Tag Archives: YA

Only Ever Yours #bookreview #readwomen #YAlit

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Only Ever Yours #bookreview #readwomen #YAlit

Only Ever Yours by Louise O’Neill

published by Quercus in 2015

procured from the library

At a chunky 406 pages, Only Ever Yours is longer than I usually like to read for Grab the Lapels. However, in a search for friendship, I found a book club in my area advertised online. I was in luck; their next meeting would be 9 days later, and many of the books they had read, such as Furiously Happy and Between the World and Me, I had read too. The library, I discovered, kept O’Neill in the Teen section, which is when it dawned on me that Only Ever Yours is a young adult book. What’s the big beef, you might ask? While I don’t condemn young adult literature, I find that most of it takes societal problems and makes the issue so obvious that the book feels like a JUST SAY NO campaign. Why read YA when I can get my hands on the more nuanced adult versions? I know that YA is often an issue of sellers labeling a book a certain way, but when there are billions of book choices, I’m not really willing to take the chance.

Basically, without my new book club, I would not have picked up Louise O’Neill’s novel.

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This was the cover of my library copy

Only Ever Yours is a dystopian book about women and girls (called eves). They are genetically modified and hatched in a school for the use of men and boys (called Inheritants). These girls are brainwashed through propaganda for 16 years to follow mantras, like “I am pretty. I am a good girl. I always do as I am told” and “I am happy-go-lucky” and “I am appealing to others. I am always agreeable.” Whether they become a wife who bears sons, a concubine, or an unsexed teacher in the girls’ training school, they are told to be grateful that they weren’t naturally born and conceived, because girl babies are thrown in graves. Girls and women are property, totally at the disposal of a man’s desire to procreate or get off. The unsexed school teachers are not necessary, we’re told, but they’re important because they dispense the training to be wives and concubines. Their 16th year of life, the eves are told which role they will play. Whatever a girl’s role, it is expected for boys to get married and have a lot of sex with various women.

There are rules for eves:

All eves are created to be perfect, but over time they seem to develop flaws. Comparing yourself to your sisters is a useful way of identifying these flaws, but you must then take the necessary steps to improve yourself. There is always room for improvement. — Audio Guide to the Rules for Proper female Behavior, the Original Father

The focus on Only Ever Yours is the girls about to graduate school, at age 16.  To maintain the perfect weight (about 118 lbs) they all have eating disorders aided by pills. The main character is freida, #630. Each week, she and the other eves are ranked by how attractive they are. The top ten eves are most likely to secure a wife role. While eves have zero choices, because choices mean being burned on a pyre or experimented on —  Inheritants don’t have to compete for anything, so they are spoiled, fat, greedy, and demand sex. I kept thinking this whole society is driven by the throbbing penis.

The characters in Only Ever Yours are terribly familiar. If you’ve ever been a devoted fan of the Sweet Valley Twins books like I was, you’ll remember the cast: Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield, perfect size sixes, matching golden blond hair, blue-green eyes. No one can tell the twins apart, except their family and dearest friends. Only Ever Yours has Liz and Jessie, “exact replicas” with “golden-blond hair” and “aqua-colored eyes.” If you’re thinking, the eves are genetically modified…how did they get twins? then I would say, I know, right?! The only explanation seems to be that the parallel between the two books was what Louise O’Neill was going for.

Just like in Sweet Valley, Only Ever Yours has a “bossy bitch,” a girl who wants to better than everyone else. In Sweet Valley, we’re talking about Lila Fowler. In O’Neill’s novel, it’s megan. Such girls give compliments like, “You’re so brave for wearing any old thing! I admire that!”

The eves in this book are painfully annoying because all they focus on is what they look like. This is how they’ve been trained their whole lives. They’re ranked by appearance. There are mirrors everywhere. They are weighed. One person hit 125 lbs, the FATTEST anyone’s ever been!! Then, I think back to Sweet Valley. The first book, Double Love, opens with this paragraph:

“Oh, Lizzie, do you believe how horrendous I look today!” Jessica Wakefield groaned as she stepped in front of her sister, Elizabeth, and stared at herself in the bedroom mirror. “I’m so gross! Just look at me! Everything is totally wrong. To begin with, I’m disgustingly fat….” With that, she spun around to show off a stunning figure without an extra ounce visible anywhere.

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Double Love, September 1984

And the eves in Only Ever Yours are exactly the same way. There’s the teeter-totter of competition for prettiest, but the recognition that both concubines and wives are part of society and please men.

Honestly, I can’t tell the eves apart. freida says the eves are “almost interchangeable.” The diversity, she points out, is in “skin tone and hair color.” freida is brown, but her color is only mentioned about 4 times. At one point, frieda’s skin is compared to that of an Inheritant named Mahatma. Perhaps she’s Indian, I thought, but remembered the eves all look exactly the same. There’s no ethnicity.

But as frieda takes more and more drugs to help her sleep, she feels that she looks terrible. Is that true? I’m not sure. Like Jessica Wakefield, most eves think they look terrible (except megan). freida is our biased, brainwashed narrator. One way O’Neill tells us eves are different is by their clothes — so. many. clothes. But I don’t know kitty heels and sweetheart necklines, so it didn’t mean much. And do clothes matter on identical perfect bodies?

Half of the book is backstabbing, manipulating, and alliances created between eves. It’s catty. It’s Sweet Valley Twins galore. Girls record any tiny wrongdoing a fellow eve may commit and immediately post it on social media. I kept telling myself the author is doing this on purpose. Just go with it. It’s a brilliant choice the author made to showcase contemporary jealousy and female objectification. But, ew.

Eves are told how NOT to feel: no crying, no loving boys, no persuading boys. Eves don’t even see Inheritants until a couple of months before the big ceremony. At the ceremony 16-year-old dudes just choose 16-year-old girls to be wives based on their smokin’ hot bodies. O’Neill suggests, this just means give birth to sons and feeling superior to the concubines, who were not ranked top ten. The arrival of the boys is actually where the story gets interesting because there is less focus on hotness rankings.

The author effectively plays with the reader’s feelings. We know who the top-ten hottest eves are. But after the boys show up, eves aren’t ranked anymore. They aren’t allowed to tell the boys how they were ranked. Why? Competition kept them fit and working hard to please, perhaps? Enter Darwin: he’s the only handsome Inheritant, and the son of a judge. He’s the Bruce Patman (if you’re still following my Sweet Valley Twin comparison). Darwin shows interest in our scrappy freida — it’s like there’s some Todd Wilkins mixed in there! Hooray, I thought! Darwin can save freida! Things can turn out okay! HE’S NICE.

bruce patmantodd wilkins

Bruce Patman VS. Todd Wilkins — same person?

