RIPL Teen Book Reviews

"Serenity: Better Days" by Joss Whedon, Brett Matthews, and Will Conrad
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(Grade 9 and up) Mal Reynolds and his crew on Serenity live from job to job, just trying to make it outside the influence of the Alliance on the edge of the ‘verse. Their latest job is to steal a powerful weapon, but the payment, once they recover it, isn’t at all what they were expecting: it’s millions more. Meanwhile, an Alliance soldier is looking for Dust Devils, a particularly militant brand of Independents who didn’t stop fighting until well after the war was over. As the crew of Serenity enjoys their new-found wealth with a vacation, enemies are closing in on them. What connection do Mal and Zoe have to the Dust Devils? And aside from the Alliance, who is pursuing Serenity?

This graphic novel is a short but sweet tale of our favorite space cowboys, (though if you love Cowboy Bebop, maybe second favorite). Though only three issues long, this is a fun series that showcases everything fans miss about Firefly, from the humor, drama, and great action scenes to the hints of romance and the bittersweet thrill of seeing characters who died in Serenity alive again, in comic form at least. (Check out the latest miniseries, Serenity: Leaves on the Wind, for more stories of our favorite Browncoats.)  While I’m not completely sure how they lost the money in the end (it looked like the Alliance took it), I’m glad that Serenity’s crew will keep flying together in graphic novels like this. (4 out of 5 stars)
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Dark Horse Books; illustrated edition edition (October 7, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595821627
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595821621 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
"Strobe Edge" Volume 3 by Io Sakisaka
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(Grade 7 and up) Though Ninako and Ren agreed to remain friends even after she confessed her feelings to him, Ren’s been acting a bit strange lately. First he avoids her and will barely speak to her, but then he helps her hide from Ando after he unexpectedly kisses her! (On the forehead, but still, Ninako was a bit shocked.) But by the day of the Culture Fest, things are back to normal…sort of. After all, Ninako can’t change the way she feels about Ren, and she doesn’t want to either. Still, it can be hard to be friends with someone you’re in love with—especially when Ren offers to tutor Ninako and a friend before their makeup exam! Then, Ren, Ando, and Ninako all start working part time at the same cafe. Through it all, Ninako’s feelings for Ren remain the same…but how do Ren and Ando feel about Ninako?

This series continues to be an entertaining treat, and in volume four, it seems that Ninako is going to have some big decisions to make. As Ando reminds her in the last chapter, the fact that Ren has a girlfriend is a boundary that she needs to respect—and Ninako does, I think. In spite of how she feels about Ren, she honestly doesn’t seem to think that anything will ever happen between them—so when Ando confesses his feelings to her, she seems genuinely shocked. Readers will have seen that confession coming, though the fact that Ando’s first girlfriend, like Ninako, really wanted to date someone else makes it a bit surprising that Ando would make this offer. Ultimately though, I guess Ando got tired of waiting for Ninako to fall for him—and tired of watching Ninako’s unrequited feelings for Ren. I’m pretty sure I know what Ninako’s going to decide regarding Ando’s offer, but I’ll have to wait until I get around to volume four to see for sure. (4 out of 5 stars)
  • Series: Strobe Edge (Book 3)
  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: VIZ Media LLC; Tra edition (March 5, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1421550709
  • ISBN-13: 978-1421550701 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
"Branded by the Pink Triangle" by Ken Setterington

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(Grade 7 and up) During WWII, the Nazis were responsible for the deaths of millions of people that they deemed undesirable or potentially damaging to their cause. Though the struggles of European Jews are well known, the violence and imprisonment that homosexuals faced during WWII was, for many years, barely acknowledged. This book tells the story of men who survived being branded by the pink triangle.

Prior to Hitler’s rise to power, Germany was far more accepting of homosexuality than many other nations: in the 1920’s in particular, gay men and women flocked to Berlin, where they could live their lives in relative safety. The city was even home to the famous Institute for Sexual Research, a unique collection that was the first target of Nazi book burning. But under Paragraph 175, a law which had made homosexuality illegal since the 19th century, the Nazis committed terrible atrocities. Here, survivors’ stories are shared with a new generation.

