Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Going Bovine

When this book won the Printz Award (like the Newbery but for Young Adult award, the highest one the American Library Association gives for teen literature), I was sitting behind the author's husband. He was so excited, and called his wife. Very sweet. Thus I was excited to go home and read this book.

Book: Going Bovine by Libba Bray

Vital Stats: Published in 2009 by Delacorte Press, 480 pages
Awards: Printz Award
Marketed Toward: Teens (probably 14+)
The Quick and the Short of It: I wish I could recommend this, but I really can't. It's brilliantly written and engaging, but there are just too many issues.

Book Synopsis
Underachieving 16 year-old Cameron is skating through school, a minimum wage job flipping burgers, and spending a lot of time smoking marijuana. He has distant parents, an overachieving sister, and few friends. Then he starts hallucinating. At first he and everyone else assume it is drug related. However it is soon revealed to be mad cow disease. As he lays dying in a hospital room, he gets a classmate for a roommate, a little person (what used to be called dwarf or midget) named Gonzo. Cameron is recruited by a punk rock angel named Dulcie to save the world and in doing so perhaps himself. Enlisting Gonzo as a sidekick, they set off on a cross country road trip where they join spring break parties, Mardi Gras, cults, fight fire monsters, do more drugs, add a talking gnome who claims to be a viking god to their merry band, and in general have incredible assorted adventures.

My Take
As I said in the intro, this is a extremely well written book. My coworkers all loved it. It was engaging (though I did feel it went on a little bit too long, I had to force myself through the last 70 pages), original, funny, and touching. If you asked me to name four other books like it, I'd be hard pressed to name even two. The Printz Award is supposed to go for excellence and this is excellence by worldly standards. And unlike other award winners, it will appeal to the target audience. It's a good, possibly brilliant, book and I wish I could recommend it.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
I should have kept a list as I was going because I'm going to miss some issues. We'll start with the drug use, specifically marijuana. This is the third teen book I've read in a row where marijuana use is treated very casually. Did I miss the part where it was legalized? Talking with a coworker, she didn't think it "was that big of a deal". But to me it is still a big deal and the increasingly casual way our society treats marijuana use signals a change in attitude. There is legislation to legalize marijuana in California as I write this, but for now the practice is being normalized in literature.

Cameron also graphically lusts after one of his classmates; there are other sexual activities described and speculated upon, underage drinking, etc. Some questionable language as well. It might be a fairly graphic and accurate look at the world of many teenage books. The question is if you want to read a book that reflects life as many teens live it in the world, or if you want to aim for something higher. There is an argument to be made about knowing enough of popular culture to communicate with the rest of the world, but we also have a responsibility to focus on that which is higher. It might help to reach the right kid in the right situation, but it would have to be done very carefully. And there are quite a few theological issues dealing with the portrayal of angels and the end of the life and afterlife. That is to be expected in a non-Christian book.

Therefore it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. -Romans 13:5

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Babymouse (Graphic Novel Series) volumes 1 to 3

I've already confessed my love of graphic novels, and now let me further confess that I love all things girly, pink, sparkly, and pretty. I am that girl and I am so without shame. Thus I've been in love with Babymouse since it premiered 5 years and 12 volumes (to date) ago.

Book: Babymouse: by Jennifer L. Holm and Matthew Holm
volume 1: Babymouse: Queen of the World!
volume 2: Babymouse: Our Hero
volume 3: Babymouse: Beach Babe

Vital Stats: Each volume is around 90 pages, published by Random House, and available in paperback or hardback
Awards: ALA Notable Children's Book Award among others
Marketed Toward: Ages 9 to 12
The Quick and the Short of It: Recommended, with some slight reservations, for anyone second grade and up, but most likely to be enjoyed by girls. (I've never seen a boy in the library so much as pick one of these up, but the girls can't get enough of them.)

Book Synopsis:
These books feature the tale of young Babymouse who loves cupcakes, monster movies, her best friend Wilson the Weasel, and her family. She uses her fantastic imagination and many flights of fancy (frequent daydream sequences have her doing anything from blazing a pioneer trail to fighting giant monsters) to cope with school, Felicia Furrypaws the bully, and the other trials and tribulations of life. The adorable and charming illustrations are done in only three colors: varying shades of black, white, and pink. It sounds limiting, but it is amazing how much is done with something that simple.

Babymouse: Queen of the World!
Babymouse wants to be queen, she wants to be popular, but she is not. The queen is that bully Felicia Furrypaws and when everyone (or so it seems) but Babymouse is invited to Felicia's slumber party, Babymouse is never more aware of her social position. Babymouse obsesses about the slumber party until she has the chance to "earn" an invitation by allowing Felicia to turn in a book report Babymouse wrote and claim it as her own. Despite having made plans with Wilson, Babymouse attends the slumber party only to discover it isn't much fun at all. At the 11th hour, she remembers herself, leaves the slumber party, and rejoins her true friend.

Babymouse: Our Hero
She dreams of being a hero, but all too often she is just a regular Babymouse. Never has she seemed more ordinary or even awful than in gym class. When a dodgeball game is announced, Babymouse knows that she is doomed to misery, but when the day finally comes (after a week of worry), she surprises everyone (even herself) by firing the winning shot.

Babymouse: Beach Babe
School is over, summer is here, and Babymouse is very excited about her family's vacation to the beach. She has grand plans for surfing (harder than it looks), sunbathing (sunburns), snorkeling (sharks), and much more fun. Unfortunately in her own attempts to have fun, she keeps ignoring her little brother Squeak, finally breaking his heart when she laments her lack of "cool" playmates. Squeak runs away causing a distraught Babymouse to find him. Their vacation ends up being a lot of fun as the two of them play together.

My Take:
These books are sweet and cute. The moral of the story is transparent (to adults at least) and predictable far in advance, but it is never irritating or cloying. The artwork is charming and the characters extremely likeable. Girls seem to love this series at my library and I love recommending it to them. This is officially marketed at 9 to 12 year-olds, but I really think its appeal is a bit younger than that. I've got only a few reservations (see below) that keep me from giving it whole-hearted review. Let's say that it is four out of five cupcakes (to put it in Babymouse-ese).

Possible Issues of Concern/Christian Connection:
Usually Babymouse learns a good lesson in each of her books (to know your true friends, to be brave, to enjoy playing with your little brother in the first three volumes respectively). The only issues I have are minor. In the second book, Babymouse's winning dodgeball shot hits Felicia Furrypaws directly in the face in what looks like an extremely painful hit, even when rendered in black and white and pink. Ouch! Don't try that at home! And in the third book, Babymouse's beach outfit (though never played for overt sexuality in anyway) is a pair of knee-length board short and a midriff revealing tank top. In one dream sequence in that volume she is a mermaid (err mermouse) wearing a shell bikini top. Other than those two outfits, all other outfits pictured are appropriately modest in the book series.

You Might Also Like:
The Lunch Lady graphic novel series by Jarrett J. Krosoczkais a similar size and shape and uses the same three-tone illustration scheme (only in that case, black, white, and yellow) and features a bevy of lunch ladies who fight evil in various forms. A good guy-friendly option (though still sure to appeal to girls as well).

Better a meal of vegetables where there is love
than a fattened calf with hatred.
-Proverbs 15:17