Moose Justice! A Review of Moose by Max De Radiguès

Moose

Max De Radiguès

Published by Conundrum International, 2015

Disclaimer: this graphic novel depicts graphic physical and sexual violence. Please consult your guardians before reading this book.

The Story: Joe is being relentlessly bullied, both psychically and psychological, at school by Jason. It is in the natural world that Joe finds some peace and comfort, but when Jason bombards Joe’s one place of safety, a chance event leads to a shift in the boys’ power dynamics and leaves Joe with a difficult moral dilemma which will have you questioning not only the choice Joe makes, but the choice you would in his shoes.

What Wallace and I Think: Moose was originally written in French and appeared as mini-comics that were eventually published as a collection. De Radiguès translated Moose into English, and the English version was very recently published by the Canadian publisher, Conundrum.

De Radiguès’s comic is drawn simply with black and white images. It feels like a quiet story, as there is little text, and often there are full pages with no text at all. The scenes in which Joe is bullied by Jason are filled with the verbal and psychological abuse that Jason spews. But when Joe is alone, often immediately following these bullying scenes, the reader instead is shown how Joe is coping visually. Indeed, we rarely read any dialogue that is spoken by Joe, and when he does, often the speech bubbles and text are drawn “wobbly” to indicate the difficulty Joe has speaking for himself (and by extent standing up for himself, for this has dangerous consequences).

Though the comic is drawn simply with clean lines, De Radiguès details the bullying Joe faces in a way that, at least for me, brings a complex emotional rise out of the reader. The injustice, unfairness, and out-right cruelty of Jason to Joe is the focal point for much of the story, making the reader side completely with Joe, as there isn’t any sympathetic explanation for why Jason acts the way he does. Making Joe so sympathetic, and Jason so completely unsympathetic, indeed a hateful character, is part of the complexity of the graphic novel, for it makes the moral dilemma in the latter half of the book all the more complicated. Making Joe such a victim and Jason such a villain is a trap! And I fell right in! For me, without giving anything away, the novel’s climax and end led me to interrogate the hatred I felt towards Jason (that had me wishing he could experience some of his own medicine), and whether Jason’s fate is justified by his treatment of Joe (for I was wishing something horrible would happen to Jason through most of the book), and of course led me to wonder what decision I would make in Joe’s position, and the moral implications of what my decision would be.

Moose is a fast read (took me about half an hour) but it made me reflect long after I had finished reading it. I felt uncomfortable with what I discovered about myself during these reflections. As someone who tries to live by the creed of “Do No Harm,” and bell hook’s call to choose love, because doing so is a revolution, I was shocked at the vehemence of hateful and violent thoughts I had towards Jason. But I think this is exactly what the graphic novel is designed to do. It is the graphic novel’s ability to haunt you after reading that makes this something young adults and adults should read. If you are in school, and dealing with situations similar to Joe’s, it may open up an interesting space to interrogate your own feelings and position. This graphic novel is powerful not only due to the story it tells, but in its implicating gaze outwards towards the reader.

And there’s a Moose. So, read it peeps!

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My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I am not) Review

My Teacher is a Monster! (No, I Am Not.) By Peter Brown

Little, Brown and Company 2014

The Story: Robert has a big problem at school. His teacher is a monster! She doesn’t appreciate his paper airplanes, his chatting in class, even the way he walks! With a teacher like that, Robert needs some downtime on the weekend, so he heads to his favorite park. But lo and behold, Robert finds a terrible surprise! His monster of a teacher has decided to spend her free time in HIS FAVORITE SPOT! Bound by social graces, Robert says hello, and he begins to realize maybe his teacher isn’t a monster after all . . . well . . . at least when she’s not in school.

What Wallace and I Think: This is a great picturebook for those of us heading back to school (I start on Thursday!!!). How many times have we all felt misunderstood by our teachers? Sometimes they’re worse than parents! Noticing everything, making it seem like you can’t do anything right! If you, or a child you know, feels this way, this is the book for you.