Um, hello? Hey, self? Yeah…since when are we interested in a boy saving a girl? And ultimately, isn’t he going to use her body to have sons while having porno relations with concubines? And isn’t he going to set her on fire when she turns 40?? And isn’t she trained to be okay with all of this??? I actually rooted for Darwin and freida for ages before my brain caught up with me. The eves are so emotionally and sexually abused (and they don’t know it) that I thought a good old-fashioned romance between teenagers was the answer. The ending of Only Ever Yours was unpredictable. It kept changing directions, which kept me interested.

If I wanted the grown-up version of this book, I could have read Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. But that’s not what book club picked. Despite the aspects that annoyed me — and let’s be fair; they were necessary for the story — I would recommend Only Ever Yours.

Hung Up

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Hung Up

Hung Up
by Kristen Tracy
March 2014, Simon Pulse
282 pages

“Once upon a time, last semester, I took a course called International Foods. I did this because I liked the idea of eating at school, and also learning in a room that had ovens. They were electric ovens, so that was a tad disappointing. I like flames. Anyway, while taking this course, I fell madly in love with a girl named Valley. Valley didn’t seem to notice me too much. But I sure noticed Valley. She had long dark hair and she sat in front of me. Each class, I had an urge to reach out and touch her hair. When she leaned forward, her hair rose up her back. And when she sat up straight, it draped longer down her chair. It was like watching a water line climb and fall. I learned a lot that semester.”

Lucy and James are both high schoolers who live in Vermont. They don’t know each other, though, as they go to different schools. The teenagers speak to one another on the phone after Lucy leaves several voicemails for James, thinking he is a salesman who sold her a plaque. Unfortunately for her, James has purchased a recycled phone that used to belong to a scamming salesman, one who has left several unhappy customers in James’s lap. James feels bad that Lucy got screwed out of her money, and they begin a connection based on the fact that they both have midterms at school.

The story of Lucy and James is speedy. The entire thing is written in dialogue over the phone with a few text messages thrown in. Because the book is all dialogue, Kristen Tracy had to know what an enormous task she’d given herself. Many famous authors completely skip dialogue in their novels, for it is a notoriously difficult aspect of fiction writing. However, I grew to like Lucy and James because they said things to one another that were natural and realistic, things that I might have said to my friends over a decade ago. Tracy beautifully avoids the overly the cheesy things — no, flat out garbage — that authors have teenagers say, making both the book and the age group represented therein seem like the important and interesting part of the population that they are. James and Lucy often call each other for help brainstorming on essay subjects or to talk about how school was. The exchange regarding a diorama shows off James’s snarky attitude, but also a caring sensitivity:

James: I want to hear about your diorama. No joking around. I promise.
Lucy: Okay. Mine wasn’t elaborate like CeCe’s.
James: Sounds like hers had structural issues anyway.
Lucy: You said no joking around.
James: I meant about your diorama.
Lucy: Well, I figured you meant all dioramas.
James: Sheesh. I had no idea you had such serious hang-ups regarding craft projects.”

Here, James isn’t above teasing this girl he hasn’t met, one whom he likes, because he’s not willing to change his personality. On the other hand, he does care about Lucy’s life. When Lucy and James have a fight and do not talk, Lucy decides to leave voice messages instead, assuming that James cares enough to listen to them, but has the pride to not answer her immediately. In her message, Lucy’s mind wanders (though the point is that her family is visiting a candidate for her college education), like most of ours do, making her more human:

Lucy: Hi, James, today is Armed Forces Day. I know this because it says so on my calendar. But I don’t know any traditions associated with Armed Forces Day. Do you? Okay, I’ll be away tomorrow. My parents are I are leaving for Maine this afternoon. We’re taking a tour of Bowdoin. I think that’s where they want me to go. Because it’s small. And my parents equate small with safe. Which is stupid, because sometimes bombs are small. And poison capsules. And deadly bacteria. And scorpions. Anyway, I worry that I’m not going to like it there. They keep using the words ‘cozy,’ ‘nourishing,’ and ‘comfortable.’ It sort of sounds like they’re describing how I feel about waffles.”

I really liked the way Lucy’s and James’s thoughts weren’t “cleaned up” to seem cooler, or like they fit into a stereotype, or extra dorky-but-lovable. Both characters had real questions and issues that shaped them, and through the phone they developed a safe space — something not all teens have but need — to communicate.

I was uncertain as to why the characters didn’t text one another. Lucy doesn’t want to, but because James immediately respects her request that they not text (or Lucy’s insistence that she won’t reply), the reasons behind Lucy’s refusal were a bit lost on me. Especially confusing is the cover of the book, which is covered in emoticons (which are only sent through text messages). Of course, authors oftentimes have very little say about the cover art and are at the mercy of a designer who hasn’t read the book, so I tried not to think about it.

The other part of the cover that is misleading is the picture of the two teenagers. Both are sexy, and I doubt either model is actually teen aged. This is problematic because Lucy and James don’t describe what they look like to one another. Since visual media rules (or screws it up by photoshopping models to pieces), I was impressed with and amazed by Kristen Tracy’s choice to leave out looks. James wants to know what Lucy looks like and requests she send a picture, but she refuses on the grounds that he could choose to stop communicating with her based on her looks. After the deep connection formed on the phone, it won’t matter what Lucy or James look like because the feelings come first. The book appears to be marketed as a sexy phone romance, which is a real shame because the author has worked much more conscientiously than that.

I want to thank Kristen Tracy for sending me a reviewer’s copy of her book in exchange for an honest review.

Meet the Writer: Missy Wilkinson

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Meet the Writer: Missy Wilkinson

I want to thank Missy for answering my questions! You can learn more about her at her website and over at xoJane, among other places. Missy is a journalist and novelist whose first novel, Destroying Angel, was recently published by Prizm, an imprint of Torquere Press. 
Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?

When I was four years old, our cocker spaniel had puppies. I was smitten with one I’d named Dearie, but my mom said we couldn’t keep her. So I wrote a moving, construction-paper saga of a girl and her puppy. I could barely pen my name at the time, and my illustration of a heart being ripped in half just looked like two blobs.

