I admit up front that I'm inflating this review. Do you know how hard it is to find gay fiction (nevermind YA gay fiction) that isn't melodramatic der...moreI admit up front that I'm inflating this review. Do you know how hard it is to find gay fiction (nevermind YA gay fiction) that isn't melodramatic derivative shlock or poorly-written erotica? Let's just say that I work in the book industry and I get the chance to read unique, actually unique, gay fiction maybe twice a year.
So, yeah, it's rare.
Anyways, Hero kept me up all night. Even though some of the homophobia was totally overdone, a huge plot point is never fully explained (I kind of guessed what happened, but Moore didn't confirm or deny), and the writing can be uneven, it was still enthralling.
Where Moore really shines is how he hangs a lampshade on old-school superhero troupes. From cheesy titles, cheesier villians, the danger of capes, thinly-veiled ubermensch patriotism of the Golden Age, and corn-ball fetishism of female superheroes, this one checked all the boxes. Most of the heroes are very obvious parodies of all the big-names from DC's Justice League. There were times I laughed out loud at how exasperated the characters were at how Moore's version of Superman had all the powers, even stupid ones.
The one compliant I have is that he didn't parallel the completely obvious relationship between keeping your hero identity a secret and keeping your sexuality a secret in more obvious ways. Although, that's really more of a Marvel thing (hello, X-Men). I'll give Moore the benefit of the doubt here and say that it would really muddle the message when he was obviously invoking more of Golden Age DC, and less of Marvel's progressive bent in more recent decades.
More importantly, though, this one gets a solid 5 stars for me because it manages to pull off both a good YA superhero parody and a coming-of-age gay story. Thom, the protagonist, was not one-dimensional and boring, unlike so many YA genre protagonists. He doesn't merely react to circumstances around him, he interacts with the world Moore builds.
So, the highest of marks for pulling three things off I don't see very much: a YA genre story without a tedious love triangle, a teen protagonist that I don't hate, and strong gay subplot that I actually found believable. I'm okay leaving the literary heavy-lifting to other authors.(less)
Hold the presses, I actually like this better than Scott Pilgrim. All of O'Malley's graphic novels are great, but I'm thinking this is the one that is...moreHold the presses, I actually like this better than Scott Pilgrim. All of O'Malley's graphic novels are great, but I'm thinking this is the one that is going to be my favorite (we'll see on the re-reads).
What really sold Seconds for me was how self-absorbed and flawed Katie is. Even though I wanted to yell at her for continually screwing up, she was relateable and raw. It's nice, for a change, to read about a protagonist my age, losing their identity in a cliche late-20s panic about self-actualization and the realization that everything they did before now is stupid and wrong -- even if they don't know how to stop being stupid and wrong. Maybe that's too much projection there. But I saw a lot of myself in Katie, and her struggle to get a grip on the choices she's made and learn to look forward into the future instead of dwell on how she screwed up in the past.
I plowed through all 300+ pages of this in a single sitting. Here's a graphic novel I definitely don't regret purchasing, and that I won't trade in to make more room for new graphic novels. Reminds me of Charles Burn's Black Hole in subject matter and poignancy. I'm going to reread this one.(less)
I've given worse books four stars, and it's probably not fair to rate this one lower. But I've been inflating YA reviews, I think, for too long. It's...moreI've given worse books four stars, and it's probably not fair to rate this one lower. But I've been inflating YA reviews, I think, for too long. It's not this author's fault, it's mine. Now that I'm more familiar with the genre, I'll try to do better. This one had some serious problems that ruined it for me. I'll go into that later.
There's enormous pre-pub buzz around this one, and I can see why. There's lots of interesting characters, the setting is unique, and the fantasy elements aren't overly derivative. On paper, it's a solid YA debut, and sure to move a lot of units.
If that teenagers against the bad, evil world thing is your sort of bread-and-butter, this book will be totally up your alley. On paper, it's pretty much a flawless YA specimen, for all the reasons I detailed above. But for me, the bread's a bit stale. I realize that makes my review highly subjective, so YMMV on all that follows.