Peter Brown literally humanizes the monster teacher, Ms. Kirby. The longer Robert spends with Ms. Kirby in the park, the more Ms. Kirby loses her monsterous form and is revealed as a human woman. We’ve all had that experience of running into our teachers outside of school, and it feels weird to realize they’re people too, they don’t live at the school! Outside of school, Robert and Ms. Kirby are able to better understand each other. Most importantly for Robert, he realizes that Ms. Kirby isn’t a monster, she can have fun, but perhaps school isn’t the place where she can have it. It’s a great lesson in changing your perspective, and looking outside yourself to consider things from other people’s vantage points. This is one of the great benefits of not only reading picturebooks, but just generally reading to younger children, as it can develop their empathetic sensibilities.

Aside from the great message, Brown has created a funny book with quiet punch lines found mostly in Robert and Ms. Kirby’s facial expressions. The art is fantastic, and as I’ve already mentioned, I love that Ms. Kirby slowly transforms from looking like a monster to a woman.

While this book is obviously great for kids that have already started school, I think it could be of benefit for younger children to have this lesson instilled within them before starting school or preschool or daycare. Or, do you know a teacher that would appreciate feeling understood? This could make a great funny gift for teachers in your life. My mom might just be getting one for Christmas (if she hasn’t already bought it for herself, which is a huge possibility!!)

Review of Drama

Drama

Raina Telgemeier

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The Story:

Write from back cover: “Callie loves theater. And while she would totally try out for her middle school’s production of Moon over Mississippi, she can’t really sing. Instead she’s the set designer for the drama department’s stage crew, and this year she’s determined to create a set worthy of Broadway on a middle-school budget. But how can she, when he doesn’t know much about carpentry, ticket sales are down, and the crew members are having trouble working together? Not to mention the onstage AND offstage drama that occurs once the actors are chosen. And when two cute brothers enter the picture, things get even crazier!”

What Wallace and I think: I am already a fan of Raina Telgemeier from reading her graphic novels Smile and Sisters. Drama is the first of Telgemeier’s work that I’ve read that isn’t directly autobiographical, so it was automatically different. I loved the fictional character Callie, who has purple hair (which no one points out as being weird=awesome), is creative, innovative, driven, and a dreamer. I also appreciated that most of the action centers on the stage crew, not the actors, giving what I felt to be a different perspective from the normative story about school plays. Yes, there was some focus on actors being pre-Madonnas, but the focus was Callie and her crew mates putting the show together, which often involves long hours, lots of hard work and patience.

There are some love triangles, secret crushes, and unrequited love/crushes, but this is not the focal point of the graphic novel, which I LOVED. Callie does want a boyfriend, she has crushes on the wrong boys (well wrong for her, boys), yet the story does not end with her finding “Mr Right.” Instead the happy ending comes from Callie pulling off the set design, and receiving a promotion for next year’s production. I found the happy ending not being facilitated by a boy refreshing, and made me like Callie and Telgemeier even more. If anything, more emphasis is placed on making good friends, and being good to those friends, then being able to find a romantic partner.

Like the past graphic novels I’ve read, I absolutely love Telgemeier’s comic style. Gurihiru Scholastic/Graphix has done the coloring for all the novels I’ve read, this one included, and the color is vibrant and rich. Often with mass produced graphic novels the coloring can be pixelated (think of old Archie comics), so I LOVE that Drama’s color is free of pixilation and extremely saturated.

Though the novel takes place in a middle school, and involves some romance (the most heated things get are a quick kiss on a park bench), it is a tame graphic novel that could be read by older elementary aged children. There is also a diversity of characters (gay, straight, black, white, Asian) which could additionally make this a great book to be read in the classroom if you are looking ways to give voice to a more diverse groups of people. And if you like Drama, I would high recommend checking out the rest of Telgemeier’s work.

Review of Stargirl

Stargirl (2002) by Jerry Spinelli

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The Story: A new student arrives at Mica Area High School, and the student body doesn’t know what to make of her. She wears costumes, dances in the rain, carries her rat Cinnamon with her everywhere, strums her ukulele and sings Happy Birthday to people she’s never met in the lunch room, and cheers for both the home and away teams. Once the students gets over their initial puzzlement, she inspires outbursts of individuality throughout the school, and she starts a rebellion: “a rebellion for rather than against. For ourselves” (40). However, when Stargirl’s antics become more than the students can tolerate her eccentric habits becomes disparaged rather than celebrated. Can Stargirl survive the overwhelming conformity of High School?

