Tag Archives: graphic novels

Hostage Book Review

In the summer of 1997, Christophe Andre, a humanitarian worker with Doctors Without Borders, was kidnapped in Nazran by men seeking a ransom.  He was blindfolded, driven to some unknown location, and locked up in a small room with nothing but a mattress.

In Guy DeLisle’s biography of Andre’s kidnapping, aptly titled Hostage, Andre’s story comes to life in simple illustrations and, with the highest form of complement intended, is pure torture to read.

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With little to no dialogue and illustrations that show Andre’s first-person nightmare, Hostage is based on DeLisle’s recordings of Andre’s accounts of the abduction and his attempts at escape.  What it lacks in action it makes up for in hundreds of pages of inaction…adding to the pure boredom, terror, and monotony that comes with being locked up in a room for months on end.

A limited color palate also helps add a dream-like feel to this story and in a sense becomes a character itself, helping us feel limited, enclosed, and claustrophobic.

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Over the course of four months, we sit patiently with Andre, eating…sitting…eating…sitting, just waiting for a rescue that may or may not ever come.  The only thing driving the story forward are the thoughts in his head…and as Andre’s story continues and races to a heart-quickening finale, Hostage becomes quite a page-turner and has an ending that will not leave you disappointed.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Becoming Unbecoming Book Review

I wouldn’t go so far as to say I’ve had a privileged life, but I have been lucky in so many ways.  I grew up in towns that were safe and friendly.  I have a loving and supportive family that has my back no matter what.  I have friends that I love dearly and who have helped me through some very rough times…I have a roof over my head, food in my cabinets, and a wonderful, funny, and amazing husband.

I’ve had good jobs that have given me incredible life lessons…I had an amazing education and have teachers I STILL keep in touch with even 10+ years later.  Sure, there have been some difficulties, but overall, I can’t say that my life – so far, at least – hasn’t been too bad.

Unfortunately, not everyone is so lucky.  Some people are gravely ill, others don’t have the support network of family and friends.  Some never really find happiness and others are so afraid of giving themselves to someone that they forever remain alone.  Some are abused, neglected, ignored, raped or tortured…and, perhaps saddest of all, must carry that around with them for the rest of their lives.

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In Becoming Unbecoming, a young girl growing up in 1977 finds herself on the receiving end of a series of violent acts for which she feels she is to blame.  The girl, Una, experiences gender violence, rape, and depression and lacks the ability to talk about it or find the help she needs.  Through image and text, Una asks what it means to grow up in a culture where male violence goes unquestioned and challenges a nation that doesn’t know how to punish the accuser or deal with the victim’s hurt.

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This is a beautifully sad book that is so important for everyone to read, girls and boys alike.  It’s a journey into the head a victim, a diary of sorts that’s so personal, you might even find yourself looking over your shoulder to make sure no one catches you reading it.

Told with amazing illustrations that perfectly encapsulate what it’s like to be alone and sad, Becoming Unbecoming is maybe one of the most important books I’ve ever read…and will certainly stay with me for a long time to come.

I am in no way qualified to give Becoming Unbecoming the review it deserves.  I am not a victim of rape or abuse and can’t even begin to think what it’s like to live with something like that.  But I do know what it’s like to hurt…I know what it’s like to be depressed.  I’ve hit rock bottom and I’ve worked my way out of it and it’s a bitch of a journey.  I know what it’s like to be at a loss for words…to want to say something so badly but unable to say anything.  To feel a sense of emptiness that seems to seep out of your skin, surrounding you in a blanket of sadness…

Yes, I know what that’s like…and chances are, some of you do, too.  And for those of us who have had to deal with hurt, depression, or even more traumatic life experiences that so few may understand, it’s so important to know that we’re not alone.  There’s help out there.  There’s love out there.  And if you can’t find it, open yourself up and let it come to you.

If there’s one thing I learned in Becoming Unbecoming, it’s that healing – in whatever form it may take – is a journey.  It’s in no way perfect, and is often a battle we don’t have the energy to fight.  And when society starts blaming the victim for elements out of their control, it becomes impossible to heal, to accept.  We must change the way we deal with transgressors and their victims.  We must have the courage to speak up and out against those who hurt us, and must find the strength within ourselves to help those who find it so hard to barely hold on.

We’re all in this together…and we all have the power to make a difference.  Whether you take time to volunteer at a shelter or start by just checking this book out of the library, chances are you’ll benefit from it.

Una’s story is raw and emotional.  Her illustrations are real and tragic.  This is a book that will sit with you, that will put things into perspective.  Ironically, it’s a book that may even encourage discussion.  In a word, Becoming Unbecoming is veracious.  It puts the truth right out there in big bold letters…and it’s up to us, as a reader…as a society…to hear the message.  Otherwise, as Una says, we are only united by silence.

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Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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A.L.I.E.E.E.N. Book Review

A.L.I.E.E.E.N., or Archives of Lost Issues and Earthly Editions of Extraterrestrial Novelties, was another book I discovered via My Ideal Bookshelf, recommended by cartoonist Zachary Kanin.  A collection of vignettes about aliens, told in an alien language, A.L.I.E.E.E.N. may be from a galaxy far, far away…but the morals and lessons are recognizable by any human.

