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Double dose of reviews- Rapunzel’s Revenge and Shirley Vol. 1

Today, I have for you two graphic novels that are making waves–Shirley Vol. 1 and Rapunzel’s Revenge.  Directed at two different age groups, these books encapsulate the children’s/young adults’ comic book market today. Also, Rapunzel’s Revenge recently received a Cybil, an award presented by bloggers to outstanding books for kids and adolescents.

Rapunzel’s Revenge
Shannon, Dean, and Nathan Hale

Genre: Action/Adventure
Price: US$18.99
Age Rating: 10+

WANTED Dead or Alive: The braid-toting outlaw RAPUNZEL and her wily cohort JACK. REWARD for stopping their devious plot of REVENGE.

unzel’s Revenge, a highly accoladed juvenile graphic novel, just received a Cybil from literary bloggers across the Internet.  It definitely deserves the recognition, as it’s a charming, well-spun rendition of the tale of Rapunzel.  In this re-telling, Rapunzel’s “mother”, Gothel, has been sapping the world of its life for years, using her potent growth magic to keep the population loyal to her.  Rapunzel has been kept inside Gothel’s castle and grounds her entire life, blissfully ignorant of the general population’s predicament.  When she finds out that Gothel has enslaved the entire populace, including her real mother, she fights back and ends up trapped in a tree.  While in captivity, her hair grows to epic proportions, and she learns to control it like an extension of her arm.  One day, Rapunzel is finally able to escape from her earthy prison and go out into the real world.  She encounters many re-imaginings of fairy tale characters, like a chauvinistic Prince Charming of sorts, an antler-toting witch who may know something about Gothel’s growth magic, and Jack, a young, witty boy who has a penchant for getting in trouble.  After saving Jack’s goose (notice some fairy tale parallels?) from being eaten in a tavern, Rapunzel and he band together to topple Gothel from her throne.

If there ever was a book that could teach girls how to be independent, perseverant, and strong, this is it.  Rapunzel’s Revenge is a well-written, well-drawn, and beautifully modernized version of the well-known tale of Rapunzel.  In the original, Rapunzel is a damsel in distress who is saved by her very own Prince Charming.  Not so in this book!  Rapunzel is a fiery, passionate girl who saves herself from her wicked “mother”, and teams up with Jack to right the wrongs of the world.  Sounds like a fun romp, right?  Yes, but it’s so much more.  The huge breadth of characters and the originality of the plot (the authors have transplanted the story into the Wild West era) make this volume into more than just an enjoyable read—it’s a lush, engaging adventure that will appeal to kids of all ages.  The art is accessible, and doesn’t depict any blood or gore during the fight scenes.  The characters, Rapunzel in particular, grow and change throughout the book, as they learn about the world in which they live and become stronger people.  The plot is self-contained in this one volume, and leaves you wanting more after every page.  If you’re looking for a book to add to your library’s collection, or if you’re looking for a book for your little girl, or even if you’re just trying to find a decent all-ages comic book that doesn’t preach a message, Rapunzel’s Revenge is for you.

Shirley Vol. 1
Kaoru Mori

Genre: Relaxed Drama
Price: US$9.99
Age Rating: 13+

From the acclaimed author of Emma, this collection of short stories presents a further exploration into the stratified world of English society, portrayed through the experiences of young maids.  Miss Bennett lives alone and keeps busy running the pub she inherited.  Needing some help, she posts a notice for a maid.  Along comes Shirley Madison, a girl who can clean and cook as well as any maid—even if she’s only 13 years old!

One of the many subgenres of comics in Japan is maid manga, and suffice it to say that most (if not all) of it is quite inappropriate.  However, there is one author whose work has been brought over to the U.S. and has given a new spin to the maid genre.  Her stories, including her 10-volume translated work, Emma, are relaxed, character-driven, and quiet reflections on everyday life in a Victorian-esque era.  Shirley itself is almost unclassifiable, as it has little plot, so to speak.  I choose to define it as a “relaxed drama”.  If all comic books and manga were varieties of soda, this would be the lone chai tea in the bunch.  The first five vignettes in this book center on a young maid named Shirley who comes to work for a “young old spinster” named Miss Cranley.  Even though Shirley is only thirteen years old, she soon shows herself to be a capable, hardworking girl.  We see more aspects of her character revealed as the story unwinds, but the pace is extremely slow.  This slow peeling away of plot elements works well for this series, and it’s best read one story at a time.

This first volume introduces the main cast, and sets up some tableaux of daily life in the Cranley household.  In one chapter, Miss Cranley’s caustic aunt comes to visit and completely unnerves Shirley.  In another, Miss Cranley buys a doll for Shirley, and in yet another, we find that Miss Cranley may have a bit of a romantic interest.  The five tales about Shirley are far and away the best in this book, but there are also two more unrelated one-shots.  One deals with a young boy who is closer to one of the maids in his house than his own mother.  It’s a sweet, neatly packaged story, but seems a little rough around the edges.  The final story, “Mary Banks”, depicts a crusty old curmudgeon who likes to make life miserable for his hired help by setting traps around his house.  At the end of the book is a fast-paced reflection by the author on the creation of Shirley, and includes some interesting facts about the stories.  I hope CMX, the book’s publisher, realizes what a great series they have here, and market this book a bit more.

Thankfully, more and more comic books with great female protagonists are popping up in the U.S.  Not only are they entertaining and fun to read, they set a good example and provide role models for young girls.  Obviously, girls aren’t going to be inspired to become maids or whatnot, but hopefully, they can learn to be perseverant and determined in reaching their goals, skills that definitely need to be learned by girls of this generation.

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