& Review: I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest. YA Fiction. Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books.

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest. YA Fiction. Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books.

The Book Itself: Awesome cover! A real visual of the entire Princess X herself, and the wanted poster style for the title and author makes it intriguing – why is a cartoon on a wanted poster? What mysteries is the reader getting into here?

My Review: Best friends, big fans, a mysterious webcomic, and a long-lost girl collide in this riveting novel, perfect for fans of both Cory Doctorow and Sarah Dessen; illustrated throughout with comics.

Once upon a time, two best friends created a princess together. Libby drew the pictures, May wrote the tales, and their heroine, Princess X, slayed all the dragons and scaled all the mountains their imaginations could conjure.

Once upon a few years later, Libby was in the car with her mom, driving across the Ballard Bridge on a rainy night. When the car went over the side, Libby passed away, and Princess X died with her.

Once upon a now: May is sixteen and lonely, wandering the streets of Seattle, when she sees a sticker slapped in a corner window.

Princess X?

When May looks around, she sees the Princess everywhere: Stickers. Patches. Graffiti. There’s an entire underground culture, focused around a webcomic at IAmPrincessX.com. The more May explores the webcomic, the more she sees disturbing similarities between Libby’s story and Princess X online. And that means that only one person could have started this phenomenon—her best friend, Libby, who lives.

Some (okay, a lot) of YA books require you to suspend your disbelief. This is regular old YA fiction, so it’s supposed to be real world events (so, no interstellar travel or Hunger Games-like dystopian settings). In the real world setting of I Am Princess X, however, May is sent on a real-life scavenger hunt to find her best friend. Who didn’t die horrifically in a car crash/drowning incident like she thought she did. No, she was kidnapped and kept hostage by a psychopath. No big deal.

So…I’ll ignore temporarily that May didn’t know Princess X the webcomic existed. Even though it’s supposed to be a big online phenomenon and May seems like a typically connected teenager with social media accounts and a laptop and everything. I do find it tough to swallow that Princess X exists and it didn’t raise any red flags for anyone else. It’s very clearly based on some real-world terrible stuff. You can turn the teenage girl into a princess and rename her friends and family (the Needle Man? Come on, that’s creepy as all heck). But I’d think someone would look into that webcomic. Make sure everyone involved is all right.

Then I have to suspend my disbelief that May goes on this real world scavenger hunt (that no one else picked up on, even though a lot of the clues are landmarks in Seattle), and really bad people start hunting her down and she doesn’t ever seek help from, you know, responsible, helpful adults. It’s just her and another teenager against the world. And they’re woefully unprepared, and a tad stupid about it.

It’s not an incredibly well developed story arc. It gets interruptions from excerpts from the actual Princess X comic. Which seem cool: it’s a novel and graphic novel all in one! But we skip around in that story, too. We miss a lot in between, so it’s not consistent. I almost feel as if the excerpts shouldn’t be included! Even though they were one of the main reasons I flipped through and then decided to buy the book!

It’s certainly got a healthy dose of suspense. It’s unbelievable in the literal sense, but it’s a nice, neat package in the end. It’s made interesting with the Princess X comics, but I’ve read better done mysteries.

My Grade: C-

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& Review: The Sculptor by Scott McCloud

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. Graphic Novel. Publisher: First Second.

The Sculptor by Scott McCloud. Graphic Novel. Publisher: First Second.

The Book Itself: Eye-catching (I find most graphic novel covers to be that way, especially if I like the artist’s work). The title “sculpted” into a brick wall, the girl coming out of the brick work…very cool.

My Review: David Smith is giving his life for his art—literally. Thanks to a deal with Death, the young sculptor gets his childhood wish: to sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands. But now that he only has 200 days to live, deciding  what  to create is harder than he thought, and discovering the love of his life at the 11th hour isn’t making it any easier! 

This is a story of desire taken to the edge of reason and beyond; of the frantic, clumsy dance steps of young love; and a gorgeous, street-level portrait of the world’s greatest city. It’s about the small, warm, human moments of everyday life…and the great surging forces that lie just under the surface. Scott McCloud wrote the book on how comics work; now he vaults into great fiction with a breathtaking, funny, and unforgettable new work.

