Book Review – El Deafo by Cece Bell

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Title: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Illustrator: Cece Bell
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Genre: Graphic Novels, Memoir, Middle grade, Own Voices

There are a lot of absolutely wonderful middle-grade graphic novels out there, and El Deafo is no exception. This one is stellar.

First, let me be completely honest. I never read comic books or graphic novels as a kid. Up until a few years ago, I had never even picked one up.

However, I married a guy who loves graphic novels. Slowly, but surely, because I will read almost anything if it sits in front of me long enough, I gave them a try, starting with V is for Vendetta. And then the Sandman series.

So, when my daughter first started expressing an interest in graphic novels a year or so ago, I began to pick up the middle-grade ones. And that is how I came to read El Deafo, after seeing it on a library reading list. I studied Sign Language during undergrad, and visited Gallaudet University, one of the only university’s in the world designed to be barrier-free for people who are deaf or hard of hearing. One thing that I learned is that there are lots of different ways to be deaf. In the author’s note at the end of El Deafo, Cece writes about the differences in deafness, and about Deaf Culture, where sign language is the main way to communicate and deafness is seen as something that shouldn’t be attempted to be “fixed” with cochlear implants and other devices.

Cece Bell makes it quite clear in her Author’s Note that her experience as portrayed in her book is her experience alone, and shouldn’t be viewed as “right or wrong” from anyone else’s experience or perspective. I actually loved her Author’s Note almost as much as the whole story, and it is definitely not something you should skip over at the end when reading El Deafo.

In this semi-autobiographical graphic novel, we are introduced to the story of a young rabbit named Cece who  loses her hearing after a serious illness at a young age. It is the story of a girl – rabbit – growing up with a serious hearing impairment: how she felt, and how she handled the insecurities she felt when people treated her differently.

I loved how so much of the story is a humourous take on her personal journey through early childhood – particularly the elementary school years. First, she attends a school for deaf children, which is where she learns to lipread. However, her family soon moves to a new town and she has to leave the school that she loves. At her new school, Cece uses what is called a Phonic Ear, a bulky device that helps her hear the teacher. Cece creates a superhero alter-ego, El Deafo, to help cope with the trials that come along with adjusting to a new school and trying to make new friends while also getting used to the Phonic Ear. We get to see Cece’s innermost thoughts and daydreams as she interacts with her family, friends, and teachers. The illustrations are thoroughly appealing and incredibly cute, I really love that Cece choose rabbits instead of people for this book.

In El Deafo, we get to spend six years with Cece Bell. I wish it was more! Cece the rabbit is resilient, heart-warming, and incredibly funny. El Deafo, which is both written and illustrated by Cece Bell, is a beautiful gift for children and adults alike.

To wrap up, here’s a short review from my 9-year old M, and her thoughts on El Deafo:

I really liked the book because I like to read about people who are different from me. It helps me understand more about how others view the world. And I loved the drawings! Cece Bell is a really good illustrator. I give it 5/5 stars.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

A Few Graphic Novel Mini-Reviews for #DAReadaThon

Ms. Marvel, Volumes 2 – 5

Author: G. Willow Wilson
Genre: Graphic novels, Comics

I reviewed Volume 1 of the Ms. Marvel series a few weeks ago. After reading that one, I definitely wanted to continue with the series! I found the perfect opportunity to catch up on some of the later volumes on New Year’s Day, during a 9-hour drive home from Florida to North Carolina. Here is a very quick run-down of what I thought of each of them.

Volume 2: Generation Why – What an excellent sequel! The Inventor storyline continues into Volume 2, and one of my favorites, Wolverine, makes an appearance in this one! The Wolverine cameo and Ms. Marvel’s fangirl reaction was a ton of fun to read. And Lockjaw! I’m personally not a fan of big, slobbery dogs, but I’ll make an exception for Lockjaw. I also love how G. Willow Wilson writes Kamala as a character who is both an incredibly strong female superhero, and a teenager dealing with teenager problems. The positive message at the end alluding to the stereotypes against the millennial generation….EXCELLENT! Rating: 4/5 stars

“A hero is someone who tries to do the right thing, even when it’s HARD. There are more of us than you think.”

