Eleanor and Park meets Taylor Swift in super cool Vice News correspondent Mary H.K. Choi’s sophomore novel. Pablo Neruda Rind (“Rind like India. Not, like, mind.”) is a twenty year old college dropout working in an upscale New York City bodega. He struggles to make rent while hosting an Instagram account that poses sneakers with offbeat snacks, and assiduously avoids questions about his finances from his Korean doctor mom and Pakistani playwright dad. When Carolina Suarez, aka Leanna Smart, international pop idol, stops by his store to stock up on sour gummies, sparks fly. Pablo is instantly smitten. But the fragile thread of their starcrossed connection threatens to snap under the weight of his student debt, her mega-fame and their shared indecision about the future. As romance gives way to reality, Pablo and Lee are forced to “adult,” even as Pablo laments, “Most days I can barely human.” Choi’s pithy, juicy dialogue and diverse, complicated characters impeccably embodies the anxiety, creativity and social media savvy of the modern youth scene. The portrayal of Pablo’s nontraditional, mixed race family and his place in it is also particularly well done. Packed with current fashion, food and gaming references that will either date or immortalize it, Permanent Record is a funny and deeply felt love letter to New York, international snack foods and family ties.
Not being a big fan of weddings in general, it took me awhile to pick up Lucy Knisley‘s charming graphic memoir about her own wedding experience. What I should have remembered is that Knisley has a knack for drawing me in to whatever she’s drawing (pun intended)–whether it’s food, travel or family, and Something New was no exception. In her usual small, tidy trademark style, Knisley lovingly chronicles the year leading up to her wedding in upstate New York, warts and all. She details arguments with her mom, worries about the budget and ambivalence towards the whole idea of a traditional wedding. She also describes her shining love for her fiancé, John, the thrill of finally finding the right, simple dress and the joy of making your own decorations. What I liked best about this book was Knisley’s honest examination of conventional wedding components and her pleasure in subverting each one. In the end, Knisley created an heartfelt account of her unique experience that also managed to feel universally human. Teen peeps, while you may not be at the point of planning a wedding yourself, you can still enjoy Knisely’s quirky adventures in dress shopping, family drama and DIY reception crafting. And it also makes a great gift to bring to all those weddings you’re going to be dragged to this summer!
David Smith is a disgraced artist. Once a rising young star in the art world, he said the wrong thing about the wrong critic and suddenly his career was in the toilet. Now he’s washed up at twenty six and about to be evicted from his apartment. But just when he’s resorted to drinking his days away, Death shows up in the form of his former Uncle Harry and presents him with a proposition he can’t refuse: the ability to sculpt any material with his bare hands in exchange for (what else?) his life in 200 days. David has a little under seven months to make his mark on the world before he leaves it forever. But right away he runs into complications. First of all, there’s the little matter of his rent–he’s still jobless and broke. His landlord throws him out and confiscates all his new work. His phone is cut off. Then the very worst possible thing of all happens. David falls in love with an angel named Meg and the endless 200 days suddenly seem a lot shorter. Can David beat Death at his own game by finding a way to live forever through his artwork? Or will he die in obscurity, content that at least he was truly known and loved by one very special person? Since the “making a deal with Death” is a familiar story, you might think you know how this epic graphic novel ends. But you would be dead wrong. Scott McCloud‘s richly rewarding GN, with its timeless themes of life, death, love and art has the feel of an instant classic. The pale blue artwork is restrained, the panels are perfectly placed. The moment I finished it, I knew it would become a literary touchstone that I would return to again and again, like Craig Thompson’s Blankets, Toni Morrison’s Beloved, or S.E. Hinton’s Tex. For anyone who’s ever wondered what they would sacrifice to fulfill their dreams or which dreams they would be willing to sacrifice for a beloved someone.
