Book Review: All’s Faire in Middle School

All's Faire in Middle SchoolAll’s Faire in Middle School
by Victoria Jamieson
Graphic Novel
248 pages
Published 2017

For those who didn’t know, I work at the Maryland Renaissance Festival, helping a friend of mine sell leather masks (and other leather goods). Throughout the year, I actually get to help her make them, including stitching the codpieces we sell at the Fair. So when I learned about this graphic novel set at a Renaissance Festival, I knew I had to grab it. I worked Labor Day Monday at Fair, so I popped over to the Fair’s bookshop, Page After Page, and picked up the book. (They even remembered I’d asked about the book over the summer to make sure they were going to carry it!)

Once I recovered from the heat and humidity at Fair on Monday, I cracked this book open and fell into it. It’s set at the Florida Ren Faire, and it captures the spirit of Rennies and the festival very, very well. One of my favorite parts was when Imogene announced she was going to middle school, and all the adults around her reply with variations of “MIDDLE SCHOOL SUCKED.” Imogene asks “Aren’t adults supposed to encourage kids to go to school?” and her dad replies “You got the wrong kind of adults, kid.” Oh, Rennies. There are D&D games, and thrift stores, and going to the store in garb, and speaking in accents while doing normal mundane things – yeah. This is a book about Rennies, alright.

I was a little disappointed in the adults not understanding the kind of pressure Imogene was under as the new girl at school. They all commiserated with middle school sucking, but didn’t give Imogene any slack for it, and in a couple of cases dismissed how important things were to her.

I loved seeing her go from school to Fair, and seeing the different environments contrasted. The art style is great. Each chapter begins with a page illustrated like a medieval manuscript, and a paragraph written like an epic story. “After months of preparations, including but not limited to careful outfit selection and triple-checking of school supplies, young Imogene is ready to embark on her journey into the Great Unknown. Like all explorers before her, our heroine has only one thought on her mind….”

I really loved this book. It would make a great gift for any kid headed to middle school who loves Ren Faires. (Or Rennie parents!)

From the cover of All’s Faire in Middle School:

Growing up with parents who work at the Renaissance Faire, Imogene has always been sure of who she is: a brave and noble knight. But now, after being homeschooled her whole life, she is about to embark on the epic adventure of . . . middle school!

Imogene will quickly discover that in real life there aren’t always clear-cut heroes and villains like there were at the Faire. How will she find her place (and new friends) in this strange and complicated land?

Book Review: Bizarre Romance

bizarre romanceBizarre Romance
by Audrey Niffenegger and Eddie Campbell
Surreal short stories/comics
155 pages
Published March 2018

This was a wonderfully surreal collection of short stories and comics in various styles. All of the stories revolve around relationships, though not all are of the romantic kind. Audrey Niffenegger is the author of The Time Traveler’s Wife, which I read several years ago and really enjoyed. After reading the descriptions of her other books, and how much I enjoyed this one, I need to read those, too!

Bizarre Romance is hard to review partly because it is so weird. There are thirteen stories here – 7 comics and 6 short prose stories. Even the prose stories have illustrations scattered throughout them, mostly in slightly sketch-like style which lends itself well to the surreal nature of the subjects. I think my favorite is the guy who makes his fiance agree to leave him in the house alone, every Thursday night from 6pm to 8pm, before he’ll marry her. She’s okay with this at first, but eventually hires private investigators to find out what he’s doing on Thursday nights because she can’t stand not knowing. I won’t spoil the surprise, but I loved it. I also enjoyed “The Composite Boyfriend” which is written about a woman’s exes as if they were all the same person.

“I met him at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston, where he worked as a guard. I met him in a class I was taking. I met him at a school where we both taught. I met him at a party; we smiled at each other across a crowded room. We were introduced to each other by our mutual friend Paula, an Austrian immigrant who had escaped from the Nazis as a young girl.”

This is a really neat, beautiful little collection that explores different relationships, from father-daughter, to spouses, to exes, to female friendships. It’s a quick read, and I really enjoyed it.

From the cover of Bizarre Romance:

Once upon a time, a writer and an artist got married. “Let’s collaborate,” said the writer. “Ugh, no thanks, darling,” said the artist. But lo and behold, they collaborated and here is the result: thirteen stories about oddballs in love, infestations of angels, nefarious fairies, cats, spies, monsters, more cats, bibliophiles who just want a little extra reading time, magic mirrors, artists’ models who nap on the job, imperfect boyfriends, and daughters who are perhaps a little too dutiful. 

