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The Reading Pile: November 29

Happy Cyber Monday! Brigid Alverson is off this week, so the Good Comics for Kids gang has banded together to post The Reading Pile in her absence. Here’s the low-down on what we read over the Thanksgiving weekend… when we weren’t sitting on the sofa in tryptophan-induced stupors, that is!

Robin: I got my hands on Jen Wang’s Koko Be Good, a coming-of-age portrait of three intertwining lives: Jon, a grad student beginning to question moving across the world to settle down with his long-distance girlfriend; Faron, a teen whose love of musical theater leads to bullying at home, making him yearn for a way out; and the titular Koko, an energetic con woman who’s decided to give up her self-interest and instead aim for goodness. The question pondered by all three is whether being good brings happiness, but philosophy-of-life questions aside, this book is a charming collection of  observations on how we decide the paths our lives take. This is no melancholy snoozer, either. Big questions are asked, yes, but the chaos that Koko brings with her wherever she goes brings in bursts of energy and hilarity. The artwork is full of eloquent expressions and Wang deserves a lot of credit for tackling weighty issues with a light, comic touch. Given the ages of the characters and their points of decision, this title will resonate most with older teens, but it will appeal on up to adults and is not inappropriate for precocious younger teens.

Lori: From the reviews and word of mouth, I decided to read Dengeki Daisy. When I started reading, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it, but I was won over by the end. The characters are fun and endearing, and I really enjoy the antagonist relationship between the lead, which might not exist if they new the truth. I also found the use of the cell phone novel, but not to the point of being a gimmick.

I also read Time and Again volume four, a great and underrated Korean manhwa. We finally get to see how the main characters Ho-Yeon and Baek-On met, as well as Ho-Yeon’s past. It’s a touching and tragic past, and Baek-On even manages to get some humor into the otherwise sad moments. There are some surprises in this volume as the series comes full circle and some stories from the first volume affect our heroes in this one.

Esther: I thought I’d have to pass on this until I had a bit of insomnia in middle of the night. I rummaged around my bed and came up with Joey Fly Private Eye in Creepy Crawly Crime. I’d started this a few times, but never quite finished the book. I really enjoyed the title. It had some suspense and some humor, and did a great take on the noir detective. But I didn’t feel it succeeded as a children’s title. I can’t imagine that this title has much kid or teen appeal.

Kate: Arrrrrr! The December Manga Movable Feast is underway, and the subject is Eiichiro Oda’s wildly popular One Piece, currently the best-selling manga in Japan. It’s been a while since I read the very early volumes of the series — there are now over fifty — so I spent some of Thanksgiving weekend revisiting the first major story arc. I was immediately struck by Oda’s cartooning; he has an infinite capacity for creating new and memorable characters, lavishing just as much attention on pirates and villagers who appear in two scenes as he does on the principal characters. I was also amazed at how good Oda’s storytelling chops really are. He avoids one of the biggest pitfalls of the hero-with-awesome-powers genre by allowing us to learn about Monkey D. Luffy from watching him in action, rather than putting clunky, explanatory dialogue in his characters’ mouths — one of the main reasons I find so much shonen manga tedious.

Also on my list is Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword. I’m not very far into the book, but I’m really enjoying the way Barry Deutsch portrays Mirka and her stepmother Fruma. Deutsch avoids the easy characterization of Fruma as an ogre or a bully, instead celebrating her wisdom and experience — even though her advice runs counter to Mirka’s desires. Mirka, too, is a vivid, strong character, both for her sheer determination and for her intelligence; she’s the kind of heroine I would have identified with at nine or ten, when I still a regular fantasy reader. I’m delighted to see that Deutsch has conceived Hereville as a trilogy, as these are characters I’d like to spend more time with.

So that’s what we’ve been reading! What kid- and teen-friendly titles have you been reading? Tell us in the comments!

Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

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