Branded by the Pink Triangle offers a unique look at the trials that gay men faced in Europe during WWII, and afterward, when it took decades before the suffering they’d endured in concentration camps was even recognized. The book focuses primarily on homosexual men, who were seen by the Nazis as damaging to society; lesbians, though labeled as being “anti-social members of society,” were not considered a threat, and Paragraph 175 referred specifically to homosexual men, not women. In their campaign against gay men, the Nazis were able to capitalize on long-standing prejudices against homosexuality, but by the end of the 20th century, monuments in various countries and Germany as a nation had begun to acknowledge this often overlooked chapter in the history of WWII. Told in clear, straightforward language, this book tells a story that should never be forgotten. (4 out of 5 stars)

  • Paperback: 196 pages
  • Publisher: Second Story Press (April 15, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1926920961
  • ISBN-13: 978-1926920962 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
"World of Trouble: The Last Policeman Book III" by Ben H. Winters

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(Grade 8 and up) There are only a few days left until the asteroid Maia collides with earth. But before that fateful Wednesday, Detective Henry Palace still has one mystery left to solve: where is his sister Nico? Last time Hank saw her, she and some conspiracy theorist friends were off on a quest to save the world by blowing up the asteroid. After leaving the relative safety of Police House in Massachusetts, Hank finds himself in Ohio, searching a police station that Nico and her compatriots were supposedly using as a rendezvous point. As days slip by and Henry’s search for Nico becomes more and more convoluted, he has to wonder: will he find her before it’s too late?

Quirk Books sent me a copy of World of Trouble to review, and as with the previous books in The Last Policeman trilogy, this one is simultaneously a thrilling mystery and a haunting meditation on what it means to be human, even (or maybe especially) when the world is ending. Hank Palace is a fantastic narrator, and his dedication to his cases—and to staying true to his principles no matter what—is downright heroic. In spite of the ever-present specter of Maia, this book kept me guessing until the very end. If you’re a fan of mysteries or dystopian fiction, don’t miss this series. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

  • Series: Last Policeman (Book 3)
  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Quirk Books (July 15, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1594746850
  • ISBN-13: 978-1594746857 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
"Adventure Time: Seeing Red" by Kate Leth, illustrated by Zachary Sterling

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(Grade 4 and up) Marceline is going home to the Nightosphere for some family stuff, so Jake comes along for the ride. But before the family talent show, Marceline discovers something horrible: her axe is missing! Join Marceline and Jake as they search for her guitar, battle unconventional foes, and try to find some answers about the person who sold the axe in the first place. Will they find it in time for the talent show—and for Marceline to confront the thief?
I really love these Adventure Time graphic novels—the collections of the color comics are lovely too, but Seeing Red is the perfect book for when you’re sitting outside and just want a quick break from doing summer stuff. The scenes between Marceline and her dad are surprisingly touching, and watching Jake and Marceline have an adventure together is both adorable and hilarious. (Though her style is different than Finn’s, Jake quickly warms to her M.O. as an adventurer.) Now I can’t wait to read volume four! (4 out of 5 stars)
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  • Paperback: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Titan Books Ltd (May 2, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1782761667
  • ISBN-13: 978-1782761662 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
Graphic Picks #33

Hi everyone! This week’s Graphic Pick is the delightful first volume of Bandette by Paul Tobin and Colleen Coover. Though there’s a bit of adult humor, language, and a few allusions to mature activities, I’d say that anyone sixth grade and up will enjoy Bandette’s adventures.

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The first thing you need to know is that Bandette is a thief—the best thief in the world (according to Bandette). She loves stealing things, and along with her friends, a band of urchins, she also helps the police to stop truly heinous criminals. (She herself is not so heinous a criminal, after all.) This annoys Inspector Belgique to no end.

