Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Library Wars (manga) vol. 1-2

I've been reading a lot of manga lately because that is what the kids at my library are reading. How can I resist a manga about library employees fighting censorship?

Book: Library Wars: Love and War (volumes 1 and 2) by Kiiro Yumi and Hiro Arikawa
Vital Stats: Volumes 1 and 2 were published in June and September 2010 respectively with volume 3 due out in December 2010. All are around 200 pages in length, published by Viz.
Age Appropriateness: Rated by Viz as T+: For Older Teens
The Quick and the Short of It: Recommended with reservations

Book Synopsis:
In an alternate Japan, censorship is legal under the Media Betterment Act. In response libraries have militarized and formed the Library Defense Fore. (Side note, my library would be one thousand times more awesome if we had our own army.) After a childhood encounter where a member of the LDF saves her book, Iku is determined to join their ranks. She enrolls in librarian training and is the first female recruited into the defense force. There she has numerous run-ins with one of her instructors (Dojo) and a fellow recruit named Tezuka. She learns to work with them as they form a unit for both training and some real world missions. Of course there are the beginnings of some possible romantic intrigues (as you would expect in a book subtitled Love and Wars).

My Take:
I like Iku as a main character, she's a strong girl who cares about more than boys. (That's not as common as it should be in manga.) In fact when a guy expresses interest in her, she is very surprised and confused. She's more athletic than smart, but works hard to overcome it (once she realizes it is a problem). The series is simplistic in plot, a bit predictable, and I would have loved it when I was 12 that is f I had known what manga was when I was 12. It's going to appeal more to teens than adults, but it's going to appeal to people. It's fun, mostly lighthearted, and enjoyable.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection:
The T+ (or OT) rating for older teens can cover a variety of issues. So far, only through volume 2, I've not seen anything too egregious. There was one locker room/shower scene with some minor nudity (backs mostly). I'm worried that we might see more "fan service" wherein a manga creator (or manga-ka) includes nudity solely to make her fans happy. This could include two characters having a conversation in a shower/locker room that could easily happen in a cafeteria. No romantic relationships have formed yet (just hints and one date asked for) so I don't know how graphic or intimate those will get. And of course there is violence (the wars half of Love and Wars). They literally battle (guns, camo, the whole nine yards) over books. But the violence is sparse and not too graphic. I can recommend this to Christian teens with the caveat that I do not know what will develop in later volumes.

He holds victory in store for the upright,
he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless,
for he guards the course of the just
and protects the way of his faithful ones.
-Proverbs 2:7-8

Friday, October 1, 2010

Hunger Games trilogy

The latest blockbuster books (and perhaps soon to be a movie) in the teen lit world are the Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins. It's gotten so big that the purveyor of teen pop culture, Hot Topic, is now carrying a line of merchandising related to the books. (And yes I dragged my bemused friends in with me so I could purchase my "District 12 Tribute" t-shirt.) I loved Collins' previous juvenile (5th to 7th grade) work, The Underland Chronicles (first book: Gregor the Overlander) and she has far surpassed herself with this trilogy. However, it is not for the faint of heart, or the younger teens, and I'll explain that as well.

Book: Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Book one: Hunger Games published by Scholastic in 2008, 324 pages
Book two: Catching Fire pub 2009, 391 pages
Book three: Mockingjay pub 2010, 391 pages
Marketed Towards: Teens
The Quick and the Short of it: Recommended for older, mature teens with reservations for violence

Book Synopsis
In a future world, after the collapse of our own society, there are 12 districts ruled brutally by the Capitol. Katniss Everdeen lives in a coal mining district where she and her family barely stave off starvation through illegal hunting. All of the districts' citizens find themselves near starvation and dependant upon the Capitol. To reinforce their superiority, control, and to punish the districts for an uprising generations before, every district must send two teenage "tributes" to the annual hunger games. The 24 tributes compete to the death in a brutal arena while the districts are forced to watch their children kill each other. When Katniss' younger sister is chosen as a tribute, Katniss volunteers to take her place. What happens in the arena that year will change their society and start a revolution, but all Katniss wants to do is survive to protect her family. The second and third books follow the continuing revolution and struggle.

My Take
LOVE these books! I read the first one immediately and was twitching with anticipation before each of the sequels came out. As I said before, I even braved Hot Topic for the first time since my own teenage years to procure a t-shirt. Collins' writing is brilliant and the books draw you in. I know almost as many adults reading these books as teens. They've started many an in-depth conversation and debate. I even picked up the paperback for the first one and I'm very selective as to which books I buy due to both space and monetary limitations. That is not to say however that they are right for every teen, every family, or every Christian.

Possible Issues/Christian Connection
If you couldn't divine this on your own, there is a lot of violence in these books, a lot. Obviously the premise is a group of teenagers forced to fight to the death and then a revolution, a bloody violent civil war. However, the violence is presented in a reflective way and this book can spurn good discussion. Violence is clearly condemned, but shown to have it's place; yet it is still a very violent book.

On the other side, Katniss does develop relationships with two different young men who vie for her attention. Given the extreme situations and responsibilities they face, it hardly seems fair to refer to these teens as children. She is never shown or described as having sex with either of them, but a pregnancy is faked. After a number of extreme experiences, she deals with her PTSD by sleeping (merely sleeping) in the same bed and in the arms of one of the young men. The ramifications of her doing this and the emotional intimacy she is creating between the two of them is something she eventually has to consider. It might be an interesting discussion starter as to how pre-marital emotional intimacy can be as dangerous as pre-marital physical intimacy. Is that a fair thing for either person to rely that much upon another? What type of burden or relationship does that create?

So to recap - extreme violence and some intimacy, but still a great book, very thought provoking. I would recommend it for a mature older teen reader, but only you know your child and your family. It might be a great parent-teen read together and discuss.

When you go to war against your enemies and see horses and chariots and an army greater than yours, do not be afraid of them, because the LORD your God, who brought you up out of Egypt, will be with you. - Deuteronomy 20:1