29 September 2007

Review:: The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian (novel)

I was initially drawn to this book because:
  • the main character is a boy and I don't want to focus only on girlie lit
  • the quotes of praise on the back are from such literary contributors as Neil Gaiman (god of creativity), Amy Sedaris (who gives her brother David his best work), and Alison Bechdel (creator of the phenomenal Fun Home)
So yeah, how could I not read it? Fortunately for me (and everyone who chooses to read this), this is the kind of book that grabs you from the first paragraph. You stop doing dishes and your homework just so you can finish it. It's not just because the humor sneaks up on you like an ice cube running down your back-- seriously! It makes you uncomfortable but you can't deny that you love it. After all, Alexie has a distinct knack for making situations hilarious, even when they're difficult to deal with.

The main character Arnold Spirit speaks of being Indian (as in feathers, not dots) and of being an underdog with candor and courage. Many angsty teens are bound to latch on to him as a stuttering but fierce hero of sorts. Watch out for the part at the beginning of the book when he discusses the worst part about being poor. That's a heart-wrenching performance piece right there.

Some argue that it goes too far in its portrayal of boozed-up, aggressive Native Americans. I am not Native American, so I really cannot make that call. I do think that the point is aimed more at being adventurous, challenging yourself, and leaving a world that isn't for you, even if that world is home.

8.5 of 9. It's a complete joy to read, but a couple of parts towards the end seemed a bit staged for a novel that usually flows so freely and naturally.
The drawings of the characters seamlessly and brilliantly contribute to the fabric of the characterization. Though the teen characters are archetypes, they seem fresh and more fleshed out than most teen novels.
The humor keeps it going fast!
If you like to laugh and maybe even cry at the same time, you're going to love this. It also helps if you don't mind reading about boners, zits, and death.
Like it? Try this!::
If you want to continue along the same vein of Indian, poor and humorous, try reading "Smoke Signals" by the same author.
Further Notes::
What I enjoyed about this book most of all is how it didn't cater to literary "shushers." It is what it is, and talks about what it wants to, with no apologies. Neil Gaiman says this book will be banned at some point. That's a good start to ensuring the immortality of this gorgeous novel, which may very well be working itself towards a sequel. Yeah!

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. By Sherman Alexie. Little, Brown Young Readers, 2007. 240 pages. $16.99.

20 September 2007

Review:: Happy Mania (manga)

If you don't know that much about manga, it's easy to think that it's all the same. You could also make the mistake of thinking it's all easily divided into series for girls (shoujo) or boys (shounen).

Prepare yourself for Happy Mania. No, really. You can't go in thinking it will be your average cutesy/funny series because, though it has its entertaining moments, it'll probably drain you. You will see the main character, Shigeta-san, look desperately for a boyfriend but end up constantly confusing sex for love. Welcome to josei manga, where it's totally fine to show a man's hand pleasuring a woman's, um, love nest.

You can think of it as Sex and the City, except with a less trendy younger woman who doesn't really know enough about herself to understand her predicament. Though this series deals with relationships, the more realistic parts of it portray your average woman's self-esteem and life expectations. As you watch her make mistake after mistake, you want her to get with her sweet, nerd-to-the-bone co-worker Takahashi. You know that he can give her the love she needs. The big tragedy here is that her dream could very well be within reach but she is not mature enough to give a good man a shot.


I have to give it a 7.75 of 9 for standing apart from most manga, but a 6.25 for the overall package. The layout and drawings are okay enough, and some of the story can be quite charming, but I don't have any inclination to continue the series.
An insecure young woman who is so desperate for love that she (a) lies to herself constantly, and (b) keeps getting intimate with jerks? You bet that hits a nerve among tons of women.