My mom didn’t let me keep Dearie. I guess I’m still trying to write a book that rewards me with a puppy’s unconditional love, or the literary equivalent.

Do you think there is a certain “achievement” a person must “unlock” before she can call herself a writer?

If you write every day (or most days), you’re a writer. It’s like with babies. They’re these little pudgy helpless caterpillars, but they see people walking and know they’re supposed to do that, too. And they struggle and fall down and get up until one day, they’re running, dancing or dribbling a soccer ball. They just keep going at it.

What’s it like to switch gears between journalism and fiction?

It’s pretty great to have the two outlets. I write fiction at my desk during downtime at the newspaper. So, when I open up my novel manuscript, it feels like I’m doing something kind of indulgent. That makes it less jarring to jump into the cold pool of a fictional world — although given the choice, I’d still prefer to dick around on the Internet. My journalism has improved my writing, too. I’m way more terse, clear and forceful. And years of writing on deadline has given me the ability to turn my writing brain off and on at a moment’s notice.

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Did you do any research for your novels?

It depends on the novel. For the first two books, Hearts in Alien Hands and Spore Girl, of the Destroying Angel series (both unpublished as of now), I draw heavily from my life experiences and the city I live in, New Orleans. The third one is partially set in 19th-century New Orleans during a yellow fever epidemic. So, I spent a lot of time in library archives reading newspapers from that era (which are really crazy…everyone’s dying, there are all these mass graves and roaming dogs feasting on corpses and it’s so post-apocalyptic, but you know everything turns out OK because here were are). I do research if the story demands it, which is a pretentious way to say I do research if it’s a question I can’t answer myself, such as, “What would you find in an 1853 pharmacy?”

People are debating whether YA novels are for everyone or for young adults (about 13-18 years). Ruth Graham of Slate said adults should be ashamed for reading it. Elisabeth Donnelly over at Flavorwire says Graham is wrong. What are your two cents?

Wow, it’s crazy that this is even a debate. Why would anyone be ashamed of reading young adult literature? It’s what we all start with, where we all fall in love with story, how we become lifelong readers. This reminds me of the time I went to see Stephen King speak. He was touring for 11/22/63. I lined up, along with hundreds of other people, to hear him talk in a church on St. Charles Avenue. His craggy humor surprised me, but not as much as the effect he had on his audience. They asked him about these fictional characters with so much concern and love, they might have been asking about their own family members. When King revealed he was working on a sequel to The Shining, the audience sucked in its breath and then released an audible ooohhh. It was like watching a kid hold a wrapped Christmas present. The master storyteller transformed his audience into children. That’s what every great story does.

Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing (either in journalism or your fiction)?

I have a hard time sticking to one genre. I am in the querying phase (aka hell) of a young adult/new adult series that leaps between fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction and noir. Some agents and editors have said I need to define my genre, but some say it’s OK to be a shapeshifter. It might be easier to sell and market the series if I had a clearer niche.

Tides

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Tides

Tides
by Betsy Cornwell
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, June 2013
304 pages

*Reviewed by guest reader Jennifer Vosters

No one is happy in the inbetween,” said Gemm. “Not even selkies.”

So begins the first chapter of Betsy Cornwell’s debut novel,Tides, a new young-adult fantasy set in modern New England. For a story steeped in folklore and romance, this beginning sets the tone for a simple message that unifies its protagonists and relates to young audiences. No one – mystical or human – can remain in limbo for long, caught between dreams and reality, truths and lies, duties and desires. You must make a choice. And in order to make that choice, you must know who you are and honor who you choose to be.

I have to admit: I came into Tides as a bit of a skeptic. It’s really an awful thing to do, but I couldn’t help it. I’m a science fiction and fantasy fan, to be sure, but I’m also a science fiction and fantasy snob; I knew I’d be hard to please, and I was.

Be that as it may: I came out of Tides as a bit of a fan. A cautious fan, a fan with some reservations, but a bit of a fan nonetheless.

First, the story: High school senior Noah Gallagher and his younger sister Lo are spending the summer at their grandmother’s cottage on the Isles of Shoals off the New England coast. It doesn’t turn out quite the way they expect, however; the discovery of their grandmother’s lover, a mysterious woman named Maebh, is the least of the surprises that await them. For here fairytales are fact, and Noah’s chance encounter with a strange swimmer leads him into the world of selkies – seal people who can shed their skins and become human – and a relationship with a young woman, Mara, who straddles the “inbetween” of land and sea. As Noah, Mara, and Lo come to understand each other, they learn more about themselves, what they believe in, and what is worth fighting for.

Cornwell is a beautiful prose writer, infusing an uncomplicated plot with lyrical narrative that brings to life a vivid landscape where it is easy to believe in legends. Her multiple narrators tell a story of family, love, and belief that readers will find familiar but with a 21st-century spin. With a delightful balance of courage and casualness, Cornwell tackles contemporary issues that thus far have rarely been touched in this genre. She sidesteps the typical sci-fi/fantasy trap where leading ladies must be born leaders, witty banterers, and confident superwomen –not to mention dead sexy – from page one in order to “keep up” with their male counterparts. Her women are humans (or selkies) first, neither rejecting their gender nor being defined by it; they have real struggles, insecurities, desires, faults, and improvements. In my opinion, the greatest service current authors can give their double-X readers is to portray their female characters as people – not goddesses, not damsels – and in that regard, Cornwell has delivered.

Cornwell is breaking relatively new ground by incorporating a lesbian couple as major supporting characters in a fantasy novel for young adults. While the LGBTQ community is more represented in all genres now than in previous decades, it still is unfortunately uncommon to see same-sex couples play prominent roles in the sci-fi/fantasy realm. But Cornwell does so organically, gracefully, and without exploiting the characters or defining them solely by their orientation. She focuses not on the “novelty” of attraction between two females but on the depth of love between two people. In the true essence of her story – of love transcending boundaries – Cornwell stresses the insignificance of convention next to the power of connection, all without drawing undue attention to the unconventionality of the situation. Nicely done.