Katie should be loving her life. She’s a hotshot young chef with her own restaurant (Seconds) and about to open a new one called Lucknow. There’s only one problem: her success has made her miserable. Lucknow is having construction issues. She doesn’t like the way the cutting edge chef she hired at Seconds is running her kitchen. (She also thinks it might have been a mistake to start “canoodling” with him.) But worst of all is when her hot ex-boyfriend Max shows up for dinner with a gorgeous girl on his arm. Suddenly Katie just wants to go back in time so she can make different choices: about Max, about Lucknow, about her life. That’s when a blond haired house sprite shows up in the middle of the night and leaves three things in Katie’s top dresser drawer: a notebook labeled “My Mistakes,” a red-capped mushroom and a instruction card that reads, “1. Write your mistake. 2. Ingest one mushroom. 3. Go to sleep. 4. Wake anew.” Katie follows the directions and to her delight, they work. And when she finds more mushrooms under the floorboards of her restaurant, she is thrilled. Now she can correct every mistake she’s ever made! It’s easy! When the house sprite returns and warns her that she is only entitled to one mushroom and one mushroom only, Katie refuses to listen. Be careful what you wish for, you just may get it. And Katie gets it until she can’t even remember why she wanted to change things in the first place. Maybe her life wasn’t so bad after all. But how can she ever get back to the way things were? This magically real stand alone graphic novel by the author of Scott Pilgrim reads like charming modern take on the Fisherman’s Wife. Both teens and twenty somethings will find many of Katie’s situations funny and familiar, especially when it comes to first loves, first jobs and first-time-out-on-your-own. A perfect gift for grads, first job seekers and anyone who’s ever wished they could change the past (which, let’s be frank, is ALL OF US.)
As the 1970’s are coming to a close, Margaret is in a post-college slump, trying to figure out where she fits in as a female pop culture cartoonist between the aging hippies and the new punkers. Then she stumbles into the Imperial Café, a diner full of sardonic waitresses, surly cooks and outsider customers that suddenly feels like home. “…I can tell there is something about this place. It feels like I am in a movie, a very interesting and exciting movie, an independent feature in which I play a smack but key role. I have to stay to find out how it’s going to end.” After telling a dirty joke that impresses the manager, Margaret scores a dishwashing job, new name (“Madge”) and a front row seat to the diner’s never ending drama. Customers and employees break up and make up, take drugs, get sober and then start all over again. Throughout the pale, aqua blue watercolor washed pages, Madge figures out the rules of adulthood, first by watching, and then by taking part in the noisy, vital, flamboyant life of the Imperial Café. I love slice of life stories that investigate a cross section of society in great detail, and this graphic memoir about the crazy, sexy petri dish of a busy diner is a great example. If you like OVER EASY, try these other great foodie fictions that are about way more than chopping and sauteeing: Last Night at the Lobster and Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe And for more on Mimi Pond, head over to this great interview at School Library Journal.
Cath is the shy “Clark Kent” half of Cath and Wren, a pair of twins who used to share everything, including their love of writing and reading fan fiction. But now that they’re headed to college, Wren isn’t as interested in their online stories anymore and wants to go off on her own, while Cath just longs for everything to stay the same. At first Cath is as miserable on campus as she thought she’d be. She desperately misses her twin and worries about her single advertising exec dad, who is prone to fits of extreme mania that leave him exhausted and unstable. The only thing that makes school even bearable is keeping up with her fan fiction about Simon Snow (a very thinly concealed version of Harry Potter). But bit by bit, almost against her will, she is coaxed away from her computer screen by her smart, sarcastic roommate Reagan and new creative writing partner Nick. Then there’s flirty Levi, Reagan’s Starbucks barista boyfriend. No matter how much she tries to ignore him, he just refuses to let Cath slip away into her shell. Cath can’t decide if Levi is charming or annoying, but he’s certainly entertaining. Suddenly college isn’t so awful after all. But then Nick starts acting weird, her dad goes off the deep end and her long lost mom, who deserted Cath and Wren when they were little, decides she wants to be a part of their lives again. And if all that weren’t enough, Cath thinks she might be falling for the worst possible person in the universe, and her sister is too busy with her new life to help her decide what to do. Cath is so overwhelmed that the only thing that helps is immersing herself in all things Simon. But how will she ever learn to solve her real life problems when the first sign of trouble sends her running to the safety of her fictional world? This delightful and poignant story by the beloved author of the beyond amazing Eleanor and Park does not disappoint. Rainbow Rowell uses realistic, absurdly funny dialogue like a BOSS, exploring in spirited conversations between her quirky, flawed characters everything from plagiarism and identity to divorce and mental illness. It’s a book about being an artist, being in love and being true to your self. Just read it and you’ll see exactly what I mean.
