Friendship to the Max!

In the graphic novel series Lumberjanes the phrase to remember is “Friendship to the Max!” It hangs on the sign above ‘Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types,’ gets repeated by the characters, and is supported by the narrative. Equally supported, but more subtly stated, is the idea that diversity is not just okay, but good. Right off the bat, we’re introduced to an ensemble cast whose wide range of visual designs and personalities make them easy to track on the page and engage with in the story.

Lumberjanes jumps feet-first into adventure by introducing the girls of the Roanoke Cabin chasing supernatural creatures through the woods in the middle of the night (to the horror of their counselor Jen). The creatures lead them to an amulet, which leads them on a quest through an underground obstacle course, that involves even more supernatural creatures, and the adventure never slows down from there. Most supernatural story arcs take one volume to tell, while character arcs span several and a number of mysteries are quietly growing throughout the whole series so far.

Sometimes, in stories about teamwork and friendship, it can be easy to trip into the pitfall of conformity. To paint different interests as sources of conflict, and individuality as a threat to teamwork. Lumberjanes does not fall into this pit. Instead, Lumberjanes takes a running leap and vaults over it. In every adventure the Roanoke Cabin goes on, their diverse interests and skills are what saves the day. April’s arm-wrestling, Molly’s archery, Jo’s engineering, Mal’s on-the-fly planning, Jen’s vast science knowledge, and Ripley’s sheer enthusiasm to tackle things head-on all come in handy.

Above all though, what drives the emotional heart of the stories is the genuine care and support the girls give each other. This care is for the most part expressed platonically, but some campers explore romance as well in a way that is serious, low-key, and relatable.

Lumberjanes knows that there is no one way to be a hardcore lady-type and makes sure to give readers two canon transgender characters. One has already transitioned before attending camp, and her gender status is treated in such a way that it is easy to imagine that any other camper could be transgender as well. The second character is introduced attending an associated summer camp for boys and questions where they belong over the course of the story, eventually deciding to join the Lumberjanes and use singular-they pronouns. Both characters are treated with respect and kindness by both the story and their friends.

“Friendship to the Max” not only means getting to know about and support your friends, but also getting to know and support yourself, finding balance between conflicting needs. A good friend doesn’t want to run roughshod over you! They want you to reach out to them, and in the world of Lumberjanes you will always find a friend waiting for you, hand outstretched.

 

Take to the Sky

It’s impossible to keep up with all of the incredible comics that come out each week. There is a constant stream of exciting new projects from industry heavyweights and emerging talents re-imagining beloved characters or creating entirely new stories, from the fantastical to the deeply personal. Whenever I talk about comics with another reader, I walk away with far more recommendations than I can hope to get through, leaving me with a “to-read” list a mile long. Recently I happened to enjoy two debut volumes, both about young women who can fly, that I’m quite eager to push into the hands of my friends and colleagues who love comics as much as I do. 

Riri Williams, aka Ironheart, is the comic book successor to Tony Stark’s Iron Man, but she is also so much more than that. Sure, she has the rad suit, the scientific brilliance, the loner instincts, and the quick quips, but that’s where the similarities with Tony end. Riri is a young woman from Chicago with some serious trauma in her recent past – she lost both her step-father and her best friend to violent crime. She also built her suit with far more limited resources than Tony had at his disposal. Riri managed to create her armor while a student at MIT, basically using supplies that she could discreetly pilfer from the school. 

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Eve Ewing’s Ironheart vol. 1: Those With Courage picks up after this origin story. Riri is now a graduate student at MIT and an ascending super hero, trying to maintain her privileged lab access while also preserving some semblance of control over her work and avoiding the intrusive meddling of school officials. She is clearly grieving the losses in her personal life and struggling to process the trauma she has experienced, while often refusing the help and counsel of those who care about her. And these are just Riri’s “small” problems. A new and mysterious threat has emerged that jeopardizes both the greater world and some of the people closest to her. 

I was thrilled when I found out that Ewing would be writing Ironheart. Ewing is, among other things, a brilliant playwright and poet. Electric Arches, her collection of visual art, prose, and verse about the city of Chicago, identity, and much more, is a stunning and beautiful work. I appreciate that Marvel has hired more black writers who bring new and important perspectives to these comics, but who also come from different writing styles and traditions. This of course includes Ta-Nehisi Coates, who did incredible work on Black Panther and is now writing Captain America, but also Roxanne Gay’s work on World of Wakanda and Nnedi Okorafor’s Shuri comic. 

PrintJoe Henderson’s Skyward is not quite as new – the first volume, My Low-G Life, came out a little over a year ago. Willa Fowler was born shortly before G-Day, the day on which Earth’s gravity abruptly and drastically reduced. This day was tragic for many people who were caught outside and floated off, never to be seen again, including Willa’s mother. But Willa, and many others her age, embrace life in a low gravity world. Rather than suffer through life as an earth-bound being, they are able to soar from building to building, enjoying a life without the constraints of gravity. 

