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Graphical Education
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Graphical Education

Although not quite the break-neck speed of last year, my reading is still going strong.  My jaunt with young adult novels continues – this genre is *rich* right now – and I have recently gotten into some graphic novels too.   My book club at work chose graphic novels as our next selection, and instead of just reading one, we are all reading different ones so that we can report back to the group.  I used that opportunity to check out quite a few.

Graphic novels have been on the scene for just over a decade, and they are really starting to gain some steam.  They can be like comic books in style, but are bound in a book format, and usually have a wide variety of topics.  The ones that I have been particularly drawn to are the autobiographical stories.

~Recent Reads~ 

The best of this genre – that I have read – is definitely The Photographer: Into War-torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert (illustrator) and Didier Lefèvre (writer). 

Lefèvre was a French photojournalist (who passed away in 2007) whose work appeared in many newspapers and magazines. For the assignment described in the book, Lefèvre worked alongside a team from Médicins Sans Frontières / Doctors Without Borders. Lefèvre captures many moments on film; his photographs are interspersed with the drawings in the graphic novel.

The book is a stunning piece of literature – a true “snapshot” of life at that time in Afghanistan (~1985). The story is recounted by Lefèvre, so you also have several stories about his relationships with the people in the team – Juliette, the strong and independent leader, who knows how to mix with both men and women in this fundamentalist Islamic culture; John, the burly American doctor with a hear of gold; Régis, the anesthesiologist who dreams of opening a winery in sourthern France… and the many Afghans – Mahmud, Najmudin, and the patients who are treated in the team.

Highly recommended book.

My full review on Goodreads

 Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is a very well-known book in the graphic novel genre.  Satrapi recounts her life in Iran in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  Persepolis 2, the book that I read, continues the story as Marjane’s parents have sent her to school in Austra.  You can get both books as one single volume with The Complete Persepolis.  This review covers only Book 2:

Through Marjane’s eyes, we see this changed society – the broken lives and buildings of Tehran, but we also see the strength of her family.  There are several times that she writes (and draws) and says “I have never told anyone this…” and then lays it all out. It must have been quite cathartic and liberating.

Ultimately, this book seemed much more introspective – describing the immigrant experience, as well as the “homecoming” experience after years away. Marjane’s story is not flowery and happy – and she does not sugarcoat it. It is extremely educational though. If you read the first part of story and want a reprisal and some closure, this is it. She is quite talented – both in this genre of literature, memoir, and in translating her feelings into words and pictures.

Full review of Persepolis 2 on Goodreads(may contain some minor spoilers)

The third graphic novel I read was probably the most visually interesting – the artist is really good – but the story was lacking, unfortunately. Shortcomings follows the lives of several urban late twenty-/early thirty-somethings.

It’s character-driven, with very little “action” but a lot of subtext. One of the over-arching themes seems to be how these first-generation Asian-Americans (Ben and Miko are Japanese-American and Alice is Korean-American) face the various stereotypes in modern society. The relationships are screwed up… but at the same time, these people seem so very real – like co-workers, or people you meet at a party. Perhaps being the same age range as the characters added to this familiarity, but I really did feel like I knew these people. The reviews on this one vary widely, and my rating was at the lower end of the spectrum, but I can see how this book can be meaningful and important to others.

Full review on Goodreads

 The last three books that I read are part of this re-emergence of great young-adult literature. The Mysterious Benedict Society is a sheer delight for older readers (10-14 years):  an adventurous tale with kids saving the world from an evil genius… the heroes are a special group of children that are chosen specifically after a battery of tests is adminstered to the general kid population.  They succeed and then move on to the next test – a covert mission into a secret school… this is the first of a series that will be sure to keep kids reading – it’s just fun to read!

