I’ve read several short books in recent weeks, three of which are in formats that I hardly ever read. Two of them were graphic novels, and the other was a very slim book in verse.
Skim, words by Mariko Tamaki, drawings by Jillian Tamaki
I have been a huge admirer of Jillian Tamaki’s work ever since I saw the three covers she embroidered for the Penguin Threads series (Emma, The Secret Garden, Black Beauty). So when I saw this graphic novel illustrated by Tamaki and written by her cousin, Mariko, I had give it a go.
Skim is the nickname for a teenage, Wiccan-wannabe, goth girl struggling to navigate some of the predictable issues of her age: first love, sexuality, friendships, loneliness, and social awareness. I didn’t find the story super original, but it was engaging and made me recall those strange years in high school when friendships were so fluid and my internal world such a roller coaster. Jillian Tamaki’s illustrations did not disappoint, but they are not my favorite examples of her work (I wildly covet the Folio Society edition of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea she illustrated). Pick this one up if you love coming of age stories.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
This is a graphic memoir of the author’s childhood during the Iranian revolution period of the late 1970s. Satrapi relates major events in the revolution as the character Marji, a 10-year-old girl who lives with her liberal, Westernized parents who protest the rise of the Islamic state. I had to read carefully and look up a few things to refresh myself on he politics and people of the time. I loved how the little Marji attempted to understand the wider cultural and political shifts that were impacting her world by fiercely embracing or imitating the complex adult social events around her. The high contrast black and white illustrations were perfect for the story and there are several that I can still see in my mind’s eye when I think of the book. I will definitely seek out the second volume.
It’s not often that I read stories written entirely in verse — but I love them! Cat Lady is a very slim book — just 38 pages. It’s the story of an old Italian woman (perhaps a witch) who cares for a family of stray cats in the Roman Colosseum. Her delicious gifts of tuna and other treats are sponsored by a dying cardinal who asks Old Maria to help him fulfill one last wish…
The story was very sweet and like a simple fable. Perhaps I’ve been reading too many graphic novels, but I kept wishing for some illustrations, even simple ink ones, to go with the story. I really think they would take the story to the next level, and perhaps clarify who is speaking at times. I also wish it had been longer! It seems like there must be a world of stories among those Roman felines and their benefactors.
I believe I am a convert to the graphic novel! If anyone as suggestions for good ones, please leave a comment. I would also like to read more stories in verse. I think the only other books I’ve read in verse is Vikram Seth’s Golden Gate, which was wonderful. Any ideas there too?
Greenwood Books / House of Anansi Press, 2008
translation copy L’Association, Paris, France, 2003
ebook provided by author
LuLu Publishing Services, 2015