Renegades

Renegades.jpgTitle: Renegades
Series: Renegades #1
Author: Marissa Meyer
ISBN: 9781250044662
Pages: 556 pages
Publisher/Date: Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC c2017 by Rampion Books

Nova had one dart handcrafted by Leroy Flinn, their own poisons master. She only needed one. If she missed, she wouldn’t get a second chance.
But she wouldn’t miss.
She would kill the Captain.
Once he was hit, Ingrid, the Detonator, would emerge from hiding and hit the Council’s parade float with as many of her signature bombs – made from a fusion of gasses in the air—as she could launch. Phobia would focus on Thunderbird, as she usually took to the air during a battle, giving her a frustratingly unfair advantage. They’d heard that Thunderbird was deathly afraid of snakes, which was one of his specialties. They were banking on the rumors to be true. Worst-case scenario: Phobia startled her long enough for Nova or Ingrid to take her down. Best-case: He gave her a midflight heart attack.
And that was it. The Council—the five original Renegades—all eradicated at once. (28-29)

But of course, the plan that Nova and her team have spent so much time concocting doesn’t go off as planned, and one of their own get captured. Plan B is a Hail Mary effort, sending Nova in deep undercover to train with their enemies. She succeeds, and is placed on the very team that thwarted her efforts to kill the Captain. Serving as a double agent becomes harder then she expected when she realized not only the people she is spying on, but also her own allies are keeping things from her. Plus, with a new prodigy (person with superpowers) in town that no one knows anything about, it’s anybody’s guess who is going to end up helping Nova in her hour of need.

Superpowers seem to be a rising trend in literature these days, possibly a result of the growing interest and excitement around the Marvel and DC movies. Personally a fan of Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles series, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on her newest series. But while I found her first series ground breaking in her reimagining of fairy tales, this one treads some well-worn ground of vengeance, vindication, villainy and virtues. We’ve seen this story told multiple times, of a “bad guy” who is out to kill the “good guys” with questionably justifiable reasons. In this case, seventeen-year-old Nova is focused on the Renegades, a group of five super-powered adults who are trying to restore order to a world taken down by chaotic and more selfish super-powered antagonists when powers were first starting to develop. The Anarchists, the group that Nova is originally a part of, is all that’s left of an organized front trying to enact revenge against the Renegades for hunting them down and confining the Anarchists to hiding and petty crimes necessary for survival. A variety of ethnicities, backgrounds, and powers are well portrayed, and reminiscent of Brandon Sanderson’s Reckoners series (which begins with Steelheart). We see the conflicting philosophies and responsibilities played out time and again, all the way back to Spiderman’s famous “With great power comes great responsibility” and more recently by V.E. Schwab in Vicious. The actual debate sparked by the different camps is explicitly laid out in a scene between Nova and one of the Renegades, where they discuss the influence that the prodigies had on the world, and whether non-gifted people could contribute to the rebuilding of something that the gifted but greedy individuals brought about.

Nova is very set in her ways and ideals, but even she is not immune to the altruism showcased by her team, which includes Adrian (superhero name “Sketch”), Oscar (“Smokescreen”) and Ruby (“Red Assassin”). Oscar, Ruby, and injured Dana are background characters to dual narrators Nova and Adrian. On the opposing side is Honey, Winston, Leroy, Phobia, and Ingrid, with Ingrid receiving more screen time then the rest as the default leader of the group. Everyone on both sides seems aware of the hype that they are obligated to live up to, with the Renegades being recognized on the street and the Anarchists being villainized and characterized by public displays and paraphernalia.

Adrian has his own secret, which readers are privy to within the first few chapters. Trying to live up to the legacy of his adoptive parents, he’s experimenting with his ability in order to enhance and add to his powers. Assuming the secondary identity of “Sentinel”, Adrian’s actions end up in an unenviable position where he needs to right a mistake before revealing himself. Then he receives a tip about a new prodigy who might be involved in his mother’s death, and he’s ready to discover everything he can, even if it goes against the wishes of the Council. This unexpectedly also places himself in a position to realize that not all Renegades are as altruistic as the organization wants them to be, and he’s struggling to come to terms with that idea since he’s been indoctrinated with the goals and dreams his entire life. D

The tender romance for Nova that begins by the end of the book is expected. Hints of the spectacular double-cross during the climactic battle are also liberally laid as to come as little surprise. The true unexpected twist revealed on the very last page is what will leave readers gasping and struggling to wait until the sequel arrives later in November 2018. I expect more background information will have to fill in the blanks that readers realize the author has been purposefully hiding since the very first page.

