Review – The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

Title: The Sculptor

Author: Scott McCloud

Genre: Graphic Novel

Stars: * * *

Cover - The Sculptor

I have complicated feelings about Scott McCloud’s The Sculptor. I very rapidly became immersed in the narrative, so much so that I blew through 200 pages while standing around in a store. However, despite the ease at which I devoured the book, it wasn’t wholly satisfying as McCloud relies too heavily on overused tropes and fails to rise above what other writers have done, often better, before.

SPOILERS AHOY

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Review – Wandering Son Volumes 1 and 2 by Shimura Takako

Title: Wandering Son: Volumes 1 and 2

Author: Shimura Takako

Star Rating: * * (Volume 1), * (Volume 2)

Genre: Graphic Novel, Transgender/Gender Identity

Volume 1

Cover - Wandering Son 1

When I heard that Wandering Son was about two kids, Yoshino and Shuichi, dealing with trans identity issues, it skyrocketed upwards on my to-be-read list. After all, there are not many stories dealing with trans realities in a positive and well-thought out manner, and I was super excited to see that this series was receiving excellent ratings. Unfortunately, volume 1 did little to endear me to the series as I thought that both the art and the story were weak.

The Wandering Son volumes are packaged in beautiful, oversized hardcover editions. Regrettably, the series would have looked better in the normal, smaller tankobon size. Takako’s art is very simplistic and sparse. While the printing is clear and crisp, by enlarging the pages so much, the blankness of many of them was emphasised, as well as the weaknesses of the character designs. While is it not uncommon for manga to have rather barebones backgrounds and similar character constructions, I felt that both were an impediment to my immersion in this story. I kept getting characters mixed up since most had the same, wide-eyed face, and even the hair styles weren’t all that different. Very little stood out to me in regards to the art, and I missed the detail that is often present in so many popular manga.

Wandering Son Example 1

Another major issue I had with the book was the way in which decompression was used. Decompression refers to the pacing of a graphic story. A decompressed story is one that moves slowly, and can take many panels to show small events or reactions. This particular technique is quite common in Japanese manga, and I usually quite appreciate the more sedate, but detailed pace. However, the decompression in this volume left too many gaps in the narrative for me to fully understand what was going on. Scenes would be quite detailed, but then the story would jump forward to a different day or week. Very little time was spent on transition scenes, and even though these can be less interesting or emotional, they are still crucial to a well-constructed story.

Finally, I am sad to admit that there was just not much happening in this volume. Yoshino and Shuichi are just starting to figure out that they may be different, and it is understandable that they need time to sort out their feelings. However, most of the manga is comprised of Shuichi looking distressed and uncomfortable while she stares at things. When dealing with an introverted character that is rather shy and withdrawn, an author has to work particularly hard to make their struggles engaging and understandable for the reader. In the Wandering Son, we don’t get that far into Shuichi’s head, and being pummeled with panel after panel of emotional angst that isn’t very well conveyed does not make me feel for the character, or want to know more about her journey.

Overall, volume one starts off with a very interesting and potentially powerful premise that unfortunately just does not pay off.

Volume Two

Cover - Wandering Son 2

Volume two is where everything really starts to fall apart for me. Technically, the book is a lot better than volume one. The story flowed a lot more smoothly, and I wasn’t getting lost between scenes. I still had many problems telling characters apart, but there were also more characters introduced that looked sufficiently different that the volume felt less same-y than before. Furthermore, the character development was more interesting, and Yoshino and Shuichi were doing more than just spending pages upon pages looking stricken and nervous. Overall, volume two was a much more enjoyable read except for one rather gigantic problem that ruined the entire book for me.