It’s hard work fighting evil. Just ask Superhero Girl, the under-appreciated star of Faith Erin Hick‘s tongue-in-cheek graphic novel. Superhero Girl has grown up in the caped shadow of her older brother Kevin, also a crusader for good. But needing to establish her own brand, Superhero Girl moves to a new city, finds a laid back roommate who takes her superheroing in stride and proceeds to get her crime fighting on. No job is too large or too small–Superhero Girl beats up baddies from outer space AND rescues little kitties from trees. But although her calling is fulfilling, being a super hero isn’t always rewarding. Vigilantism doesn’t pay the rent, and so like every other twenty something on her own, Superhero Girl must look for a REAL job. She also finds her dating life hindered by her secret identity. And when a wave of peace comes over the nighborhood she is sworn to defend, Superhero Girl finds herself taking up knitting (with disastrous results.) This snort-out-loud GN is charm on a stick. Hicks takes the superhero mythology we know so well from multiplex hours spent in the company of bat and spider men and turns it on its ear, to hugely hilarious affect. I couldn’t stop chuckling to myself, especially when Superhero Girl is accused of beating up an innocent looking hipster and no one will come to his defense because they “hate his stupid little weather-inappropriate scarf.” Hee hee! (Oh, hipster-bashing. I just can’t quit you.) Superhero Girl started life as a webcomic, which you can read here, but I heartily recommend getting the gorgeous full color GN from your local library, bookstore or comic book shop.
Amelia is a fifteen-year-old high school student and part time grocery store cashier. Chris is a twenty-one-year old part time college student and grocery store trainer. The overlap in their potential mutual interests is minimal. And yet…Chris is the only one who really gets Amelia’s earnest disappointment with feminism. And Amelia, despite her tender age, is honestly the only one in Chris’s circle of stoners and dropouts who he can have a real conversation with about philosophy or the failed love lives of famous fictional characters. Together, they make the long boring shifts at the store bearable for each other. Chris helps Amelia forget about her cold home life and Amelia helps Chris believe in himself again. “I really like talking to her. I like how she turns everything over in her mind and she doesn’t censor herself. Being with her is easy. I seem to laugh.” There’s just one problem. Amelia is in love with Chris. “I’m not even sure what ‘getting’ Chris would involve, all I know is I want him…To have unfettered and exclusive access to him all the time…To know that he loves being around me too.” And Chris, besides being way too old for Amelia, is still deeply, unhappily in love with his ex, Michaela. I know what you’re thinking—but this isn’t that book about an Inappropriate Hook Up. Instead it is a nuanced and sweet portrayal of an unusual friendship and how two people with busted up backgrounds help each other through two of life’s hardest transitions: first broken heart and first time leaving home. The easy banter and witty conversation in LOVE reminded me of two other titles you might like that employ similarly droll intellectual stylings. And debut author Laura Buzo nailed the setting and feelings of The First Job, with a howlingly funny set of slacker employees that will be instantly recognizable to anyone who ever clerked a 7-11 or worked a big box store register. I just wish I had picked it up sooner as there is a strong possibility that it may have wandered onto my 2012 Top Ten.
