Apr. 30th, 2011

[identity profile] rachelmanija.livejournal.com
This begins as a sweet, fluffy YA novel about Lainey, a shy, socially awkward teenage girl who wants to become the first African-American vegetarian female celebrity chef, but gains unexpected emotional force as it goes along.

Lainey has been content for years to hang out in the kitchen of her mother’s restaurant, chopping vegetables and bringing in her own recipes for the staff to try, and dreaming about leaving roses at Julia Child’s kitchen in the Smithsonian. But her long-time friend and secret crush, a popular boy named Sim, starts stirring up messy, uncomfortable feelings in her, and finally gets her to help him run away - a favor that seriously disrupts her life and even her relationship with her mother.

This is one of the more realistic depictions of teenage emotions, relationships, and sometimes terrible decision-making I’ve come across in a YA novel. (But don’t worry, it ends happily.) While the basic story has been told many times, it’s still worth telling and this is a good version of it. Many of you may identify a lot with Lainey’s social difficulties and determination to pursue her own quirky interests. Plus, it has a number of tasty-sounding recipes included.

While Lainey is nearly 18, this novel is suitable for preteen readers as well as teenagers: the writing itself is fairly simple, and the concerns aren’t ones limited to older teens. It’s definitely the sort of thing I would have enjoyed at nine or ten, and still enjoyed now.

A la Carte
ext_939: Sheep wearing an eyepatch (skywardprodigal Cog Flowers)
[identity profile] spiralsheep.livejournal.com
13. The Young Inferno by John Agard and Satoshi Kitamura is a verse retelling of Dante's Inferno embedded in a picture book. I liked Kitamura's stark, black and white, art style but in the art-as-storytelling stakes it seemed to me to lack variety. It also clashed with one of the text's spelled out messages: "My teacher said, 'You've got a point. Quite right. / It just shows that neither beast nor man / can be divided into black and white.' " Except this is a black and white book in several senses. Agard's verse text didn't work for me as either narrative or poetry. (Note to self: don't read retellings of Christian morality stories unless they're specifically subversive in some way.) However, I'm probably about as far from the target audience of hoodie-clad schoolboys as it's possible to be so who cares about my opinion anyway? I just hope this isn't picked up from the teen, graphic novel, section of the library by a reluctant reader who is consequently discouraged further. Agard writes good poetry but this isn't it. Kitamura's first and second illustrations are both interesting as art, especially the way Our Hero is represented as a negative (in the photographic sense) of himself, but the only illustration which wholly won me over is the fossil landscape in illo 4.

14. Too Black, Too Strong by Benjamin Zephaniah is an extremely powerful collection of individually skillful and soulful poems. Ben is one of the most humane people I've met and it shows through in every word of his work. Most people know him as a Rastafarian lyricist who wrote that "funny" poem about turkeys and Christmas, and maybe as that political poet who refused to accept the Order of the British Empire he was awarded, or that black British man who was bereaved of a family member by police violence (although that describes too many people), but his work is so much more: witty, political, memorial, deeply spiritual, widely literary, and linguistically sophisticated. There are several example poems at my dw journal.

15. Fiere* by Jackie Kay is her latest, 2011, poetry collection. I've loved Kay's writing since the first time I encountered it, years ago. Amongst other forms, she's an extremely accomplished poet in both Scots** and English. Kay's poems aren't generally confessional (in the strictest literary sense of that word) but they do contain enough autobiography that I feel some minimum background aids understanding, and that's provided in the brief blurb on the back. Kay is multiracial, her mother was a Scottish Highlander and her father was a Nigerian Igbo. She was born in Edinburgh and raised by white Scottish adoptive parents. There are two example poems, the ecstasy and the agony of human relationships, at my dw journal.

* "fiere", Scots, meaning "companion/friend/equal"
** Scots, which is primarily related to English, not Scottish Gaelic which is a different language.

Tags: women writers, african-caribbean, black british, britain, british, british-african-caribbean, caribbean, black scottish, scottish, guyanese, poetry, japanese, biracial, multiracial, children's books, sf/fantasy, fiction, guyanese-british, igbo, young adult

Nat Turner

Apr. 30th, 2011 06:26 pm
[identity profile] atdelphi.livejournal.com
1. Nat Turner by Kyle Baker (New York: Abrams, 2008)

On August 21, 1831, Nat Turner led more than seventy rebels in what would become the largest slave uprising in U.S. history. He was subsequently captured, tried and hanged, but his conversations with his lawyer became the basis for a document titled "The Confessions of Nat Turner," which artist and author Kyle Baker has used as the background script for a graphic novel about Turner's life and rebellion.

Nat Turner is nearly wordless, but Baker's art ably carries both the scope and the subtleties of Turner's story. He's capable of both beauty and the grotesque, with some very interesting artistic choices implemented as the rebellion progresses, and his skill at portraying action kept me hurtling through what is ultimately a deeply unpleasant, ugly and upsetting story.

This was a harrowing read; no punches are pulled. There are no heroes in this story, only very desperate people living in an intrinsically violent and dehumanizing situation. I read this along with Chester Brown's Louis Riel: A Comic-Strip Biography (ineligible for this challenge), and it's an example of the versatility of the graphic novel format to see how two author/artists could adapt similar stories about religiously charismatic men who led armed rebellions against their oppressors into wildly different end products.

While the story of Louis Riel is nearer to my heart, I think Nat Turner is by far the superior work, and I fully recommend it.

(tags: au.nationality:united.states, au.race:black, genre:non.fiction, slavery, )

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