I wouldn't recommend it to any teens if I were a librarian and wanted to keep my job. That aside, I think that many of them could relate, particularly to her weak self-image. Who hasn't looked at herself in the mirror and seen only a fat blob with ears?
Like it? Try this!::
Enjoyed all the sex? You don't have to stop there. Join the many open-minded women who are really into yaoi.
Further Notes::
I initially hated this one, but I could recognize that at least it was powerful enough to elicit a reaction. And isn't that the mark of worthwhile manga anyway?

Happy Mania. By Moyoko Anno. TokyoPop, 2003. $9.99

Review:: Babymouse, Queen of the World! (graphic novel)

Okay, I need to stop choosing all these pink images because the color is driving me a little nutty. Plus, I wanted to tackle a Japanese manga next, but I accidentally came across a little treasure called Babymouse, Queen of the World! I didn't even realize it was a series until I went to the website. And believe me, we're fortunate that this isn't the end of Babymouse.

It is everything that parents and teachers could wish for: a G-rated graphic novel with positive messages that actually make both kids and adults laugh. Positive messages like saving the planet against global warming, you ask? Goodness, no. This work tackles issues that are much more personal: social acceptance, self-compromise, and the importance of friendship. The tongue-in-cheek commentary from the narrator ensures that it never gets preachy.

You could draw similarities between Babymouse and Art Spiegelman's Maus, but I think that would be stretching it too far. Yes, there is a bit of a "mouse vs. cat" power scale here, and both have their own niche in the graphic novel world. Thankfully, though, the brother-and-sister writing duo Jennifer and Matthew Holm keep things light and bubbly with wild daydreaming sequences that beg to be read more than once.

Warning (though this comment is superfluous, since all you have to do is look at the cover to see who this is aimed at): I don't really see your average boy picking this up and saying, "Wow, I gotta read this!" This is very much intended to engross a girlie audience, with each page number engulfed in a small heart and the white/black/shades-of-pink coloring. With its random slips into manic creativity, though, I think this would be an entertaining story for both girls and boys if you could strip it of its blatant femininity. I don't recommend that, though, because that's totally part of its charm.

8.25 of 9
Endearingly over-the-top at times, all for the sake of entertainment
Quite fast with plenty to distract you without overwhelming you
From preteens up-- and anyone who has a thing for daydreaming, cupcakes or tiaras
Like it? Try this!::
Any of the other Babymouse adventures
Further Notes::
The Babymouse website is aimed at kids, but it's actually a bit of a hoot. Go to "Create Your Own Babymouse Story" under the "Glamour! Excitement! Adventure!" tab and fill in the bubbles with your own spicy dialogue. Take that, you ungracious wench!

Babymouse: Queen of the World! By Jennifer Holm and Matt Holm. Random House Books for Young Readers, 2005. 91 pages. $5.95

19 September 2007

Road Map:: Choosing this life

Though I was born in Texas, my family moved to a border city in Mexico when I was four years old. The city I lived in does have a library, but it's roughly the size of your average one-car garage. I hate to say this, but most people there didn't read much other than celebrity magazines. It's hard to say if the demand for a better library has just never been there to begin with, or the lack of supply ensured that the good people of la frontera simply learned to do without a biblioteca.

Still, I suppose the librarian blood has been pumping within me for a long time now. We moved back to Texas in '89, to a small neighborhood that I affectionately call "Little Mexico." There is a small but popular little library there, and since my mother loved to read, she'd take us there every other Saturday or so. I specifically remember one particular instance, as I perused the juvenile fiction section. I must have been around ten or eleven. I knew that the books were classified by the last name of the author, and I saw a few books that were-- *GASP!*-- not in proper alphabetical order. I looked around and made sure no one was looking at me. When I made sure that I truly was alone, I quietly rearranged them so that they were in the right order.

Aw yeah. Life in the fast lane.

In high school, I worked at the school library one semester, where I met a long-haired bookworm in a leather jacket who would later become my first boyfriend. In college, students in the work-study program had to take a personality test to place them in the right department. I simply asked them to stick me in the library, where I knew I could read and be happy. I was majoring in Spanish and French, but of course those degrees do nothing for you in the workforce, unless you couple them with something else. Business. Marketing. Translation. Anything!