As a writer and a thinker, Cornwell is firmly established. As a storyteller, she has some room for growth. From the first few pages, the plotline was familiar to the point of being predictable, following the standard YA fantasy romance pattern almost to a T: Teen #1 begins life in new location, Teen #1 meets Teen #2 in unorthodox way, Teen #2 reveals true yet impossible identity, Teen #1 believes and must prove loyalty to Teen #2’s kind; love and adventures ensue (see Twilightfor further examples). Though featuring selkies (rather than vampires or, I don’t know, merpeople) was unique, Cornwell forfeited the creative opportunity to bring us something totally new from the mythological realm. Additionally, the characters’ lack of individuality dulled any real attachment I might have felt for them. Despite fascinating and well-rounded backstories, their voices remained veiled by the intricacy and poeticism of the text; in an effort to let her own voice shine through, Cornwell sacrificed the potential connection between reader and character. For a story with multiple narrators, it would have more effective to have clearer, more distinct voices. In writing a story Cornwell proves herself to be very capable, but she lacks a solid foundation in strong, real, individualized characters.

Nevertheless, the undercurrents of Tides made reading it worthwhile. It’s enormously satisfying to see fantasy authors doing their job: communicating important messages in a creative and engaging way. I’d recommend it to younger teens, folklore fans looking for a quick read, and bookies interested in how socially aware fantasy is being brought into the twenty-first century.

*Jennifer Vosters is a Milwaukee native and member of the Saint Mary’s College Class of 2016, graduating with an English major and minors in Theatre and Italian. She was cast in the 2016 Notre Dame Shakespeare Festival, performing in Periclesand The Tempest as part of the Young Company. She is currently reading The Rover by Aphra Behn, An Actor Prepares by Konstantin Stanislavski, and Ulysses – at least parts of it (whew!) – by her beloved James Joyce.

Anonymity

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Anonymity

Anonymity
by Janna McMahan
Koehler Books, 2013
291 pages

“I guess I just never really thought about how they live. I mean I’ve been downtown for years, and I supposed I just sort of think of them as background noise. You know they’re there, but you just tune them out.” These are the words of Emily–a twenty-something who is a bit directionless, single, and worried she isn’t keeping up with the young women with whom she graduated–when she learns more about the homeless youth in Austin. You see, Austin is a place that has a great party scene, and working at a bar and being promiscuous suits her just fine; she doesn’t care that she’s different from her corporate America-loving parents. Really, Emily’s made her own choices, and I say, “more power to her and her happiness.”

But when she’s made aware of the homeless youth population in Austin, she can’t look away ever again. Children who are living on the streets because they are mentally ill and their parents can’t deal with it; kids who aged out of the foster care system; kids who leave home because they have younger siblings and want to be less of a burden on their parents in a down economy. Janna McMahan shows the reader an in-depth look at the homeless youth to give them a better idea of why it happened, why the kids are tattooed, if they use drugs, and how they survive.

McMahan plays off of the reader’s expectations and shows us we’re wrong. Meet Lorelei, a young girl who arrives in Austin. She’s starving; she’s alone. When Austin is flooded and Emily, on her way to her own parents house in a safe area, finds Lorelei, “Emily couldn’t, absolutely wouldn’t take this girl to her parents’ house.” Who knows if Lorelei is a thief, violent, a drug user, “Crazy”…Here, Emily echoes our own thoughts. It’s really impossible to trust Lorelei to the point where she actually began to annoy me. When Emily takes Lorelei in for a few days, when David (the man who runs the homeless youth shelter) tries to give her a place to stay, when she runs away and tells others she doesn’t need them (clearly she does if she’s taking things from them): Lorelei can be completely frustrating and hard to understand. Even worse, she adds that her mother used to take her shopping at the mall and send Lorelei to summer camps, so the reader is left to believe that Lorelei is a selfish, ungrateful girl.

Emily’s mother Barbara serves as a foil to the homeless youth. She acknowledges that she and her husband bought things at a rapid pace, but when the economy collapsed, they were left with debt. In order to survive, she and Gerald must forge ahead, but they don’t do a great job. They’re still trying to pay off three cars, one of which is an enormous SUV. Essentially, because Barbara and Gerald have credit, they are able to remain in a home. Barbara is critical of the “gutter punks” with their facial tattoos, piercings, and bad smells. She tries to be helpful when she launders Lorelei’s clothes after the flood, but for the most part she talks badly abut the girl while she’s not around (what kind of person destroys her whole life by getting a tattoo on her face).

McMahan masterfully leads the reader to this place in order to prove her wrong. It isn’t until near the end of the book that the real reasons for Lorelei’s homelessness emerge, which left me feeling like a bad person, like I am just like everyone else who walks by children without a place to eat, sleep, or be loved. Homelessness continues to be a problem (of course), and Anonymity doesn’t pretend to solve the problems put forth in its pages, which makes this mainstream novel a more challenging read for those who might not have expected to be enriched.

Little Fish

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Little Fish

 

Title & Author: Little Fish, written and drawn by Ramsey Beyer

Published by: Zest Books in September 2013

Note: I pointed out recently that I will be using page numbers in my reviews to “practice what I preach” to my comp students, but this book does not have numbered pages!

Little Fish Beyer

Although the cover is in color, the rest of the book is black and white.

I decided to check out Ramsey Beyer’s work because she was recommended during a Grab the Lapels “Meet the Writer” feature with comic artist Liz PrinceLittle Fish is a graphic memoir that looks at the author’s first year of college, starting with the summer before she leaves in small-town Paw Paw, Michigan, and ending just as summer begins after her spring semester at an art college in Baltimore concludes.

In the first few pages, the author introduces herself in the present. She says she’s Ramsey, 28 years old, and lives in Philly where she makes comics about her own life. I like this introduction, as it shows readers that Ramsey Beyer became a “successful adult.” Liz Prince started in a similar way in Tomboy. Prince’s adult self would jump in the narrative of her childhood to add insights she’s gained since she was a girl. Ramsey Beyer’s adult self never comes back, and I wasn’t sure why not. There were many times I wanted more reflection of what freshman-year Ramsey felt.

The majority of Little Fish is told through lists that Beyer wrote while she was in college. I didn’t like these. They add very little insight and could have served as reminders to the author of how she was at 18, or the author could have commented on the lists and how sometimes her feelings changed really fast (like from depressed to bouncy, for example, in a matter of days). Some lists provide better insight, such as the one that talks about why she wanted to go to a school in the city. Here are a few reasons:

“–i need to push my boundaries in every way

–i’ll make better art if i’m uncomfortable and inspired

–i don’t want to be able to fall back on my friends and family. if i lived nearby, i don’t think i would end up pushing myself”

Some of the other items include immature observations, like “the East Coast seems so cool!” but there are moments where Beyer shows us she was a deeply reflective 18-year-old. It just that most of her lists don’t demonstrate that, and lists consume the pages of Little Fish.

