About This Blog

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Graphic novels have been growing in popularity over the past decade or so. From a genre that used to consist mostly of long-form comic books, we now also have Manga, realistic fiction, fantasy, science fiction, poetry, and classic novels (Beowulf, Frankenstein, and Romeo and Juliet, for example). However, another genre that is taking off in the field of graphic publishing is non-fiction: biographies, current events, historical events, and science to name a few. This blog will focus on graphic non-fiction selections (and occasionally some very realistic fiction that borders on non-fiction), especially those that might be of interest to reluctant teenage readers.

I included the reading level if it was available, but all of these books are at a high school interest level; there are some disturbing images and profanity.  However, it should be noted that the books that deal with violence do not show the gory details and do not glorify violent behavior.

I am also not rating the books as good or bad, my intention is to only include books that are worthy and books that would be of interest to reluctant teenage readers.

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Green River Killer: A True Detective Story by Jeff Jensen and Jonathan Case

I found the book Green River Killer to be a fascinating read.  In the beginning, I was confused about who was who; the lead detective on the case had a similar hair style and mustache to the killer and the black and white drawings made it difficult to tell them apart.  Later in the book, I decided that maybe it was intentional, to draw a parallel between the detective and the killer.  The writer focused on one of the detectives around whom to tell the story, so the story was basically about two men, the killer and the cop.  I’ve read about a similar technique that used to be employed in many gothic novels; a negative doppelganger exists in the story that contrasts with the main character.  I see the detective, Tom Nelson, and the killer, Gary Ridgway, as contrasting doppelgangers in this story.  Tom Nelson spent almost his entire career investigating the Green River killings and found it to be mostly frustrating.  Whenever things seemed to be moving forward, there would be another setback.  The story was pieced together in such a way that it was hard to follow (a lot of flashbacks), but near the end, things did start to come together and make a little more sense.  I think it would benefit from headings or some type of indicator for time period when these shifts would happen.  Since the book deals with such graphic subject matter, I appreciated their decision to use all black and white drawings.  imagesSome of the scenes are pretty graphic, considering the subject matter, but mostly the images are of the remains of the victims many years later when they were found.  This would be a good book to have in your collection for older teens and adults, and as seems to be the case with most graphic nonfiction, I would recommend this for reluctant male readers.  There’s something very compelling about “true crime” novels, and the same goes for this one.

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The Imposter’s Daughter: A True Memoir by Laurie Sandell

  • Paperback: 247 pages                       imposter's daughter
  • Publisher: Back Bay Books, July 30, 2010; Little Brown Books; Hachette Book Group.
  • http://www.hachettebookgroup.com/authors/laurie-sandell/#works (There’s a link on this page for Open Book, which allows you to read more than half of the book for free.)

The Imposter’s Daughter is not the type of story that you would expect when you pick up a graphic novel. It’s really a troubling account of a child who was the victim of her father’s emotional abuse and secrecy. She spent her adult life so far trying to get to the bottom of the enigma that was her father during her childhood. Just to name a few examples: he always checked the mail before anyone else and destroyed much of it, he divulged that he had changed his name in the past, he locked the children in their rooms from the outside, he changed jobs frequently, and phone calls came for different names that he said were for him. As the author got older, she caught her father using the family members’ private information to get multiple credit cards, which would usually be maxed out and in default. When confronted, her father would resist, deny, and make excuses. Her mother was completely “co-dependent” (in the author’s words).
This is the story of how the author struggled to deal with these issues while trying to make her own life. She struggled with relationships, her career, and self-destructive behaviors such as drug and alcohol abuse. The drugs and alcohol started innocuously with occasional glasses of wine and occasional sleeping pills. Imposter's daughter 2However, by the later parts of the book, her “habits” had grown to daily drinking and daily sleeping pills, even being taken at the same time — against the directions on the prescription that say not to drink with the medication.  She really bares her soul in this book, some of it embarrassing and self-effacing, which gave me more of a feeling that I could trust what she said about other people. I think this would be a good read for teenagers because it would benefit them to see that they have to make their own lives even if they come from a dysfunctional or abusive family. She also shows that it’s OK to get help dealing with these issues and moving past them. Not dealing with them can lead to problems with drug and alcohol abuse and repeating the patterns of their parents.

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Jack the Ripper: A Journal of the Whitechapel Murders 1888-1889 by Rick Geary.