A real page-turner and lots of fun to read. The author captures a lot of elements of fantasy and whimsy that will really appeal to his intended audience. There was definitely a “Kids Rule!” message, being that the kids were the heroes who essentially “saved the world”…

Full review on Goodreads

Trying to describe these next two books is difficult – I enjoyed them so much that I really had a hard time writing a review. Again, they are written with a young adult in mind, but much like some of the other modern classics (Harry Potter, specifically) they can be enjoyed by everyone. And wow, did I enjoy them. The Hunger Games is the first of the three-part series, with Catching Fire as its immediate sequel. The third and final book in the series, Mockingjay will be out later in the summer, and it will undoubtedly be an instant hit – there are scores of people anticipating it!   

My excitement for these books make my critical mind go out the window, so they are hard to review. They are not perfect, but hands down, some of the most entertaining works of fiction I have ever read!  The books are set in the near future on the North American continent.  A governmental body has dissolved the national lines and created this set of districts that supply the great entity – Panem.  Each year, the government requires every district to enter their children into a lottery – and the children/teens that are chosen (2 from each of the 12 districts) are sent into a battlefield – The Hunger Games – where they must fight to the death.  It is brutal – like gladitorial games – and televised for all of Panem. The government uses this impending tribute as a way to stop any resistance – knowing that their own children could be sacrificed next.  The story follows the tributes from District 12 – one of the poorest districts, the coalmining district - Katniss and Peeta.  These books are already in the works to become movies – so go ahead and get a jumpstart!  They will undoubtedly be the next big thing – so you can be ahead of the game!


I have been reading a lot… but also knitting up a storm… photos to come :)

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20 Responses

  1. Mandy

    I’ve only ever read a few graphic novels. They are such a great idea for a book club! I recently started reading some comic books, because my friend wrote one. I enjoyed visiting the comic book store so much that I’ve been back to get more! And my kid who just learned to read, seems more interested in comic books than anything else! My friend, Pierluigi Cothran, scripted NOLA: http://www.usatoday.com/life/comics/2009-11-17-nola-comic-st_N.htm

  2. allison

    I always love reading your recommendations. I have had my eye on the Benedict Society for a while, but hadn’t heard of the Hunger Games. I know what’s going on my summer reading list, now :)

  3. Michelle

    I have Persopolis but still haven’t gotten around to reading it. Maus is my favorite graphic novel ever.

  4. kingshearte

    I have to agree with your assessment of the current offerings for teens. There’s some crap, for sure, but there’s also some *really* good stuff out there these days. Have you read The Maze Runner? I loved it, and am very eagerly awaiting the sequel (which hasn’t yet been even announced or anything, but it clearly has at least one planned).

    And I’m a little embarassed by how much of a fangirl The Hunger Games & Catching Fire made me into. I ordered Mockingjay before it even had a title. And I’m hoping I might be able to score an ARC to get my hands on it sooner (the perks of working in a bookstore), although if there’s enough buzz about the book, they might not release one.

    And as for graphic novels, I haven’t really read any, but I’m kind of annoyed by the term. A novel, by definition, is a work of fiction, so I wish they’d come up with another name for the growing number of non-fiction graphic “novels.” I keep pushing for my store to create a Graphic Non-Fiction section, but so far, no luck. Boo.

  5. Jen

    I have to recommend Maus I and II as well. Maus I was published in book form almost 25 years ago. Completely original, disturbing, honest, fantastic. It won a Pulitzer and I love it.

  6. Jackie

    We’re going on a vacation overseas in about a month and with all of the airline hulabaloo, I’m leaving my knitting at home. A few of these books will definitely find their way onto the plane with me. As an added bonus, I think that my husband (not a big reader) will enjoy them and my mom (a retired middle school principal) will find them fun too. Thanks for the reviews!

  7. Meg

    I felt the same way about Hunger Games and Catching Fire. I liked them so much, and I felt so deeply about them, that I have a hard time describing to people why they should read them. When you lay out the premise, many people shy away because it seems so horrifying, but just talking about the premise belies the depth of these books and that’s the part that’s hard to verbalize

    I’ve been wanting to get into graphic novels for a while, but haven’t found any that have grabbed me yet. I’ll try one of your recommendations and see how it goes. You’d think that for someone who has loved comic strips for as long as I have, graphic novels would be a natural next step, but this is somehow not the case.