First, I finished the book and I didn't feel the plot overly dragged any place. But I didn't relish this book. None of the characters spoke to me. The protagonist was whiny, and her actions were driven by the necessity of plot than out of character development. I sort of blame the shifting perspectives the author chose to write the book in. But you never get a feel for who this person is, and what she stands for, other than reacting to what's going on around her. When she differs from being reactive and passive, it feels tacked on and out of character, more of a plot device than a character development. Or character development as a plot device. This is the 21st century, can't we have female protagonists make stuff happen instead of have stuff happen to them?
And that's another thing that bothers me. So, so, so many of these "evil society" YA novels cast women as their big bads. This one is no exception. Every character gets some development to show they're not totally evil, except for her. When she does get some development, it's along the lines of how she's evil for female reasons. Like perversions of motherhood and gendered stuff like that. Remember that Sonic Youth line about "fear of a female planet"? Yeah, invoking it a little too hard here.
Neither of those bothered me as much as the use of the threat of rape as a tacked-on device to menace and create tension for the protagonist. Come on, it's a YA book. Do we really have to do this? But despite the threat of death, dismemberment, torture, and rape, the main character doesn't develop PTSD or any passing interest in protecting herself, she just throws herself at two different boys that hold power over her, neither of which are entirely honest with her. Coupled with the threat of rape, that typical YA romantic triangle came off as super gross. Rape creates tension by the differential in power and the inability to consent. And then the protagonist is interested in two guys who have power over her? Yeah, that's invoking some shady themes there. It made me uncomfortable. I'm reading YA because it's supposed to be an escape and a diversion, not some squicky exercise in suspension of disbelief.
The author appears to be cultivating a "darker and edgier" tone for her book, but choses to do so with the threats of rape and torture. Which, by the way, we never see. Because it's YA. Hell, as soon as someone gets seriously injured, someone else mysteriously develops magical powers to heal them. Hello, plot device! Note that absolutely nobody else demonstrates magical powers. And the author explains that these magical powers are super rare and bad and people will hate the character for having them. But does the author delve further into this system of magic and myth? Nope. Just info-dump after info-dump, using the extremely cluttered world building to create convenient plot devices that create tension we're told we should take seriously, but are all tied up soon by other plot devices.
On the topic of what I don't like, let's talk about sequels. I'm actually pretty tired of YA books that become trilogies by purposely holding back information in every book, teasing out plot device after plot device. This one is no exception. It dangles sequel bait really hard at the end, resolving nothing. So many details of the world are never explained. If they are, it's in some info-dump format by a character who conveniently belongs to an immortal order of seers that can read minds but chose to not tell you anything they know. Because reasons. Reasons of the creating even more artificial tension variety.
Ultimately, this debut does exactly what every other YA book does, it just does it better. Kind of. If you ignore the bad plot devices and gross connotations. I couldn't. Maybe you can.(less)
Insignia was one of those books you blow through in a day. Sure, it may have been a bit derivative, but the stren...moreA solid conclusion to a solid series.
Insignia was one of those books you blow through in a day. Sure, it may have been a bit derivative, but the strength of the plot and the characters was enough to keep me up all night. The second book, Vortex was less engaging. I forgive it, sophomore slump is not uncommon. But I finished it still interested in Tom Raines, still anticipating where the plot would go next.
I take that all back for Catalyst. It's the best of the series, for me -- an accomplishment considering how much I've hated some of the conclusions of other YA trilogies (case in point: Divergent. Oh, Divergent). Breakneck pacing all the way through, more plot twists than you could ever see coming. Just when you think the stakes can't get any higher, Kincaid finds even more depraved and jaw-dropping ways to torture her characters. I loved it.
And most of all, I love that it doesn't end on some semi-resolved cliffhanger. The ends are neatly tied up. The arcs of all the main characters is resolved. Every question I had about so-and-so's background, what happened to some minor character in book two -- resolved. Hallelujah. And no flash-forward where all the relationships she's constructed turn into cliche nuclear families where everything is perfect and nobody hurts (sorry, Rowling, but the epilogue was cringy).
I was so dedicated to finishing this that I read it in the car on the way back from a roadtrip. Yes, in the car, braving inevitable car sickness. There's staying up until 4am reading dedication, and then there's I might vomit for this dedication. Thanks (I think), Kincaid.
Oh, and I don't hate the main relationship. Halt the presses, I don't find the romance in a YA book tacked on, derivative, and one of the romantic interests cliche and boring. The love story actually has relevance to plot and character growth.