Trigger Warning: Sexual Violence

My issues with this book center on the two characters: Yuki and Shii. Yuki was actually introduced in volume one in a short, but disturbing scene. During Yoshino’s first public appearance as a young boy, Yuki hits on him rather directly despite the fact that Yuki looks to be in her twenties and Yoshino is a pre-teen dressed in a high school uniform. The scene was short, and I forgot about it until Yuki reappeared in volume 2. This time Yuki runs into both Yoshino and Shuichi wandering around as their preferred genders. She invites them over to her house, but tells Yoshino that she would love it if he came back alone one time. When the two kids come over again, Yuki expresses displeasure about Yoshino not coming on his own, and her partner, Shii, walks in just as she’s petting Yoshino’s face. He accuses her of having an affair with Yoshino, and the escorts the two kids out of the apartment. While in the elevator, he fondles Yoshino’s crotch and chest, acting quite surprised that Yoshino is biologically a girl. This leads both Yoshino and Shuichi to discover that Yuki is also transgender, and sets her up as a mentor for the two.

I have tried to come up with a positive interpretation for this scene, but I just can’t. Some have claimed the Shii tends to act spontaneously and was just trying to check to see if Yoshino and Yuki were having an affair, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that he sexually touched a minor. Under the law in my country, what he did is considered sexual assault, and the narrative even shows that Yoshino was quite disturbed and upset by the incident, yet these feelings were completely brushed aside. Given the disproportionate levels of violence perpetuated against trans and gender queer people, this supposedly gag-like scene is unacceptable. I was even more discomforted by the fact that Yuki was supposed to be a mentor for the two pre-teens despite her inappropriate behaviour.

Before I abandoned the series, I wanted to see what would happen with Yuki. In volume 3, Yoshino goes to Yuki when his classmates have found out that he and Shuichi are gender queer and have begun to mock and torment the two of them. Yuki acts completely inappropriately with Yoshino, asking to compare their panties, and wanting to bath together so that she can see his breasts. She encourages Yoshino to share a bed with her, and then she cuddles with him in a way that makes Yoshino uncomfortable enough to run away as Yuki is far too physically close, and saying uncomfortably intimate things. The two end up “making up” by the end of the chapter, and once again I was left feeling extraordinarily uncomfortable at the fact that a pre-teen was just molested by an adult who suffered no repercussions for her actions. For a manga that spends so much time delving into controversial and difficult concepts, it was a terrible error to write plots involving violence without unpacking them with the same care and respect as the other difficult issues approached by this series.

Final Thoughts

I was really excited to read Wandering Son when I heard that it dealt with gender identity issues. However, I wasn’t a fan of the story, and there are some extremely problematic aspects to the narrative that I just can’t brush aside. Violence, particularly sexual violence, is perpetuated against trans people all the time, and I cannot support or enjoy a story that uses this violence as a gag. Even if this is one of the few substantive stories about kids dealing with trans identities, the scenes in volume 2 make it a highly inappropriate and problematic read.

Nostalgic Re-Reads: Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (The Ghost Next Door, The Haunted Mask, and Be Careful What You Wish For)

Title: Goosebumps #10: The Ghost Next Door

Rating: * * *

GB 10 - The Ghost Next Door

Hannah is convinced that a ghost has taken up residence in her town. During a boring summer holiday while all her friends are away at camp, she meets a new boy who has supposedly lived next door for several years. Hannah decides that he must be a ghost as surely she would have noticed having a neighbour? As she follows him around, she realises that he isn’t the one haunting the neighbourhood, she is, and her purpose in coming back is to save him from dying in a horrible accident.

The Ghost Next Door is one of the most affecting and emotional books of the series. Its strengths lie not in the spookiness of the story, but in the emotional feelings that it inspires. It has no twist ending. Instead, the finale is heartwarming, though also bittersweet. My only issue with this novel was the cruelty of the young boys who broke into and set fire (accidentally) to older man’s house simply because he was a grump. It was a rather disturbing addition to an otherwise sweet story.


