Comics · Contemporary · Fantasy

Mini-Reviews: Mango & Bambang, Baba Yaga’s Assistant, Gracefully Grayson, None of the Above, Mechanica, You and Me and Him, Dumplin’

I’m back! Sort of. Catching up, part the first: In which I write quick comments/rants on books that really deserve longer posts.

mangobambangMango & Bambang: The Not-a-Pig
Clara Dulliamy
Walker Books

Mango is a girl who is good at many things; karate and solving problems being two of them. Bambang is a Malayan tapir who somehow finds himself in Mango’s city, after running away from a tiger. Mango had never known a tapir before and took the chance to befriend Bambang, and in this book the two have small, but rather amusing, adventures. I’m not usually keen on more recent chapter books, but this is one that I really liked, and one I’d definitely get for my nieces. Plus, Bambang is so cute! (Okay, I have to admit that I have a weakness for tapirs, and especially Malayan tapirs, so I may be biased in this regard.)

babayagasassistantBaba Yaga’s Assistant
Marika McCoola & Emily Carroll (illust.)
Candlewick Press

Last week I was in Enoshima with a friend, and we talked about how Ghibli-esqued it was, and how one might expect Yuu-baba to just come flying down. We were lucky because it was right after silver week and it was drizzling, so there weren’t a lot of people there at the time. We started talking about Baba Yaga stories, because what’s more Ghibli-esque than Baba Yaga? We went on and on about our love for Miyazaki’s Yuu-baba, which reminded me of Baba Yaga’s Assistant, so I told her about it.

This middle grade graphic novel really is a Spirited Away sort of story, with a protagonist who is plucky and resourceful and most importantly, knows her fairy stories, which of course is the best way to survive the world at large, especially when you’re a child.

gracefullygraysonGracefully Grayson
Ami Polonsky
Disney-Hyperion

I  was teary throughout most of this book. I was taken by surprise in a way, because I started the book knowing that it was a middle grade book about a transgirl coming to terms with herself, but I didn’t realise that it was also about grief.

Grayson Senders was orphaned as a child, and I get the impression that she never got to come to terms with her parents’ death. Living with her aunt, uncle, and “normal” cousins, she kept the fact that she imagines her large t-shirts were dresses, that her pants were skirts, that she feels a disconnect with the person she sees in the mirror. But then she auditions for the part of Persephone in the school play, and others begin to question her.

This is truly a middle grade book, so there isn’t any romance or sex or all the other complications of a YA, but that makes it so much better for me, because it gives the book a chance to focus on Grayson’s journey into self-discovery. I would have liked a more complex exploration of gender, because the (Grayson’s) feminine ideal represented in this book strikes me as being too stereotypical, but it doesn’t take away from how good it is, and the way it shows how important it is for queer kids to have support from the adults in their lives. As I said, I spent a lot of this book teary-eyed, and wishing I could reach in and give Grayson a hug.

noneoftheaboveNone of the Above
I.W. Gregorio
Balzer + Bray

Like Gracefully Grayson, I was teary-eyed throughout most of this, and wanted to step inside and hug Kristin so much.

While I’ve read and seen several YA books that focus on trans characters now, this is the first I’ve encountered to feature an intersexed protagonist. Kristin Lattimer was one of those girls – homecoming queen, a full scholarship for college, passionate about sports, and very in love with her boyfriend. Then something happens, and she finds out that she was intersexed. While she looks like a girl and identifies as one, she has male chromosomes and “boy parts”.

A lot of the book deals with Kristin learning about her situation, and trying to figure out who she was and what she wanted to be now that she knew. A lot of bad things happen – this book doesn’t shy away from depicting just how horrible people can be to those that are different – but through it all, Kristin eventually learns to come to terms with herself.

mechanicaMechanica
Betsy Cornwell
Clarion

It’s hard to talk about this book because there’s so much good about it, and yet it also has SO MUCH POTENTIAL that it didn’t live up to.

It’s a steampunk/fantasy retelling of Cinderella, which already had my attention from the get-go. But it was also about a Cinderella who supposedly didn’t want the typical fairy tale ending, which really made me sit up and pay attention. I wanted to love it, and I did, for most of the book. I loved the world-building and I loved the characters, and the friendships depicted in here was just SO GOOD, and the fact that Nicolette/Mechanica was determined to find a way to save herself and be self-sufficient was AMAZING. But.

But the book was probably a couple of hundred pages too short; nothing much happens, and things resolved too quickly. But there was a surprise love triangle, that, even though was resolved in a satisfactory manner, annoyed me that it was there in the first place. (Why couldn’t we have an awesome, self-sufficient, ACE Cinderella who has no time or patience for pretty boys? WHY?) I enjoyed the first 70% of this book before realising things were concluding too swiftly, and I still would recommend it because it is an interesting take on Cinderella, but all the missed potential also makes me want to cry.

youandmeandhimYou and Me and Him
Kris Dinnison
HMH Books for Young Readers

Another frustrating one that had so much potential and then just… bleh. I think that sans-expectations I would’ve enjoyed it a lot more, and in fact I think I would’ve really liked this when I was still a teen. But now? So much potential, and it ends up reading as… shallow.

Maggie and Nash are best friends, and outsiders in their small town – Maggie because she’s a fat girl, Nash because he’s gay. Then New Kid Tom comes along and both Maggie and Nash fall for him…

What I didn’t like about this book is that it never did address the complexities of Maggie and Nash’s identities beyond Maggie’s constant self-deprecation, and Nash thinking that he’s so special because he’s different. Their relationship had become rather toxic at the beginning of this book, with Nash basically being a jerk and Maggie a doormat, which I wouldn’t have minded if they went through that thing where they learned from the whole thing, but it never happened. The point with growing out of relationships and needing the space to grow into oneself is to CHANGE and have healthier relationships, and this didn’t seem to happen with them.

This book could have been so much more, and that makes me sad.

dumplinDumplin’
Julie Murphy
Balzer + Bray

To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to read yet another book about a self-assured fat protagonist that started to doubt herself the moment she likes a boy. And yet, this didn’t seem to matter – I enjoyed reading about Willowdean, who seemed so uncomplicated and confident to everyone else, but had her own share of inner conflicts and issues to sort through.

In that sense, this reminded me a lot of Susan Vaught’s Big Fat Manifesto, except that BFM included more serious issues and debunked a lot of myths about fatness and health, and Dumplin’ was really mostly about Willowdean’s love triangle and her entering a beauty contest that was important to her mother and aunt for different reasons. Both books had protagonists I wanted to root for, and showed what it was like to be a fat girl in a world that only caters to the thin.

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