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Two lists on one page. Many pages look like this.

What I did appreciate about the lists is that they were constructed in a visually appealing way. Many were cut up and placed on top of textured back grounds, like strips of duct tape, bubble wrap, or knitted fabric (Beyer was in knitting club in college). These textured backgrounds are made of materials popular with teenagers, but also demonstrate Beyer is thinking about the composition of images.

Little Fish is also told through Livejournal posts the author made when she was 18. Ramsey Beyer graduated high school and went to college the same year I did, so I could relate to how popular Livejournal was at the time. Also, Beyer and I both grew up in small-town Michigan. I frequently drive past her hometown of Paw Paw on my way to visit relatives! I’m not sure that the Livejournal posts will add much for all readers, but to me, they added a level of nostalgia for 2003-2004.

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Beyer writing a Livejournal post on the airplane.

 

Since this is a graphic novel, there has to be some panels like we normally think of in comics. I liked these the best, as the author drew herself asking questions and thinking about what’s going on during her first year at college. She worries that she’s not political enough, and her new friend Daniel prods her to consider her position on topics like feminism and animal rights. This was the interesting material; the conversations with her friends and subsequent reflections on the conversations are rich. The drawing style is simplistic–a bit like the cartoon Doug–which keeps the attention on the ideas and not the drawing details.

Overall, Little Fish is a slice of life story that begins and ends arbitrarily: with the start and conclusion of Beyer’s first year of college. Although she expresses frustration with her art classes, readers are never shown any of her art projects or actually see her struggling. Classes are often mentioned on a list. For instance, on the list titled “school is hard sink or swim” she writes, “–my very first assignment in drawing class was to draw 100 hands and 100 feet by the following week. thats a lot of drawing (!!) and that was only one class out of four that i had for homework that week”. I wanted to know how that week went! Was she constantly drawing? What did the hands look like? The only point of reference readers have for Beyer’s artwork is the book they hold in their hands. She also changes majors to animation, a form of art she’s never done but ends up loving after taking one class. What do they do in that class? What are her projects like? Beyer leaves readers hanging.

Instead, Beyer mostly focuses on what “kind” of friends she has and how having people who know everything about her affects the depth of her feelings for those individuals. Beyer’s friends from Paw Paw, MI, knew her since she was five. Her new friends in college are totally different. Yet, readers don’t get to know anyone well. They’re mostly described in lists! More lists! For example, “Olivia likes: activism, films, going on dates, trying new food, and veganism.” The lists don’t help the reader, but they seem to help Beyer think about what friends are and where they can come from. After living together and talking intimately for 2 semesters, Beyer’s new friends earn a place in her heart because they know so much about her. As a result, when she’s at college she wants to be home, but when she’s at home, she often misses college! This is good stuff that would be helpful for new high school grads. That is the best audience for Little Fish: high school graduates off to college.

I felt like it was refreshing to read about someone who represents straightedge life, even though Beyer hates that term–because she’s the kind of person I was at her age. Everyone wants to see their story told in media, to see themselves represented and identify with the people depicted. But, this book doesn’t push the author. It’s a lot of cut and paste (literally) from 2003-2004, causing the book to tell readers quite a bit of information without showing it, and without trusting readers to pick up on visual ques in a visual medium.

This One Summer

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This One Summer coverTitle: This One Summer

Writer: Mariko Tamaki

Illustrator: Jillian Tamaki

Published: by First Second in 2014

This One Summer is the story of fifteen-year-old Rose heading to Awago Beach for summer vacation, just like they do every single year. Rose meets up with her summer vacation friend, Windy, who is a year-and-one-half younger. But trouble starts brewing when Rose sees her parents argue and pull apart from each other. Though it seems strange to have everything resolved by the time the vacation is over, This One Summer uses many common events adolescent girls will experience to navigate growing up to relate to the audience.

One key aspect of This one Summer that makes it so good is that Mariko Tamaki is able to capture accurately what it’s like to be an adolescent girl. Right away, Rose develops a sort-of crush on the boy who works at the local convenience store. It’s one of those rustic shops near beach vacation spots that have everything from marshmallows to DVD rentals–anything vacationers would require. That boy–“The Dud”–randomly nicknames Rose “blondie,” a highly unimaginative choice. Yet, Rose’s face lights up and blushes at “The Dud’s” remark.

Readers may question why Rose would have any feelings for “The Dud.” He seems pretty typical for an eighteen-year-old boy, and even a bit unmotivated. Rose never flirts with him, nor does she make an effort to get to know more about him. Yet there is that category of good girl who knows that she has a little crush but is too shy to do anything about it. Rose behaves like a regular adolescent girl when she makes excuses to get things from the convenience store just to see this boy who paid her a small bit of attention.

The Tamaki cousins also accurately represent adolescent girls by carefully choosing what activities the girls do. To distract each other from a difficult topic, Rose and Windy decide to play M.A.S.H., a game every young girl has played. Players ask fate if they get to live in a Mansion, Apartment, Shed, or House, and to whom they are married, and how many kids they have. Rose chooses the president, Justin Bieber, and Mitch (a.k.a. “The Dud”) as her potential life mate, so including “The Dud” is another insight into her feelings for the older boy. When they aren’t playing games, the girls can be found renting R-rated horror movies, a sign that they want to be grown up, but which demonstrates that they can’t really handle the screaming, slashing, and blood squirting.

In their younger teenage years, girls want to grow up, but they may not be fully prepared to handle their choices. Watching scary movies is one thing, but paying attention to older teenage girls is another. Rose and Windy watch as the local girls, who are around eighteen, flirt openly with the boys at the convenience store, which of course makes Rose jealous. Rose decides older teen girls are so dumb that she calls them “drunks” and “sluts.” Really, Rose isn’t sure of what she’s saying, but she’s trying to understand older teen girls to figure out why she’s different from them. Watching older girls has long been a big part of learning for adolescent girls. This is not to say that older teens are the pinnacle of intelligence. Rose and Windy accidentally overhear an older girl ask her friend, “Hey, Sarah, was it you who said that sperm can live, for like, three weeks in your stomach?”

