couple of days to re-experience, but it just doesn't have the long-lasting emotional pull that I expected it to have. Still, it was a amazingly told recount and has more then enough merit to recommend to anyone to just take an hour to look at it.

Normally for reviews of graphic novels I include images from the book, however in the case of Chopsticks this simply won't do. Instead I've managed to stumble upon a video book trailer from PenguinYoungReaders to give you a sneak peek of what to expect without giving anything away. Enjoy!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

First 6 Review: The Wallflower by Tomoko Hayakawa

The Wallflower, Vol. 1 (The Wallflower, #1)Description: It’s a gorgeous, spacious mansion, and four handsome, fifteen-year-old friends are allowed to live in it for free! There’s only one condition–the boys must transform the owner’s wallflower niece into a lady befitting the palace in which they all live! How hard can it be?

Enter Sunako Nakahara, the agoraphobic, horror-movie-loving, pockmark-faced, frizzy-haired, fashion-illiterate recluse who tends to break into explosive nosebleeds whenever she sees anyone attractive. This project is going to take more than our four heroes ever expected: it needs a miracle!

Stats: YA Manga, On Going Series, English Series published by Del Ray and Kodansha USA 2004-Present.

The First 6: Volume 1-6 
Spoiler Free Review

The Wallflower, Vol. 6 (The Wallflower, #6)It's not always easy being beautiful, at least not for our boys. They are an attractive bunch and everywhere they go they have to deal with all the celebrity and insanity that comes along with it. On a daily basis they are sexually harassed, kidnapped, blackmailed, and stalked by both men and woman alike who just want to get a piece of them. Fortunately, they have found a safe place in Auntie's mansion home where they are all collectively given the opportunity to live rent-free under one condition. All Auntie wants is for her niece to find true love, but in order to do so she must be turned into a proper lady. If the boys can't pull off the makeover of the century they'll have to pay up their missed rent, which isn't an option.

Sunako, the budding lady in question, is not like most girls. She would rather hide away in her dark room watching graphic horror movies with her anatomical manican friends then deal with the real world. To make matter's worse, living with these handsome boys isn't exactly helping. Whenever she sees these "creature's of light" she suffers in the form of nose bleeds and violent outbursts. If the boys plan to transform Sunako into "young lady" they all have to help her get past her hang up on beauty as well as the rejection that made her this way before she can step out of her shell.
The Wallflower series is not like anything else I've seen on the manga market. In these first six volumes it's turning out to be absurd in every sense of the word. It's weird and wonderful interchangeably with a side of psycho situations trying to thwart our Sunako at every turn. If you don't like weird and crazy then this may not be for you. You got to be able to just go with it!

In these first six volumes there there isn't much of a continuous story line. Each chapter reads more as short story vinyettes, sometimes involving trying to make Sunako a lady, sometimes not. In each chapter we are introduced to some ridiculous set up and get to watch as the characters try to manage the situation. This format can be a bit hit or miss. When it hits it is fun and interesting to read. When it misses it takes a little bit of the steam out of the series.
The art art here is also stylisticly not something you normally see. The boys are prettier than the girls and the way their lips and eyes are drawn make them stand out in a big way. It took a lot for me to get used to the style, but after a while it's easy to see how the art plays into the themes in the manga itself. Sunako has this odd habit of existing in a chibi like form even when in the same panel the other characters are drawn normally. She appears not as one of the beautiful people we know she is, but as an "other".

However, not everything is sunshine and roses for me and The Wallflower series. After six volumes I'm getting a little bit bored with the repetitiveness of the storyline thus far. It's starting to feel like I'm reading filler stories and not anything to do with the actual plot or development of the characters. I was hoping for more depth by this point and we are so close to being there, but it's just not. The Wallflower is the sort of manga that I've found to be nice to read once in a while when I'm looking for something short, but not something I go out of my way to seek out.

 This series is incredibly easy to put down and forget about, but there is this underlying promise of something more that keeps me interested in it.                                  

