by Philip Pullman
The final book in the trilogy follows Will as he tries to find Lyra, who is being kept in a permanent state of sleep by Mrs Coulter. In her dream state, Lyra communicates with her dead friend Roger, and she forms a plan to travel with Will into the afterlife to help him. Meanwhile, Mary Malone has stumbled upon an opening into a fantastical world with strange creatures who take her in as their friend and maybe saviour. Lord Asriel continues his plot to undermine the Authority, and Mrs Coulter struggles with her newfound emotional attachment to her daughter. A lot happens.
You may have noticed that I stopped reviewing books for a while. That is because of this book. Even though I am a fast reader, it took me ages to finish this book. As much as I loved it, it was almost too creative to read. I would start reading it and then get distracted and have to go create something of my own or just stare into space contemplating love or the universe or something. In the His Dark Materials series, I felt the momentum stall in the second book with the introduction of Will, who I couldn’t bring myself to care about. Everything picked up in this book, though, and I became really invested in his character and his relationship with Lyra. I loved all of the characters, even if I felt nothing for them in the previous books. I can’t say enough about how wonderful the writing is. The descriptions of the action, the different worlds, and the different peoples are so vivid I felt like I was watching this book instead of reading it. This series is definitely going on my re-read shelf, even though I think it will take me forever to get through it all again.
Obviously recommended to people who have already read the first two books. To anyone who may have given up over the course of the series like I did, I urge you to read on because it’s definitely worth it.
by Art Spiegelman
Art Spiegelman tells his story and his father’s story about the Holocaust and its reverberating effect in this Pulitzer Prize winning comic. Spiegelman wants to tell his father’s account of living through the Holocaust accurately, but acknowledges that his experience as a child of Holocaust survivors has a role in the telling of the story. The book mostly focuses on his father’s survival during the Holocaust but also includes the damaging emotional after-effects of the Holocaust on Spiegelman’s family. Although a work of non-fiction, the comic depicts people with faces of animals representing their nationality: Jewish people are mice, Germans are cats, Polish people are pigs, and so on.
I grew up in an area of Canada that was home to many Holocaust deniers. One of the Social Studies teachers at my high school assigned Maus every spring, and every spring his car was vandalized. So he kept assigning Maus. I wasn’t in his class, but I sought Maus out as an adult because a book that contentious ought to be read. I’d read about the Holocaust and I’d read Holocaust fiction before–even fiction about the children of survivors–but I’d never read anything like Maus. Definitely one of the best comics I’ve read and one of the best non-fiction books too. The drawings are clear and the story is well told. Spiegelman’s choice of depicting people as animals makes the book simultaneously less horrific–when you see dead bodies of mice instead of Jewish people–and more horrific–when you take a moment to realize that each mouse is a stand-in for a real human being. I could say a lot more about the representation choices and the drawing style and the design layout of the book, but that gets into essay territory and I want to actually motivate people to read this! Without getting into the meaning of it all, I think it’s a respectful way of showing the horrors of the Holocaust without overly desensitizing or traumatizing the reader. What I really appreciate about this book above all the great things I could say about it is that it doesn’t treat the Holocaust as a singular event in history, but as an individual-by-individual trauma that has echoed into the present. I’m glad that the teacher in my school continued to assign Maus throughout his career, because I think it is an accessible way for teens (and adults) to understand the legacy of the Holocaust and empathize with its victims.
Recommended as a teaching aide in history units, but generally a great read for anyone who likes historical comics, comic memoirs, memoirs in general, Holocaust stories, or contemporary Jewish stories. I consider it required reading for comics aficionados.
by Kiyohiko Azuma
Usually I would start with the first volume of a series when reviewing it, but volume 2 is my favourite and the premise is always the same with Yotsuba&!, so if it sounds good you should start from the beginning and read all of them. This is slice-of-life manga at its best, focusing on a 5-year-old girl named Yotsuba as she encounters new people, places, and concepts in her small Japanese town. In volume 2, we follow Yotsuba as she encounters a terrifying bulls-eye, learns that she isn’t as good an artist as she thinks, and–my personal favourite–practices the many uses of the phrase “no bother”. (In the Yen Press translations, it is changed to “no sweat”, which I think makes it lose some of its charm, so try the ADV Manga edition if you can find a copy.)
If it all sounds too precious for you, get over it and just read it. No book or show has made me laugh out loud this much, ever. I wish they took longer to read, because the agony of waiting for the next volume is only relieved for the hour or two that it takes to gobble up the newest stories before starting up again.
Although these comics are usually put in the kids’ section of the library, they are intended for a middle-aged male audience in Japan. They are suitable for anyone to read. I’ve met 4-year-olds who love them as read-alongs, 8-year-olds who read them alone, 20-somethings who are devoted to them, and 50-somethings who read them with a twinkle in their eye. I was recommended this series by a 30-year-old man and I recommend it to anyone of any age and gender. It is particularly good as a happy distraction when life gets sad.