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And though Bandette’s disguise might seem a bit flashy for a thief, it’s easy to change out of:image

Her rival, the dapper Monsieur, is also a great thief, but of course, Bandette is just a little bit better.

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As you might expect, Bandette’s activities have made her a few enemies. Absinthe, leader of the shady group Finis, has decided that Bandette must die! Fortunately, the first assassin he sends, Matadori, is no match for our hero:imageFor the most part, this is a lighthearted story of a joyful thief, but Bandette’s world isn’t devoid of darkness: by the end of this first volume, Absinthe has hired an imposing new assassin to take care of Bandette, and Matadori may or may not still be alive. But Bandette isn’t the sort to worry about future peril. And given this cheerful scene from “And then…”, one of the “Urchin Stories,” the author too seems optimistic about Bandette’s chances of survival:

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Though I’ll probably be reading the single issues from now on, this collected volume features some fun extras, including “Urchin Stories,” which are written by Paul Tobin and illustrated by a variety of artists, as well as “Daniel’s Story,” a short tale illustrated by Colleen Coover, and brief sections detailing how Bandette is written and drawn. Winner of the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic, Bandette is a fantastic story for readers and comic lovers of all ages.

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next week!

"Imprisoned: The Betrayal of Japanese Americans During World War II" by Martin W. Sandler

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(Grade 7 and up) After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, Japanese Americans were the subject of suspicion and prejudice on a massive scale. In the midst of the paranoia and hysteria that followed Pearl Harbor, many Americans argued that everyone of Japanese ancestry should be confined to internment camps for the remainder of WWII to keep them from spying for the enemy. And shockingly, that’s exactly what happened. Even as Americans (some of them of Japanese descent) were fighting fascism in Europe and the Pacific, Japanese Americans were forced to give up their homes and possessions and try to build new lives after being relocated to internment camps in the American Southwest. Imprisoned tells the story of one of the darkest periods in American history, and how Japanese Americans proved their loyalty and patriotism under even the worst of circumstances.

Obviously, not all of American history is something to be proud of. Japanese Americans suffered terrible injustices during WWII, but this book tells the story of how they coped with and rose above the conditions they were subjected to. In spite of their unwarranted relocation to internment camps, many Japanese Americans helped the war effort however they could, and did incredible work to make the camps into a kind of home. From building baseball fields to constructing an amazing lagoon at Manzanar, this account is full of incredible images and stories. (My favorite features two girls waiting in a food line, posing comically for the camera.) Ultimately, this story concludes decades after WWII, when the US government had acknowledged its grave error in illegally interring Americans, and paying surviving Japanese Americans reparations.

This book ends with a quote by James Michener: ”The stoic heroism with which the impounded Japanese Americans behaved after their lives had been torn asunder and their property stolen from them must always remain a miracle of American history. The majesty of character they displayed then and the freedom from malice they exhibit now should make us all humble.” Though this is often a hard book to read, it’s an important story for every American to know. (4.5 out of 5 stars) 

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Walker Childrens; First Edition edition (August 27, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802722776
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802722775 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
"Star Wars: Jedi Academy" by Jeffrey Brown
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(Grade 3 and up) Roan Novachez is just about to start middle school, and he can’t wait! He’s going to Pilot Academy to be a pilot just like his dad and older brother…except Roan doesn’t get into Pilot Academy. Instead, he’s invited to enroll at Jedi Academy, and since it’s either that or plant school, Roan reluctantly puts his dream of becoming a pilot on hold. At Jedi Academy, at first it seems like everyone can do everything better than Roan (though at least he’s good at drawing). Moving objects with the force is a particular challenge, but as the school year goes on, and the Padawan class gets to do cool stuff like build lightsabers and have a fencing tournament, Roan starts thinking that maybe being a Jedi wouldn’t be so bad…