Volume 3: Crushed – The Ms. Marvel volumes keep getting more and more fun! This volume was Valentine’s Day themed and featured a cameo of Loki (adopted brother of Thor) and the God of Mischief. There was also an Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D bonus comic at the end, which made me all the more interested to watch the TV show. Rating: 4/5 stars

Volume 4: Last Days – By far, my favorite of the series so far. Titled Last Days, this is the Secret Wars story arc that spreads across the Marvel Universe. But what I love about this volume is not the tie-in to a huge Marvel universe event, but the hyper-local focus on Kamala, her friends, family, and hometown. Most especially, the relationship and bond between Kamala and her mother. This volume was very much about relationships, and it was so, so  good. Rating: 5/5 stars

Volume 5: Super Famous – I’m kind of confused about the back story of what takes place in the Secret Wars in the greater Marvel universe, which occurs between Ms. Marvel’s Volume 4 and Volume 5, but it doesn’t seem to have a huge impact in Ms. Marvel’s Jersey City. Volume 5 picks up 8 months after Last Days, and Kamala is officially part of the Avengers, which creates a lot of difficulties in balancing school, superheroing, and family. Super Famous also marks the beginning of a new story arc featuring Hope Yards Development & Relocation (HYDRA). The new character additions, Mike and Tyesha, are both awesome. Although I am definitely shipping on Bruno and Kamala, Mike is very, very cool. Rating: 4/5 stars

Book Review – The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

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Book: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian
Author: Sherman Alexie
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Genre: YA Contemporary, Own Voices

Book Blurb: 

Bestselling author Sherman Alexie tells the story of Junior, a budding cartoonist growing up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Determined to take his future into his own hands, Junior leaves his troubled school on the rez to attend an all-white farm town high school where the only other Indian is the school mascot.

Heartbreaking, funny, and beautifully written, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, which is based on the author’s own experiences, coupled with poignant drawings by Ellen Forney that reflect the character’s art, chronicles the contemporary adolescence of one Native American boy as he attempts to break away from the life he was destined to live.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, is a hard book to review. This semi-autobiographical YA novel is wildly hilarious at times, but also bleak and grim, and based off of many of the real-life experiences of the author.

“I think the world is a series of broken dams and floods, and my cartoons are tiny little lifeboats.”

My first thought was that Alexie’s writing, blunt and filled with dark humor, also contains what can easily be construed as negative stereotypes. The lack of positive role models on the reservation, and the almost angelic portraiture of the white-townsfolk towards the end of the book, paints a very unfair depiction of American Indian life. Is his story perpetuating the sentiment of American Indians as sad, hopeless souls? Why is it one of the few white people living on the reservation that is the one that tells Junior of his immediate need to get off the reservation and “SAVE HIMSELF”? White people to the rescue motif, really?

Having not grown up on or anywhere near a reservation, these are not questions that I feel comfortable answering myself. I have a very, very small thread connecting me to the American Indian community: my maternal biological grandfather is Native American. But I am adopted, and that is literally all the information I have. Not a whole lot to go by.

So, I went to Google, and researched some of Sherman Alexie’s past interviews, and reviews by people who grew up and/or lived on reservations, to gain a different perspective. I would like to share some of their thoughts here:

“The other aspect of this book that I enjoyed, though I don’t expect every reader to view the same way, is that the Indian Reservation depicted has a lot of truth to it from my own experiences of having grown up on and around my own as a girl. Twenty, and even ten years ago, our reservation life was not so far off from the one described here, with the exception of perhaps the climate being slightly different, and perhaps I was too young to understand and remember anything about crime rates. But there was poverty, and then there was crushing poverty where I am from. There was alcoholism, though I would venture that perhaps it wasn’t the hot-button stereotype that I feel is portrayed at times in Alexie’s book. I don’t know. Every Native community is different, for sure, with their own unique set of problems. While I feel that there is a lot of truth to what Sherman Alexie has created, I also feel that there is a sweeping generalization. So, it hits and it misses, and I would encourage you to read it for yourself and decide what you think.” ~ Ouyang Dan, FWD/Forward

“Literature is the study of human weakness. I just happened to write the Native American version of it.” ~ Sherman Alexie, Sadie Magazine interview