This book caught my eye as it sat on a feature table at my work. Scott McCloud, I thought. Where have I heard that name before? A quick Goodreads detour revealed that he is responsible for such famous books on comics as Understanding Comics, Making Comics, and Reinventing Comics. His name sounded so familiar because I have a very talented artist friend who loves the comic art form. When she’s had to send me things in the mail, she’s decorated the envelopes with sketches of things like woodland creatures baking cookies. A caricature that she drew of me was my Facebook profile picture for a couple of weeks.

But enough about my friend Hannah (Hey, Hannah!!). The Sculptor is delightful. You can definitely see that McCloud knows his stuff. The artistic style is really on point. The character’s expressions, and the inventive way McCloud utilizes speech bubbles (so skillfully that you forget it’s a comic, that it’s a speech bubble spouting from someone’s head), are impressive, to say the least. And the way plot twists are laid out really gets you turning pages.

You really start to feel for the characters, and you ache a little when the story ends. The premise alone sets you up for some heartbreak: this guy is going to die in 200 days, and partway through that, he meets and falls in love with someone (who just happens to be a little damaged too – character flaws are well-rendered here too). But the journey to this deal’s end is a long and tangled one. David’s success doesn’t come as easy as he would hope. In fact, his first exhibition kind of flops. He’s crazy awkward around women, he makes misstep after misstep when it comes to his lady love, and he’s moody and depressing and somehow, still brilliant.

The book had a lot to say about art and commercialism and living in the big NYC. I liked that it was a gritty graphic novel. It dealt with real, complex issues in a way that was visually beautiful.

The ending felt a tad clumsy…without spoiling the whole thing, you have to pause at the end to suss out what’s real, and how the book really…ended. For such a solid book, it was an ambiguous ending, and I felt the story deserved more (and the sunshine and rainbows half of me wanted it of course to end happily for everyone!)

Great art, that has a lot to say about art itself. The ending brought the work down a little, but it’s a story that makes you think about it long after you’ve turned the last page.

My Grade: B

& Review: Here by Richard McGuire

Here by Richard McGuire. Graphic Novel. Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

Here by Richard McGuire. Graphic Novel. Publisher: Hamish Hamilton

The Book Itself: Rather an ominous window for a book that isn’t in itself, incredibly spooky or ominous. But it’s certainly eye catching in its minimalism!

My Review: Richard McGuire’s groundbreaking comic strip Here was published under Art Spiegelman’s editorship at RAW in 1989.

Built in six pages of interlocking panels, dated by year, it collapsed time and space to tell the story of the corner of a room – and its inhabitants – between the years 500, 957, 406, 073 BC and 2033 AD.

The strip remains one of the most influential and widely discussed contributions to the medium, and it has now been developed, expanded and reimagined by the artist into this full-length, full-colour graphic novel – a must for any fan of the genre.

Note: this book makes no sense if you just open it randomly without reading the description. I did this a couple of times at the store, where it just looked like a completely random selection of sketchy people and landscapes and interior shots.

Fun fact: knowing what a book is about really helps you enjoy it.

Now that my brain has truly been expanded, let me tell you why you should “read” a book full of pictures of the same corner of a room over thousands and thousands of years.

Answer? Because it’s actually really awesome.

One of the six original pages of "Here" From this blog.

One of the six original pages of “Here”
From this blog.

Here is just that: the corner of a living room, in its many forms from prehistoric times (in 80,000,000 BCE, a T-Rex stomps through the jungle that will one day become said room), to far in the future (an android tour guide gives a tour of the former site of the room in the year 2213).

And it’s still a story. Multiple stories, actually. Several pages are dedicated to a picnic on the lawn in 1870. In the first few pages, a joke about a doctor, told from the couch in 1989, takes a twisted turn. In 1986, a historical society announces connections to a Native American past, while on the same page, a panel depicting tribe members seems to observe them from a forest in 1622.

It’s a study of the lives that touch a room, and the life of the room itself, even before it’s constructed (in 1907, in case you’re curious). You can tell the thought and attention that went into this collection of art, and it’s truly impressive. You have a portfolio of beautiful hard work in your hands when you hold onto this book.

And a page from Here as it is today. Image credit here.

And a page from Here as it is today. Image credit here.

It could take you the space of one short afternoon to read it. After all, there aren’t very many words. It could take you as long as turning each of its 304 pages to read it cover to cover. But hopefully, you’ll pause like I did, admiring the sunset on the horizon in 1307, or the family gathered to watch a projected movie in 1973. I found myself simply grinning, going through this book, thinking about what an awesome idea it was, and how cool it was to read.

My Grade: A