What Wallace and I Think: I recently discovered the work of Jerry Spinelli when one of my committee members put Report to the Principal’s Office on my comprehension reading list. Since then, I’ve been making my way through some more of Spinelli’s novels for my dissertation research, and while I have enjoyed everything I’ve read by Spinelli thus far, Stargirl is my favorite.

Stargirl is a fascinating character that takes time to accept. Initially everything she did I assumed was for show, to be the center of attention. This undercut the sincerity of her actions and made her weird behavior annoying rather than endearing. However, as I came to know her better through her relationship with the narrator Leo, it’s revealed that she is completely in earnest. One character muses that she is “a little more primitive than the rest of us, a little closer to our beginnings, a little more in touch with the stuff we’re made of” (177). Stargirl is also a flawed character, which makes her even more appealing. She is not completely immune to the desire of wanting to be accepted by her peers, which brings her story from a fantastic realm to reality. She does cave for a time and tires to fit in, and as a reader you do not criticize her for this, but sadly understand.

The narrator, Leo, is equally complex. He embodies the readers’ contradictory feelings for Stargirl: loving her, but not wanting her to get hurt, which means tempering her individuality. Leo is also an interesting character because he falls in love with Stargirl when she is Stargirl, not when she’s trying to fit in, and during a period when the entire school shuns her. He is dazzled by her, and though he is later influenced by the opinions of others, initially falls in love with Stargirl for herself. This is a positive message and frankly a refreshing depiction of a teenage boy in a young adult novel.

Spinelli does a wonderful job of telling a story that is largely a metaphor for the struggle of staying true to yourself in an environment that demands conformity to the norm. The high school he depicts is realistic, not a caricature, and I found myself wondering if I would have the courage to be myself to the extent that Stargirl is not only when I was in high school, but now. Spinelli gracefully captures the fear and risks of being an individual, but leaves us with hope at the end.

Though this story takes place in a high school, it’s a clean story, and I believe would be enjoyed by children twelve and up.

Review: SuperMutant Magic Academy

SuperMutant Magic Academy (2015)

Jillian Tamaki

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Warning: This graphic novel includes sexual content, has references to drug and alcohol use, and is geared towards high school students. So, if you’re not yet a high school student, please ask your guardians’ permission before reading.

The Book: SuperMutant Magic Academy is a collected anthology of some of the most popular comics from Jillian Tamaki’s comic blog of the same name (checked out mutantmagic.com here) Due to its being a collection of short, stand-alone comics, there is not a traditional narrative plot (until the last fifty or so pages), though the more you read the more you learn about the individual students.  The story is set at a boarding school, but less attention is paid to the magical mutant classes than to the students navigating their external (zits!) and inner (what does it mean to be alive!) crises. So do not expect a Harry Potter-esc book. If anything, this is a fantastic distortion of Harry Potter created expectations.

What Wallace and I Think: First, a little information on Jillian Tamaki. Not only is she Canadian, and grew up in the same city as me, but she was once the center of a debate that helped to change how we look at comic artists. The graphic novel Skim (2008) was written by Jillian’s cousin, Mariko Tamaki, and illustrated by Jillian (another school story, and it is an amazing book  you should check it out, especially if you find you like Magic Academy). Skim was nominated for the Governor General’s Literary Award, but only Mariko Tamaki was listed in the nomination. The comic community was outraged (and rightly so). A graphic novel’s images are just as important, if not more so, as the text, and leaving Jillian out of the nomination was ignoring her important and imperative contribution to what made the graphic novel so wonderful. An open letter was circulated and sent to the Award committee, and was successful in including Jillian as a nominee.

Back to Magic Academy! This collection is weird, wacky and wonderful. The humour is dark and touches on subjects such as the students’ existential, romantic, and technological crises. Some of the jokes fall flat, but due to the short narratives of the individual comics, if one comic isn’t your taste you can quickly move along. I also wonder if some of the humour is aimed more at adults reminiscing about their teenage years, than at actual teenagers. Though, the majority of strips can be easily relatable to young and old, such as one of my favorites. During an assembly two main character have this conversation:

Marsha: When I was a little kid, I thought I’d be free when I could go to school. Then I thought I’d be free when I learned how to fly a broom. THEN I thought I’d be free when they stopped forcing us to take gym class. But then you just get use to it. And you find something else to chafe against. I guess you’re always gonna be unsatisfied with something. That is so depressing.

Wendy: Well we do graduate next semester.

Marsha: WHAT? WE GRADUATE?

