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broodings from the burrow

May 21, 2019

into the stacks 2019: march
posted by soe 1:25 am

A stab toward getting back on track. Here are the three books I finished back in March:

Geekerella, by Ashley Poston

A retelling of Cinderella, this novel is set in modern South Carolina and features geek girl Elle, a hard-working orphan who blogs lovingly about a cheesy sci-fi tv show from the 1980s (the first to feature a lead by an Asian-American actor), and teen soap heartthrob Darien, who’s just been hired to play the hero in a modern reboot movie. As chapters alternate between the two, we learn that Elle, whose parents met at a Starfield signing line and who went on to found a convention in its honor, is spending the summer working in a vegan food truck called the Magic Pumpkin, much to the shame of her stepmother and two stepsisters. Darien, on the other hand, has just discovered that his manager (also his father, but he’s not allowed to call him Dad) has signed him up to appear at a fan convention after shooting wraps at the end of the summer. He has a hard and fast rule about not appearing at Cons, since his ex-friend betrayed him publicly at one several years ago. Hoping to take his destiny back into his own hands, he finds the Con’s website and texts a phone number he finds associated with it. Guess who’s at the other end of that number…

As a fan of retellings, I thought this was nicely executed, with clever details like The Magic Pumpkin being included with a wink to the reader. The adult version of me kept waiting for a particular storyline relating to inheritance to be resolved in a way that made sense legally, but it was a relatively minor point, and didn’t keep me from enjoying what Poston had created. The audiobook, voiced by Eileen Stevens and Tristan Morris was a nice way to listen to the story. Perfectly sweet and recommended to fans of fairy tales, fandoms, and retellings.

Pages: 320. Library audio copy.

Inkling, by Kenneth Oppel, with iillustrations by Sydney Smith

One late night, a blob of ink from a cartoonist’s notebook, left open and unattended too many days, freed itself from what had become a prison, and went on a mission to find the artist. Thanks to a fat cat, the sentient ink blob did not end up where it intended to, but instead took refuge in the bedroom of his son, Ethan, who has spent several frustrated days trying to work on a graphic novel group project for school, in which his buddies nominated him to be the artist based on his dad’s reputation.

The ink blob got sidetracked from his quest and instead spent several days helping Ethan rework his crude drawings, supping on and imitating publications both high- and lowbrow, and entertaining Ethan’s younger sister, Sarah, who has Down’s syndrome and who desperately wants a dog for her impending birthday.

The illustrated story is very well-executed, with well-rounded characters, a heart-rending backstory, and villains who, as the best ones are, remarkably well-intentioned. There are discussions about mastering skills (it’s far more about hard work and practice than about inherent talent), about the influence of books, about parental mental health, about grieving, and about individuality and autonomy, and they’re all done in a very natural way that I don’t think will make younger readers feel this is an issue book per se. Recommended to everyone, but particularly if you’re looking for something a fan of notebook novels (Wimpy Kid, Big Nate, etc.) or middle grade graphic novels will enjoy.

Pages: 272. Library copy.

The Prince and the Dressmaker, by Jen Wang

Set in Paris in the 1800s, this graphic novel begins as the parents of Prince Sebastian of Belgium are throwing the ball of the season, hoping to find him a bride. Mothers fly into dress shops around the city, demanding outfits for their eligible daughters that will make them the talk of the town. One young woman, irritated at being forced to go, asks Frances, the seamstress sewing for her, to take the assignment literally — to make something outrageous. Frances does, coming up with something more bawdy courtesan than modest debutante.

The next day, just as Frances is being sacked, a gentleman appears and offers her a job at the palace. Her talents have been noticed and her theatrical sense of costuming are being sought by a member of the royal family. It turns out, to Frances’ surprise (but not dismay), that Prince Sebastian likes to wear ornate dresses secretly around the palace, but would like to stop stealing his mother’s. Would Frances design some especially to fit him? And make them as over-the-top as she’d like so that when eventually they make their public debut — in disguise as fashionista Lady Crystallia — they become the talk of the town.

The two develop a close friendship, but as Frances points out later in the book, it’s not an equal friendship, because she is, after all, a servant, and her dreams keep being deferred in order to keep Sebastian’s secret. But secrets never stay hidden, do they?

This was a great story, with an artistic style I thought was part Rankin-Bass and part Kate Beaton. A fairy tale for the 21st century, our main characters use issues of class and gender norms/fluidity (Sebastian identifies as female only when dressed as Lady Crystallia; otherwise he seems to identify as male.) to illustrate the critical importance of self-identity and remaining true to yourself — and to your friends. Recommended to everyone.

Pages: 288. Library copy.

March stats:

Total number of books read: 3.
Total pages read: 880.
Intended audience: 2 young adult; 1 middle-grade.
Source: all from the library.
Format: 2 in paper, 1 in audiobook.
Classification: all fiction; 1 graphic novel.
Diversity of authors: 2 Americans, 1 Canadian. 1 author of color (Asian American)

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