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Run For It

Run For It.jpgTitle: Run For It: Stories of Slaves Who Fought For Their Freedom
Author/Illustrator: Marcelo D’Salete
Translator: Andrea Rosenberg
ISBN: 9781683960492
Pages: 175 pages
Publisher/Date: Fantagraphics Books, Inc., c2017 (original edition published by Editora Veneta, c2014)

Run For It (Cumbe) tells stories of black resistance to Brazilian slavery (1500s-1800s). Many Africans and their descendants rebelled; both directly, by running away to escape settlements known as mocambos, and indirectly, in the small acts of everyday insurrection on the plantations—which demonstrate the tensions inherent in a society shaped by violence. These stories, some of which are inspired by historical documents, offer an opportunity to reflect on that world. (Introduction, unpaged)

Four short stories, each only about forty pages long, portray similar and stereotypical aspects of slave society. Kalunga begins with a relationship between two slaves, but when one wants to run and the other wants to stay, both their lives are affected by the tragic results. Sumidouro, told through jumps between past and present, is about a protective mother who is determined to avenge the wrong enacted on her child. Cumbe portrays what happens when slaves outright and stage a rebellion. Finally, Malungo is about the love a brother has for his sister and his efforts to keep her safe.

Each of these tales rely heavily on the visuals, and each of the violent endings don’t quite turn out the way you expect. The author’s biography mentions he’s a teacher, and it shows in the bibliography and glossary, which is organized alphabetically instead of order of appearance, making it only slightly more difficult to find what you are looking for since it references only the first occurrence of the terms or images. Since the introduction alludes to inspiration from historical documents, I wish he’d also included references of where and from when those inspirations came from, although considering all of the bibliography titles are in a different language, I doubt I would have been able to consult the original material. The black and white illustrations are dark, possibly reflecting the dark futures of the characters portrayed. A moody tome of yearning, this will find an audience with those searching for well-researched reflection on life and the cost of freedom. Possibly recommend to those involved in the Black Lives Matter movement for a unique spin on themes of vengeance, righteousness, and revolution.

Wires and Nerve: Gone Rogue

Wires and Nerve Gone Rogue.jpgTitle: Gone Rogue
Series: Wires and Nerve (#2)
Author: Marissa Meyer
Illustrator: Stephen Gilpin (based on art by Doug Holgate)
ISBN: 9781250078285
Pages: 324 pages
Publisher/Date: A Feiwel and Friends Book, an imprint of Macmillan Publishing Group, LLC, c2018

“So, can we all start by agreeing that there is absolutely no way we are letting Cinder sacrifice herself to this psychopath?”
“No one is agreeing to anything yet.”
“I know you, Cinder, and I know you started planning how to trade your life for theirs the moment you heard about his.”
“That’s not true. I started planning a way to get them back safely.”
“And have you come up with a plan yet that doesn’t involve getting yourself killed?”
“Thorne is right. Steele is trying to lure you into a trap.”
“Yes, OBVIOUSLY this is a trap! But what am I supposed to do? We can’t just ignore him!”
“He has Winter and Jacin!”
“And Wolf.”
“And Tressa…”
“And now he wants the Queen of Luna! Aces, Cinder, Would you think of your own self-preservation for once?” (168-169)

The conclusion to the Wires and Nerve series begins with Wolf considering his future with Scarlett when their farm is surrounded by Steele, the big bad wolf-soldier from the previous graphic novel. He recruits Wolf for his revenge towards Cinder, and after Cinder and her entourage arrives on Earth Steele kidnaps Winter, Jacin, and Tressa. Demanding Cinder in exchange for the hostages and threatening the lives of the Earthen public, the fight is far from over. Iko is tasked with a key part in the final showdown, but can she fulfill her role without tipping off Steele that she might be more than he thinks she is?

