All American Boys

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

All American Boys
Brendan Kiely and Jason Reynolds, 2015

Premise: Rashad and Quinn live in the same town and go to the same school, but they don't know each other. Then one is beaten by a police officer and the other sees it happen.

The moral of this book is on the nose, and it wears that fact openly. It's intended for a YA audience and comfortable with that. Happily, the style was strong enough to carry me through the first half, and the ending works very well.

It's presented in alternating chapters between the two boys' perspectives. Both boys felt concrete and realistic to me in their various obsessions, casual macho posturing, impatience with parents, etc.

Rashad is a good student who had never been in trouble, so it's easy for the reader to see that he's the victim of profiling. Quinn's place in the story is the white kid who learns racism is not only real, it's affecting his community. However, although some of the authors' early choices felt easy or predictable to me, by the end both characters gain a decent amount of nuance.

I probably would have found it extremely affecting as a tween/teen, although I would not have been a person who needed much convincing. I especially think the portrayal of the internal struggle of someone coming to terms with racism in their community and in their friends was well done.

The ending was, as I said, extremely effective. It was poignant and visceral, and I got a little emotional just reading it. I might not have found it to be brilliant prose throughout, but it's an important little book with a lot to say.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book


Monday, May 21, 2018

Roweena Miller, 2018

New Release! I received a copy of this book from NetGalley for the purpose of review.

Premise: Sophie has worked hard to carve out a life for herself. Combining her hereditary skill in casting good luck charms with long training in sewing has eventually led to a somewhat successful shop of her own. Just when it seems that her work will be noticed by a higher class of customer, a group pushing for governmental reforms risks starting a riot that could engulf the city, and her own brother is leading the way.

None of the themes dealt with in this book were groundbreaking or unique, but I don't know that I've ever read a fantasy novel that addresses them directly, and I really appreciated that.

I really enjoyed the nuance and tension in this book. Everyone is complicated. No one knows everything or understands everything. It features a populist uprising in which neither the royalty nor the commoners are fully in the right.

Even though I was sometimes frustrated by her action or inaction, Sophie feeling pulled in many directions felt right. I think the author nailed what she set out to do: present a picture of someone who is neutral in a conflict and explore why. I loved the minor acknowledgment that, like many historical revolutions and movements, these groups claiming to speak for the people and help the common folk aren't proposing reforming laws and customs that disadvantage women.

I liked Sophie's awkwardness about being a second-generation immigrant, with no real ties to her family's home. She's consciously choosing to downplay her heritage to make her business more successful, although she feels conflicted about it. The romance subplot was well-handled and worked better than I would have expected at the start.

I'm not sure how I feel about the fact that this is intended to be the first in a series. It definitely stands alone, to the extent that I was startled to read after the end of the text that there will be more.

This is a rare book that I picked up mostly on the strength of the cover. It's lovely, and as a fan of both fantasy and sewing, a good fit for me.

Overall a solid fantasy novel that's enjoyable and worth thinking about.

4 Stars - A Very Good Book

Usagi Yojimbo: Book 1: The Ronin, Book 2: Samurai

Monday, May 14, 2018

Usagi Yojimbo: Book 1: The Ronin, Book 2: Samurai
Stan Sakai, 1987, 1989

Read Harder Challenge - A comic written and illustrated by the same person

I'm sure I first saw the samurai rabbit as an action figure that went with my Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles back in the 80s. I knew it was a long-running series, I knew it was acclaimed, and heck, I bought these two books off a sale rack without hesitation, but somehow I never sat down to read any before.

After I caught a handful of excerpts online, though, it drifted up to the top of the to-read list.

First, the mixed. The first book is a collection of the character's earliest appearances, and it shows; the writing is a bit abrupt here and there. The art is great overall, but occasionally it seems caught between styles - the writing and events follow a more serious dramatic tone, while the expressions of minor (often dying) characters evoke a "funny animal comic" look. (This is separate from the minor sight gags with the little lizards that feature in the corners of many panels. Those guys are great.)

Once the series starts in earnest at the beginning of Book 2, the story takes off and everything clicks into place. The art is dynamic and complex, and the writing begins to expand the characters and the world.

In these particular issues, I found the little side notes that explain Japanese terms more obtrusive than helpful, but I'm certain there were fewer readers who were already familiar with them when these issues originally came out. I also understand that there is a great deal more about Japanese history and culture in later volumes.

By the end of the second book, I'd been through an array of brief adventures, a long dip into backstory, more than a few exciting battles in defense of the helpless, and one long-form pun. Usagi's world is one that I'll be happy to spend more time in. Considering it's still being published today, there's a lot more story to enjoy.

4 Stars - Very Good Books