 Yet all is not perfect in Willa’s life. She is disastrously awkward around her crush, she is desperate to see more of the world but is stuck in Chicago, and – worst of all – her father is agoraphobic. He has refused to leave their house in the twenty years since G-Day. Then, in an instant, everything changes. Her father reveals a secret that threatens to completely upend the only world Willa has ever known, a secret that puts Willa and the people she cares about in immediate and grave danger. 

I’ve only read the first of Skyward’s three volumes, but I was immediately taken by the world Henderson builds. There is an interesting treatment of class and corporate greed – the rich all wear gravity boots that allow them to live as if G-Day never happened, for a price. And the new threats and challenges that emerge from this world, such as growing food and preventing people from floating off to their deaths, are interesting and creatively presented. While I’m unsure of the scientific soundness, I also love the way that rainstorms are presented as a new, strange, and terrifying threat that I don’t want to spoil with more details. I can’t wait to continue Willa’s adventure and dive deeper into the weightless, yet menacing world that Skyward has built. 

Even as I write this, new comics are hitting our shelves, demanding attention. I’m eagerly awaiting Simon Says, a Nazi-hunting revenge story, Star Wars: Tie Fighter, which follows a group of the Empire’s elite pilots as they begin to question the Empire’s methods, and Wynonna Earp, following a descendant of the famous Wyatt Earp as she takes on new threats of the paranormal variety. I’d love to hear what comics other fans are excited about right now. Leave a comment and help me make my reading list impossibly long!    

Soon by Lois Murphy

One day, in the novel Soon by Lois Murphy, a mist comes to the little town of Nebulah…. The birds and animals are gone. The town residents try to go on with their lives as usual, until it begins to get dark; everyone runs to the safety of being indoors with every window and door locked, the shades drawn and music or TV turned up loud. Pete, Milly and Li are our three main characters and they all gather to spend the long nights together, and keep each other distracted from the things that come out in the mist.

People in the surrounding towns think that the residents of Nebulah are all crazy, and they don’t believe the things they have been told about the mist. Still, none of them will come to the town at night to try and disprove the rumors either.

When something happens to Li, one of her relatives, Alice, comes to take care of her things. She insists on staying, and when Pete and Milly are unable to convince her to leave, things really get interesting. Alice has an unusual experience with the mist and they can’t persuade her it was a trick.

I think anyone who enjoys suspense will love this book. It was quite a page turner by the end, and the ending was my favorite kind – – one you never saw coming!

Heartwood 9:5 – The Night Watchman by Simonne Jacquemard

Simonne Jacquemard’s intriguing novel The Night Watchman was published over fifty years ago, and though it won France’s highly regarded Renaudot Prize, it appears to be all but forgotten today. That is unfortunate, as it is an exquisitely written work (at least in L.D. Emmet’s translation) which may bring variably to mind Albert Camus’s The Stranger, Witold Gombrowicz’s Cosmos, the romans durs of Georges Simenon, the novels of Virginia Woolf, or the Greek drama Antigone. The story revolves around the life and interests of Siméon Leverrier, a night watchman and petty thief who discovers a buried well in his back yard and begins to excavate it.

Leverrier is obsessed with geomorphology and has built his own furnace for smelting purposes. The fact that rocks liquefy beneath the thin crust of the earth seems to both fascinate and nauseate him. His excavation of the well is relayed in prose at once lyrical and scientific, oneiric and archaeological (as to this last trait, his digging, in fact, ends up uncovering Gallo-Roman baths and a carved stela from the era of Julius Caesar). Similar to Camus’s Meursault, the protagonist is socially disconnected, much consumed by his own thoughts and interests, and he is also being investigated for murder. In a scene in which the intent is left unclear, Leverrier abducts a young woman, and locks her in his cellar. We later learn that he has put her to work in assisting him in the excavation, otherwise keeping her imprisoned in her cell. But this is not a thriller; we learn very little about Agathe-Alexandrine, and Leverrier is not fixated on her in any typical way (he even must remind himself not to let her starve to death).

Jacquemard is a stylist of the first order. The book braids several narrative threads and signals changes of direction by alternating between standard and indented columns. She also incorporates italicized parenthetical content and makes effective use of repetition and variation (which to this reader brings Virginia Woolf to mind), an example of which can be found in the book’s opening image in which the leaves of trees begin to be individually distinguishable at dawn (variations of this image recur periodically). We also get some entries from Leverrier’s notebooks, and parts of the book are told in the voice of a next-door neighbor and others from that of the man who is prosecuting him for the death of Agathe.

The novel resists any simple summing up, but delves into such things as placing the individual against the deep background of geologic time and the echoes of history; the admixture of good and evil, life and death, crime and justice; mythological symbolism, dreamlike states of mind, and the collective unconscious; doors and thresholds (crossed and uncrossed); thoughts and sensations vs. the mute material substance of the earth and cosmos; and the iterative, diurnal and nocturnal patterns that underlie so much of human experience. This will be spellbinding reading for those attuned to this kind of thing.

Chuck

Recently, as I sat and pondered the meaning of existence, I wondered what it is that makes a particular television program one of my favorites. Writing and acting are important aspects of any good TV show, but there’s more to it than that. And so I realized that what I look for in a show, although not consciously, is a cast of characters that I like, people who I’d hang out with. Or invite into my living room.

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To this end, one of my favorite shows is Chuck, a series focusing on a nerdy computer geek who is recruited by the CIA after a virtual computer is downloaded into his head. In other words, an extremely realistic premise. (Pause). This is not so different from many other shows where an untrained person aids the police/FBI/etc., but what sets this show apart from the pack is the interaction between characters.

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Chuck Bartowski is a nice guy. He attended Stanford University but got expelled shortly before graduation for something he didn’t do. With his life-plan derailed, Chuck ends up repairing computers at the Buy More (the TV equivalent of Best Buy). He lives with his sister Ellie, perhaps the nicest person alive, and her husband Devon (AKA Captain Awesome), perhaps the most positive person alive.

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Outside of Chuck’s family, tucked away in the depths of the Buy More, we find Chuck’s co-workers, a cast of misfits, clowns and losers. These eccentric individuals provide the show’s comic relief with their scheming and meddling and general screwing up. The comedy they bring is essential to offset the drama and death-defying action of Chuck’s spy guy activities.

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This leaves us with Chuck’s spy co-workers, John Casey, a by-the-books ex-marine and Sarah Walker, Chuck’s handler and pretend girlfriend. As a nerd, Chuck is somewhat overwhelmed by the attention of this beautiful woman and he would really, really, really like to get rid of the pretend status of their relationship. As with many a TV show, this sexual tension is one of the mainstays of the program.

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So, why is this show better than countless others? The answer is simple: relationships. Due to their undercover status Chuck and Sarah’s relationship is quite complex. Chuck makes it no secret that he’s head-over-heels for this smart, funny, attractive pretend girlfriend, but Sarah is all business. Mostly. She obviously likes Chuck but knows it would be dangerous for a spy to become emotionally entangled with anyone else, let alone her spy partner. She will suggest that they kiss as part of their cover, or even spend the night together (doing absolutely nothing), but she won’t let any real emotions show. And after time, this wears on Chuck. He wants a real girlfriend, specifically Sarah. The subtle nuances that Zach Levi and Yvonne Strahovski bring to their rolls is impressive.

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So what we have in the end is an action-packed spy show, a comedy, and a romance all wrapped into one. Of course I’ve just touched on the tip of the spy iceberg (spyceberg), so to speak, so you’ll have to watch to find out how everything unfolds. In the immortal words of the Earl of Sandwich, “I highly recommend that you check this one out. And fetch me some bread and bologna!”

Stay Home for This Challenge

Fall is my most favorite season. We get pumpkin spice, falling leaves, and furnaces kicking on. My sweaters and boots are so happy to see me and I’m whipping up soups and stews every weekend. And we get rain. Months and months of glorious, life-giving rain. I may as well call myself Shirley Manson because I’m only happy when it rains. Just kidding–but I do love a great rain shower and/or thunderstorm.

We also get a new reading challenge. Read the book, post a photo of it with #everettreads, and be entered into a drawing for a $25 Amazon gift card courtesy of the Friends of the Everett Public Library. Thanks, Friends! This month we’re going to read a book set in Washington State.

That’s right, dear reader. We get to stay home for this challenge.

You may have heard about a little book called Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. I reviewed it a few years back and the film adaptation was released in August. While I still wholeheartedly recommend reading Bernie, I also think you should try these books set in our wet and wonderful Evergreen State. Just click the cover and be magically–okay, it’s HTML–taken to the summary and with a few more clicks you can reserve your very own copy.

FYI: some of these look really spooky, so if you are looking for some Halloween mood reading you might be able to check two boxes with one book.

I’m going to curl up with Useless Bay by M.J. Beaufrand. Shocking family secrets and a giant mystery on Whidbey Island? Count me in! What will you read for the October challenge?

Spot-Lit for October 2019

These titles – from established, new, and emerging authors – are some of the most anticipated new releases of the month, based on advance reviews and book world enthusiasm.

Click here to see all of these titles in the Everett Public Library catalog, where you can read reviews or summaries and place holds. Or click on a book cover below to enlarge it, or to view the covers as a slide show.

Notable New Fiction 2019 (to date) | All On-Order Fiction | 2019 Debuts