Wendy: Haha! What? Did you forget?

Marsha: I guess I just figured we’d be stuck in here forever . . . (153)

The feeling of being trapped in an never ending school cycle seems easily relatable to both an adult looking back on their school experience, as well as a teen still stuck in that cycle.

However, there are others, such as when a group of girls start freaking out because Wendy has a grey hair (“OH MY GOD, pull it out!”), and their completely white-haired teacher tells them “Okay girls, that’s enough. Back to work” (100). This appears more aimed to the adult obeserving their younger selves through teenagers/children in relation to their current older status. There is also a lot of jokes surronding teachers, and students asking them if teaching is really what they wanted to do with their lives, that would hit home more with an older reader than I expect it would with a teen who has yet to really feel the pain of upset expectations.

Tamaki gives us a plethora of interesting characters who struggle through high school, and with the thought of leaving it. My favorite may be Everlasting Boy. Most of the strips centering on him show him dying and returning to the earth. He often seems sad and lonely. We discover he has been around since the beginning of time, has lived as other organisms, and has not just called earth home. Yet, he is humble about his vast experience, for example: “Everlasting Boy, do you thinking this is the best time to be alive?” “You mean, throughout the course of history?” “Yeah.” “Depends on who you ask, really.” (165).

Though I enjoyed the anthology, I found the characters so engaging I longed for more of a cohesive plot-centered narrative that would develop these interesting characters more fully. I know this is asking too much of an anthology of collected comic strips, but I found I loved the last section of the book because it offered more of a traditional narrative.

I recommend this book to high school students, as well as adults with a good sense of humour 🙂 (especially teachers) and give it a 4/5

Review of Sweethearts

Sweethearts (2009)

By Sara Zarr

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Disclaimer: this novel contains some “implied” sexual encounters (though overall it’s pretty PG), as well as depicts physical and mental abuse. If you’re under 13, please check with your parents before reading.

The Story: During elementary school Jenna Vaughn’s childhood sweetheart, Cameron, disappears suddenly. Jenna hears rumours that Cameron has died, and finding no proof against these rumours, she believes them and mourns the loss of her best friend and only person who truly knew her. But Cameron mysteriously returns during Jenna’s senior year of high school, forcing her to confront a disturbing event they both shared, but have never spoken of, and compelling Jenna to determine who she really is.

What Wallace and I Think: I was largely underwhelmed by this novel. When Cameron does reappear, this results in a few page turning chapters because I was curious to find out what really happened to him, but otherwise the novel relies too heavy on shallow tensions that fail to add the urgency or drama the novel was striving for. Jenna is a difficult person to root for, for several reasons.

  1. First off, when Jenna knew Cameron in elementary school, she was unpopular and outcast with Cameron as her only friend. When Cameron disappears, and Jenna moves schools, she transforms herself into a popular girl, who by senior year has a close group of friends and a boyfriend. Jenna fears what will happen if her new friends discover what she was like in elementary school from Cameron. However, it is difficult to relate or believe this fear. I find it hard to believe that her friends of four years would stop hanging out with her, or think of her differently if they found out she didn’t have many friends, was teased, and was chubby in grade three. Why do I think this? BECAUSE IT HAPPENED IN GRADE THREE! I know it’s been a while since I was in high school, but if in grade twelve I found out my friend had been teased in elementary school and wasn’t very popular, I highly doubt I, or anyone for that matter, would respond with “What? You weren’t popular you’re whole life? Well, I can no longer be associated with you.” This fear of being “found out” by her friends is present through most of the text, and not much to my surprise, Jenna’s friends don’t care, at all, when they do find out, deflating whatever building tension there was.
  2. Jenna is very resentful of her mother. Until her mother remarried when Jenna was in Jr. High, it was just to two of them. Her mother put herself through nursing school while working a full-time job, leaving Jenna by herself a lot. I can understand that that would be tough on a kid, feeling like your mom isn’t around. But Jenna is now seventeen, and she is still angry at her now present mom for basically working hard to provide them with a different life. Jenna was alone a lot because her mom was putting herself through nursing school, so she could get a better job, and better provide for her daughter. You would think that a seventeen year old would at least be able to grasp this better than Jenna does, and cut her mom a little slack, and maybe even admire her for accomplishing so much as a single mother. Jenna’s inability to see beyond her own hurt undercuts her mom’s own accomplishment and struggle.
  3. When Cameron returns an unstable love triangle forms because Jenna has a boyfriend. The love triangle is unstable because Jenna is honest from the beginning that she doesn’t really have feelings for her boyfriend. So I continually found myself asking, as does one of Jenna’s girlfriends, WHY DON’T YOU JUST BREAK UP WITH YOUR BOYFRIEND (who Jenna doesn’t seem to like very much) AND JUST BE WITH CAMERON. Sorry for the all caps, but I found it very frustrating because, like my other two points, it seemed like a weak attempt to add drama to the novel.