“When I think of the poverty-stricken, sexually and physically abused, self-loathing Native American teenager that I was, I can only wish, immodestly, that I’d been given the opportunity to read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.” Or Laurie Halse Anderson’s “Speak.” Or Chris Lynch’s “Inexusable.” Or any of the books that Ms. Gurdon believes to be irredeemable. I can’t speak for other writers, but I think I wrote my YA novel as a way of speaking to my younger, irredeemable self.” ~Sherman Alexie, Why The Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood

I know this isn’t my typical review. In short, I found The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian to be a funny, heart-breaking, and thought-provoking book. I definitely recommend it. With a caveat, as I also place the responsibility on the reader – esp. white readers – to understand fully and completely that Alexie’s book, and life experiences, are not to be taken as absolute truth for all American Indians, everywhere.

“I used to think the world was broken down by tribes,’ I said. ‘By Black and White. By Indian and White. But I know this isn’t true. The world is only broken into two tribes: the people who are assholes and the people who are not.”

Rating: 4/5 stars

 

Chanukah Book Haul & December OwlCrate Review!

Chanukah wrapped up for the year on January 1, and I have to say, my family was mighty generous this year! We don’t typically buy a lot of gifts during Chanukah, but hubby knew that 2016 was a pretty crappy year for me, and went out of his way to get some of my most highly desired gifts!

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Of course, the Tesla that he ordered arrived this month, so maybe they were guilt gifts, BWAHAHAHAHAHA!! Off topic – we LOVE the Tesla!! We have been planning this purchase, and saving up for a few years now, and it is everything we expected and more! And super-easy on road trips, as we just got back from a North Carolina to Florida trip!

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By far, my favorite gift this year are the two customized Funko Pops! that hubby bought for M and I. Made by Mason Bartlett, from his Etsy shop FocoCustom, these were such an amazing and thoughtful gift, that look just like us! The one on the left is M, complete with blue hair (which has faded out since the fall), her favorite Paris t-shirt, her Gizmo watch, and the kitty ears headband she wears all the time! I love that my Pop! has the sunglasses that always hang out on the top of my head, a scarf that I often wear, and even my Fitbit!

M bought me the Bernie Sanders Funko Pop!, and he has already had a rousing debate with the Hillary Pop! M received for her birthday.

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If we can’t make it to NYC to see the musical anytime soon, then this is the next best thing! Yay for receiving a gift off of my TTT Chanukah Wish list post!

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So much fun in one picture!

  • Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
  • Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood
  • From M, a bunch of Forest Fellows Iwako erasers, and the school supplies eraser set. I collect these, and her picks are a great addition to my collection! Can you find the gray koala hanging out in the background?
  • The coveted clothbound Game of Thrones set, another gift on my TTT wish list post!
  • HappyHelloCo bookmarks, off of another one of my bookworm gift lists!

I also received a Sur La Table gift card from my parents, which will be used to replace our dying toaster oven! I am very thankful for the generosity of my family this year.

December OwlCrate Review

The December OwlCrate theme was EPIC!, and I wasn’t sure what to expect other than at least one HP item.

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Our Mensch on the Bench was very excited to see what was inside. (Mr. Mensch snuck into our house this year unbeknownst to me…ahem…thanks hubby and M). I’m still not a fan of the whole Elf on Shelf/Mensch on the Bench thing, but he is kinda cute.

I have to say, this is probably my least favorite of the three Owlcrate boxes that I have received so far, but it still had some great things in it to make the purchase worth it!

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Seeing a HP Mystery Mini figure was definitely exciting! We all had fun guessing which one it would be…Voldemort, Hermione, or Hagrid. And the winner was M, with her guess of…

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HERMIONE!

Despite the mixed reviews I have seen, I am quite excited about this month’s book selection, Of Fire and Stars by Audrey Coulthurst, especially since it was already on my TBR list for #DiversityBingo2017!

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Other items in the OwlCrate included:

  • Lord of the Rings pin, designed by Jane Mount (Ideal Bookshelf).
  • Game of Thrones coasters, a perfect accompaniment to my GoT book set! Designed by Dark Horse Comics.
  • Sticker quote inspired by The Darker Shade of Magic, designed by Miss Phi. I love this one!
  • Chronicles of Narnia greeting card by Susanne Draws. I’m not a Chronicles of Narnia fan, so I feel a bit meh on this one. However, the design is quite lovely!