Super satisfying end to a super satisfying series. This is one I'll probably read again, all three books in a row.(less)
The best non-fiction books, in my opinion, shouldn't just entertain you, they should change you. Carr, like in "The Shallows," expertly takes an ubiqu...moreThe best non-fiction books, in my opinion, shouldn't just entertain you, they should change you. Carr, like in "The Shallows," expertly takes an ubiquitous convenience of modern life -- previously, the internet, and now, automation -- and dismantles everyday idealistic assumption about the benefits of their increasing dominance of our lives. Using a mix of anecdotes, statistics, history, and even the theories of the Luddites and Marxists, Carr provides many convincing reasons why we should think twice before putting technological progress -- self-driving cars, self-flying planes, self-trading stocks -- before human beings who may not be best served by becoming mere shepherds or monitors of complex systems and algorithms. His chapter about how the brain processes spatial information, for instance, compelled me to turn off my GPS before I lose my sense of direction and become a slave to my smartphone. But Carr is not simply an alarmist. "The Shallows" is still a celebration of technology and progress, but one that asks us to consider the human consequences of its misuse.
Carr might not do enough to convince skeptics of his points. At the same time, some of the main conclusions of his chapters are left frustratingly vague. With the data he's presented, much of what he concludes could be stronger stated. Overall, though, it's a fantastic book about a topic that most people don't seem to think enough about.(less)
Where California Bones really shines is the fantastic world-building. Urban fantasy is almost a dime-a-dozen today, but Eekhout's newest stands above...moreWhere California Bones really shines is the fantastic world-building. Urban fantasy is almost a dime-a-dozen today, but Eekhout's newest stands above a lot of the pack with an inventive (and gruesome) magic system and coherent dystopian setting inspired by the landmarks and history of Los Angeles. The familiar twists and turns of a heist plot seem more exciting and unique, cast in the light of Eekhout's dog-eat-dog (literally) Southern California. Yes, this book involves cannibalism. There's an awful lot of tension and horror to mine when your characters regularly face the existential crisis of being eaten alive by their foes. And this first installment of a trilogy very liberally exploits that feeding frenzy for a breakneck, and never boring, thrill ride.
My only complaint, and the reason I don't give it 5 stars, is that character development seems a bit neglected in favor of world-building. A lot of the emotional motivations of Eekhout's heist crew are explained out of seemingly nowhere, with very little page space spared to show, not tell, who they are as people. Regardless, this narrative failure didn't retract from my enjoyment of the novel, or keep me from finishing it in two days.(less)
Reading The Martian was a lot like watching Gravity: intense action with all the "oh, jeez, this is neat" science-fiction goodness. And this is where...moreReading The Martian was a lot like watching Gravity: intense action with all the "oh, jeez, this is neat" science-fiction goodness. And this is where Weir really shines -- the details. The guy wrote actual orbital software to calculate whether or not the plot devices in his book were possible. What results is an exemplary hard sci-fi novel, with enough technical coolness to satisfy any nerd. And this nerd was definitely satisfied. (less)
Noggin is seriously touching YA fiction, and perfect for fans of John Green. Whaley's protagonist, Travis, is pitch-perfect all the way through. Not t...moreNoggin is seriously touching YA fiction, and perfect for fans of John Green. Whaley's protagonist, Travis, is pitch-perfect all the way through. Not to mention his cast of memorable supporting characters, all of which have their own unique voice. Mostly, I loved Noggin because of its allegorical power, and how expertly it touched on the universal themes of growing up with such an outlandish premise. Travis tackles, head on (SEE WHAT I DID THERE) his short-sighted teenage naiveté, the dangers of expecting people to be exactly what you want them to be, taking for granted your support system, and how to let go of people who've moved past you. Mostly, Noggin is about learning to live again after you've given up, and how to convince the people you lost to risk caring enough to lose you again. Don't hold it against me, but I might have teared up at some scenes.(less)