As with all stories about Jack the Ripper, they are only as factual as the sources are, and the major source for this graphic work of nonfiction is apparently a journal written by someone living in the area at the time. As the introduction states, “This account of the ‘Jack the Ripper’ murders is compiled from the journals of an unknown British gentleman who lived in London during 1888-1889 and closely followed the increasingly savage killings” (3).

This is a very interesting take on the story.  I like the fact that there was one source for the story rather than a story pieced together from twenty different accounts.  Over the course of about a year and a half in 1888 and 1889, five women were murdered in London, specifically the Whitechapel area.  There has been a lot of disparity over the years about how many women were killed and by whom.  Others who died during this time have been at times connected to Jack the Ripper, but most sources, including the journals used for this account, mention five murders.  All of the women who were killed were prostitutes, and most were killed in gruesome ways, from their throats being slit to the victims being disemboweled and their parts disembodied and spread around the crime scene.

The book is done in all black and white, which works well with all of the dark crime scenes and the streets of London.   Geary does a great job with the details of all the brickwork on the roads and brick buildings.  He sets a grisly scene and does so without a lot of gore.  The crime scenes are shown in such a way that the reader gets a sense of the horrible events without being shown in sensational detail, which makes the book that much better.  This account is as true as any that have come before, but it is just one more take on a mystery that we will probably never solve, so just enjoy it.

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The Activity: Volume 1

The Activity: Volume 1 is technically fiction, but that’s only because the subject matter is so top secret that there is no way to know exactly what the facts are.  Hence, Nathan Edmondson wrote a realistic account of the types of missions that this secret specialized unit does while we, the people of the United States, are safe at home.  The inside flap of the book led me to believe that this  book was about the mission that led to the death of Osama Bin Laden, so I was a little disappointed in the fact it never got there.  Looking back, I see now that the person who wrote the forward to this book was the one who wrote about the Bin Laden mission (No Easy Day: The Firsthand Account of the Mission that Killed Osama Bin Laden), but his recommendation holds a lot of weight, along with his verification of the factual details.

Other than my confusion about the book’s subject matter, I was completely pleased with the book.  It describes a top secret group of specialists pulled from all branches of the military that go on special intelligence gathering missions around the world, along with clean-up operations, and although vague, what appear to be assassinations or helping others to assassinate drug lords and  tyrants.  This agency is referred to in the book as the ISA (Intelligence Support Activity, hence the title), but in the notes, the author indicates that the name of the group changes every year or two so that members of the government and military can’t keep track of them – except, of course, those who are on a need to know basis. This is Volume 1 of a The Activity book series; as of this writing, there are 15 more volumes available.

One part of the book shocked me, and I found it hard to believe, and that was the part of the story where the members of this group found one of their own tied up in the basement of a bar in a foreign land, and instead of rescuing him, they shot him in the head and poured some type of chemical substance on his face so that he wouldn’t be able to be identified.  They were so nonchalant about this act that I kept thinking that I was missing something.  They aren’t portrayed as cold and callous in other situations; they take the deaths of team members very hard.  It’s a mystery to me why they didn’t just take him with them, but their mission was to clean up the situation, and maybe they had intelligence stating that he was a double agent or that he had given information or something.  A few scenes like that were left too vague for my tastes.

Most of the scenes were believable, intense, and exciting, especially knowing that these things are going on all over the world.  The technology was also skirting the edge in terms of what’s possible in the general public, but it is believable that it would be available to the military.  This book would surely appeal to male teens who are reluctant to read.  It’s fast-paced with excellent graphics to keep them interested, and it’s not dumbed down.  The description and dialogue are realistic and more mature sounding than a lot of the graphic novels I’ve looked at.

The book is a little hard to follow, and I think there should have been more of an underlying plot holding all of the little episodes together.  Most of their missions are anticlimactic, which makes them more realistic, but also leaves the reader hanging.  The book just ends without much being resolved; it’s a collection of episodes that don’t flow together, and after the last one, it just stops.  Most teens wouldn’t be troubled by this fact, though, and some who have a hard time focusing might find that the short episodes are easier to follow.  This book should be a part of any library that works with teens; they would undoubtedly find it a quick and compelling read, and they would learn a little something as well.