I, of course, was clueless. I'd see flyers in the library lounge for library school. But I thought, "Are you kidding me? More debt? Yeah right!" At this point, I was working both at the university library and a law library downtown. Soon I was also preparing to move to Japan with the JET Programme, where I taught English to high school students for three years. I think I could be just about any type of librarian, but I feel my experiences with teens in Japan really prepared me for youth librarianship.

After JET, I went back home and got a job as a part-time library assistant. I was working but unable to make ends meet, so I was, fabulously, getting into even more debt. Then I learned about a foundation that would help me finance my education, I wrote a kick-ass admissions essay, and a year and a half later, I'm halfway through with library school.

Nowadays I try to keep my camera on me, just in case we pass up a library. If my husband is with me, he'll take a picture of me in mid-air, just like the one you see here in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh. See my bare foot and a big black spot next to it? Believe it or not, that black dot is my shoe, which fell off during my jump.

It's a hazardous and sometimes embarrassing thing, you know, being in love with libraries.

Pictures, from top to bottom:
a) Providence Athenaeum Library
Providence, RI (06.01.07)
b) William J. Clinton Presidential Library
Little Rock, AR (7.17.07)
c) Squirrel Hill Library
Pittsburgh, PA (7.28.07)

17 September 2007

Event:: Otaku Ninja Cafe (07.01.07)

I spent nearly a year and a half working as a library assistant at a public library, and it was my interest in kids and teens that allowed me to sneakily tweak my position and grow in the field of young adult librarianship. I organized a few programs including the Otaku Ninja Cafe (view the first of three) and Lunar New Year Festival, putting my knowledge of Asian culture to good use. Ganbatta ne!

The pix decorating this entry are from the last Cafe we put on, and by this time I wasn't even working at that library anymore. The Ninjas were so attached to me that I was asked to do a bit of a guest spot. This was their last chance to say goodbye to me before I moved east. At that point, nothing was keeping me from seeing my Ninjas one last time!

Activities created for the Cafe:
~ Dance Dance Revolution or Guitar Hero
~ Japan Jeopardy
~ cosplay contest
~ manga exchange
~ art corner with paper and supplies
~ unofficial tea chugging contest (this was their idea)

We had our hardcore members come to nearly every Cafe, but we would also get patrons who were present in the library on that day. I'd make my announcement in Japanese, then explain the event in English, of course. It helps when you say that there are cupcakes, cookies, and tea available, ha ha.

This club was not my idea, but it quickly became my baby. For a small branch library, it was pretty impressive that we usually had 30-40 attendees. I think that what made this club work was my respect for the kids' interests. Also, I lived in Japan for three years and I'd make sure to work it in to conversation as nonchalantly as I could. Their eyes often widened in excitement-- or narrowed in jealousy-- but then they'd open up about how they love X manga or how they think Y anime is hilarious.

I know I have a lot to learn in the realm of anime and manga (and Japanese language, of course), but I'm willing to attack with relish!

Review:: Gray Horses (graphic novel)

Japanese manga are very popular among teens in the States right now, and for good reason. Many of them are entertaining, touching, and make heroes out of otaku. Who doesn't love that? Still, that doesn't mean we should overlook western gems like Hope Larson's Gray Horses.

The main character is Noemi, a young French woman studying abroad in what appears to be Chicago. I could say that anyone who has studied abroad is immediately hooked by this story, but that would be trivial. Anyone who has ever felt like an outsider finds himself/herself in the first couple of pages of panels. Insecurity, loneliness, and self-doubt over one's choices is familiar stomping ground for just about anyone at some point in their lives. However, this isn't a self-pitying story for emo kids. Stick with the plot, and you'll find yourself soaring in the night wind among the stars as well.

