Saturday, October 31, 2020

Back From the Dead Just in Time for Halloween!


(Just to clarify, I'm not ill or anything. Just...2020. 'Nuff said.)

I am not a horror fan, and usually don't go in for seasonal reading in general. It's part of my mood reader/don't like to feel obligated thing. Yet this month I've read an unusual amount of "spooky season" reads, so I thought I'd resurrect (SWIDT?) the blog to share some with you. Actually, I'm sharing everything I read in October with you, to make up for skipping a few months of wrap-ups. As I look at the list, I realize even the non-horror novels had horrifying aspects, so I definitely had a thematic month!

I started the graphic novel series Locke and Key in September, when the first book showed up from my hold list at the library. I was all, "I put this on hold? Why?" and eventually figured out it must have had something to do with the Netflix show...which I've never seen. So who knows, really. But I  LOVED the first book, horror though it definitely is, and immediately requested the rest of the series. I read volumes 2-6 and some stand-alone shorts in October. I think maybe the reason this format worked for me is that I could skim over the gore.  I absolutely do not watch horror movies, because I loathe jump scares and don't like being grossed out either. And while I appreciate tension in a book, I don't want really loving descriptions of gore there either, so that rules out a lot of popular horror as well. But in the book, I didn't have to GAZE at the dismembered figures, and if I chose to, it was all in cartoon form anyway, so...I don't know. It just worked for me. 

My favorite collections were volume 2, which has the wildly inventive Head Key, and volume 4, which includes a Calvin and Hobbes homage and a story told by going through a February calendar. It reminded me of the way shows like Buffy will have special episodes that are outside of the way the story is usually told, yet still completely faithful to the characters and world building.

I also love that the author, Joe Hill, is Stephen King's son. The similarities include not only the creativity and horror but also the New England vibes and the sympathetic characters. The artwork by Gabriel Rodríguez is amazing as well. 

I requested The Daughters of Ys because it's M. T. Anderson's first graphic novel, and he's always really good. That being said, I did not love this one as much. The illustrations are lovely, and the story is well told, but it's pretty depressing. Two Celtic sisters in ancient times being forced to do awful things for the sake of their country. Sex and death intertwine in true horror story fashion. 

Fighting Words and Punching the Air were not horror novels, yet by portraying children at the mercy of realistically awful people (abandoned and abused children, wrongfully imprisoned black youth), they kind of are. Fighting Words rests solidly on the amazing voice of Della (short for Delicious, but don't even think about calling her that) and cements Kimberly Brubaker Bradley's place in my very small list of can't-miss MG authors. I didn't love Punching the Air as much as I'd hoped to, but the novel in verse, co-written with one of the Exonerated Five, gives insight into what it's like to have your liberty suddenly taken by a series of bewildering events and blatant racism. I had a student go to adult jail for statutory rape. He was 15; she was 13, he was Latino; she was white. Because of Oregon's mid 90s mandatory sentencing laws, he served five years in actual prison. I can't think what good that did anyone.

Before the Ever After and Surrender Your Sons are two more books that aren't truly horror, yet have horrible aspects. Before the Ever After is a MG novel in verse about a boy whose beloved NFL playing father develops chronic brain injuries from all the hits he's taken over the year. Dementia in any form and from any cause is one of my biggest fears. Losing yourself, and being at least somewhat aware that you're losing yourself--that's horrifying. And Surrender Your Sons deals with conversion therapy and homophobic murder. Sure, there's also romance and humor, but the kind of hate people have for the LGBQTIA community--and the idea that PARENTS could condone that hatred of their children--so awful.  

The Girl in the White Van is a thriller by YA stalwart April Henry. Kidnapping girls and stashing them in a trailer home without any exits? Definitely horrifying. Using kung fu and your wits to escape? Very badass. Swipe Right for Murder is quite a bit racier (the MC starts the book by hooking up with two different people in one evening on a Grindr type app). It gets into terrorism, government corruption, online (lack of) privacy, regret, and more, all with nonstop action and ongoing humor.

Next I'll share some supernatural goodies with you. These three stories are linked by their focus on powerful forces of evil battling human's will to lead their own lives and not become corrupted. They're also all #ownvoices in various ways. Ikenga is set in Nigeria, Elatsoe is set in an alternative US, and The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue begins in France. Like Nnamdi, Nnedi Okorafor is Nigerian. Like Ellie, Darcie Little Badger is Lipan Apache (though I don't know if she is ace like her character), and like Addie, Victoria Schwab is an enchanted being. No wait. They're both bi. 

Phew, getting tired yet? There was a 24 Hour Read-a-thon this month, so there a lot of books!

Next up, two spooky middle grade graphic novels. I bought Be Wary of the Silent Woods (what a terrific tite!) for my classroom because we all love Svetlana Chmakova's Berrybrook Middle School series.  It has her characteristic diverse cast, sweet good humor, and expressive character art. I also got The Witches of Brooklyn for my class, and while it was fun, it read a bit younger. I wasn't sure why the two aunts were neither sisters nor a couple, and the main magical issue is a pop star whose face is cherry red, which hardly feels like a pressing problem. The main character also bounces back awfully quickly from the loss of her parents and fostering by two women she's never met before. 

Finally, two straightforwardly Halloween reads that I loved to bits. Undead Girl Gang has that deceptive pink cover and grrrrl power vibe, but the book was both funnier and darker than I'd expected. Mila is sure her best friend didn't commit suicide, so she performs a spell to bring her back for a week to solve her murder. Only two other girls, definitely NOT Mila's friends, also come back, and none of them remember how they died. Cemetery Boys--well, I'm actually not quite done with it, but I will finish it today, and I am LOVING IT. Witches and ghosts and challenging gender roles and openly queer kids and multi generational's really wonderful. 

Best of the bunch? Locke and KeyElatso and Fighting Words. But I recommend all of these. (I read one other book this month, and I didn't like it, so we're not going to talk about it.)