Tag Archive for teenagers

Review: Uglies: Shay’s Story

Uglies: Shay’s Story
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I absolutely love Scott Westerfeld‘s Uglies trilogy. It is actually one of my favorite dystopian stories, actually. The general premise works — who, as an awkward adolescent, wouldn’t want to be turned gorgeous and get to party all the time?

While Westerfeld’s ideas aren’t necessarily the most innovative, he had a fresh and relevant take on them, and ultimately, the books are a beautiful metaphor for growing up and finding (and accepting) your own power.

While I basically knew a comics adaptation of them was inevitable, like any beloved material, I approached the announcement of it with some skepticism. Two things, though, reassured me — that Devin Grayson would be leading the adaptation and that it was going to be told from Shay’s perspective (who was the best friend/rival of the main character, Tally). That it wasn’t going to be a straight retelling made it more intriguing to me.

The manga-esque art by Steven Cummings did not, though. I don’t think manga-style art was a bad choice for this story — in a lot of ways I think it suits it — but the early images I saw just felt a little generic.

I’m giving all of this as background to say: I went into reading this with quite a lot of baggage. Uglies: Shay’s Story (Del Rey, 2012) had a lot to live up to and a lot to prove.

And it did both things. Mostly.

If the title didn’t tip you off, without a doubt, this is Shay’s story. I like that this adaptation shows things that were only mentioned in the novel. Shay’s motivations are much clearer, and at least this early in the story, she’s much bolder and more savvy than Tally. Even though much is made about Shay not wanting to get the surgery that will turn her “pretty,” it feels in character. Shay is thoughtful and willing to face life, even if it means hardship. She took a while to get there, but her willingness to not take things at face-value makes her intriguing.

While I was never anti-Shay — she is nearly as important to the trilogy as Tally is — I think I’m going to like seeing her journey and her perspective on these events.

Grayson and Westerfeld do justice to Shay’ story while still making it a compatible companion to the Uglies novel. I was happy that this didn’t feel at all redundant.

All those things are great. But I do have complaints.

I enjoy the early scenes with Shay, certainly, as she and her friends play tricks on the Pretties and learn about the people who’ve set up their own society outside the cities. I also like that the sinister Special Circumstances is much more present from the very beginning. However, these parts take up the bulk of the graphic novel and I feel like Shay’s experiences out in the Smoke are kind of shortchanged. The conflict between her and Tally also feels rushed toward the end, almost as if the page count was quickly approaching and the story needed to be wrapped up.

While Cummings’ art grew on me and he certainly has a dynamic eye for page layouts and action — the hoverboard scenes are fun and full of movement — I feel like the character design suffered. No one really looked distinctive to me and I don’t think there was enough differentiation between the pre-operation characters and the post-operation characters. Yes, I get that the “uglies” aren’t necessarily ugly, but everyone in this book was just a little too good-looking for it to work. With a story that’s so much about appearances, this was distracting.

Still, I’d like to continue following Shay through the next two books. And I realize I’m due to read the Uglies trilogy again.

Interior art taken from Scott Westerfeld’s blog.

Review: Ivy


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I’ve been rewatching My So-Called Life on Netflix streaming.

When that show first aired, I was just the right age for it (a freshman in high school to Angela Chase’s sophomore) but now, I see very different things in it. I love the beautifully troubled Rayanne more than I used to — I think she probably became someone amazing — and whereas the teenage me found Jordan to be mysterious and intriguing, I now see how ridiculously unworthy of Angela he is. Also, poor Brian Krakow.

Now, while talking about My So-Called Life is plenty of fun (as is the ’90s fashion. Let’s bring some of that back!), I think really, stories about teenagers are really just a matter of perspective.

I liked a good deal of Sarah Oleksyk‘s Ivy (Oni Press, 2011) but I also think I see it in a different way than I would have if I was Ivy’s age.

Ivy is an artistic senior looking to escape her life in small-town Maine. She lives with her hard-working single mother and has fallen in with the other misfits at her high school if she really doesn’t like them. After meeting a trouble boy at an art school fair, Ivy tries to take her life into her own hands, with mixed results.

Oleksyk’s art is approachable and open — Ivy’s short hair gives her a punky edge while her nondescript facial features make her someone who doesn’t stand out. You went to high school with dozens of girls like this. Maybe you were one. Ivy’s friends, while a bit more distinctive, still look like people I knew (or at least knew people who were like them). It makes the story feel intimate and personal as well as universal.