What I find astounding about Larson is that she is the complete creator of her gorgeous work. She draws entirely unique characters-- once you see one, you'll be able to instantly recognize her other drawings, which have been featured in the New York Times and have won her a few awards. She also writes her own soft meandering stories, so she is not dependent on either a writer or an illustrator. What you see is what she feels, and the experiences and emotions she conveys are not easily shaken. A true blue beauty.

8.95 of 9 (Oh, what the hell, I'll give it a 9.)
Some of the characterization is carried out wordlessly, proving the brilliance of Larson's painstaking visuals. These aren't vapid paper cut-outs-- they are real people with familiar emotions.
Slow, but in a really glorious way
Anyone who can deal without action sequences in graphic novels
Like it? Try this!::
Her first graphic novel, Salamander Dream, is just as touching, creative, and beautifully cryptic as well. It's not very popular, so you might have trouble finding it at your library or bookstore. Try going through interlibrary loan or ordering it online. In the meantime, check out her website, http://www.hopelarson.com. I highly recommend her short comic 2 Rabbits, found here.
Further Notes::
I was so moved after reading this one that I immediately went to her website and emailed her. She wrote back the next day, and her very sweet and polite message made my week. Apparently, librarians are very good about seeking her out and praising her work. (Yay us!) I listened to Patti Smith's song Horses while I read this, though I'm not sure I recommend it, since the thrusting force behind Smith and the gentle breeze in Larson are not quite compatible. Still, there was something magical about making this graphic novel my own, which I think is the point anyway.

Gray Horses. By Hope Larson. Oni Press, 2006. 112 pages. $14.95

16 September 2007

Review:: Chobits (anime)

I think we can all agree that in the world of movies and TV shows, there is camp (think Sex and the City) and then there's kiddie camp (Dora the Explorer). In the case of Clamp's Chobits, think band camp. It's far more daring than you would have originally thought. This anime is certainly loaded, not just with sparklies and cute technology but plenty of sexual innuendo.

This is a world where people can have their own walking persocoms-- a bad transliteration of the Japanese paasocon, which stands for personal computer. That's right, this story is about a P.C., except that this anime is far from politically correct. These persocoms are fleshy, appealing, and oftentimes very feminine. You know what I'm talking about. Hideki, in his late teens, is the lucky bumbling main character who finds himself a mysterious persocom, Chii, and is nearly constantly turned on by her adorable innocence. In the first episode, when trying to wake her up, he has to figure out how to turn her on. I'm not even going to tell you how he does it. I'm sure you can use your imagination.

Despite the notion that Chii is a bundle of sensuality and impulsiveness faintly evocative of a sex toy, this is a winning series that really grows on the viewer. However, I'd only recommend it to a more mature teen audience. I know of a few preteens who are quite obsessed with this anime, and I have to wonder if perhaps the occasional references to breasts and porn sites are a bit much for the younger kids. I'd want a feminine role model to do more than say "chii" in a cute girlie voice and innocently put white, filmy natto residue all over her face.

7.5 of 9
The episodes I saw had likeable male characters but one-dimensional, attractive female characters. As far as Japanese anime women go, they're not so terrible but I still prefer complexity in the girlie brain. Try Azumanga Daioh for a wide (if sometimes hilariously overdone) range of female characters.
Moderate, as in most non-action anime
Mature teens (and soft core pervs of any age)
Like it? Try this!::
I'd say you'll be safe with anything by Clamp.
Further Notes::
Of course I recommend watching this in Japanese with English subtitles, but from what I could tell, they did a formidable dubbing job. Still, I dare you to think that Chii's "underpants" chant is funnier than the Japanese equivalent, "pantsu." I crawled into bed one night, happily singing "Pan-tsu! Pan-tsu! Pan-tsu!"

Chobits. Directed by Morio Asaka. Geneon Studio, 2003. 100 minutes. $29.98

03 September 2007

Death by librarianship


Exhausted after a day of pricing books, shelving, and working the register at a local bookstore, I have to come home and ponder the primary and secondary collections at X library nearby.

Yay MLS.