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In his letter to the reader, author Lewis Trondheim talks about how he happened to stumble upon this otherworldly collection of tales.  While vacationing in the Catskills, Trondheim and his family came upon a grassy area that had been burned and covered with debris.  They were about to turn around and go back, but then he spotted a tattered, beaten-up comic book on the ground.  The title, the artist, and the language were all new to him.  Was this comic from another planet?  Was the debris from something outside of planet Earth?  Did a space ship create this burned perfect circle in the grass?

After reading the book, Trondheim got in touch with a publisher and submitted what appears to be the very first comic strip for extra-terrestrial children ever discovered on our planet.

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A rare artifact written in an alien language, A.L.I.E.E.E.N. is a collection of interwoven tales that prove that some stories are indeed universal…no matter how weird or bizarre they may seem.  Regardless of how many eyes, legs, or tentacles they have, it’s comforting to know that aliens also cry, laugh, smile, poop, and develop friendships.  They fall prey to peer pressure, have a great sense of humor, try to do good, and learn from their mistakes.  You may not know exactly what these little guys are saying, but through images and expressions, us humans can try to understand the workings of this alien world…and perhaps find comfort in the fact that, in reality, these lovable creatures really aren’t so different from us, after all.

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Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Daytripper Book Review

I picked up Daytripper on a whim.  I was looking for a new graphic novel to read and was just browsing through the small, yet substantial, graphic novel section of my local library.  I noticed the cover of Daytripper and was slightly intrigued.  I thumbed through it and the illustrations alone sucked me in.  When I got home and started reading, I had no idea what I was getting myself into…and little did I know I was about to embark on a book that would overwhelm me in every way possible.

After I read Daytripper, I just sat in my living room and cried.  I cried my bloody eyes out.  I went back and thumbed through it again, then cried some more.  It wasn’t that it was sad…it was just so beautiful, so profound.  On the surface level, it is a story about death…but if you really dig in deep, it’s so much more than that.  It’s a story about choices, about deciding to stay or go.  It’s a story about moments, about those events that change and shape your life, and those quiet intimate seconds you share with a loved one.  It’s a story about beginnings and endings and all the moments in between that help shape and mold us into who we are.

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The birth of Bras de Oliva Domingos was a miracle in and of itself.  The son of a famous Brazilian writer, Bras was born in the middle of a blackout and somehow survived.  Now, as a young adult, Bras is an inspiring writer himself, spending his days writing obituaries for the local paper…trying to find the moments, tell the stories, that made these people who they were while his story has barley just begun.

Throughout Daytripper, Bras tries to figure out his own stories…tries to piece together the moments that have helped shape his life.  Each chapter introduces us to someone important in Bras’s life, then ends with Bras’s death.  Each death comes about differently as a result of a choice Bras made.  Each chapter begs the question, “What is life and how, in death, is life valued?”.

This amazing story is accompanied with stunning watercolor illustrations, made to give you the feeling of moving through a dream.  A somewhat quiet comic with little dialogue, Daytripper relies on subtle glances, soft hugs, quiet moments to help tell the story.  It’s a lyrical, emotional and visual journey that uses those intimate moments to ask the big questions.

The message of Daytripper lies in the answer to a question we’ve all asked ourselves at one point:  What are the most important days of your life?  Is it the moment you’re born?  Is it when you meet your first love?  When you have your first kiss?  When you see your child in your arms?  When you finally find your dream job?  Or maybe the most important days are the days where nothing happens…when you see a bird in a tree or feel fresh rain on your face.  Maybe the important days are the ones you spend sitting on the couch with your loved one or just playing in the park with your dog.

Like all the best stories, Daytripper is a story about stories…about beginnings and endings.  It’s about choices, big and small, that shape us, mold us, create us.

Perhaps the best way to sum up Daytripper is with this interaction between young Bras and his father, taken from the book itself:

 

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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Bottomless Belly Button Review

bottomless_belly_buttonI know I’ve said this before, but I’ve had a recent obsession with graphic novels.  I love how easily they transport me into another world and tell such heartbreaking, emotional stories in a somewhat comedic way.

When I was browsing the graphic novel section of my local library, I found a book called Bottomless Belly Button, which had the tagline, “A Comic Book – NOT FOR CHILDREN”…then it showed a bunch of children with X’s on their faces:

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A quick flip-through and I was sold.  I checked it out and headed home.

I started reading that night and in about an hour or so, was a good third of the way done.  I just couldn’t stop reading it!  It wasn’t scary or mysterious or engaging in a way that something like The Walking Dead might be, but it was so honest and truthful and sad.  It was relatable in a very personal way…and I wouldn’t be surprised if this book touched some folks in a way no other story could…

Maybe best defined as a comedy-drama, Bottomless Belly Button follows the dysfunctional adventures of the Loony family as they embark on a life-changing decision.