Since Mariko Tamaki writes teen girls so well, it’s important that Jillian Tamaki illustrate in a way that complements the words. Each character is very specific looking, meaning that they’re easy to identify. While some graphic novels make characters less detailed, which allows readers to insert themselves into the story, the people in This One Summer are not meant to be anyone. Many of the images are highly detailed:

Uncle Daniel Tamaki

Uncle Daniel

The beautiful detail in the drawing makes This One Summer almost read like snapshots in a photo album of a lovely vacation.

Yet, Jillian Tamaki is an artist with many styles, and readers will notice that some other styles slip into the graphic novel. Windy and Rose, most noticeably, often border on a manga look:

Manga Windy Tamaki.png

Windy with exaggerated features, but no distinct mouth.

Manga Rose Tamaki

More exaggerated features, such as the mouth, but Rose doesn’t have the meticulous features of Uncle Daniel’s picture.

I was a bit confused about why Jillian Tamaki would chose to lean toward a manga style in some of her pictures when she is so capable of drawing realistically, like she does with Uncle Daniel. It might be that since Rose and Windy are drawn the most often in the book, Tamaki chose a simpler image for time’s sake. It might also be that we’re meant to insert ourselves into Windy’s or Rose’s characters, since the book is about adolescent girlhood. The less specific the face, the more likely readers are to see themselves in the character.

Despite my puzzlement over the manga style, I found all of the illustrations of the characters appealing. Windy is especially adorable. I was worried that her 18 month age difference from Rose meant this would be a story about Rose outgrowing Windy, but the girls challenge and enrich each other. Windy is constantly eating and drinking soda like a thirteen-year-old girl, and she’s not afraid to dance in a way that makes me love her:

Windy Dancing Tamaki 2.png

Windy dancing takes up two full pages. Her enthusiasm for fun is infectious.

Jillian Tamaki does just do people well; she’s also brilliant when it comes to scenery. She incorporates grass, water, siding on the houses, trees, and beach sand, all in great detail. Furthermore, J. Tamaki makes use of space in a way that makes This One Summer seem expansive to the point of never ending:

summer-beach

Rose thinks about her family’s problems on the left while Windy run towards the blue stormy-looking mass on the right. Notice that my other images don’t have this deep bluish tint. This One Summer appears to have two editions: one in the blue and one without.

This two-page image can be twisted and turned in different directions: the lake on the bottom, the lake being in front of the girls, the lake on top looking like an ominous cloud that matches Rose’s concerns noted on the side.

Another thing Jillian Tamaki does that I don’t see as much in other graphic novels is she adds lots of little words in her images, just bits of onomatopoeia. In some scenes, the words simply made the image more dynamic in an otherwise wordless part of the story, like when Rose’s dad is on the grill and Rose is taking photographs:

Words and Images Tamaki.png

Sound effects everywhere!

Readers may wonder why they need these words. Isn’t it obvious that a grill sizzles and a camera clicks? But, on pages that have no dialogue or thought captions, the words give the reader with which to engage and view the scene as active, as in something is taking place and these characters are truly moving around. In other places, the onomatopoeia helped me understand what was happening, like this scene with “The Dud” and his bike:

The Dud Tamaki

The Dud carelessly dumps his bike on the ground.

Because he’s texting and biking, and Rose is also biking while holding an object, I thought at first that the distracted bicyclists crashed. However, the small “DUMP” by boy’s front tire made me realize that I was supposed to see him as a careless kid who doesn’t take care of his things. Instead of putting down the kickstand, which would keep his bike out of the filth, he just dumps it on the ground and leaves it–a clear sign that he doesn’t care about much, which is part of his personality.

Though This One Summer is a slice-of-life story that takes place over about ten days, it is full in the way that it captures the entirety of the difficulties of being a teenager. This One Summer took me back to my younger teenage years. I could relate to the difficulties that Rose faced when her parents argued the whole vacation and the isolation she experienced as a result. Some of what Rose thought she knew was changed as she watched different scenarios between her parents or the older teens, or even discussions with Windy, unfold to prove her preconceived notions wrong.

 

Meet the Writer: Liz Prince

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Please be sure to check out my review of Tomboy on Grab the Lapels!

In Tomboy you depict yourself as a child drawing comics. When did you realize comics were something you could do as a job?

I’ve been pretty solely focused on drawing comics since I was 9 or 10 years old; before that I wanted to be an animator, (and before that, as referenced in Tomboy, I wanted to be a cartoon character), so cartooning in some fashion has always been a goal of mine.  It’s pretty cool that I actually did manage to be a cartoon character when I grew up, by drawing comics about myself!  3-year-old Liz would be in awe (or she would insist that it doesn’t count—who knows with 3-year-old logic).

Artist Liz Prince

It isn’t until you’re a teenager and you attend an alternative school that you find people who make you feel like you can be yourself. Do you think people who struggle with fitting in should try alternate education facilities? Or should teens look for a group within their own schools?

I think the benefit of alternative schools is that they tend to have a smaller student body, which means that there is less chance for there to be an overarching status-quo that kids are expected to conform to.  Not having organized sports and that culture of hierarchy definitely seems to keep an even keel in terms of who is valued as a student, but that isn’t to say that positive social situations don’t exist in larger educational institutions!  I feel like it really is wholly dependent on the student and the situation.

You note in Tomboy that having a boyfriend makes things easier because people aren’t questioning your sexuality. Help us all out: what is it that makes finding someone to date so darn hard? Are we just looking for that validation from our peers?

Well, that was a very specific to me situation, in that because of the way I dress and present myself, people have always assumed that I date women, when in actuality I have always been romantically attracted to men (or in the case of Tomboy, boys). It felt important to point that out, because it is a very damaging side effect of our gender stereotypes, that we have stereotypes for folks who don’t fit the stereotype!

I do think that a lot of what we consider to be romantic conquest in our teenage years is based more on what we’ve gleaned from pop culture, and less on what we actually want from a partner, but that’s totally understandable because dating gets easier with experience, and most people’s experience level when they’re 15 years old is very low.  Basically, I look back on my romantic experiences in my teen years as a total facepalm: it doesn’t mean I didn’t genuinely like the boys that I dated, but most of those relationships weren’t really all that beneficial to me beyond having someone to make out with (and hey, sometimes that can’t be discounted as a total PLUS).