Part middle grade school story and part graphic novel, Star Wars: Jedi Academy is an entertaining tale of middle school Jedi training. Relatable in the sense that middle school is weird even if you don’t have alien teachers, and hilarious thanks to Roan and his many illustrations (the page where he and his friends talk about kissing girls is especially funny), this book demonstrates Jeffrey Brown’s fantastic talents as a writer and artist.  Star Wars fans of all ages will enjoy this excellent book, though you’ll probably be left wishing that you too had been invited to Jedi Academy…(4.5 out of 5 stars)
  • Series: Star Wars
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Scholastic Inc. (August 27, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0545505178
  • ISBN-13: 978-0545505178 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
"Courage Has No Color: The True Story of the Triple Nickles" by Tanya Lee Stone

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(Grade 7 and up) During WWII, black soldiers in all branches of the armed services faced inferior living conditions, prejudice from both their commanding officers and fellow enlisted men, and jobs that were hardly equal to those of white men they were serving with. This book tells the story of the 555th Parachute Infantry Company, which was formed in response to calls to desegregate the military. Though many doubted them, the Triple Nickles earned their wings through hard work, courage, and a determination to prove their detractors wrong.

At a time when even POWs were afforded more rights than African American soldiers (they were allowed to ride at the front of the bus and come in the front door of the mess hall, whereas black soldiers had to ride at the back of the bus and enter the mess hall through the side door), the Triple Nickles distinguished themselves in many jumps and helped to change perceptions of race within the military. And though the way they served their country in WWII wasn’t what they were expecting, the 555th played an important part in defending the home front and paving the way for the soldiers who followed them. 

In Courage Has No Color, Tanya Lee Stone chronicles what life was like for the army’s first black paratroopers, illuminating a chapter in American history that most of us are barely aware of. The Triple Nickles’ role in Operation Firefly, one of the strangest secrets to come out of WWII, is a fascinating tale, as is the overarching story of how the 555th had to work so hard to overcome prejudice. Stone writes: ”What is courage? What is strength? Perhaps it is being ready to fight for your nation even when your nation isn’t ready to fight for you.”

Full of amazing photos of the Triple Nickles and other soldiers (in my favorite, two soldiers pose with a basket full of artillery shells labeled “Happy Easter Adolph” and “Easter Eggs for Hitler”), Courage Has No Color is succinctly summed up by one of its final passages: "It is respect for all people, in fact, that propels change. As with any story about people who challenge stereotypes and push boundaries, growth didn’t stop with the Triple Nickles. More milestones went on to be achieved—in the face of more setbacks."  An important book for anyone interested in American history. (4.5 out of 5 stars)

  • Series: Ala Notable Children’s Books. Older Readers
  • Hardcover: 160 pages
  • Publisher: Candlewick (January 22, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0763651176
  • ISBN-13: 978-0763651176 (Source of Publication Data: Amazon.com)
Graphic Picks #32

Hi everyone! This week’s Graphic Pick is both a useful and hilarious guide to America’s most popular pet (in terms of how many are kept as pets). It’s Guys Can Be Cat Ladies Too: A Guidebook for Men and Their Cats by Michael Showalter. I’d say that if you’re old enough to think the title of this book is amusing, you’re old enough to read it.

I am, in fact, a lady, but regardless of your gender identity, this book will most likely entertain and educate you if you happen to like cats. Do you like cats? Just look this kitten in the eye and say that you don’t:

Guys Can Be Cat Ladies Too is full of useful diagrams like these:

But this book also contains helpful advice for anyone, guy or lady, looking to own a cat:

In case you were wondering, this is another one of those humorous guidebooks that I’m so fond of. The humor here relies on the author’s occasionally helpful but usually ridiculous advice for prospective cat lady dudes, as well as the various illustrations that appear throughout the book:

This is sort of the book equivalent of watching funny cat videos online. So if you love cats, or even if you think they’re kind of weird but fascinating, a book like this is the perfect summer beach read…I mean, if you want to bring a funny book about cat lady guys to the beach. (I think it goes without saying that that’s kind of my jam.)

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you again next week!