Still, the dramatic turn — Ivy runs away with Josh after being suspended for school — feels a little false. It’s not that I don’t believe teenagers do this, but nothing in Ivy’s character really seemed like it was something she would do. The adults feel pretty one-dimensional. Ivy’s math teacher has it out for her for no real reason I can discern, and Ivy’s mother’s anger toward her feels misplaced. I can understand that Ivy’s mother wants a better life for her daughter, certainly, but I think she’s presented as being overly harsh toward her daughter.

But like I said, it’s maybe a matter of perspective. Oleksyk’s sympathies are with Ivy through and through, so of course the adults are going to be against her. Of course it’s a reasonable thing that Ivy would run away and that Josh would turn on her once they slept together. It’s a teenager’s world — everything is mostly black and white. People are good or bad and there’s not much in between.

The gray washes and Oleksyk’s strong lines do give Ivy the appropriate mood and her ability to express emotion both through quiet images and exaggerated drawings is admirable. She also composes beautiful pages, with borders closing in her characters or isolating them in open spaces. I have no complaints about her abilities as a comic artist.

I will love to see what Sarah Oleksyk does next. I just hope she leaves Ivy behind.

Do we care about Mary Jane?

Should we? These are honest questions.

I was never really a Spider-Man fan so I don’t know that much about Mary Jane. She has, however, always struck me as your basic pretty girl character — she only has a personality when it suits the comic. And as you know, she’s been ditched in favor of Gwen Stacy as the love interest in the upcoming reboot of the Spider-Man film franchise.

But that brings me to Mary Jane: Homecoming and Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Sophomore Jinx. These, if Wikipedia is to be believed, are more or less part of the same series although they don’t feel all that connected to me, honestly (granted, though, these two parts aren’t directly continuous, so I have missed some things in between the two).

Mary Jane: Homecoming

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In Mary Jane: Homecoming, Mary Jane is dealing with her relationship with Harry Osbourn as well as Flash’s crush on her and troubles with her friend Liz. It’s all pretty typical high school stuff — Harry is aimlessly angry and he and Mary Jane just seem to be together because they are. Liz and MJ have a conflicted friendship — they like each other, sure, mostly because they’ve been friends forever, but they’re competitive with each other, too. Oh, and Spider-Man shows up and fights some bad guys a couple of times, but that’s pretty inconsequential (except MJ does feel a growing connection to him — and to Peter Parker).

In writer Sean McKeever‘s hands, the story’s twists have the right amount of drama without ever becoming over-the-top. These kids are just trying to figure themselves out as well as each other. The shifting alliances and confusing relationships feel natural. He has a wonderful grasp of how teenagers behave without being condescending. Takeshi Miyazawa‘s art is cute and soft and is just manga-like enough to make it distinctive from a superhero title. I love the eye for detail he has, from MJ and Liz’s updos for the homecoming dance to the emotional glances characters give each other.

Spider-Man Loves
Mary Jane:
Sophomore Jinx

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Spider-Man Loves Mary Jane: Sophomore Jinx feels a bit different. It has another creative team of Terry Moore and Craig Rousseau and everything feels a bit bigger — more drama, more action, more conflict. Here, MJ is just starting her sophomore year of high school (hence the title) and struggles to find her place after someone starts some cruel rumors about her.

I don’t think anyone would accuse Moore of not being able to write women well. Even when Strangers in Paradise began getting more and more convoluted, it was always clear his female characters were fully realized. He does less well with teenage girls, though. This isn’t particularly bad, but he doesn’t seem to quite grasp the intricacies of teenage relationships (and maybe I’m wrong, but I’m almost sure no teenager was appending “not” to the end of a sentence to make it a negative in 2008). Rousseau’s art is stylized and has an exaggerated, animated feel to it, but also comes across as a bit more generic. I don’t think he gets to shine here.

Neither of these books are bad. I liked Homecoming more than Sophomore Jinx, but I liked both. But I was left with one major question: Who was this title for?

Now, I ended up with them because I am interested in this sort of thing (you know, comics aimed at girls). Homecoming was a dollar at a comic con and a friend gave me Sophomore Jinx because he ended up with it and figured it had a better home with me.