I've watched and enjoyed both the anime adaptation "The Wallflower" and the Japanese drama "Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge". It's worth noting that you can watch all 25 episodes of the anime's English dub on the Funimation website for free and the drama is available with English subtitles on YT. From these previous experiences with the material I know I have an interest in this series, but I've just found the manga more difficult to get into. 

Presently the series is about to publish it's 31st volume in 2013. I'm willing to give it another 5 volumes before I make up my mind on it, but we'll see if I don't get distracted by something shiny before then.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Review: Zombicorns by John Green

ZombicornsDescription: Originally written as a Nerdfighter charity incentive author John Green presents to us (from novella introduction.) "a bad zombie apocalypse novella. It was written in a hurry. It is riddled with inconsistencies. And it never quite arrives at whatever point it sought to make. But remember: The $25 you donated to charity in exchange for this steaming mess of prose will help our species shuffle along, and I hope you’ll feel warmed by your good deed as you read."  The novella has since been made available under creative common license to be read online for free opening it up to the rest of us. 

Stats: YA Zombie Novella, 72 pages, Available Legally Online for Free

My Rating: 4 STARS

Zombicorns by John Green
alternate cover by LoriDays
Honestly, I'm in complete and total shock by how much I enjoyed this. Because really, Zombicorns is not "good" when compared to other written words, but it was very enjoyable. Although, one should note, it has nothing to do with Unicorns. (By far the most under-represented magical creature in fiction.)

As someone who consumes a lot of fan fiction of varying quality, I can say that this novella reads in a similar way. There's nothing glaringly bad about the writing, but you can see the errors and where things went wrong. Some readers will find this easier to tolerate than others, but overall I found it worked well with the journalling concept. (Because who proof-reads journal entries aside from me?)

Speaking of journals, Zombicorns is less about plot or character and more the ramblings one would have if the world was ending. I found the story was at its best when it wasn't talking about corn or Z's and was instead on some philosophical tangent. In most cases this would bother me, but here it worked well.
"Being a person, I had come to realize, is a communal activity. Dogs know how to be dogs. But people do not know how to be people unless and until they learn from other people. Which got me to wondering whether it’s possible to learn how to be a person in a world where all the people are dead." (59)
The ideas John presents in Zombicorns will be very recognizable to subscribers of the vlogbrothers. A lot of the tangents are about things both John and his brother Hank have discussed before in their videos, which made this especially fun for me because it took these abstract video ideas and gave them a very specific perspective and application.

Zombicorns is short and consumable, but it has its moments of meaning and depth. I'm glad this was something that John just put out there and didn't think about too much.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Series Review: The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa

The Color of Earth (Color Trilogy, #1)The Color of Heaven (Color Trilogy, #3)The Color of Water (Color Trilogy, #2)

Description: Ehwa grows up helping her widowed mother run the local tavern, watching as their customers – both neighbours and strangers – look down on her mother for her single lifestyle.  Their social status isolates Ehwa and her mother from the rest of the people in their quiet country village.  But as she gets older and sees her mother fall in love again, Ehwa slowly begins to open up to the possibility of love in her life discovering along the way the pain of heartbreak – and that love is always complicated.

Stats: Young Adult Manhwa, Compete Series Books 1-3, English Editions (Book 1-3) Published by First Second in 2009.

My Overall Rating: 3 STARS

In The Color of Earth series we take an intimate look into the journey to womanhood. What strikes me now that I've completed the series is just how true it rings to early curiosity and the awkward cautiousness of growing up. In the time when this book is set in rural Korea you obviously can't just Google your questions away like we can now. Learning about the unknown was a much more communal experience as you gossip with your friends and covertly ask your mother questions. It's easier not to blush in front of your computer screen. It's through this setting of a more innocent time that we see the first blush of growing up without all the answers. I feel like that is the power of this book. The combination of narrative and education is something that is indispensable to a young adult audience. 

