If The Dress Fits…

Being true to yourself is easier said than done.

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In this lovely graphic novel, Frances, an aspiring designer makes an outrageous dress for a young woman attending a prince’s ball. The prince is captivated, not by the princess but by the dress.  Prince Sebastian is gender fluid, some days feeling fine in traditionally male clothing, other days loving wearing his mother’s dresses and feeling like a princess. Frances dreams of creating costumes for the Paris ballet and loves designing with drama. Prince Sebastian secretly employs Frances as his seamstress, and together they create Lady Crystallia, Sebastian’s alter ego who soon becomes the fashion icon for the young women of Paris. Secrets like this are hard to protect, especially when Sebastian’s parents have been presenting him with princess after princess, pushing him to get married. At the same time Frances grows frustrated because she cannot be recognized for her work. Eventually they both have to make some difficult decisions in order to move ahead. Jen Wang’s illustrations, in both style and tone, beautifully express the delight, drama and sadness the characters experience. Each chapter is introduced with an illustration of a pattern piece, a nice touch. Overall, this is a moving exploration of balancing what others expect of you with your own dreams. I was surprised to hear some “gatekeepers” saying this graphic novel is for high schoolers. The story is fine for middle schoolers; in fact, it’s important for them to see stories like this. They are in the midst of figuring out who they are, and seeing different ways of being helps sort out the confusion that comes with this journey.

The Prince and The Dressmaker, Jen Wang, First Second

The magic inside

When our magic is destroyed, can we do what it takes to bring it back?

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Generations ago, Sky Mother blessed her children, all deities, with mastery over life and death, dreams, the elements, health and disease, time, and animals. In turn, the deities created maji, their human children of blood and bone who could wield the powers. A king who hated magic ordered a raid; all the maji were killed and only divîners, young people capable of magic but whose powers have not yet awoken, were allowed to live. He also made sure to dispose of the sacred objects which awaken their ashê and connect the maji to Sky Mother. Many years after the raid one of the magical objects, a scroll, has resurfaced and is in the king’s possession. After witnessing a brutal act which reveals the scroll’s power, the king’s daughter Princess Amari steals the scroll and runs away from the castle. She meets Zélie, a divîner, and Zélie’s brother Tzain. They learn that the three of them are destined to take the scroll and make a way to reconnect divîners to their gods, bringing magic back. To do this they must stay ahead of Prince Inan – Amari’s brother who is charged with finding her and the scroll. He is committed to proving himself to his father the king, but struggles with a secret of his own – somehow, he too is a divîner.

This is an incredible book. The narrative, rooted in West African culture,  is dramatic and action packed, filled with uneasy alliances, ever present danger, and magic.  The world building is stellar, so rich, detailed and cinematic you become fully immersed. Complex characters make the story even more engaging. One especially nice element is the maji and divîners’ appearance. All of them have white hair; it’s straight when they are divorced from their magic, and as the connection gets stronger, their hair grows more coiled (think Angela Bassett in Black Panther.) Each chapter is voiced by either Amari, Inan, and Zélie, so we are always party to the internal conflicts each face when thrown into difficult, confusing situations. Kudos to the cover designer – the visual truly communicates the drama inside the book.

I love this book so much it’s causing me to reverse a firmly held opinion – I am no longer tired of trilogies! I am thrilled that this story will continue in two more books, the next, Children of Virtue and Vengeance, due out in early 2019. Is it too soon to stand outside of the bookstore and wait for it to be delivered?

Children of Blood and Bone, Tomi Adeyemi, Henry Holt

 

 

 

Scary Creatures, Scarier Humans

Sometimes the humans are just as threatening as the creatures.

27414411This chilling sci-fi horror story brings together Tuck Drake, who woke up from a 400 year stasis and realized he was one of the only non-mutated human survivors on his ship, and Laura Cruz, a hacker aboard a ship which just crashed into Tuck’s. Laura is part of a crew of  shipraiders, archeologists who search the cosmos for  remains of Earth so they can build sustainable life on a new planet. Tuck’s ship holds what’s left of Yosemite National Park; these seeds of new life are exactly what Laura’s team needs. In trying to protect the remains of Yosemite, Laura and Tuck have to fight off  some of the scariest creatures I’ve ever read about, avoid being destroyed by rogue technology, and even scarier, defend themselves against a rival family who go to alarming lengths to undermine their efforts.  Latinx characters – by description, language and cultural references – are center stage, a welcome change from standard sci-fi fare. Characters are well constructed, and the scary, intriguing narrative delivers some interesting plot twists. The fear this book delivers is unrelenting.  If this were a movie it would be too scary for me to watch, but as a book…yesss!!

Pitch Dark, Courtney Alameda, Feiwel & Friends

Love and Soul reaping

Did I mention I also love comics and graphic novels?

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Kim Reaper: Grim Beginnings is a sweet, queer love story that manages to be funny and creepy at the same time. Becka has been crushing on Kim and one day decides to ask her out. As Becka approaches her, Kim disappears through a portal, which Becka is then sucked into. She lands in a house and discovers Kim at her part time job – she’s a grim reaper. Understandably Becka is freaked out so Kim calmly explains she’s not a murderer, she just shepherds souls into the afterlife.  Kim is still new at the job and is only allowed to harvest animal souls; things get complicated when she decides to harvest a human, and has to face the consequences. Kim and Becka have a sweet relationship; Kim introduces Becka to the cool things about being a reaper and Becka shows Kim how much fun it is to work in a bakery.  They do their best to grow their relationship in the midst of reapings, possessions, zombie uprisings and dealing with Kim’s reaper bosses. They have their ups and downs but they come through for each other. The colorful art’s somewhat whimsical style supports the story well, easily being both charming and disturbing. The narrative around the relationship keeps the focus where it belongs – on the relationship itself, not their sexuality or culture. We get to see how two people can enjoy a life together – even if that life involves soul harvesting.

Kim Reaper: Grim Beginnings, Sarah Graley, Oni Press

These Undead Give Me Life

Dread Nation is the book I really can’t shut up about. 30223025

The Civil War is interrupted when, instead of fighting each other, soldiers find themselves having to fight the dead rising up from the battlefield. Given the times, African/African-American slaves and Native Americans are forced to become the zombie killers. Young female slaves are sent to special schools to become Attendants, trained in defending young white women from the undead – and the untoward intentions of young men. The premise is exciting and very well executed. This book stands above others because the issues surrounding the premise – racism, colorism, sexism, classism – bring the plot to life completely organically.  The zombie battles and other supernatural elements play out in creepy detail. A particularly pleasing element is the cover – unlike covers which whitewash or have little to no connection to the story, this one is a beautiful rendition of the young zombie killer in all her brown-skinned, scythe wielding glory. This one belongs on the top of your “to be read” pile.

Dread Nation, Justina Ireland, Balzer + Bray