“We are born in one day. We can die in one day. We can change in one day. And we can fall in love in one day. Anything can happen in just one day.” Allyson is on her graduation European tour bored out of her ever loving mind. Instead of having the time of her life, she’s watching movies in her hotel room and counting the days until it’s time to go home. Then IT happens: a chance encounter with a mysterious Shakespeare street performer named Willem who charmingly asks Allyson to skip the rest of the tour and spend the day with him in Paris. She knows what she should do. “It’s totally crazy. I don’t even know him…all this could go disastrously wrong in so many ways…but that doesn’t change the fact that I want to go. So this time, instead of saying no, I try something different. I say yes.” Under Willem’s heady influence, Allyson abandons her rule following ways and adopts the persona of Lulu, a daring girl who isn’t afraid to take risks. But then Willem disappears. And Allyson must go back to her real life and take up the challenges and expectations of college. Except she can’t stop thinking about Willem and Lulu. And who she might have become if she had had just one more day. While it may seem to have all the traditional trappings of a romance, this stunningly good story of self-discovery by the acclaimed author of If I Stay is so much more. It’s a deeply felt character study, an intriguing mystery and a free European tour all in one. Because Allyson does go back to find Willem. But what she discovers is something else altogether. And if the cliffhanger ending kills you as much as it killed me, no worries. Willem’s story comes out fall 2013!
Before you tell me, I KNOW. I know Scott Pilgrim has been around since 2004 and I probably should have covered his precious little life before now. I know tons of you have already read all five volumes (#6 debuts July 2010) of his graphic novel adventures. But for those of you who haven’t yet met the sweetest slacker boy since Rob Gordon in High Fidelity, and want the skinny before Michael Cera makes him famous on the big screen, here ya go. Scott Pilgrim is a happy go lucky dude. He’s living in an apartment almost entirely furnished and kept up by his sardonic gay roommate Wallace Wells and playing gigs with his rock and roll band while waiting for the perfect job to find him. Oh yeah, and he’s dating a high schooler named Knives Chau, (she’s 17, he’s 23) who’s completely adorable and NOT the ninja assassin her name might imply. (BTW, if I even have to leave the country abruptly, I am TOTALLY changing my name to Knives. Don’t tell anyone, k?) Everything’s just peachy until he has a crazy dream about a roller-blading Amazon.com delivery girl and discovers that she’s not just a dream (as in, “Get out of my dreams and into my car”) but a real live girl named Ramona Flowers (My fav quote from the book? “I know, it’s so ‘Ramona Quimby, Age 8’ and yet…Flowers.”). Scott and Ramona feel an instant connection. But what about Knives? How can Scott bear to break her innocent little heart? Then there’s also the small matter of Ramona’s seven evil ex-boyfriends, who Scott will have to fight and conquer if he wants to date her. Sound complicated? It IS. And that’s JUST volume 1! I really dug O’Malley’s rough sketched big-eyed art, his completely realistic portrayal of Scott’s dating drama with both Knives and Ramona, and the hilarious shot of bizarre fantasy at the end as Scott takes on the first of Ramona’s evil ex’s, Matthew Patel and his host of flying demon fireball girls. But the part that warms my heart is how he thanks my fav indie comic girl Hope Larson in the front. Awww! Arm yourself with all 6 paperbacks now, so you’ll be ready to debate about whether the movie does Scott justice when it hits theaters August 2010.
In this charming graphic memoir, twenty-two-year-old artist Lucy Knisley narrates her trip to France with her mother in photographs and drawings. Lucy is about to graduate from college, so her parents spring for the ultimate graduation present—a six week trip in the spring of 2007 to Paris where she and her mother will stay in a rental apartment and sample all the City of Light has to offer. In many ways, this is a typical travel memoir—Lucy lists and draws her everyday experiences, including all the yummy French food she consumes (she estimates having eaten at least 60 croissants and a “metric ton of chocolate mousse” during her stay) and the rich, thick whole French milk she drinks constantly. But what makes this lil’ blue graphic novel special are the very intimate and emotional details of Lucy’s life that are tucked in and around all the sketches of museums and cafes. She unselfconsciously chronicles the fits of depression she falls into when she thinks about leaving the security of school behind, her lusty longings for her boyfriend, and all the times her mother gets on her last nerve. She confesses her doubts that she’ll ever make it as a cartoonist and shares her self-loathing about her “fat American feet” that don’t fit into the sleek European-sized shoes. Lucy is on the scary cusp of adulthood, and even the delights of Paris can’t ease those growing pains. Lucy’s antics will make you chuckle and sigh in recognition, especially if you’re living through that anxious time in your late teens or early twenties. And it was the perfect read for me, as I embark on my own first trip to Paris today! Because of the length of my stay and the jet lag I’m sure to suffer on my return, please don’t expect a new post from me until the end of the month. So au revoir mes amis until then!