Throughout the book it uses various metaphors to have frank and honest discussions about sensitive topics, which would otherwise be frowned upon. It was used in an interesting and informative way that made its intent clear without being explicit. It's all butterflies and flowers! Unfortunately, it is this very use of metaphor that dragged the story down. What starts off as interesting and quaint eventually turns into overwhelming as every begins to relate back to being a butterfly, or blooming like a flower, or a butterfly landing on a blooming flower in the snow. It's as if the author got a little too wrapped up in his language, which may have been better in the original Korean. It's impossible to say how much of the boring, drawn out metaphors were intentional or accidentally created in the translation process. Either way, I often found myself increasingly bored with each book, finally ending in frustration.

On the other hand, I simply could not bring myself to put these books down and the art had a lot to do with my continued interest. Every page was gorgeous, even in simple black and white. The beauty of settings and the wonderfully drawn characters keeps your eyes on the page. Everything was stunning to look at and I frequently found myself coming back and re-read pages just to stare at the artwork with all its wonderful details. You could sense the setting and the way the characters moved. The expression were always more revealing than the text and a character's body language spoke volumes about what wasn't really being said.   

I would recommend this book if not solely on the value of the art itself, regardless of any problems I had with the storytelling and that is truly saying something. 

Ehwa and her Mother
I think what has me feeling the most positive about this series is due to Kim Dong Hwa himself. Despite being male and having his words go through the filter of translation I could not tell this was written by a man. His ability to write from a woman's perspective in a way that is both honest and respectful of what it means to be a woman is frankly a rather amazing feat. This may be in part due to that fact that he is drawing from a very personal place as he re-imagines what his mother's youth must have been like using her experiences as inspiration for the story. 

It's probably also for this reason that the mother-daughter relationship really stands out. The way these two learn from each other and care of each other is unlike what I'm used to seeing. According to fiction, in all forms, there is no such thing as the supportive mother. Mother-daughter relationships are more likely to be fraught with conflict, disappointment, and is something that only a highly trained therapist can truly fix. Here, Ehwa's mother doing her best to raise her daughter and guide her through growing up by giving her the space and freedom to do so. Of all the messages in this series about growing up I feel like their relationship is one of the more important ones. 

Then of course I feel I have to mention the most overwhelming negative I walked away with from this series. I know it's a pain, but publishers, when publishing something in Canada it would rock if you could spell colour correctly. I believe that you are truly doing a disservice to your moral obligation in properly educating our youth by teaching them such vulgar misspellings and harming their development. I think it's unacceptable and I believe libraries and book sellers should be required to add a U to the title before placing it front and centre in the YA department in order to remedy this grave error in judgement. 

Speaking of grave errors in judgement, for the some odd years since The Color of Earth has been published in North America it has come under fire becoming commonly listed among banned and challenged books. On the ALA's yearly list of the top ten challenged books, The Color of Earth was #2 in 2011 for the reasons of "nudity; sex education; sexually explicit; unsuited to age group", but not for it's misspelling of "colour". Shocking!   

Of course the problem lies for these petulant few in that The Color of Earth is a graphic novel series aimed towards a YA audience that talks about sex, through the explicit language of the previously mentioned flowers, peppers, butterflies, and chestnut trees. In the few occasions that characters are actually getting naked I found it no more graphic then what I've come to expect from the front covers of comics about Wonder Woman or Power Girl.  

When it comes to teaching those in the young adult age range I feel books like these ones are important. I also find it a little ridiculous that people are trying to ban a book that in itself is a more innocent and conservative look at sex and love than the majority of media out there. Thankfully, on the ALA's yearly list for 2012 The Color of Earth series was not among the top ten. I highly encourage everyone to go and check out the list, inform yourselves about the censorship of these challenged books, and then go out of your way to read them! 

If you would like to read my individual reviews which go into much more detail about the positives and negatives of the series then you can check those out on Goodreads here: