The Lost Boy

TheLostBoyWritten by Greg Ruth; Published 2013.

I really love graphic novels. I think they can be a great way to tell a story and a useful tool for younger readers who might be intimidated by pages and pages of unending text. It’s also a fantastic way to show off beautiful art and can, in some instances, do a better job telling a story than just the words alone. So I’m always eager to read graphic novels, whether intended for children or adults.

The Lost Boy, at least in my library system, has been classified as a children’s book but after reading it I’d definitely recommend it for older children. It’s about two boys separated by several decades. Nate, the present day character, has just moved into a new house. He’s not happy about the move but is allowed to choose his own room where he quickly finds old tape recordings from Walt, our other main character. Walt lives with his grieving, bitter father and both are struggling to deal with the loss (abadonment, not death) of Walt’s mother. Walt is recording his thoughts as a coping mechanism when he begins to notice strange happenings around town. Nate, along with new friend Tabitha, begins noticing similar phenomena after hearing the tapes. The forest surronding the town plays a large part in the story, as do strange toys, talking insects and decades old secrets.

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Overall I enjoyed the story but felt that it suffers from a common problem with graphic novels, particularly juvenile ones: a plot that moves too quickly with not enough depth. Walt’s story progressed better since we discovered with him some of the weirder elements of the story (a talking cricket, a living doll, a sweater-vest wearing squirrel, etc.), whereas with Nate we just dive right in- it seemed that the heroes were off to fight the big bad guy within about 10 pages of meeting for the first time. Granted, it’s a children’s book and a graphic novel so it will be moving fast but that doesn’t mean it has to give up depth (for a really great example of a children’s graphic novel, see Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet series).

The Lost Boy does have some really incredible art and that helps with some of the deficiencies in the story. Greg Ruth has created incredibly detailed, black and white illustrations that manage to remain interesting and convey unique characters. I get very frustrated with graphic novels sometimes because I feel that the artwork is considered secondary to the dialogue which results in poorly drawn characters and simple to nonexistent backgrounds (The Walking Dead comes to mind). I only wish they were in color.

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There’s plenty of room open for a sequel at the end (of course) and hopefully, if there are sequels forthcoming, a greater depth will be added to the story line. This wasn’t the best graphic novel I’ve ever read but it’s an entertaining read and I’ll be looking for any future additions.

For more information on Greg Ruth, visit his official page here. Lots of artwork!

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Wild Girls

WildGirlsPublished 2012. Written by Mary Stewart Atwell.

This book seemed like it should have been so much more interesting than it was. Kate Riordan, our narrator and protagonist, lives in Swan River, a small, slowly dying Appalachian town that has only survived as long as it has thanks to the prestigious all-girls boarding school thats just outside the town limits. But Swan River is also known for its wild girls: killers who start fires and menace the community (official book review words there).

Which sounds pretty interesting, right? Like appalachian folklore mixed in with modern society, except where the folklore actually is true. Unfortunately, Wild Girls turns out to be nothing more than second tier young adult fiction with healthy chunks of casual brutality mixed in for good measure. I’m assuming the violence is what kept this from being truly listed as a young adult book since I don’t know why this would be distinguished as adult fiction otherwise.

Kate’s a senior for most of the book. She feels out of place at the Academy where the other girls spend their summer vacations learning Mandarin in Taiwan or sight-seeing ruins in Greece. Their lives are planned by their parents and most are expected to marry rich, successful men soon after graduating. Kate’s one of the few from Swan River and is only there because her mother, a secretary at the school, gets a reduced tuition rate. The only other girl from Swan River is Willow, a rich, beautiful, and charismatic girl that Kate immediately befriends. At least we’re told she’s charismatic. She didn’t seem to be to me. To me, she, along with most of the other characters, seemed flat. Empty. Boring. Not likable, not hateable. Just boring.

Perhaps this story didn’t work for me because the genres were not blended well. Mostly this is a standard coming of age story with the usual teenage drama and “finding herself” kind of stuff you would expect from such a thing (never my cup of tea, even in the most open of moods).  The bits about the wildgirls are a dark undertone to the story but it never seems very urgent or very dangerous. Which is strange because they are very destructive. Characters die in this book. Characters we know. But when the final climatic scene happens, it’s hard to really work up any dismay, fear, or even concern over what happens or will happen to the characters. Horror needs to have a slow build to be truly effective in books and the unsettling bits in Wild Girls are too far apart and then too intense when they finally do happen.

I did finish the book, and I didn’t throw it across the room in frustration when I was done. So it’s not as bad as maybe I make it seem here. But for a book that had such interesting supernatural potential it was very disappointing to see it fall into more high school angst than I could ever care about.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

CapAmericaWinterSoldierCaptain America: The Winter Soldier opened this past weekend. I went to see it with a friend and, honestly, I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it. I still feel that Captain America: The First Avenger is one of the weakest movies in the Marvel/Avengers movie universe and while I enjoyed Cap’s role in The Avengers, it’s hard for such a wholesome all-American character to really make a mark against characters like Tony Stark, Thor, and the Hulk.

But oh, what an improvement. Superhero sequel movies tend to be very formulaic (not that that’s always a bad thing) and generally I prefer to see origin movies. There’s no better story than redemption and that’s always what happens when someone begins to understand their supergifts and starts to put aside their selfish and self-centered desires to start saving others. But what happens when the man is already good before the power? Because that’s Steve Rogers’ story and while it’s nice to see someone finally have the power to protect and fight for the beliefs he always had, it really doesn’t make the best of movies.

So where do we go after that? Winter Soldier is not breaking any molds here. It still follows the predictable introduce enemy/ fight/ enemy wins/ heroes regroup/ heroes victorious plot line. And this can make the movie at times feel like nothing more than the link in the Marvel chain that it is. But this movie has so much more to offer. Primarily, how does someone as gee-whiz wholesome as Steve Rogers survive in a world, and specifically S.H.I.E.L.D., where everyone’s got secrets and nobody’s telling the truth?

I won’t talk about the plot because I’m not sure how to do it succinctly without giving everything away. But it’s a good movie and worth seeing (and seeing on the big screen).

Some final thoughts:

  • When are we going to get to see Black Widow’s story? She’s by far the most interesting character in the Marvel series. Who doesn’t want to see more of the one female in the crew who manages to keep up with (and generally pass) the big boys without any superpowers? But let’s fix that hair first- straight, shoulder length with a center part is not a good look for her.
  • Where was Agent Coulson? Something tells me I should be watching Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. on tv.
  • Sometimes I really wish I read the comics. I feel I would understand the significance behind things much better. But then I actually start looking at the comics, with their alternate timelines, continuity issues, time-jumping, etc. and I realize I’m probably better just sticking with the movies.
  • Marvel, please never stop making good movies. Gritty is fine, serious and intense makes you think, but it’s really refreshing to see bright, hopeful movies where the good guys can win without it feeling like losing.