Title: Goosebumps #11: The Haunted Mask

Rating: * * *

GB 11 - The Haunted Mask

The kids at school think that Carly Beth is a giant scaredy-cat. After one particularly vicious prank leaves her in tears, she decides that she needs to find the most horrifying Halloween costume so that she can get revenge on the two boys who slipped worms into her lunch. She visits a local costume shop, and discovers the most terrifying masks in the backroom. When the owner refuses to sell one to her, she runs off with a mask anyways, and finds out quickly that her Halloween costume is something far more sinister than a piece of plastic. After she puts it on, it fuses to her skin, and she starts to develop a crueler, more monstrous personality…

The Haunted Mask is a Goosebumps classic. It’s probably the most well-known novel of the series, was the first story to be turned into a TV episode, and is one of Stine’s most remembered books. Upon re-reading, it holds up! Carly Beth is a likeable protagonist, and she changes for the better by the end of the novel. There are parts of the story that don’t make all that much sense, but overall, it’s a creepy and scary Halloween story that should feel just real enough to a kid to offer an appropriate number of chills.


Title: Goosebumps #12: Be Careful What You Wish For

Rating: * ½

GB 12 - Be Careful What You Wish For

Samantha Byrd is an awkward pre-teen who just can’t seem to catch a break. She’s constantly bullied by a fellow classmate, and all she wants is a fresh start. When she helps a mysterious woman, Clarissa, across town, she’s offered three wishes for compensation. As the title suggests, however, wishes must be carefully used. Every time Samantha wishes for something, her desires come true, but with terrible repercussions. She becomes the best basketball player when everyone else on the team falls ill. When she wishes to be left alone, everyone in the world disappears. And when she wishes that her bully was actually her best friend, she ends up with a stalker in her closet. Clarissa gives Sam one more chance, so she wishes that her bully was the one to meet the mysterious old woman. However, the bully’s first wish turns Sam into a bird, giving her a fresh start, but taking away her humanity.

The plot of Be Careful What You Wish For is not particularly innovative. The riskiness of wishes appears throughout many fables and stories, and this particular book does little to add to the mythology. However, it is quite possibly one of the first times that a young child is introduced to the trope, so it is probably best that the message remains simple. What is unforgiveable is the personality of the main character. Sam is whiny and petulant, and she never thinks before she acts. Given the fact that her first wish taught her just how dangerous thoughtlessness could be you would think that even a twelve year old would pause before using her wishes. However, Sam is not particularly talented at patience and forethought, so she suffers through a terrible series of situations, and an even worse fate.

Top Ten Tuesdays – Best Book Covers

One of the very first top ten lists that I completed was about my least favourite book covers, and a good friend of my commented that she would love to see what I thought were good book designs. Since this is a freebie week in terms of topic, I thought I’d come back to her suggestion and share what I think are some beautiful books with my readers. Thus, in no particular order, these are some of my absolutely favourite book covers that I want on my shelves not only because they are awesome books, but because they are so wonderfully designed! (Thanks to the Broke and the Bookish for hosting!)

  1. The Lunar Chronicles – Marissa Meyer

Cover - The Lunar Chronicles

I have gone on and one about how much I love The Lunar Chronicles, but I haven’t had a chance to gush that much about my adoration of their covers. I often wait for books to be released in paperback before I buy them to save space on my shelves, but this is a series that I pick up in hardcover as soon as they come out. In short, the cover designs are gorgeous. In what will become a running theme for this post, I really appreciate the simplicity of them. Each one features a single image on a dark blue background: a slippered foot, a red hood, and a braid. These images invoke connections to the fairy tales being reinterpreted while also looking modern and stylistically clean. While the illustrations themselves are detailed, the covers are rather stark which makes them pop and stand out. The typography is also a delightful callback to an older era of storytelling while still feeling contemporarily inspired. Unlike most modern YA covers that are so busy and symbolically mixed up, The Lunar Chronicles books give readers a clear idea of what to expect from its pages.

  1. Curse Workers – Holly Black

Cover - Curse Workers Series

A pet peeve of mine is when books have photos of real people on their covers. YA novels are particularly bad for doing this, so when I saw these editions of the Curse Workers trilogy, I was thrilled! I generally prefer more symbolic or abstract covers when it comes to my books as I like to develop my own images of the characters. Additionally, most cover models just don’t look all that much like the characters described in the book. By using pointillism artwork, not only did these covers let my imagination come up with its own interpretation of the imagery in the series, but they look striking and different on a shelf. In fact, I picked up White Cat only because the cover looked so interesting among the other YA offerings at my public library. I also appreciated the bold colour themes for each book, and these are definitely a trio of books that have earned a place in my library not only because they are fun and interesting stories, but because they look fabulous as well!

