Tuesday, October 24

Supergirl at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer borrowed this book from the library. The opinions expressed are hers alone and no monetary compensation was offered to her by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright Random House Books for Young Readers.

I never thought I would like Supergirl. The reason? I have always been exceptionally prejudiced against Superman. Look at me! I'm an invulnerable Ken doll. I have x-ray vison, laser eyes, ice breath, acute hearing, super strength, I'm bullet-proof, and I can fly. Barf. Why would I like a character who's so perfect they're boring? Well, it would appear that the answer lies in narrative. Who knew? So I took my medicine for my Kryptonian allergy and buckled in.

Supergirl's real name is Kara Zor-El. She is the cousin of Superman. Unlike him, she arrives on the planet as a teenager, not a bebeh. This makes her a perfect addition to the DC Super Hero Girls universe, where the characters attend Super Hero High School

Supergirl arrives on Earth with no clue how to control her wild array of new abilities...and it's far from boring. With the aid of her new friends, specifically Barbara Gordon, who helps her to believe in herself and stop apologising for herself (two very important messages for young girls) she learns to embrace her super self.

This novel starts off where 'Wonder Woman at Super Hero High' concluded, but you do not need to read the previous novel to understand and enjoy this one.

Lisa Yee pulls the reader into the story with the heart-wrenching and intense moment when Supergirl has to flee her planet's destruction. Throughout the novel, Supergirl is sad and homesick. Her loss isn't down-played, but her emotional state isn't stagnant. She does her best to make the most of her new situation, which is far from easy. I couldn't help but identify with her feeling of being an outcast in a crowd. Even when people are friendly, she still feels apart. It isn't until she finds a best friend in Barbara that she begins to find her place and stand tall.

My one gripe with Supergirl's characterisation is that she is so clumsy. It seems like an unnecessary trope to include, where Supergirl is literally tripping over her own laces. Controlling that kind of immense power would be difficult enough, without making her a natural-born clutz. However, that trait is rooted in the overall series' characterisation of Supergirl, not in Yee's writing.

On the matter of the Super Hero Girls cartoon series, if you have seen the feature Super Hero High, this novel follows the same story line and may seem somewhat repetitive. The novel includes extra elements  and thankfully Wonder Woman's jealousy arc has been omitted  and greater insight into Supergirl's thoughts and feelings. If you choose to listen to the book on audio, it is narrated by Anais Fairweather, who voices Supergirl in the show, though the novel is written in third person.

The series is continued in 'Batgirl at Super Hero High,' which I look forward to reading.

Sunday, October 15

Oh, the Places You'll Go! by Dr. Seuss

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer purchased this book. The opinions expressed are his and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the publisher. He has never taken recreational drugs. Cover art is copyright of Penguin's Random House.

'Oh, the Places You'll Go!' is about the effects of LSD. It is quite popular with college students.

The story is written in second person. "You" experience a burst of confidence, and are off on an adventure where "things start to happen." The illustrations use blocks and stripes of colour to demonstrate how vivid colours can appear on acid, and how you see everything in a new and striking way.

Next tackled is the subject of the high. This is shown in the illustration of an air balloon soaring above a vast world of colour. The language reflects the euphoria, with words like "lead" and "top" and "best."

Then comes the low, where you "come down...with an unpleasant bump." Here fear and uncertainty creep in. The illustrations show that your surroundings become unsteady and confusing. "The Waiting Place" is where everything becomes stagnant and you don't know what to do with yourself. You are trapped in a feeling of hopelessness.

You embark on a second trip. Colours are bright again, music speaks to you, and your inhibitions leave you. You become over-confident, convinced you have the power to do anything and everything. This is where you are most likely to injure yourself or do something regrettable if left unchecked. This is emphasised in a double-page spread of a series of ridiculous and dangerous antics, combining several known – and unknown – sporting activities.

Depression and paranoia set in. "You" are now presented as feeling very small, with shadows and monsters lurking and looming. The colours are once again bleak and the tone is eerie.

The book concludes on a positive note, encouraging the reader to take risks but be careful. 'Oh, the Places You'll Go' is an informative and non-judgmental (perhaps even encouraging) depiction of recreational drug use.

Friday, October 6

Gone is Gone by Wanda Ga'g

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer borrowed this book from the library. It was gold-stickered "Librarians Choice." The opinions expressed are his alone and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the publisher. Cover art is copyright of Minnesota Press.

'Gone is Gone' or 'The Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework' is retold here by Wanda Ga'g, after being passed down orally through generations of her family. The book is dedicated "To My Peasant Ancestors." This is how I intend to dedicate my future memoirs.

Fritzl and Liesi live and work on their land. Fritzl works out in the field all day. Liesi works in and around the house and looks after the baby. Fritzl believes that he works harder than Liesi and has no issue in saying so.

