Jason Shiga’s Demon (vol. 1) is a comic about a guy who tries to kill himself but it doesn’t take. There’s a Groundhog Day aspect to the first chunk of the volume while he figures out what’s going on, and then it becomes a pretty funny and gross action book where he realizes that the reason it isn’t working makes him one of the most dangerous people alive.
It’s drawn in a similar style to his choosable-path time-travel comic Meanwhile (and uses the same protagonist) but as the introduction states it is decidedly not a kids’ book. Good stuff.
I really really liked Patrick Ness’ YA novel More Than This. The protagonist, Seth, wakes up in a world empty of people and figures it’s hell. He figures that because the last thing he remembers doing was killing himself. The first part of the book is about him exploring the empty world, which is surprisingly like the town he grew up in in England, and having these incredibly vivid dreams about his life back in Washington leading up to his drowning.
Then things change.
The book is so good at working with the reader’s and with Seth’s expectations of what this story should be like. There are many shades of the ideas behind the Matrix floating around in here, which is great because Seth’s conscious of the kind of world he’s in, and is critical of it, even while he’s flashing back to these (mostly) awful memories of life before. The whole “this isn’t right” aspect of the novel just builds and builds until you really don’t know what will/could happen next. I guess I’m saying it uses its science fictional elements perfectly to create a story about what it’s like being a human.
One of the things I enjoy about Young Adult literature is how much fantasy and science fiction there is in the category. The whole “it’s a world like ours, but plucky protagonist discovers there are dragons in human form” kind of thing. There’s a way of turning the big existential questions that plague young people (well, I hope we never totally grow out of existential questions, but for young people especially) into metaphors to look at them differently.
Matthew Quick’s Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock doesn’t do that. The only fantasy in this story is a series of letters Leonard Peacock has written to himself from the future, at the request of his Holocaust teacher.
This is the story of Leonard Peacock’s birthday which is also the day he brings a dead Nazi’s gun to school for a murder-suicide.
It’s kind of amazing. There are four characters he has farewell gifts for before he ends his life and the life of the young man who was once his best friend but has become something else, and we follow him through the day and his life with these people in his memory. We meet these four – his elderly neighbour he watches Humphrey Bogart movies with, the Iranian violinist who goes to his school, the homeschooled evangelist he has a crush on and his Holocaust teacher – and learn about the other people in his life and how it has come to this.
Quick has written Leonard as a smart kid who loves Hamlet and he tells the reader his story directly, with many asides in the footnotes. He’s also weird, and critical and feels very authentically teenagery. He snarks at the “It Gets Better” campaign, but really really wants some help with life. One of my favourite things about the book is that the people he’s giving his gifts to, they aren’t stupid. He cuts off all his hair and everyone is worried. They see the warning signs and can tell they’re warning signs but it’s hard to tell what to do. No one is stupid; they’re just people.
I loved the book and recommend it highly (probably not for middle-schoolers though). And it makes an interesting companion piece to We Need to Talk About Kevin.
What I liked about George Saunders’ short story collection Tenth of December is the aspiration in all the stories. All these characters are trying so hard to have a life that isn’t terrible, but they are stymied by the world and their delusions. In the right mood that makes the stories funny, in the righter mood that makes them terribly sad. All these people poised right on the teeth of capitalism, about to get ground up by the system in absurd ways. And sometimes they escape.
Alison Bechdel’s book Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic is a memoir, a genre I don’t find myself reading a lot of. If you’ve read through my archives here you see I’m mostly into things that definitely haven’t happened or couldn’t possibly happen. Travel among the stars, or dealing with mystical artifacts or whatever. But if all memoirs were as good as this, I’d probably be devouring more of them.
Oh, I suppose I should mention it’s a comic too. And I do read a lot of those. So maybe this isn’t that far out of my usual fare.
Bechdel’s book is mostly about growing up and dealing with her father’s homosexuality (at the same time she was coming out as a lesbian) and his criminal behaviour with some of his students, and his death. Which may have been a suicide.
She doesn’t tell it straightforwardly, but circles around events and brings things back and forth through time echoing dreams the way memory does at its best. It starts with the house her father was constantly renovating. It deals with life in a funeral home. There are neglected dreams and OCD episodes. It’s painful and terrible and everything seems fraught with meaning.
It’s very much a personal story. It’s the kind of story that makes you ask “how do the people she wrote about feel about this?” It’s courageous and self-absorbed in a way I can’t help but admire. Really great work.
The Drowning Girl by Caitlín R. Kiernan is a beautiful circuitous story about haunting, mermaids, werewolves and art.
The narrator, a woman named Imp, is schizophrenic and she’s telling the story of the two times she met Eva Canning, a ghost or mermaid or werewolf. She doesn’t tell the story straightforwardly, and that’s part of how it all works. The chronology gets all messed up and she berates herself for procrastinating, and there are short stories that fit into the mix. It’s beautiful, but you have to give up desire to have things clearly laid out for you. If you can do that, the language and thoughts about art and suicide are all very very worth being haunted by.
The second book of The Walking Dead is the one where the survivors find a prison and set up camp inside. We meet Michonne, who has a couple of pet zombies that she executes when she comes inside the gates. With her sword. ‘Cause she’s kind of awesome. But then she ruins a romantic relationship. Some people have sex. Some kill themselves. Others are eaten by zombies. A few people are shot. There’s an amputation. Rick goes and digs up Shane’s body and shoots it once he finds out that it’s not the zombies that infect people. As long as you die (without being headshot), you’ll come back.
I like reading this book in these larger collections than the trade paperbacks. And keeping a bit ahead of what’s happening in the TV show (since I see recaps and stuff all over the internet these days, not because I’m watching the show).