Do you have many lady friends in the graphic novel/comics scene? What are they like?

Yes!  Nicole J. Georges (Calling Dr. Laura, 2013), Corrine Mucha (Get Over It!, 2014), Whit Taylor (Madtown High, 2013), Ramsey Beyer (Year One, 2012), Raina Telgemeier (Sisters, 2014). They are all totally inspirational to me, and it’s a bummer that most of them don’t live in the same city as me, because my favorite times of the year are when we’re together at a convention.

Whom did you picture as your audience when you were writing Tomboy?

Tomboy is the first book that I’ve written where audience really came into play, since I was writing it for a publisher that specializes in books for teens.  At first I was pretty stunted by the idea that this book had to conform to some sort of code of what is “acceptable for young adult readers,” but I pretty quickly decided that I would just write the book the way I wanted to write the book, and worry about what was or wasn’t “acceptable” if it came up in the editing process, and surprisingly, nothing ended up on the chopping block!  That book is pure Liz, no pandering, and I’m really proud of it.

The first comic you drew that you were really proud of: what was it about?

Haha, if you ask me now, I’d say it’s called Tomboy, and it’s a memoir about my childhood and gender stereotypes.

Ok, I’m halfway kidding, but Tomboy is definitely the most important book I’ve written, but I’ve been drawing, and I’ve always felt at least semi-confident about the results.  I think that I’ve probably been proud of my output all along, otherwise I might not have found the energy to keep going.  Of course, in the case of some of my earliest published comics, which were in a local zine in Santa Fe, NM, when I was 13-years-old, they make me cringe now, but I was totally stoked to have had comics printed in a magazine when I was in the 7th grade: not many other kids can say that!

Tomboy

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Tomboy

Author: Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir

Author: **Liz Prince

Published: by Zest Books in 2014

Tomboy Cover

Thirty-one-year-old comic artist Liz Prince shares her history as a tomboy. She begins with her tantrum at age three when she didn’t want to wear a dress. All through elementary and middle school, Prince is tormented. No one wants to play with her, she hates all things girly, and classmates begin to question her sexuality. High school is a huge problem area until Prince finds a group of friends who are more open-minded. While the narrator (Prince at 31) could interrupt the narrative more regularly, Tomboy is a graphic memoir that will have readers nodding along in recognition as Prince analyzes what it means to be a tomboy in a society that tells men and women how to be from birth.

For me, a good memoir is analytical. A few weeks ago, I reviewed Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir Fun Home and discovered that it was the most analytic memoir I’d ever read, in graphic form or otherwise. Whereas Bechdel is very much pulling apart her motives from an adult perspective, Prince’s story almost always sticks with her younger self’s point of view. For instance, Liz notices that heroes are always boys, and girls are always being rescued. When Liz draws a picture at school of her, Luke Skywalker, and her toy Popple, the teacher asks if she’s supposed to be Leia. Liz says, “I’m a JEDI.” After thinking about women who are saved by men–Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, and Repunzel–Liz Prince at age 32 pops in and adds, “So, it’s not that surprising that I would envy those born into boyhood.” Here is an example of the author interrupting her own story:

Tomboy pg 85

Adult Liz, the one drawing the comic, interrupts her own story.

It happens every so often; adult Liz shows up to add an explanation for or clarification of what child Liz is thinking. It’s almost in the style of Scott McCloud in his pivotal book, Understanding Comics.

Scott McCloud

McCloud, in cartoon form, explains how we see comics. Liz Prince does the same thing to her narrative set during childhood to explain more of what her younger self may not know.

Prince analyzes her childhood in a way that will have readers nodding along in recognition. She explains the reasons why children make fun of each other. Again, she inserts her adult self:

“Let’s take a timeout to review some of the reasons you can be made fun of in grade school. 1) Because you’re a girl who dresses like a boy. 2) Because you’re a girl who hangs out with boys. 3) Because you’re a girl. 4) Because you’re a girl who hangs out with girls. So yeah, you can get bullied for ANYTHING.”

A little later, Prince realizes that most of the time, kids are repeating what they hear: “My daddy says you bring lunch from home because you’re poor.” A classmate presents his report: “…and that’s why a vote for George Bush makes the world a better place to live.” Then, little grade school-age Liz says, “We sometimes repeat things we’re told without really knowing what they mean.” In fact, adult comic artist Liz Prince makes her younger self say that, thus proving the point that children repeat.

Tomboy Scott McCloud style

On the left is Liz Prince as a little girl. She says something grown up, then realizes that adult Liz Prince, the comic artist, made her say the grown up thing. Prince inserts herself into the story every so often.

It’s hard to be a tomboy in the world. Girls are told not only how to dress, but assaulted with ideas about how to behave and what gives them value in society. People–both children and adults–reinforce these ideas about gender without question. As a child, Prince buys into gender norms, too, and doesn’t even realize. Boys are cool, so if she looks and acts like a boy, she’s cool. Girls are not cool. But what Prince doesn’t realize is how boys see a girl trying to be a boy:

 

Tomboy pg 12

Liz Prince realizes that boys see her as an anomaly.

Tomboy is easy to relate to in a way that made me cringe. I think the camp was the most tragic passage in which many readers will see themselves. At Girl Scout camp, little Liz learns that it’s disgusting to shower naked, swim without a t-shirt, and change her clothes where others can see. The shame is heaped upon girls, perpetuated by other girls, who most likely learned from stupid comments said by parents (who most likely were criticizing other women) and weren’t aware that their children are always listening and impressionable. I remember girls in 7th grade humiliating their friend who got her first period and it leaked on her pants–they kept calling her “bloody butt.” I remember kids in 2nd grade tormenting a girl who picked food out of her teeth and swallowed it–and I was part of the tormenting crowd. We pick out the weak and humiliate them for reasons few of us fully understand.

Playing sports becomes a point of humiliation that readers may recognize, too. Liz plays baseball on the boys’ team for a number of years because it’s her favorite sport. When the coach hands out cups one season, the boys decide Liz needs to wear a chest protector, thus ending her baseball career. Similarly, some girl friends of mine and I tried to play touch football in 7th and 8th grades, but the boys said things like, “Hut, hut, dyke!” and the coach would say nothing. We were run off because we didn’t feel safe from ridicule, even in the presence of an adult.