But other than me, who was this intended for? I can’t really picture the audience for this title.

Mary Jane is presented as likeable, sweet and smart, but she’s also one of the popular kids. She has some problems at home, sure, but a lot of that just feels thrown in to keep her from seeming too perfect.

I can only use myself as an example, but as a teen — even as a preteen — I wouldn’t have been interested in Mary Jane. I was a misfit and I didn’t hang out with cheerleaders or football players. I wasn’t interested in reading about them. And I’d guess that a lot of teen girls that are into comics wouldn’t really either.

(I did see some girls excited by Archie comics, so maybe I’m wrong.)

While I was critical of a lot the Minx titles for feeling too young for their intended audience, they were mostly about girls I would’ve wanted to read about at that age. I could see a 12-year-old enjoying Homecoming that her loving father (or even older brother) bought for her, but I do think Sophomore Jinx, while still pretty innocent, is probably too old for her. I don’t think any older teen girls who like comics would’ve sought this out on their own. It’s possible I’m wrong there, though.

I think Marvel has done some interesting things aimed at women (even before last year’s push, and even when they’ve put stupid covers on them) but I’m not sure why they felt like Mary Jane needed to be its go-to teen girl character, other than the company thought she was (or would be) “popular” following the Spider-Man movies.

Which I guess means we can look forward to some comics starring Gwen Stacy.

Book of the Month: The War at Ellsmere

The War at Ellsmere

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Along with Raina Telgemeier and Hope Larson, Faith Erin Hicks is part of a new wave of female creators making really awesome comics aimed at younger female readers (vaguely “young adult” but their work tends to cover a range from probably 12-16 or so).

I think Hicks’ Zombies Calling is utterly delightful, but this month, I’m going with The War at Ellsmere (but do pick both of them up). Ellsmere follows Juniper, who has transferred to Ellsmere Academy and immediately makes an enemy of the school’s queen bee, Emily. She find an ally in her roommate, Cassie, who is as quirky and awkward as she is. Throughout, Hicks’ bold, cartoony art — her characters are all big eyes and smirky expressions — creates a wonderful portrait of female adolescence and how there’s really not that much separating the popular girls from the unpopular ones. Maybe you didn’t go to boarding school like the characters here, but you’ll find something to relate to.

This is one of those books that I don’t know why more people aren’t talking about it. It’s a wonderful example of an awesome comic for teenage girls. Or anyone, honestly.

Hicks is someone to watch and I’m overjoyed to see she has two works-in-progress for First Second Books. And if her Wolverine short story isn’t enough to make you love her work entirely, I don’t think I want to talk to you anymore.

Review: The Dreamer: Vol. 1

The Dreamer

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High school senior Bea is beautiful, talented and rich. A theater lover, she’s a shoe-in to play Juliet this year and she’s finally caught the eye of hunky football star Ben. Everything seems to be going well for her.

But she’s having these dreams where she’s in 1776, in the thick of the Revolutionary War.

Lora InnesThe Dreamer: The Consequence of Nathan Hale (IDW, 2009) introduces us to Bea, her friends and her story. In her waking life, she’s far from being a poor little rich girl or anything as cliche as that — rather, she’s playful and popular, teasing her friends and tormenting her cousin. In her dream life, she becomes taken with the heroic Alan Warren.

Innes’ art is gorgeous. Her teenagers are drawn to look like teenagers and her faces are bright and beautiful. She’s as capable of creating action-packed battle scenes as she is drawing more intimate, quite moments between two of the characters. Innes also seems to have a lot of shoujo manga’s appreciation for clothes (look — it’s a comic about teenage girls. There are going to be — and should be — many different outfits here).

But as much as I love the art, it would just be eye candy without the story. Bea is likable and accessible. She has a little bit of a fantasy life (since most of us aren’t rich and beautiful) but she’s also capable and can think on her feet. While she makes a few asides while in the 18th century, she adapts quickly to the rules of that time period while still remaining strong. Innes has obviously done her research and the scenes in the past feel as authentic as the modern-day ones

You can read the whole thing online (the book collects issues 1-6; Innes’ site also has 7-9 with more coming) but I love having the collection. I’m completely dazzled by the comic and I can’t believe I haven’t read it before.

And I think you should stop what you’re doing and go read it right now.