    Keep reading! You turn me on to lots of great stuff!

  8. Wanett

    I thought The Mysterious Benedict Society was fantastic!! The characters are so thoroughly developed I felt like I knew them. I have also read the next two volumes of the story and they do not disappoint.

  9. Kim

    Some of my 5th graders read “The Hunger Games” last spring, and we talked about it as a class. I thought it sounded like a compelling read, and a bit horrifying to contemplate. Thanks for re-reminding me of this book!

  10. Heather

    I am a HUGE reader of graphic novels, it’s my favorite thing to read! I loved Shortcomings. You HAVE to read Blankets!!

  11. Heather

    Also, if you would ever want to swap titles, I’d be totally up for that as well:)

  12. Suzanne

    Meg and you are so right… I loved the Collins books and was still horrified. They are so amazing in the way that they do not shy away from the pain and yet make total sense. I was moved and horrified and thrilled at the same time. Excellent recommendation.

  13. Dayna

    I’m a middle school librarian, and I second your love for The Mysterious Benedict Society (and I also enjoyed the 2 sequels) and the Hunger Games series! I booktalked them to a couple kids, and I’ve loved watching how popular both series are with many of my students, especially The Hunger Games. Too cool to see these awesome titles get passed around from friend to friend, with an, “OMG you have to read this!” : )

    Another YA series I’ve liked lately (although it’s aimed at readers a little older the age group I work with) are Kristin Cashore’s Graceling books. I preferred Graceling to Fire, but both are worth a read for sure!

  14. margene

    My boss told me about Hunger Games and the series. I can’t wait to read them. I love keeping track of what you read on Goodreads. You ARE reading up a storm!

  15. Rovings

    I absolutely LOVED The Hunger Games and Catching Fire and have already pre-ordered Mockingjay!
    Have you heard of Susan Beth Pfeffer? She has also written a trilogy that I think you might like. The first book is called Life as we Knew it and it is about a young girl and her family and how they survive when a meteor hits the moon and pushes it closer to the Earth and changes it’s environmental conditions.

  16. Susan

    It was your review on Goodreads that convinced me that I needed to read The Hunger Games trilogy- thank you!! I *consumed* them quickly and was left aching for the third book. My daughter (11) just finished The Mysterious Benedict Society books and I want to read them too. So many wonderful books out there!

  17. Chandler

    Graphic novels are near and dear to my heart. I’d recommend Joe Sacco’s work (“Safe Area Goražde,” “Palestine,” and “The Fixer” are great ones)—it’s basically illustrated journalism, and it’s brilliant. I hadn’t heard of the Mysterious Benedict Society, though, so I’m all over that. Thanks for the recommendation!

  18. Jenna

    Thank you for your recommendations. I don’t know a lot about graphic novels but the few that I have read, particularly the non-fiction ones, have been immensely moving. I have all of Marjane Satrapi’s books, she’s amazing. The movie of Persepolis is also amazing.

    Based on your recommendation, I bought “The Photographer” at the grand re-opening of Seattle’s flagship bookstore. Yay! xoxo.

  19. Josiane

    Persepolis (book 1) came out in French just as I was coming back from Iran, so you can imagine that I simply had to get my hands on it as soon as I could! Of course, I’ve read the four books (more than once!), and I’ve seen the lovely movie. I’ve also read and enjoyed other books by Marjane Satrapi – another graphic novel: Poulet aux Prunes, and a children’s book: Ajdar. I don’t know if those have been translated to English, though. If they have, I highly recommend Ajdar: it’s a delightful book!

    I’ll have to look for The Photographer: it sounds like something I would enjoy a lot. Thank you for the recommendation!

  20. elkbio

    Thanks for all the suggestions! My adviser has told me Hunger Games is a must read so after pre-lims are done, it’s definitely on my list to devour!

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