Firstly, I was slightly disappointed that we saw almost nothing of Thorne and Jacin in this episode of action. Heck, Jacin gets captured TWICE by the wolf-soldiers, and he’s supposed to be a former Lunar guard for the royal family, implying some fighting prowess even if he did want to become a doctor. Even Kai had some blink and you’ll miss them occurrences where he said the necessary “Yes we’ll have military support” or “I’m your emperor so you must listen to me” dialogue, then receded into the background, not contributing in the final battle scene except to tell Steele he’s lost and to ask Cinder if she was hurt. Cinder was a token character, less so then Kai and the others because we saw her navigating the political side of things on both Earth and Luna. It was emphasized repeatedly that Steele was after her for what she represented and not because of who she was, which also lent to the feeling that she was being typecast, although the fought it admirably by arguing again and again that she was nothing like the previous rulers. The few romantic scenes of her and Kai together will satisfy fans of the series (like myself). That was also probably the reason for Scarlett and Wolf’s scenes together, although seeing Wolf stumble over his obviously more submissive and overprotective nature towards Scarlet’s alpha role was a tender moment in an otherwise tense political thriller of double crosses.

The cast was there, and they served their purpose when called upon in a fight, but the main focus was Iko and Liam Kinney, which on the one hand disappoints me but also satisfies me that Iko got her opportunity to shine in the spotlight. I enjoyed the evolution of Iko and Kinney’s relationship because it felt natural. Besides a subtle nod to increased heart rate, there is nothing overtly romantic, which I had worried about it becoming after reading the first one. The story line as a whole seemed to emphasize Iko’s humanity, even though she was an android, and Kinney’s ultimate acceptance that there is more to Iko then wires and circuitry. We get glimpses of Iko’s original programming through some files that Cress recovers, but the underlying question of nature versus nurture persists through much of the story. Iko’s quirks have always been accepted by her friends and previously people who didn’t appreciate them were cast as outsiders. When she gets paired with Kinney, this is the first time that Iko has to continually justify and understand her existence. I like to think that they become really good friends due to this increased self-awareness, both of themselves and their assumptions towards the other person.

A satisfying and quick read that closes out the series that ties up the loose ends for the legion of fans. I got to hear the characters in the audiobooks, and now we get to actually “see” the characters in the graphic novels. I’m sad to see it end, but I think it’s a good place to stop and appreciate the format change.

Last of the Sandwalkers

Last of the Sandwalkers.jpgTitle: Last of the Sandwalkers
Author/Illustrator: Jay Hosler
ISBN: 9781626720244
Pages: 312 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2015.

Our mission is to look for life in this vast nothingness. This was my idea. My plan. And at that moment, it seemed insane. Impossible. Stupid. Terrifying.
But then I took my first step into the desert sand and I had the strangest feeling that I was…
…home.
With that, my doubts evaporated. I walked into the desert and never looked back. (4)

Bug’s Life crew, move over. There’s a new group of tiny explorers on the scene, one part Indiana Jones, one part MacGyver. There’s Lucy, the tinkerer and unlikely leader; Professor Owen, stuffy tag-along supervisor who secured funding; Professor Bombardier, the matronly care-taker of the group; Mossy, the brawn of the operation; and finally Raef, who doesn’t really know his role in the group because he’s suffering from amnesia. When the majority of the group get separated from one of their own and the archaeological find of a lifetime, it’s going to take all their ingenuity and teamwork to get back across the desert. Fighting foreign insects and unknown creatures, they quickly realize that it’s a bug eat bug world out there, and they are on the bottom of the food chain. And it doesn’t help that one of the team might be hoping they all don’t make it back.

If you want to see a graphic novel that packs science into a suspenseful story, Jay Hosler does it right. A biology professor at Juniata College, he appears to know his stuff as both a scientist and a cartoonist. He effortlessly weaves cool insect facts into the plot featuring five characters that are five different types of insects. The characters and readers are in the same position, learning new interesting facts about the way these new creatures eat and protect themselves. Readers also get see the scientific process at work, because although most kids might come to the correct conclusion, the insects routinely alter their understanding of what they found based on new information and discoveries. Want more information? He cites his inspirations chronologically in the included annotations, going chapter by chapter, page by page, panel by panel. While his references seem to skew more scientific then school-age, they range from Charles Darwin’s autobiography and university publications to National Geographic articles and NPR blogs.

