Incredible Doom, vol. 1 by Matthew Bogart & Jesse Holden

It’s 1991, and Allison is desperate to escape the attention of her domineering dad, a mean, petty mid-level magician who forces her to act as his show assistant long after she has outgrown the role. She find some relief when she discovers how to post to the local BBS (bulletin board system) by using the landline to dial in through her dad’s computer. There she meets sweet Sam, and they hatch a plan to get her out her house and away from her dad’s rages. Meanwhile, across town, Richard is the new kid in school. He used to have a tight crew back home but here, he can’t seem to catch a break. He’s become the target of a nasty local bully who’s escalated his attacks to the point of spraying Richard’s house with a BB gun in the middle of the night. Just when he thinks he’s reached his breaking point, Richard receives a mysterious note in his locker with directions on how to access a BBS called EVOL. He dials in and is introduced to Evol House, a community of outsider teens living on their own and led by tough, fearless Tina, who confronts the bully and teaches Richard “how to stay sane in this town…You listen to music. You come to Evol House. And you make shit.” How these four teens end up coming together is the satisfying conclusion of volume 1 of this affecting, minimalist graphic novel about the early days of the Internet. For those of us old enough to remember (I was a high school senior 1991) the Internet was initially a welcoming space where you could find like minded people and form community. While that still happens, as writer and critic Roxane Gay recently pointed out, much of the community spaces of Internet have been crowded out by cancel culture. Despite it’s somewhat dark title and sharp, angular art, Incredible Doom is an ultimately hopeful reminder of what the Internet was to kids and teens looking for connection, and what it could still be for those willing to wade through the cancelling, consumerism and contradiction to find the community waiting on the other side. I’m looking forward to Volume 2, and can’t wait to see what Matthew Bogart and Jesse Holden do next!  

Luck of the Titanic by Stacey Lee

Valora Luck has always been a risk taker. She and her twin brother Jamie were trained as acrobats by their enterprising Chinese Ba, so she has no fear of heights and relishes the attention of a big crowd. Valora and Jaime were separated after the death of her British Mum and Chinese Ba–he went off to see the world as a coal shoveler on ocean liners, while she stayed back in London to be a ladies maid for the crabby old Mrs. Sloan. But when Mrs. Sloan dies unexpectedly, Valora decides to take her biggest risk yet: pose as Mrs. Sloan and use her pre-purchased tickets to board the Titanic, where she hopes to convince her brother, part of a team of Chinese men working in the ship’s boiler rooms, to ditch his job and come with her to America. Once on board, she plans to pitch her Chinese twin acrobatic act to Mr. Albert Ankeny Stewart, part owner of the Ringling Brothers Circus. Surely he has the power and influence to get her and Jamie into the US, despite the Chinese Exclusion Act? Valora knows that that her plan is full of holes and at any point, could go terribly wrong. But she’s willing to take that gamble since the potential payoff is so high. There’s just one factor she could never have considered: a hidden iceberg with the Titanic’s name on it. And suddenly all her big dreams come down to one thing–basic survival.

There have been many books written about the Titanic, but Stacey Lee’s inspired combination of Chinese culture, circus lore and performance, race and class issues, sibling politics and high fashion is nothing short of brilliant. Valora’s lyrical first person narration is captivating and contrary, full of daring dreams and understandable self doubt. This story starts with a bold move and ends, as you might expect, with a heroic act of bravery and love. If you’re in the mood for an adventurous summertime read, set sail with Luck of the Titanic!

A Sitting in St. James by Rita Williams-Garcia

In 1860 Louisiana, the plantation-owning Guilbert family has fallen on hard times, at least according to eldest son and heir Lucien. Though they still maintain their palatial home, land and slaves, Lucian’s business failures and growing debt have put the property at risk. Lucien is now dependent on Byron, his son, to make a good match and marry the respectable Eugenie Duhon, who’s hand comes with a sizable dowry. Lucien’s mother, Madame Sylvie, the aged matriarch of the ironically named Le Petit Cottage plantation, is not so worried. Years ago she buried her dead husband’s gold in a secret location in the cane fields and when the time is right, she will tell Lucien where to dig. Until then, she is more concerned with her legacy. Madame Sylvie has hired a French painter to come to Le Petit Cottage in St. James parish and paint her portrait, so that future generations of Guilberts will see her noble likeness and appreciate the many sacrifices she has made to maintain the Guilbert family reputation.

Like many people of their time, the Guilberts believe that everything they have was earned by themselves, when in reality, it is made possible by the enslaved people that are born, work and die on their plantation. They do not recognize the humanity of enslaved people, nor would it ever occur to them to do so. People like Marie and Louise, twin sisters who serve as housemaids and are the product their mother being raped by one of Lucien’s French business associates. Like Lily, the cook who rarely speaks, and never about her beloved son Jesse who Lucien callously murdered when he believed Jesse and Byron to be too close as children. Like Thisbe, who was taken from her family in the fields when she was only six years old, given the name of Marie Antoinette’s dog and made to be Madame Sylvie’s hands and feet. She is never to speak or have a thought of her own, though the one thing Madame can’t control is her quick mind. But a reckoning is coming, in the form of a party to celebrate Madame’s finished portrait, where all will be revealed, including the location of the hidden gold and the true Guilbert family legacy that Madame Sylvie has tried desperately to ignore, despite the fact that the violent, shameful evidence of it is all around her.

Award winning author Rita Williams-Garcia has penned a mesmerizing and meticulously researched anti-Gone with the Wind that never looks away from the unvarnished reality of the institution of slavery in the United States. In her illuminating author’s note, RWG explains that her story focuses on the white plantation owners rather than the enslaved people who worked their land because the fact is that racism is a white problem, not a Black one: “Take the free and enslaved Black people out of it. While they would be present in the story, I wouldn’t task them…to prove themselves extraordinary or human. Instead I would look at a family whose livelihood insisted on slavery, and the enduring legacy of racism handed down to their heirs, regardless of their connection to an Antebellum past.” Unlike anything RWG has written before (and trust me, I’ve read every one) this extraordinary historical fiction will give you a true understanding of America’s slave-holding past and how it ties into our racially divided nation today, while also being an utterly compelling and thrillingly dramatic epic that showcases the contradictory, stubborn and ultimately hopeful nature of our flawed human condition. DO NOT MISS IT!