Atmospheric and provocative but hampered by a cacophony of messages.

VOYAGES IN THE UNDERWORLD OF ORPHEUS BLACK

An injured firefighter records eerie experiences as he searches for his brother during the London Blitz.

Following an earnest effort to restore sibling bonds sundered by his decision to register as a conscientious objector, Harry Black leaves his enlisted older brother, Ellis, in a pub that takes a direct hit only minutes later from a V-2. Waking up with head injuries, Harry woozily escapes the hospital to undertake the seemingly hopeless task of digging into the wreckage after his brother—describing his frantic efforts in disjointed notebook entries around prescient visions of future wars fought by machines that he illustrates with nightmarish views of hanging bodies and armies of shrouded figures in hazmat suits. Along with lurid details (notably a pocket full of glass eyes that Harry snatches from a warehouse fire which appear throughout as spot art) the authors, brothers themselves, add a mythic overlay by interspersing extended verse (occasionally rhymed) comments by Orpheus as observer and psychopomp and extending Harry’s quest into a dangerous, jumbled underworld that has its own king and pomegranate-eating queen. The attempt to shovel on another layer of significance by trotting in an otherworldly Kindertransport child and positioning her as symbolic of both true peace and a gender complement is ill conceived. Still, unlike his lyre-strumming alter ego, Harry does in the end bring off a rescue…albeit at a cost.

Atmospheric and provocative but hampered by a cacophony of messages. (Historical fantasy. 14-17)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5362-0437-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Walker US/Candlewick

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Equal parts entertaining and thought-provoking.

I AM NOT STARFIRE

Sixteen-year-old Mandy considers herself the anti-Starfire: Unlike her scantily clad superhero mother, she doesn’t have superpowers, can’t fly, and doesn’t even own a bathing suit.

Mandy dyes her hair and dresses in all black to further call out how different they are. Mandy’s best friend, Lincoln, whose parents were born in Vietnam, insightfully summarizes this rift as being down to an intergenerational divide that occurs whether parents and children come from different countries or different planets. Mandy tries to figure out what kind of future she wants for herself as she struggles with teenage insecurities and bullying, her relationship with her mom, and her budding friendship (or is it something more?) with her new class project partner, Claire. Yoshitani’s vibrant and colorful stylized illustrations beautifully meld the various iterations of Starfire and the Titans with the live-action versions of those characters. Together with Tamaki’s punchy writing, this coming-of-age story of identity, family, friendship, and saving the world is skillfully brought to life in a quick but nuanced read. These layers are most strongly displayed as the story draws parallels between cultural differences between the generations as evidenced in how the characters address bullying, body positivity, fatphobia, fetishization and sexualization, and feminism. This title addresses many important concepts briefly, but well, with great pacing, bold art, and concise and snappy dialogue. The cast is broadly diverse in both primary and secondary characters.

Equal parts entertaining and thought-provoking. (Graphic fantasy. 14-16)

Pub Date: July 27, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-77950-126-4

Page Count: 184

Publisher: DC Comics

Review Posted Online: Aug. 11, 2021

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Yet another bland, half-baked dystopian exercise.

CRAZY HOUSE

A teen girl goes looking for her missing twin sister.

In the absence of their parents, Cassie and Becca, both white, are doing their best to tend to the family farm. One morning, Cassie wakes up to discover Becca is missing. Meanwhile, Becca wakens in a horrific children’s prison, in which the detained are forced to fight to the death. As Cassie searches for her sister, Becca does her best to survive the torture her captors put her through. The novel is set in a future in which populations are organized geographically into isolated cells. The government controls all the information going in and out. More lurks beneath the surface, and the book sets up further installments, but few readers will feel the need to keep reading. The world is poorly built, the characters are dreadfully thin, and the plotting is drastically uneven. When Cassie and Becca are finally reunited, readers will have little reason to celebrate: their relationship is so thinly sketched they barely feel like sisters. The torture sequences in the teen prison are gratuitous and dreary. A last-minute twist is easily predicted, making the slow, tedious burn toward the reveal and the barely distinguishable characters all the more intolerable.

Yet another bland, half-baked dystopian exercise. (Dystopian adventure. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 22, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-316-43131-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Jimmy Patterson/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2017

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