"Little do you know, Liesi, what a man's work is like, little do you know! Your work now, 'tis nothing at all."

Liesi wallops him, takes the child and leaves him. Alas, I kid. She is instead miraculously bemused by his misogyny. She suggests that they swap workloads for a day.

'Gone is Gone' is titled thus because every time Fritzl screws up one of the chores, he shrugs and says "Na, na! What's gone is gone." Is it such a wonder that he's so easy on himself after dismissing his wife's hard word? A ripping display of male entitlement.

Fritzl's incompetence amplifies until he has put the lives of his dog, his cow, his child and himself in jeopardy. What an idiot. Even so, Liesi is patient and kind with him, though an "I told you so" is heavily implied – and well-deserved.

'Gone is Gone' is is a fine tale of comeuppance for adults and children alike.

Tuesday, October 3

Farmer George and the Hedgehogs by Nick Ward

In accordance with the FTC Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer borrwed this book from the library. The opinions expressed are his and no monetary compensation was offered to him by the author or publisher. Cover art is copyright of Pavilion.

This book is about George, a farmer who nearly kills four hedgehogs when he decides to light a spontaneous bonfire.

Luckily, his wife, Dotty, stops himfrom committing murder. They then decide to atone for their sins by taking care of the hedgehogs.

The do a terrible job.

First, they should have got them checked out for damage from smoke inhalation. They instead try to house them with several animals, who could irritate or injure them. Finally, they feed them milk and bread.

Do not feed hedgehogs milk or bread! They cannot digest these things! It is terrible for their little tummies, especially if they are recovering from a trauma and smoke inhalation.

George and Dotty might be forgiven for their ignorance, if it weren't for the fact that all the animals – including the hedgehogs – can speak perfect English. This book must take place in an alternate universe like Oz. It is the only way for it to make sense.

This is a simple story, which does its best to highlight the dangers of bonfires and champion animal protection. Unfortunately, it leaves George looking like an incompetent farmar and Dotty looking, well, a little dotty.

Wednesday, September 27

Wonder Woman at Super Hero High by Lisa Yee

In accordance with the FTC, Quill Café would like to disclose that the reviewer borrowed this book from the library. No monetary compensation was offered to him by the author or publisher. He couldn't even find a job as a C-list superhero sidekick. Cover art is copyright of Random House Kids.*

Diana has moved from Themescyra to Metropolis to attend Super Hero High. There she will learn to be an ambassador for her people and the greatest hero she can be.

This is the first novel to accompany a cartoon series and doll line called DC Super Hero Girls, which highlights the women of DC. To have a series focused on female superheroes that has a young target demographic is significant.

There has been some upset that Wonder Woman attends Super Hero High with the likes of Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy. Many have mansplained, "They're not heroes, they're villains!" Well, let me hogsplain something to the decriers: It's called the Multiverse. In this particular universe, characters of all designs attend Super Hero High and do not share the same continuity as their counterparts from Prime Earth. Calm yo' nips.

Indeed, while Super Hero High aims to produce superheroes, there is no guarantee that each student will become a superhero. There is every possibility that it will produce its fair share of villains. This is blatantly stated by the principal, Amanda Waller. Yes, you read that right. Also, Gorilla Grod is VP.

If this is all flying over your head like a bird or a plane, never fear! You do not need to know anything about Wonder Woman or her fellow DC comrades to understand and enjoy this novel. Those who do know some of the characters may delight in seeing how they are incorporated into the story in various roles. Without giving too much away, I will tell you that there are students from three other schools featured, there are male students (Barry Allen, Hal Jordan, Beast Boy), and a couple contemporary heroes are Black Canary and Firestorm. Batman doesn't...seem to exist. Readers can be left to wonder if this means the Wayne glass is full or empty.

Back to Wonder Woman! Diana is the perfect protagonist to lead into the world of Super Hero High. She is not only new to the school but clueless about mortal customs. Too clueless. She takes everything literally and doesn't even know about handshakes, despite having had access to the internet. There is sheltered, and then there is this girl.

My prickly point is that Wonder Woman takes on the nickname "Wondy" thanks to Harley Quinn. I have no issue with characters being referred to by their superhero names, but Wondy? NO. Ridiculousness.

I listened to 'Wonder Woman at Super Hero High' on audio, read by Ashley Eckstein. She did an excellent job. I would happily listen to another audio book narrated by her. She is currently the only narrator in the Super Hero High book series who does not voice a character in the DC Super Hero Girls cartoon.

The next book in the series is 'Supergirl at Super Hero High.' I read that one first because I have no care for the order of things and do as I please. I liked it also.

*It is not clear whether penguins or puffins live there.