OwlCrate is a monthly YA box subscription. You can find out more by visiting OwlCrate. The January Box theme is “Classic Remix”.

 

ARC Book Review – The Most Dangerous Place on Earth by Lindsey Lee Johnson

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Title: The Most Dangerous Place on Earth
Author: Lindsey Lee Johnson
Publisher: Random House
Release Date: 10 January, 2017
Genre: Contemporary fiction

*This ARC was provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Book Blurb: 

A captivating debut novel for readers of Celeste Ng’s Everything I Never Told You and Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, The Most Dangerous Place on Earth unleashes an unforgettable cast of characters into a realm known for its cruelty and peril: the American high school.

In an idyllic community of wealthy California families, new teacher Molly Nicoll becomes intrigued by the hidden lives of her privileged students. Unknown to Molly, a middle school tragedy in which they were all complicit continues to reverberate for her kids: Nick, the brilliant scam artist; Emma, the gifted dancer and party girl; Dave, the B student who strives to meet his parents expectations; Calista, the hippie outcast who hides her intelligence for reasons of her own. Theirs is a world in which every action may become public postable, shareable, indelible. With the rare talent that transforms teenage dramas into compelling and urgent fiction, Lindsey Lee Johnson makes vivid a modern adolescence lived in the gleam of the virtual, but rich with the sorrow, passion, and beauty of life in any time, and at any age.

Is a wealthy, privileged high school the most dangerous place on earth? While that may be disputed, there is no denying that to many teenagers, the high school years are incredibly tough, and can certainly feel like the end of the world. This novel – written in short vignettes that offers a glimpse into multiple character’s POV – follows a group of teens from a traumatic event in 8th grade through high school graduation. The teen perspective is balanced out by the chapters from the POV of Ms. Molly Nicolls, a young, new teacher at the wealthy Marin County high school featured in the novel.

The setting is the definition of privilege on steroids. Wealthy suburban enclave, where teens have their own credit cards, BMWs, and little to no parent supervision. Lindsey Lee Johnson did an admirable job of using the setting as a starting place to explore the culture of wealthy, white privileged teens.

The format is where things go wrong. I really like the idea of the vignette chapters, but this book would definitely have fared better with a larger page count. Each chapter spends a brief amount of time focusing in on one of the characters. You hear that person’s inner thoughts and perspective for one chapter, and then they seem to disappear back into semi-anonymity. This could have worked extremely well if the reader had the chance to come back to that person’s POV a second or third time. What we’re left with, instead, is the feeling of incompletion and not knowing what lies beneath the surface. Take Abigail, for example, we see her chapter towards the beginning of the novel, yet the ramifications of what take place in “her story” carry throughout the rest of the book. But her voice is lost during the remaining 75% of the book. David Chu was another character that I really wish I could have heard more about. The same goes for Calista, who we hear from at the beginning and the end, and out of all the teens, was most deeply and sincerely affected by her role in the tragedy that takes place at the start of the story.

The characters in The Most Dangerous Place on Earth are all flawed, and Johnson does an excellent job at getting to the heart of the culture of affluency, and the impact it has on kids raised in such a setting, who are rarely denied anything by their parents.

I do, however, have one major problem with the story. Part of me feels that the initial set up: cyberbullying and the resulting teen suicide, was done for its shock factor. The first chapter was heartbreaking, but at no point in the rest of the story was the awfulness of the bullying behavior addressed in a meaningful way. In fact, the “trauma” for the kids who engaged in the cyberbullying was used as justification for their selfish and cruel behavior in high school. Not cool.

In regards to the audience, I have seen this book listed as both YA contemporary and adult contemporary. I think it falls more into the adult genre, despite the protagonist’s ages.

Would I recommend it? Yes. The Most Dangerous Place on Earth has flaws, just like the student’s within the pages, but it is a thought-provoking, quick read. I would also add a trigger warning for the way that it handles bullying.

Rating: 3.5/5 stars.