  1. Harry Potter (the 2013 releases) – JK Rowling

Cover - Harry Potter 2013 Releases

I grew up with Harry Potter, but was never fond of the covers. In fact, I found most of them to be rather heinous. I didn’t like the style of the American covers, and I found the illustrations on the British versions to be awkward and not reflective of my image of the story. I own a full set of the British books, but I have always wished that I loved the way they looked more. This desire was fulfilled in 2013 with the release of a new set of covers to celebrate the 15th US anniversary of the release of the books. I usually prefer more abstract covers, but these full illustrations capture my vision of the Potter universe so well that I had to make an exception. They explore the magical world in great (and quirky) detail, and each matches the atmosphere and mood of the book that they are attached to. I liked the style of the characters, and I felt that all of them tied together and looked cohesive. So now I am trying to convince myself that it is totally appropriate to import an expensive book set from the US just because I think that they are pretty!

  1. The Last Unicorn Deluxe Graphic Novel – Peter S Beagle, Peter Gillis, Renae de Liz

Cover - The Last Unicorn Deluxe Graphic Novel

It seems as if The Last Unicorn makes almost all of my top ten lists in some form. In this case, I am showcasing the deluxe version of the graphic novel as this is a beautiful book. It is an over-sized, textured black book with a silhouette of a unicorn in the center that is filled with images from the inside pages. While incredibly simple, it is a very effective cover that demands to be seen. I love how the colour pops on the black background, and how the entire cover feels classy and deluxe (which is hard to see in this online image so you’ll have to take my word for it!).

  1. Womanthology: Heroic – Various Artists and Authors

Cover - Womanthology

I obviously like silhouettes! Like The Last Unicorn, Womanthology fills an image of a female superhero with illustrations from the various artists and stories featured in the book. Not only is this a great way of representing the full body of work contained in this volume, it is symbolic of the message that women can be heroes in many different ways. Contrary to The Last Unicorn, this cover is placed on a bright white background, and it seems to suggest that the stories and creations can spill beyond the drawings on the cover. Overall, it’s a very creative front image for a ground-breaking book about women in comics.

  1. Shadows Cast by Stars – Catherine Knutsson

Cover - Shadows Cast by Stars

Like White Cat, the cover of Shadows Cast by Stars is what caught my eye and made me want to read this book as it’s gorgeous! It’s hard to describe exactly why I enjoy this particular cover so much. I love the colour scheme and the way the designer used gradients. There are a lot of things going on with this image, yet it doesn’t feel too busy to me. Finally, it conveys a sense of mysticism and the supernatural that represents the story rather well.

  1. Parasite – Mira Grant

Cover - Parasite

I love the cover to Parasite because it is so in-your-face. The bright primary colours and simple design means that it stands out brilliantly among other sci-fi books (a genre with a bevy of terrible designed covers). The clinical design fits wonderfully with the topic of the book, and all of the design elements come together to make it impossible to ignore this book because it calls out for notice.

  1. How the Light Gets In – Louise Penny

Cover - How the Light Gets In

I really appreciate all of the most recent editions of Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache novels, but there’s something special about How the Light Gets In. The photograph used as the background is not only beautiful, but technically strong. The sharpness and colour-balancing are spot on, and I’d love to see the print without the title writing! Speaking of which, the typography used in this series is very timeless and classy. Unlike many mysteries and thrillers, the entire cover is more subdued, yet powerful in its simplicity. This feels like a cover that will not become dated very quickly.

