Emiko Superstar by Mariko Tamaki and Steve Rolston

Emi is an Everyteen on a hunt for some artistic inspiration to pull her out of her summer-job doldrums. When she sees performance artist Poppy make a scene at the mall while advertising the “Factory,” a local open mic venue, she knows she’s found her muse. Poppy, with her multi-colored dreads and multiple piercings, is everything Emi is not—loud, brash, beautiful and totally uninhibited. With Poppy as her motivation, Emi finds the dubious courage to do things she never thought she’d do—even stealing the journal of a woman she baby sits for, and using her private thoughts as a spoken word act. Soon “Emiko Superstar” is the belle of the Warhol-esque Factory. Deep down, Emiko feels guilty for using someone else’s life as fodder for her performance. But if she drops her act, will she be forced to give up all her fabulous Factory friends and go back to being just boring Emi again? It will take a kind stranger, a timely 911 call, and a torn paper heart to make a-MAH-zing Emiko realize that good old Emi wasn’t so bad after all. This thoughtful, smart story about finding yourself after your fifteen minutes of fame has passed reminds me of Cecil Castellucci’s groovy Plain Janes (another arts-full MINX title) and the work of  Derek Kirk Kim. And though it looks like Emiko may be one of short-lived DC imprint MINX’s swan songs, hopefully artists and authors will continue to produce and promote more girl-rrific graphic novels for us fangirls who still need an occasional rriot grrl fix!

Dead is the New Black by Marlene Perez

dead is the new black Something’s rotten in the halls of Nighshade High, and to junior sleuth Daisy Giordano, it smells suspiciously like the undead! For Daisy, fighting the powers of darkness is nothing new—after all, her mother works for the police as a psychic investigator, and her big sisters Poppy and Rose employ their abilities of telekinesis and mind-reading respectively whenever mom needs some assistance. The only “normal” in the family is Daisy, who’s determined to show her sibs that she has crime-fighting talents, too—even if they are just your average surveillance-and-stakeout skills. Members of the Nightshade High cheerleading team are suddenly falling prey to a mysterious illness that leaves them wasted and, well, CHEERLESS. Prime suspect is head cheerleader Samantha Devereaux, who seems to have caught a serious case of O-My-Goth over the summer, trading her pink & green prepster duds and Jansport backpack for black fishnets and a tiny, made to order wheelie coffin. Has Samantha turned into a jealous vampire draining the cheerleaders of their vital peppiness? Or is there a more sinister force at work? To find out, Daisy will have to join the squad and date football hottie (and son of the police chief) Ryan Mendez—all in the name of solving the case, of course. And if she happens to fall in love on the way? Well, that’s just one of the unexpected bonuses of being “dead”icated to your job! This lil’ bit of fuschia-colored fluff was an enormously satisfactory way to wile away a Sunday afternoon, and chock-full of entertaining lines like these: “She was a soul-sucking vampire and I was a sixteen-year-old cheerleader, but I was damned if she was going to suck the life out of my friends. High school is hard enough!” It is indeed, but fun stories like this make infinitely more bearable. Follow the further adventures of Daisy and Co. in Dead Is a State of Mind and Dead is So Last Year.

Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories edited by Owen King and John McNally (Illustrations by Chris Burnham)

This generous helping of superhero soup will quickly sate the appetites of those of you who continue to crave tales of men (or women) in tights outside of comic books. Going way beyond Superman or Wonder Woman, these superheroes range from the bizarre to the merely banal, each one unique in his or her own quirky way. The opener, “Girl Reporter,” tells how one famous superhero’s initial rough edges were smoothed by his unsung journalist girlfriend, creating the classy crime fighter we know and love today. In “The Quick Stop 5,” several slacker convenience story employees discover they have been granted powers by a particularly aromatic batch of diesel fuel, and become a national brand faster than you can say “Hannah Montana.” I also quite enjoyed the stories of America’s most disgusting superhero, The Silverfish (“Remains of the Night”) and it’s most unusual (“The Meerkat”—I know, I’m still scratching my head over that one, too. But trust me, it works).  And then there’s “The Pentecostal Home for Flying Children,” where one womanizing superhero has left behind all his red-headed airborne offspring to be raised by a forgiving woman of God. In the darker themed “Roe #5,” a woman discovers that her past has come back to haunt her in not-quite human form, and in “Man Oh Man, –It’s Manna Man,” one man uses his powers of persuasion to make crooked television evangelists donate to the needy instead of themselves. But my favorite stories may have been in the last section, “Super Ordinary.” There, David Yoo relates the tale of “The Somewhat Super,” those who have the dubious ability of not having to go to the bathroom (EVER), or the less than impressive power of…static electricity. Kelly Braffet explores what it feels like to have the power of bad luck in “Bad Karma Girl Wins at Bingo,” while Jennifer Weiner tells of the story of a down-and-out writer who suddenly discovers she can speak to dead people—and find missing children. Finally, David Haynes ends the collection with “The Lives of Ordinary Superheroes,” which explains what happens to old superheroes—do they retire, or just fade away? Awesomely illustrated by Chris Burnham, this super-sized collection (22 stories in all) should keep you busy at least until the sequel to Ironman comes out!

