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From graphic novel blogger, Francisca Goldsmith:
This week’s gn reviews are both nonfiction providing facts as well as opinions about some iconic characters. While sequential art can be a better or worse way of recounting straightforward biography, both science and trial law are particularly well suited to the medium. Throw in the fact that both these books get to claim ace creators and reader/selector expectations are high.
And—big sigh of relief forgotten because it’s turned into one of total satisfaction!—these two titles earn multiple stars for accessibility to difficult subject matter, fine art work, skillful narrative flow, and well documented research. Rick Geary’s Sacco and Vanzetti isn’t just a question of who-really-dunnit, but a fine exposure of how prejudice, temper, arrogance, and even regionalism played their roles in the messed up trial the pair of Italian immigrants got after they were arrested for murder during a daylight robbery in 1920 Massachusetts. Accuracy during the evidence collection phase was a bit sloppy, but its tattered remains during the trial and then during the appeals process are shown by Geary as being criminally negligent. As is his typical method, Geary provides exquisite levels of detail within highly compressed space: he shows us how some witnesses couldn’t possibly see what they claim, what others had to have misheard—or lied about hearing. He turns Sacco and Venzetti back into the real people they were during childhood, youth and adulthood, before they became international rallying points for the post Great War anarchists’ movement.
Ottaviani and Myrick also have proven track records in the creation of informative comics texts that can make essentially difficult concepts and questions penetrable by any innately curious reader. And if ever a scientist was ripe for biography through sequential art, that would be Richard Feynman! Yes, there is math here—although not a whole bunch because Feynman himself preferred symbols to numbers. But we also meet Feynman the high school student, Feynman the young man in love, Feynman on the beach and in drumming circles, and Feynman the safecracker. And although Feynman is rightfully at the center of his biography, we also learn a lot about the period, as we do with Geary’s version of the Sacco and Vanzetti trial. We learn about the difficulties Richard’s younger sister faced because she too—imagine, a girl!—wanted to become a scientist (she did); we learn how the everyday life of the big guys in Los Alamos, during the designing of the atomic bomb, unfolded; we learn about different ways to talk to physicians who aren’t willing to share bad news.
So, 80 pages of an inquiry into justice, and 266 exploring the bright mind of a well rounded Nobel Prize winner equals a whole lot of comics reading that pays off in pleasure, knowledge, and invitations to explore the reader’s own motives and prejudices. Enjoy!
Adult/High School–Geary’s ongoing series about culturally significant murders treats the politically motivated executions of the titular Italian immigrants with just due. With the author’s typical concise but balanced reporting, the confusing testimony of witnesses, a prejudiced judge, the idiosyncrasies of state law in which the crime occurred, and the cause for international outcry are presented in a manner that leaves readers to consider how they might have acted in the stead of any of these parties. Geary is a master at showing the perspectives of witnesses as well as using subtle line shading to depict the various textures of the worlds his real life-characters inhabited. Testimony about the markings on the death bullets upon which some evidence against the pair hinged is shown to be faulty, while questions that remain about how innocent the two might not have been–particularly Sacco–is also presented in image and research documentation. The book will serve as a good alternative text in American history and social studies courses, and teens with an interest in jurisprudence will find it a welcome window on the manner in which real trials have been conducted.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA
Adult/High School–Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman led a busy life, not only as researcher, professor, civilian scientist at the birth of the atomic bomb, and lecturer, but also as a raconteur, husband, and interlocutor with other scientists. Well practiced and noted science comics writer Ottaviani offers s a first-person Feynman who is fully fleshed, humorous, and frustrated by turn, and clear about the roles of family and art in his life, as well as physics problems and solutions. Myrick’s beautifully colored images bounce with Feynman’s emblematic energy while showing clearly his attraction to women, his lack of concern for upscale creature comforts, and his methods of cracking safes as well as prioritizing image over number when calculating a problem for himself. Opening with scenes from Feynman’s early childhood, listening to his father’s stories, through his last years, when his mind continued to seek the next knotty problem, each stage of Feynman’s life receives acknowledgment and is shown to build from and to the ones in which it falls between. A wonderful read, for scientists and non-scientists alike.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA
About Angela Carstensen
Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.
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