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AD: New Orleans After the Deluge

AD New Orleans

A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge demonstrates how effective this graphic non-fiction genre can be.  The author/illustrator, Josh Neufeld, interviewed eight survivors of Hurricane Katrina and put their stories together in a chronological format, all running simultaneously, from a couple of days before the storm hit to a few months after.  It really made me feel like I was an eyewitness in way that a text-only book could not do.  Some of the people that the book follows made the decision to stay in New Orleans and ride out the storm, while the rest were able to evacuate.  Even though I found some of the dialogue to be trite, the story as a whole was very realistic.

The format of the bookAD3 was interesting, but I can’t figure out what the color changes mean.  Every 5-10 pages, the color would change.  The drawings themselves are essentially black and white, but with different backgrounds.  There may be red on a yellow background or dark purple on a light purple background, but the result is that for the reader it looks like black and white being looked at through a colored lens.  I thought that the colors followed the characters or that each color was a different day, but neither of those theories turned out to be true.  Maybe it’s just for variety.

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The most interesting part of the book was that it gave a little insight into the decisions that people made when they decided to stay.  For example, one character stayed because he felt that if he left, there would be nothing when he returned because of looting.  He was a store owner, and he made the decision to make himself as safe as possible, but also to stay and guard his store and all of the inventory in the store.  Other citizens had similar reasons, and they all probably would’ve been fine if the levees would have held.  It was the breaking of the levees and the severe flooding that caused all of the long-lasting problems.

Another aspect of the story that was shocking was the inability of the local and national government to get help to the citizens in a more timely manner.  Many of the citizens that were at the football stadium needed water, medical care, and food.  If they tried to leave, they were turned back, but staying meant no food, water, or transportation.  Fortunately, the men who the police would consider to be the criminal element, went out to local stores, broke in (or just went in if the store had damage from the storm), took the supplies they needed, and brought them back to the people in need.  Some would call them looters, but I’m sure the people who needed the food and water called them heroes.  This element of the “criminals” providing for the needy in their community is similar to another book I read recently, In Darkness by Nick Lake.

This book would appeal to reluctant readers for two reasons: 1)  It is a graphic novel, which is much more appealing to reluctant readers — not so intimidating.  2)  It’s based on real life, which, by its nature, is more interesting to reluctant readers and to boys in general.  These reasons alone are enough for a library to add it to its collection, but it is also an interesting account of a historic event.

The author, Josh Neufeld, was a Red Cross volunteer during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  While volunteering he wrote a blog, which became the spark for A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge  The blog, itself, was also published: Katrina Came Calling (not a graphic novel).  Josh Neufeld has an interesting website with links to his newer works and information about all of his books, http://www.joshcomix.com/work/index.htm.

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Yummy: the Last Days of a Southside Shorty

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Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty is the true story of an eleven-year-old who got caught up in gang violence in the Roseland area of Chicago in 1994.  His name was Robert Sandifer, otherwise known as “Yummy” because of his penchant for candy and sweet treats.  Even though it is based on factual material, there is a disclaimer of sorts in the beginning of the book. “The Essence of Yummy’s story presented in this book has been recreated based on public records, media reports, and personal accounts. A certain amount of fictionalization was necessary to fill in gaps, condense events, and represent what Yummy might have been feeling.” The narrator of the book, Roger, was invented to guide the reader through the events in the story.  However, the author, G. Neri, lived through and watched the story unfold all around him in the 1990’s.  Almost 20 years later, with the help of illustrator Randy DuBurke, he decided to write it down.

yummy4The book tells the story of Yummy trying to earn a promotion in his gang, the Black Disciples, by making a “hit” — shooting someone who is an enemy of their gang.  In the process, he apparently shoots an innocent bystander (a fourteen-year-old girl).  It was never clear who he was supposed to be shooting.  For the majority of the book, he is on the run from the police while the nation’s media become obsessed with his story.  There was much debate about what an eleven-year-old killer means for our society.  Was his family caring for him properly? Was the gang just taking advantage of him — it was common in street gangs at the time to have minors carry out crimes/hits for gang members since the minors would not be charged as adults and would only be in jail until they turned 21.  Illinois has since changed the law so that minors can be charged as adults.

As the story continues, the police aren’t the only ones following Yummy.  The Black Disciples want to make sure that he doesn’t reveal too much to the police, so they are hoping to find him before the police do.  His picture is all over the newspapers and TV, so it’s just a matter of time before he’s caught.   If you are having trouble finding an interesting book, give this one a try and find out what happens when Yummy finally runs out of options.

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