No stone or leaf is left unturned in his detailed black and white illustrations, with painstaking backgrounds filled with action. The team gets into one hazard after another, and as one members predicts repeatedly that they are going to die, they routinely ban together, utilizing their strengths. It doesn’t hurt that in addition to encountering road blocks and hazards they also encounter some street-wise strangers who are willing to aid them in their journey. There were some great dynamics and personalities in the group, and their conversations with each other read very natural and true to real life. The repertoire and back and forth banter mimics some conversations I’ve had with my friends, ranging from idle threats and teasing to chastisements and encouragement and some flashbacks that are seamlessly incorporated. This is most certainly an asset to teachers focusing on critical thinking skills, the scientific method, adaptations, and bugs in general, but it’s also a fun read for those seeking tales of adventure and ingenuity.

Spinning

Spinning.jpgTitle: Spinning
Author/Illustrator: Tillie Walden
ISBN: 9781626729407
Pages: 395 pages
Publisher/Date: First Second, an imprint of Roaring Brook Press, a division of Holtzbrinck Publishing Holdings Limited Partnership, c2017.

In New Jersey, the discipline and tension of practice had terrified me. But I found myself missing it. The screaming, the crying, the exhaustion. It seemed so far away now. I had hoped that the simple familiarity of synchro would make me feel comfortable here. But even that didn’t work out as planned. I quickly found out that skating here operated on an entirely different system than the one back in New Jersey. Formations had different names, levels and titles changed, even judging was different. The one part of my life that I thought I understood was plunged into confusion with everything else. (57-58)

Tillie Walden’s graphic memoir recalls her years of competitive figure skating. Starting when she was five, the sport had been her only focus, monopolizing her time outside of school and dictating who she was close with during her childhood. While we don’t see many details about her early years, we get the impression that they were joyful. When she finished fifth grade her family moves from New Jersey to Texas. After that move, her parents were less involved in the sport then she was, often making her feel alone. “Skating changed when I came to Texas. It wasn’t strict or beautiful or energizing anymore. Now it just felt dull and exhausting. I couldn’t understand why I should keep skating after it lost all its shine.” (139) She relied on the small acts of friendship and camaraderie in her teammates, and even found forbidden romance. But when that abruptly ended and her art pursuits bring the joy and feelings of accomplishments that she was no longer feeling with ice skating, she quit without looking back before starting her senior year of high school.

It’s a story of trying to find your place in the world. Tillie is struggling throughout the novel with her identity of an ice skater being the only way she and others see herself. Latching on in turn to her first girlfriend, her coaches, and fellow skaters, she’s looking for the support and attention that skating previously provided her before moving. The slow unspooling of the years of early practices, taxing competitions, and disconnectedness with her fellow skaters begin to take their toll, and readers can empathize in those feelings that something has got to give. “I was starting to realize that skating wasn’t what it seemed. I always thought of it as simply a sport. But with that sport came a lifestyle. And it wasn’t optional.” (262) Once she finds an alternative for this lifestyle in art, she is allowed to find a passion that ice skating had been lacking. Bright patches of yellow emphasize light sources and break up an otherwise monochromatic color scheme, with focus on faces except in cases where wide lens landscapes mimic the reflective internal narration and the emptiness that Tillie is feeling.

But by the time I finished the story, I found myself in the same position as Tillie. Why did I continue? While yes there is the revelation at the end that she finally builds enough courage to quit a sport, it’s quickly over and is hardly the climatic finish were were hoping for. “How easy it was. I couldn’t help but wonder why I hadn’t done this sooner. But I didn’t have an answer. Even now, I’m still not sure. [… After the last lesson] I cried whole way home with my eyes wide open.” (362-370) After the monotony of skating, I would have liked to see her evolution post-skating, especially the development of her artistic aspirations. While I connected with her feelings of loneliness, it was difficult to connect with her when skating was such a major part of her little character development. Traumatic events are alluded to but never elaborated, and I feel like she is still holding herself back from connecting with readers. A contemplative collection of nostalgic considerations, possibly best suited for when you are facing your own moody state of stagnation.

Baby Monkey, Private Eye

Baby Monkey Private Eye.jpgTitle: Baby Monkey, Private Eye
Authors: Brian Selznick and David Serlin
Illustrator: Brian Selznick
ISBN: 9781338180619
Pages: 191 pages
Publisher/Date: Scholastic Press, an imprint of Scholastic Inc., c2018.