You'd think you're too smart to fall for a con. Particularly a con involving a murderous German immigrant, who posed as a member of the high-profile R...moreYou'd think you're too smart to fall for a con. Particularly a con involving a murderous German immigrant, who posed as a member of the high-profile Rockefeller family for nearly two decades. But that's exactly what happened to Ivy-educated author Walter Kirn -- he fell for it. In Blood Will Out, Kirn reveals how he was duped by a real-life Mr. Ripley. In this candid exposé, he reveals how "Clark Rockefeller" preyed on Kirn's vulnerability -- his willingness to politely collude in lies rather than create a scene, and his pride in keeping such distinguished company -- to literally get away with murder. But Blood Will Out is not just a good yarn, but an excellently written one. Kirn dissects his own deception with the regret of hindsight, and the frustrated rage of a man betrayed by a fiend he thought a friend. You can't help but feel sorry for Kirn, and share the same manic creeping dread as he discovers just how much he aided in his own beguilement. If you loved In Cold Blood, this one is for you. Just don't read it with the lights off. (less)
After the Golden Age is a fun, nostalgic read for tailor-made for comic book nerds. Every major plot point was a treat -- with plenty of references to...moreAfter the Golden Age is a fun, nostalgic read for tailor-made for comic book nerds. Every major plot point was a treat -- with plenty of references to things like doomsday devices, spandex, and how evil goons are never very reliable. But behind the send-up to Golden Age comic book geekery, there's a cast of real characters. Through her protagonist Celia West, she explores the timeless theme of growing up in the shadows of your parents and their accomplishments -- except Celia's parents are the most famous superheroes of Commerce City, and she's just a normal accountant. Vaughn manages to both satirize and celebrate comic book tropes while crafting a such a compulsively readable novel that I couldn't put it down.(less)
I like the Cannes. I like graphic novels. So when I heard an adaptation of a graphic novel had taken the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival,...moreI like the Cannes. I like graphic novels. So when I heard an adaptation of a graphic novel had taken the Palme d'Or at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival, I had to read it. "Blue is the Warmest Color" lives up to the hype and more. Maroh's art is emotive, but sparse, managing to convey the terrible burden of a life, and a love, in the margins. Veering between the raw operatic tragedy of teenage passion and the subtle, somber adversities of adulthood endings, Clementine's coming-out manages to be familiar, yet exotic -- woven as it is with the many shades of blue Morah chooses to represent mercurial Emma. This is a timeless, beautiful graphic novel -- one I'm sure to read again and again.(less)
I confess that I read this entire series in the course of a little under a week. I haven't been this obsessed with a comic since I first discovered co...moreI confess that I read this entire series in the course of a little under a week. I haven't been this obsessed with a comic since I first discovered comics. Vaughan uses an apocalyptic gimmick to delve the very depths of human resilience. Along the way, he also manages to tell a story about love and growing up that never falls flat.
The rest of this review pertains to the series as a whole, so I'm heavily spoiler tagging it.
What I like the most about this series is that it inverts my love/hate relationship with comicbooks, and geek culture in general. Comicbooks and the culture surrounding them have a big bad sexism problem, and you're basically asking to be tarred and feathered for even mentioning it. (view spoiler)[Bring up the last of good gay characters, nevermind good lesbian characters, and you might as well have opened Pandora's Box. (hide spoiler)] Geeks, as much we might like to complain about the comparison, are a bit like cockroaches. Shine a light of critique on us and we all scurry into the corners to have an existential crisis.
Throughout the course of Vaughan's series, he deconstructs a lot of the female archetypes that comics are pretty infamous for. In a world with only one man, you're going to have to have a lot of female characters. And they can't all be parodies of human beings. Sure, he plays a lot of characters and tropes straight, but all of the main characters manage to be fully fleshed out people of their own right, and not fan service.
What I liked too is that Vaughan doesn't take the cheesy way out. (view spoiler)[Instead of turning the female population into super-mothers who fix everything or invoking the "all women are a little bit gay" stereotype, he refuses to make his female characters fan service. In fact, the only lesbian character has a hard time finding a partner in a world of only women. (hide spoiler)] Likewise, with men (view spoiler)[Vaughan doesn't let Yorick become some nihilist pimp who screws his way through the apocalypse. (hide spoiler)] He refuses to vilify or or deify either gender, or reduce any of his characters to chromosomes (I liked the nod to all of the wonderful and various colors of the genderqueer rainbow too).
This series is really, really progressive, and a landmark in comics. I'm endlessly thankful to the friend that recommended it to me, as I am thankful to the author and Vertigo for the opportunity to read it.
Stuff like this is the reason I read indie comics and graphic novels: there's only so many times you can reboot Batman before enough is enough.["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>(less)