Book Review: As The Crow Flies

as the crow fliesAs The Crow Flies
by Melanie Gillman
Graphic Novel
272 pages
Published November 2017

This book is GORGEOUS, y’all. It started as a webcomic about Charlie’s experience at a Christian backpacking youth camp. The book covers the first three days of camp, and the webcomic is currently on Day 4. I actually didn’t know it was a webcomic until I hit the end of the book, went “Wait, what?!” and started poking the internet to see if there was a Volume 2. I did find part of Day 4 posted on the webcomic site, but the last comic was posted in June of 2017. I found statements that there is a Volume 2 planned on her Tumblr and elsewhere on the Internet, though.

The main character, Charlie, is a queer black girl who’s gone to a Christian summer camp. When she walks in, she discovers EVERYONE else is white, except one half-Native American counselor. She’s immediately got her guard up, and when another counselor mentions “whitening their souls” as a metaphor for purification, her guard goes up further. I loved how her friendship developed with Sydney, another camper, and their conversations are HILARIOUS. They plan to disrupt the mysterious “ceremony” planned for when they reach the peak of the mountain, but they keep coming up with outlandish ideas like summoning pterodactyls or raccoons with palanquins and little driver hats. (You know those crazy conversations you come up with when you’re exhausted!)

Some of the Christian rhetoric in the book annoyed me, but it annoys Charlie, too, so I guess that’s okay, or even intentional. There’s a lot of White Feminism on display in the book; the tradition the camp follows relied on black women not participating and keeping homes running (read: being slaves) while the white women went off to their women’s retreat. Charlie is understandably pissed about how nonchalant the head counselor is about that, too.

The head counselor actually seriously rubs me the wrong way; at one point she tells one of the girls, who had sprained her ankle, that she only has enough supplies for one ankle injury, so if she uses it now, she won’t have it for anyone else. Lady, if you only brought enough supplies for one sprained ankle, for like ten people on a week-long hike? That is YOUR problem, not the fault of the poor 13-year-old in pain in front of you. You should have planned better. The same thing with not having enough painkillers to spare for the poor girl who starts her period. I’m not sure if the head counselor is supposed to be an antagonist or not, but she sure seems that way.

I really love Charlie and Sydney, and I really really want to see what the ceremony is and how they decide to disrupt it, so I will be keeping an eye out for the webcomic to start posting again, or for news of a Volume 2. And the art is, again, absolutely GORGEOUS. I will probably be looking for more of the author’s work – she calls herself a “queertoonist” which is great! She’s queer and nonbinary, by her Twitter bio. Which makes this an #ownvoices book as well, and perfect for Pride Month. You can find the rest of my Pride Month reads listed here.

From the cover of As The Crow Flies:

Charlie Lamonte is thirteen years old, queer, black, and questioning what was once a firm belief in God. So naturally, she’s spending a week of her summer vacation stuck at an all-white Christian youth backpacking camp. As the journey wears on and the rhetoric wears thin, she can’t help but poke holes in the pious obliviousness of this storied sanctuary with little regard for people like herself . . . or her fellow camper, Sydney.

Library Loot Wednesday!

as the crow fliesI only got a few books this week – As The Crow Flies, a graphic novel about a queer black girl at a Christian summer camp that I’ve been dying to read because the art looks amazing, and three books about Asperger’s Syndrome.

Two of the AS books I actually plucked off the Free shelf in the front entryway; I happened to notice them as I walked by to return a few books and pick up holds. They’re both geared towards children and young readers, so I don’t know how applicable they all cats have asperger syndromewill be for my husband and I, but I thought I’d give them a read through, and maybe give them away here in the blog if anyone is interested in them! The third is actually part of a series – all cats have asperger syndrome, all dogs have adhd, and all birds have anxiety. It’s pretty cute, matching single sentences about AS traits with cute pictures of cats. Things like “An Asperger child often has exceptionally good hearing, and loud sounds and sudden movements may scare him” and “When people talk to him he may refuse to look at them.” Typical kitty traits! Unfortunately they use male pronouns throughout the book, effectively erasing autistic women and girls, who have a hard enough time getting diagnosed already! The author, as far as I can tell, isn’t on the spectrum herself, which always makes me immediately suspicious. It was published in 2006, so I can forgive the use of Asperger Syndrome instead of Autism Spectrum. It’s still a little disappointing though.

Probably a good thing I didn’t get much this week; I still have a lot to get through from the last few weeks!