Sweethearts wasn’t all deflated drama, and I will give props where they are due.

  1. Cameron’s personal story is much more heart wrenching than Jenna’s, and perhaps focusing more on him would have made for a better book. Cameron is a victim of child abuse, and the few scenes depicting his father are terrifying, and my heart did break for his and his siblings’ struggle. If you’re going to read this book, do it to meet Cameron.
  2. The depiction of Jenna’s stepfather is really beautiful and positive, which isn’t always the norm with step parents in children’s and YA literature. Alan, the stepfather, loves and supports Jenna, and is often the person Jenna chooses to go to first when she needs comfort. There’s a beautiful scene when Jenna finds herself unable to sleep at three am (I won’t spoil why), and wakes Alan with her crying. He comes into her room, and simply sits next to her with his hand on her ankle until her morning alarm goes off. Their relationship was one of the stronger points of the novel.

I would recommend the age range for this book to ages thirteen and older. I give Sweethearts a 3/5

The Misfits

The Misfits

by James Howe

Published in 2001 by Atheneum

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The Story: The Gang of Five, a group of (you guessed it) misfits, decide to make a change in their school by running for student council. After a failed platform attempt to represent minority students, they realize what everyone has in common are being called names. Thus the No-Name Party is formed, which challenges fellow students to stop name calling in their middle school, because, as the No-Name’s slogan says: “Sticks and stones may break our bones, but names will break our spirit”

What Wallace and I Think: I thoroughly enjoyed The Misfits, as well as endured many cringe-worthy moments during my reading. I like that the novel presented a diverse cast of characters, and the bullying presented wasn’t over-the-top, but the everyday name calling that can stick with people for a life time. Because of this, the novel presents a school environment and situations many young readers could relate with. I also appreciated how Howe illustrated the lasting effects of name calling, by engaging adult characters who confess to child characters how they are still haunted by names they were called as children, as one adult realizes: “I believed those voices telling me I was a sissy and a mama’s boy” (204).

I also like that this novel has bled into the real world, and sparked No Name Calling week in schools. This is great that the message from the novel has been put into practice in the real world, and that if you’re inspired by reading the novel, you can actually DO something with it. For more information visit No Name Calling Week’s website here. They talk about instituting it in Jr and Sr high schools, but I think having a No Name campaign as early as elementary would be amazing; stop habits before they form.

So what did I find cringe-worthy about the novel… the character Addie. Howe was probably trying to portray her as an innocent go-getter who doesn’t think through the ramifications of her decisions. I, however, felt she was a character that did things for purely to get attention, and some of her attention schemes were HORRIBLE. For example, it is Addie who talks the Gang of Five into running for student office with a party that will represent minorities. Even that a privileged white female could think that she could represent minorities is highly questionable. Her friends point out that they hardly represent minorities (three white males and one white female), and her solution is to ask an African-American student to run with them as president, purely BECAUSE HE IS BLACK. WHAT?!?!?!? Even though her friends do subtly question her on this (“you’re picking him because he’s popular and, excuse me for point it out–again–because he’s black” [55]), and DuShawn, the poor victim who is chosen to be their token minority figure, is hurt by this, the blatant racism is not criticized enough in my opinion.  Addie tries to make grand political stands to change the world, but how it comes across is that she wants attention. She comes across as an ignorant idealist. I would be curious to read Howe’s novel from Addie’s perspective, and see how she is portrayed there.

Overall I give this book a 3.5/5. Addie really cast a shadow over the book for me (I would be curious to know how other readers felt about her, because maybe I’ll being too sensitive), but I do really love the No Name Calling Week that spawned from the book. The back cover suggests readers between the ages of 10-14, though I think even from 9-16 this book would appeal too.