Sarcastic, twenty-something amateur sleuth Madeline Dare, grown-up child of hippie parents, takes a job as a teacher at an elite, if fairly cult-ish private school for troubled teens. The head guru in charge, Santangelo, promises desperate parents results, no matter what technique he has to employ to get them, including isolation and humiliation. Madeline, who’s having nasty flashbacks about her own dad’s bizarre child-raising methods, is having serious doubts about whether she can continue to teach using Santangelo’s “unorthodox” techniques. Then, two of her fav students turn up dead and Madeline rejects the hypothesis that the kids offed themselves and instead begins to dig for evidence of corruption at the highest levels. Turns out that pseudo-suicides are the LEAST of what shady Santangelo has under his ridiculously pretentious opera cape. This bitterly funny mystery by Edgar Award-nominated author Cornelia Read has a great cast of teen characters, but the best voice is that of jaded, wickedly witty slacker sleuth Madeline Dare herself. This is one seriously dark comedic nailbiter.
Bec is a college student at loose ends. Not crazy about her advertising major, she’s successfully avoided deciding what to do with her life thus far by partying hard with her roommate and best friend Jill and carrying on a guilty affair with a married professor. Then, while looking for a new part-time job that pays more than waitressing, she answers an ad for a home health-care aide. Expecting a weak, bed-ridden old lady, Bec is surprised to find that wheelchair-confined Kate, afflicted with Lou Gehrig’s disease, is young, smart, and sophisticated, with a wicked sense of humor. Like this exchange: “‘Oh my god,’ I said embarrassed. ‘You think I’m like those TV movies where the person with the disease teaches everyone how to live.’ Kate laughed soundlessly. ‘It’s always so nice of us.’” When Bec begins working for Kate and her husband Evan, she discovers a whole new world of witty conversation, gourmet cooking, and urbane dinner parties. Soon Bec is so immersed in Kate’s life that it becomes difficult for her to distinguish where Kate’s life leaves off and her own begins. Kate is dying, but Bec’s life has just begun. Will she ever be able to establish her own identity and personality while under Kate’s charismatic shadow? This sharply observed novel, full of painful realizations, hilarious conversations and some of the best food descriptions I’ve ever read, perfectly captures that time in our early 20’s when our adult identities are beginning to form and we are so easily influenced by those around us whose personalities are set and stronger than our own.
Graphic novels are a format, not a genre. So even though these melancholy autobiographical short stories are told in illustrated panels, they really belong on my Slacker list. Kim pens short, poignant pieces about love, loss, fear and failing in your insecure twenties. Common experiences like living off of Raman noodles and regretting that crush that you never came clean to from high school will ring almost painfully true to the Gen X and Y crowd. Full of laughter tinged with sadness, Same Difference provides a pretty accurate window into that period of your life when you’re almost a grown-up, but not quite.
It’s the late 80’s/early 90’s in the pricey Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, and Emma Harris’s rites of passage include securing the right jeans, (Guess?) jelly shoes (pink) and friends (Stephanie, NOT Katrina) While I hear that at the time of this review the 80’s are hot again (just take a gander at the Rainbow-Brite colored VH1 “I Love the 80’s” docu-series) I’m not quite sure that today’s teens will be into this spot-on rendering of 80’s adolescence. But if you’re into resurrecting leg-warmers, Esther’s (aka Madonna’s) virginity, and Boone’s Farm-induced make-out sessions, you will thoroughly enjoy meeting Sarah McCandless’s Grosse Pointe Girl. There’s also some great graphic illustrations of Emma’s suppressed suburban upbringing by Christine Norrie (And if you’re 30+ and reading this list, then I can safely guarantee you’ll love it!)