  1. Locke and Key – Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez

Cover - Locke and Key Series (Full)

Locke and Key uses a lot of creepy, creative imagery, so it is only fitting that the covers showcase everything that makes the art of the series work so well. The covers all use the theme of keys, a major part of the plot of the stories. Each key is unique and intricately designed, and they are layered over top a different setting from the books. The colour schemes used are dark, but each cover has a unique palette. Like The Lunar Chronicles, all the covers follow the same format and work well as a cohesive whole (a practice that publishers very annoyingly often disregard). Finally, the title design is very creative and interesting to look at. It’s a nice break from the trend of simple block letters that plagues so many mainstream graphic novels.

10. Dorothy Must Die – Danielle Paige

Cover - Dorothy Must Die

This is the only book on this list that I am not particularly fond of, which is unfortunate because the cover to this novel is great! As one can see, I really really like silhouettes. A lot. Like the other two covers on this list that use this design element, Dorothy Must Die makes strong use of negative space. The silhouettes being used are of the gingham clothing and famous silver slippers that Dorothy is so well-known for while the actual body of the figure left undrawn. This is combined with the red typography that overlies the image like a splattering of blood makes it a very distinctive and noticeable cover. Among all of the “pretty sad girls in dresses” covers that are flooding the YA genre, Dorothy Must Die stands out as unique and visually interesting.

RRRs: The Fables Spin-offs Edition

Rapid response reviews are shorter entries for books that I want to comment on, but don’t have enough time or material to finish a normal post. Given the sheer length of the Fables series, the only way I’ll ever be able to tackle most of its volumes is if I keep my comments short and sweet! My reviews for the actual Fables series are simple: go read them all! To get the whole story, readers need to finish all of the books, and even though there are 19 volumes (as of now), all of them are worth the read. Today’s RRR, therefore, is dedicated to the Fables spin-offs since they are almost as voluminous, but differ widely in their importance to the main series and their overall quality.

Title: Jack of Fables (Volumes 1-9, including The Literals mini-series)

Author: Bill Willingham

Rating: *

Genre: Fantasy, Fairy Tale, Graphic Novel

Cover - Jack of Fables Series

I’m cheating a bit with Jack of Fables as I am lumping all of the books into one write-up (though I did write mini-reviews for volumes one and two here). Simply put, I hated this series. Jack of Fables is extraordinarily different from its predecessor, and very little of what I loved about Fables was present in Jack. Admittedly, the story premise is quite intriguing as these books deal with the existence of the Literals, beings that are the anthropomorphic representations of writing tools, but the titular character makes the story all but unbearable. I read the full series because there is a cross-over between it and Fables, but after trudging through these books, I am pretty sure I could have just skipped Fables 13 and saved myself the trouble. While the Literals are an interesting concept, most of the series is dedicated to showing how Jack is a terrible human being. The humour is sexist (for example, Jack sleeps with his half-sisters and this fact keeps coming up throughout the entire series as something that is supposed to be funny or admirable), the art is inconsistent, and I could not care less about any of the characters. Unless you are a diehard Fables fan, these books should be a skip. Continue reading

Nostalgic Re-Reads: Goosebumps by R.L. Stine (Night of the Living Dummy, The Girl Who Cried Monster, and Camp Nightmare)

Title: Goosebumps #7: Night of the Living Dummy

Rating: * *

GB 7 - Night of the Living Dummy

Like Monster Blood, Night of the Living Dummy is one of the central, re-occurring Goosebumps stories, but I am not a very big fan of this initial installment (though I am quite fond of the sequels). So what made this one so different? Character development is not a strong point for the Goosebumps series, but I found the main characters in this story were particularly irritating and flat. Night of the Living Dummy stars twins Lindy and Kris who find a dummy in the trash. Lindy decides to keep the dummy, naming him Slappy, and Kris becomes jealous of her ventriloquism skills and the attention that it brings her twin. To stop the two from fighting, the twins’ father buys Kris a second dummy that she names Mr. Wood. However, Mr. Wood isn’t a normal dummy, and he acts out violently, taking control of Kris’ acts. No one will believe her when she claims that the dummy is alive, so the sisters have to team up to defeat this evil marionette.