Chains by Laurie Halse Anderson

“I was chained between two nations.” When Isabel Finch’s mistress dies, she is sold to a New York Loyalist family instead of being granted her freedom as was promised in the old lady’s will.  Bound to a cruel new Tory mistress who delights in tormenting her, Isabel is initially tempted to join forces with Curzon, the enslaved message boy of a rebel leader who believes in the patriots’ cause. However, it isn’t long before Isabel discovers that neither Tory nor Patriot is interested in granting slaves their freedom, and if she wants her independence, she’ll have to take it for herself. Armed with only her wits and the memories of her lost family, Isabel learns to play both sides against each other for the highest of stakes: her future. Giving readers an intimate portrait of the sights, sounds and smells of New York in the tense six months leading up to George Washington’s famous Delaware crossing, this suspenseful hist. fic.  had me turning pages with breathless anticipation to see how Isabel was going to engineer her escape. Friends, this prose MOVES—would you expect anything less of rock star YA author Laurie Halse Anderson of Speak and Fever 1793 fame? But this isn’t just an adventure story. It is also a tale of bravery, passion and fear featuring a smart, courageous heroine who is impossible to forget. (I just knew it would be good, especially with that cover that looks like it’s straight out of a Kara Walker exhibit!) This novel pairs perfectly with another of my fav titles that kicks it Revolutionary War-style: Octavian Nothing, vols. 1 & 2. Read ‘em all together for the total AmRev experience!

Getting the Girl by Susan Juby

getting the girlHeight challenged freshman Sherman Mack loves the ladies. Really loves them.  “Sometimes I think I might die of girls. Like one will get too close and I’ll just be over.” He blames this benevolent love of all female kind on his young mom, a burlesque dancer who he worries “may be trying to make me gay…my mother is into glitter. This is very damaging for a developing male.” Still, “living with my mother and her dancing and dressing up…has been an education in the ways of womankind.” Because of his “concern for the welfare of all ladies,” the brutal practice of ostracizing certain girls at his high school just because a mysterious “Defiler” posts their picture on all the bathroom mirrors bothers him more than it might the average teenage boy. So when his crush object Dini Trioli looks like she may be in danger of becoming Defiled, Sherman creates Mack Daddy Investigations, his own detective operation, planning to expose the Defiler once and for all. But between trying to spy on suspect lacrosse players and conduct interviews with the smokin’ hot “Trophy Wives,” (the most popular girls at school) Sherman also finds himself falling in love—and not with Dini. Instead, someone much closer is slowly stealing his heart. Can Sherman stay objective long enough to solve the case of the Dastardly Defiler? Or will his predilection for lovely ladies end up blinding his private eye? Susan Juby’s hilarious story of high school hierarchy and the one super nerd who’s determined to stand up for what’s right even if he has to topple Trophy Wives to do it is equal parts Say Anything and The Pink Panther. Sherman’s dialogues with his fellow dorks ring funny and true, as do his exchanges with his quirky mom, who is just a little too frank: “I won’t be here for dinner…We’re practicing some new routines. Adrienne just bought a pole. Lots of fun.” Don’t miss one of the sweetest little sleepers of 2008!

The Good Thief by Hannah Tinti

good thiefBenjamin and Tom are two entrepreneuring eighteenth-century grifters who need a sympathetic third body to help them tug at potential marks’ heart and purse strings. Enter Ren, a small dirty orphan with only one hand. Grateful to have found a new “family,” Ren agrees to play his part, though his sensitive conscience (well developed at the Catholic orphanage) often pains him. Using Ren’s wan face and prominent disability, the two crooks clean up until they turn their illegal attentions to grave robbing. Caught at the dirty deed, the trio are targeted by a shady local mill owner, who holds an entire small New England town in his tight fist. As they try to escape his murderous intentions, a surprising secret about Ren’s past comes to light, changing, well…everything. This quirky historical yarn, reminiscent of the writing of Charles Dickens and Robert Louis Stevenson, is full of colorful characters and unexpected twists. Both absorbing and exciting, often absurd and sometimes deeply sad, The Good Thief is a darn good read.