Maggie and David Loony decide to gather their family together to announce that, after 40 years of marriage, they are planning to get divorced.  When their three children arrive at the family beach house with their families all in toe, Maggie and David break the news to very mixed results.  Some handle it better than others, and the reunion at the beach house is meant to celebrate the last time the whole family will be together as one.  When the children ask why, the response is eerily simple, “we’re not in love anymore.”

The oldest child, Dennis, struggles with his parent’s decision, which is highlighted even further with rising struggles in his own marriage.  Believing that his parents are not being truthful about their decision to separate, he spends a good portion of the novel on a quest to discover the truth…searching through old parts of the house, old journals and photos, and secret passageways to try to uncover some information as to why his parents are making this decision.

Claire, Dennis’s younger sister, is a single mother (also recently divorced) with a 16-year-old daughter in the awkward stage of her life.  Claire is apathetic to the divorce, as she understands that marriage is difficult.  Her handling of the news is much different than Dennis’s…and seems to react much like her young daughter would upon hearing the same news.

Finally, the youngest child, Peter, suffers from insane insecurities and establishes an unorthodox romance with a mysterious day care counselor at the beach.

In a six-day period filled with heartbreaking realizations, honest reactions, and sweet and tender moments between family members, these characters blindly stumble around each other, each reacting to life in their own ways and handling the news brought upon them in whatever way they know how.

From a visual standpoint, the illustrations in Bottomless Belly Button are so simple, yet capture life so perfectly.  Small gestures we all recognize, feelings we all know but have never put into words…this book is extremely personal and open and is not only the story of a separation, but the story of several lives and how they all interconnect.

No matter what your marital status, Bottomless Belly Button will hit you…it will hit you hard.  Its brutally honest portrayal of love and happiness and just life in general will surely stick with you long after the book is over.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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The Undertaking of Lily Chen Book Review

51hlkeqrf9l-_sx348_bo1204203200_When Deshi Li’s brother dies in an accident, his family is not only in a state of panic because of the death, but because Deshi died unmarried…meaning he will have to enter the afterlife alone…for somewhere deep in the mountains of Northern China where the Li family lives, ancient custom demands that every man must have a wife to keep him company in the afterlife.  You can probably imagine where this is going…

In an effort to make good with his brother, Deshi heads out on a mission to find an eligible dead body for his brother before the week is over.  During his travels, he meets a woman named Lily Chen, a sweet and salty girl who needs money and a fast ride out of town…

Unaware of each other’s mission, the two embark on a journey together with two different destinations in mind…Deshi hoping to bring Lily home freshly killed for his brother; Lily hoping to marry Deshi and escape the life she once knew.

Both haunted by their past, literally and figuratively, Lily and Deshi travel through the Chinese countryside, meeting several characters along the way that help and hurt the end goals for both characters.  However, things get extra complicated when Deshi and Lily begin forming a romance neither one saw coming.

Told in a beautiful collection of illustrations that pay homage to classic Asian watercolor paintings, The Undertaking of Lily Chen is a beautifully sad and sweet story told in stunning picturesque detail.  Hauntingly human and wry, this graphic novel was a surprising read that combines duty and desire in the most poetic and humbling way.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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The Sculptor Book Review

610yff-hunl-_sx351_bo1204203200_So I’ve been trying to broaden my reading horizons.  I usually stick to stuff I know I love, like mysteries, thrillers, autobiographies, etc…but I’ve recently discovered a new genre of amazing books with stunning storytelling (and PICTURES):

Graphic Novels.

OK, now I know I’m late on this literary train…but I’ve had little to know experience with comic books or graphic novels in the past.  I only recently started reading The Walking Dead comics (more on that to come later in the month!) and I LOVED them…and that was really my only introduction and experience with this format.  Needless to say, I’m quickly working through my library’s stock of graphic novels and I really can’t put them down.  The illustrations are often amazing and I truly find myself getting wrapped up in these stories, some of which are quite deep and profound.

Today’s book fits into this category.  A story I really just picked up on a whim, The Sculptor is one that has stuck with me for a good long while now.  A story about love and heartbreak, this book tells the tale of a man named David and his love of art.

David is a struggling artist.  He’s lost his motivation and his will to create.  When he’s approached by Death at a local café, he strikes up a deal…literally giving his life for his work.  David is given the ability to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands…he can transform metal, brick, skin, whatever he wants into whatever he wants.  However, this magical gift comes at a price…he only gets to live another 200 days before Death takes him forever.

In the moment, this seems like a great deal for David.  All his family is gone, he doesn’t have anyone in his life…this gives him time to create his one amazing masterpiece and leave the world peacefully…however, as life would have it, at the 11th hour, everything changes.

Enter Meg, a light-hearted, warm, caring, fun and energetic muse who captures David’s heart instantly.  Now knowing he only has a handful of days to live, he must not only create his one amazing masterpiece, but must tell the love of his life about this deal that will eventually destroy everything they’ve built together.

A story that will pull at your heartstrings, The Sculptor is a beautiful book about the choices we make and how those choices influence the rest of our lives.  With whimsical prose and lovely illustrations, this graphic novel is one that will have you smiling through your tears.

Looking for a new book to read? Check in every Friday for a “Bee Happy” post, where I share reviews of books I’ve read or other book-themed lists.

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