The idea of a living dummy is nerve-racking, and the Slappy and Mr. Wood characters are scary because they seem to be sociopathic, unkillable monsters. The part of the story involving the dummies doing evil things worked well because it is pretty chilling to think about strange, living dolls wandering around your house at night, destroying things and trying to mess up your life. However, I could have done without Kris. I generally do not have a problem with well-written, unlikeable characters, or young characters that act their age. Kris, on the other hand, just gives me a headache. She’s so intensely jealous of her sister, and I felt that there wasn’t enough pushback against her bad behaviour in the narrative telling her that she should just chill out and figure out her own way to shine. I know that the relationship between twins is unique, but one would think that she wouldn’t want to strive to do the exact same things as her sister. I also felt that her parents should definitely not have encouraged Kris to try and steal the stoplight from Lindy so obviously. However, if they had done that, we wouldn’t have had this story, so the awkward characterisation can be forgiven as it led to a particularly memorable villain.


Title: Goosebumps #8: The Girl Who Cried Monster

Rating: * * ½

GB 8 - The Girl Who Cried Monster

Lucy is obsessed with monsters. She’s always looking to learn more about them, and her favourite activity is scaring her little brother with monster stories. However, she talks about monsters so often that no one believes her when she sees a real one! When she stays late in the library one night, she sees the local librarian turn into a disgusting creature that eats flies! Though she tries all sorts of things to prove to her parents that the librarian is a monster, all her efforts fail, and he discovers that she knows what he is. Lucy is convinced that she’s going to get eaten when her parents invite him over for dinner, but the tables are turned rather quickly when Lucy’s parents devour the librarian before the rest of the community is alerted to the presence of monsters among them. As it turns out, Lucy is obsessed with horror story creatures because she is one!

The Girl Who Cried Monster is a solid horror book for kids. Lucy is a bit obnoxious, but within reason for a precocious twelve year old. The plot is a fairly typical one, with Lucy getting herself into all sorts of suspenseful situations trying to get proof that the librarian is a monster. However, it is the ending that really makes this particular addition to the series stand out. I did not guess that Lucy’s family were monsters, and it was a delightful creepy ending to a creepy story.


Title: Goosebumps #9: Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Rating: * * *

GB 9 - Welcome to Camp Nightmare

Camp Nightmare is a strange story, but it certainly delivers in terms of scariness. This Goosebumps stars Mike, a normal 12 year old heading off to an overnight camp for the first time. However, his trip seems cursed from the start as the bus that was supposed to take all the kids to camp drops them off in the middle of nowhere, leaving them to be attacked by strange, dog-like creatures. They are saved by the camp director, but it seems that the troubles with this camp are just beginning. One of Mike’s campmates is bitten by a snake, but the camp has no nurse to treat him, and he disappears overnight. Slowly, members of his cabin fall victim to mysterious accidents, but the camp staff don’t seem to care. Mike finally decides he has to stand up to this callousness when the camp director orders the campers to hunt through the forest with tranquilizer guns for two run-aways. With this choice, he finds out he passed the test that his parents were putting him through in order to take him along on a scientific expedition to an alien world: Earth!

The idea that a camp could exist that is so careless towards the children that it is responsible for seems pretty unlikely, and as a reader, I was trying to figure out what the catch was from the very first few pages. However, with the twist reveal at the end, suddenly the callousness and neglect makes sense, even if the plot was a bit silly. Despite the ridiculous plot, Camp Nightmare is great for scaring younger readers. Camp can be a frightening experience at the best of times, and this story plays on those fears of abandonment and danger. Camp myths turn deadly, and Mike has no adults to turn to. He must survive on his own, and stand up against those who are supposed to be protecting him. All in all, this is one of my favourite books in the Goosebumps series.

Review – The One by Kiera Cass

Title: The One (The Selection #3)

Author: Kiera Cass

Star Rating: *

Genre: Romance, Dystopia

Cover - The One

Synopsis

The end is finally here. America Singer was pressured into joining the selection, a televised competition between young women vying to be the next princess of Illea, and now she and Prince Maxon must sort out their feelings for one another as a rebellion intensifies in violence around them. Will America win Maxon’s heart or will she be going home heartbroken?

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