If you’re about the same age as Liz Prince, you’ll easily relate to the pop culture references she includes. I felt thrown right back into some of the best parts of childhood when she mentioned Nintendo, Sega, Popple, Ghostbusters, and quotes from Wayne’s World. Heck, we even had the same Popple, which I thought was pretty cool and made me like Liz Prince even more. If you’re about 30 years old, you’ll have a good time traveling down nostalgia lane!

One of the biggest ways Liz Prince lets you put yourself into her story and relate to her is through the drawing style. By now, you may have noticed that the pictures are simplistic, basically line drawings without color. In Scott McCloud’s image above, he explains that a very specific image means viewers only picture one person. The more simplistic the face becomes, the more we’re able to insert different people into that one drawing. So, when Liz Prince shows picture of mean girls or boys who are picking on her, they’re vague enough that readers can stick in their own bullies. I immediately remember specific names of kids in grade school whom I hated because Prince’s drawings are not overbearing. The one character you can always easily identify is Prince herself, mostly due to a strange hat she wears in every frame.

If you read this book, you may find yourself experiencing some intense emotions you hoped you’d forgotten upon high school graduation. Yet, the analysis Liz Prince includes will help you think about why children were so cruel, perhaps why you were cruel, and that we all share a universal terrible time in grade school (even the popular kids are hiding something awful). Because Prince wisely makes use of a drawing style and narrative in which people will see themselves, Tomboy is a powerful memoir that will have you turning pages just to see if it gets better–for her, and perhaps even for you.

**Join me Monday, December 14th to read my interview with author Liz Prince! She was gracious enough to take the time to answer my questions about being a comic artist and about Tomboy.

 

Anya’s Ghost

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Anya’s Ghost

Anyas Ghost cover

Anya’s Ghost (First Second, 2011) is the celebrated graphic novel by Russian-American Vera Brosgol. The book is the story of a teenage girl named Anya, who believes she has trouble fitting in at school. Her mother brought Anya and her little brother from Russia when Anya was five, just before Anya entered public school. Her best friend is Siobhan, an Irish-American girl whom I mistook for a boy for most of the graphic novel. Siobhan has short hair and wears a button up shirt and tie. The images aren’t detailed enough for me to tell just by looking at the girl. The story also focuses on Russian-American student Dima, a highly intelligent runty boy in Anya’s grade. The story is set in the U.S., and so the other students are all represented as American teenagers (i.e. blond, popular, don’t appear to struggle with popularity).

On her walk home from school one day, Anya falls into a well and discovers a skeleton is her only company. The skeleton belongs to Emily, a ghost who can only travel a short distance from her remains. After Anya is rescued, she discovers one of Emily’s finger bones got into her backpack, and now Emily is with Anya to stay.

It’s not so bad, though. Emily helps Anya do better in school by cheating on tests and feeding Anya lines to say to a boy after reading his schedule so Anya can “bump into” him. Emily is the best friend Anya’s had in a long time (Siobhan is a testy person who is mad at Anya just as often as she is friendly). But Emily is not exactly what she seems, and Anya may regret her new life with the help of her ghost.

Vera Brosgol inserts reminders that Anya struggles with her differences. When teachers try to call on Anya, they can’t pronounce her name: “Is there a problem, Miss… Br… Bor…” and Anya answers, “Borzakovskaya. No, ma’am.” The image suggests that the teacher isn’t working to learn her students’ names. Again, Anya has been in the U.S. since she was five years old and is now in high school. It’s not as if she entered the school year midway.

Emily points out that the Russian American students should stick together. When Dima is being bullied in the school lunchroom, Anya isn’t surprised; she predicted it when Dima kept answering all the questions earlier in class, which is a total “fobby” move–“fresh off the boat.” Emily asks, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t you both Russian?…Well, back when I was alive, your people were your family. You defended each other no matter what.” In this instance, Brosgol reminds readers that even individuals with something important in common can turn on each other in the name of seeming like a normal teenager.

But Anya can’t escape her mother. Whether it’s the greasy food she makes, which Anya hates because she’s worried she’ll get fat, or her mother’s misunderstanding of basic knowledge on the citizenship test, Anya is impatient with her round, bespectacled, independent mother and shows her about as much compassion as she shows Dima.

Russian Food.jpg

Anya wants “normal” food for American teens.

Though the story suggests the point is to get rid of Anya’s ghost, the real challenge is to get rid of all of her that is Russian. Anya tells Emily that she goes to a private school because Dima went there, and his parents wanted Anya to be there to befriend him. She laments, “It’s not fair! I got bullied for years for talking funny, I did my time in ESL, I don’t have an accent!”

Emily is mostly a vehicle to get Anya to experience American kids and see that they don’t have perfect lives, and that she actually fits in rather easily. Anya never realizes that her low self-esteem and anger is what keeps her from befriending the other kids, but the reader can see it happening. I enjoyed following Anya and watching her do regular teenager activities, especially since I’m reading from an adult perspective, one with my teenage years far enough behind me to be wiser, but not so far as to forget what high school was like.

However, Emily seemed pretty useless (other than being that vehicle). Her statements seemed simple and too easy: “Was it something I could have helped with?” Or, “And I think that Sean boy could really like you! You’re much more interesting than that Elizabeth girl.” I never felt like Emily challenged the reader–or Anya–except the part when she noted that Anya wasn’t helping Dima.

It’s possible that Emily is the sweet to Anya’s sour. Anya is upset about her weight, her nationality, her family, and her level of popularity. Really, she seems like a regular grumpy teen who is blaming all her problems on her Russian roots.

Anya Gets Fat.jpg

Anya worries that she will turn into her mother.

Emily is sweet, polite–a good little ghost girl, in contrast. In fact, I kept thinking of the little ghost girls in the animated movie Coraline. The longer Emily stays, though, the more the roles change. Anya is forced to become kinder and more compassionate as Emily demands more of her time on Earth.

The ending of Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost seemed too easy. Anya’s changes were quick, and I felt for sure that if there were a second book that the depressed teen might go back to her sulking ways. The only growth I saw from Anya was when she tells Siobhan that she doesn’t want to share a cigarette because “[she] doesn’t think [she] ever liked it. And it doesn’t look as cool as [she] thought it did.” Perhaps Anya will change her sad attitude with some careful reflection.

In the end, Anya’s Ghost is a speedy read. There are more images than words, so I was able to get through all 221 pages in about an hour. So, even if you feel hesitant about reading this book, you can enjoy it without a huge time commitment.