Baby Monkey someone has stolen my […]!
Baby Monkey can help!
Baby Monkey looks for clues.
Baby Monkey writes notes.
Baby Monkey eats a snack.
Baby Monkey puts on his pants.
Now Baby Monkey is ready!
Baby Monkey solves the case! […]
Hooray for Baby Monkey!

Each of the first three chapters of this extended easy reader follow the same format as outlined above. The only clue that readers receive as to the identity of the thief are the footprints that Baby Monkey discovers and follows. Just as you think you’ve figured out the routine, the repetitive nature of the chapters diverges, as in the fourth chapter Baby Monkey is tired and hilariously needs some prodding to solve that case. The fifth chapter divulges even further, making readers second guess the entire premise of the story by the last scene, where observant readers will see the inspiration for all those criminals.

I’m unclear what aspects debut author Serlin (Selznick’s partner) and Selznick contributed to the story. Selznick’s pencil illustrations however are instantly recognizable and as detailed as to be expected, with Baby Monkey’s office accessories changing with every case and the book he is reading lending a hint to the upcoming theft. The snack in each chapter changes and is contained in a clearly labeled ziplock bag, instantly recognizable to children as something they might have packed for their snack. Monkey’s struggle to get into his pants is the visual gags that appeal to children, but I do wish one of this resulting misadventures had yielded both legs in one pant leg. Missed opportunity Selznick, in my opinion. Quite often found with his tongue sticking out of his mouth in concentration, Baby Monkey is adorable in every way possible, with ears sticking out of his head that are almost as big as his eyes (Mickey Mouse comparisons are inevitable) and cowlick/Mohawk fur on his head that reminds me of a troll doll. The over-sized magnifying glass that he carries around clinches it. It might be a big world, and Baby Monkey might be little, but he’s found his place in it.

I echo Betsy Bird‘s sentiments and exasperation about where the heck we’re supposed to put this cross over, combo format. I strongly believe it is best suited for easy or early reader collections, or better yet simple chapter books if your library has that category. The repetitive narration, simple word use, and large bold font is meant for those beginning or struggling readers, and advanced readers typically looking in the fiction area are well above this level. They still might find enjoyment, but it’s not really meant for them. It’s meant for reading aloud and sharing with families of small children, especially those of mixed ages. A coworker with three little ones ranging in ages from I think 3-7 years old said her whole brood of boys enjoyed it. That is where Selznick has hit the sweet spot, geared for a whole new and younger fan base then his previous works.

The Secret Project

Secret Project.jpgTitle: The Secret Project
Author: Jonah Winter
Illustrator: Jeanette Winter
ISBN: 9781481469135
Pages: unpaged
Publisher/Date: Beach Lane Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division, c2017.

Night and day, the greatest scientists in the world conduct experiments and research in the laboratory. They are working on something they call the “Gadget.” What they are trying to invent is so secret, they cannot even call it by its real name. (unpaged)

Jonah Winter and Jeanette Winter attempt an ambitious undertaking in trying to condense the creation of the atom bomb to a level that the picture book crowd can understand. This is definitely not an easy subject to place into context, but they try. They compare the busy, secretive work to the outside world, where life continues, where “artists are painting beautiful paintings” and there are “peaceful desert mountains and mesas, cacti, coyotes, prairie dogs”. The basics of the science are there, that the scientists are “trying to figure out how to take the tiniest particle in the world, the atom, and cut it in half, making it even tinier” before other scientists are able to do the same thing. Atom is not further described, and a passing mention of metals plutonium and uranium are described as things “that can be turned into something with enormous power” with no elaboration. The scientists are portrayed as single shaded shadows, emphasizing their anonymity during that time frame.

I have a hard time determining who to recommend this to or what audience this would best serve, as it will likely raise questions that will have to be answered by an adult. The book is dedicated “for the peacemakers”, which makes me think it was created for parents who are intentionally broaching the topic with their children, maybe because of a new awareness brought about by today’s politics or media. The author’s note elaborates on the creation and aftermath of the first nuclear test. I feel it was probably a conscious decision to refrain from using the word “bomb” or “explosion” instead referring to it as invention or “Gadget”. The wordless spreads at the end are used to convey the powerful nature of what they’ve created, with a four page ever expanding angry red mushroom cloud culminating in a double page spread of finite black.

nonfiction mondayThis review is posted in honor of Nonfiction Monday. Take a look at what everyone else is reading in nonfiction this week.

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