Anxiety thrums through this short graphic memoir. The story is set in Beirut in 1984, during the fifteen-year long Lebanese civil war. Zeina and her younger brother have been left at home by their parents, who have undertaken the dangerous journey to visit the children’s grandmother: one by one, they are joined by their neighbors, who share food, whiskey, and stories to pass the time. Absence becomes a running theme in both the art and the story. Abirached makes excellent use of negative space in her art, with her characters shown to be small and helpless against circumstance. Without ever showing a dead body or a pool of blood, Abirached manages to portray the horror of war: bomb blasts, sniper fire, grief, death, and fear.
Let's get something straight: Robopocalypse is not great literature. There are books that delve into the darker side of the human psyche and its tendencies towards self-destruction, and then there are books where robots kill everybody. Daniel Wilson is not the Steinbeck or Hemingway of the Apocalypse-du-jour subgenre, but he is a nerd who's both knowledgeable and enthusiastic. Wilson earned his PhD in Robotics from Carnegie Mellon University, and his comfort with the subject gives his writing and imagery more weight than it would otherwise have. If, like me, you prefer your beach reading to include a trail of corpses, some fun "What if? scenarios, and a light exploration of heavier themes (artificial intelligence! transhumanism!), Robopocalypse is a great, entertaining read for summer.
At a loose end now that you've finished The Hunger Games? These books, about a group of teenagers facing a military invasion of their home, are one of my perennial favorites, and they've recently been re-released by Scholastic. It follows a core group of characters throughout an entire war and beyond, charting their progress from ordinary teenagers into guerilla fighters. The Tomorrow series is fast-paced and provocative, has a tough and articulate heroine, and doesn't shy away from the exploring darker aspects of war.
How do you distill a love story? How do you portray everything about a relationship, from the first meeting to a tumultuous meltdown, using a minimum of words? In The Lover's Dictionary, YA author David Levithan has written an adult novel that is both sparse and richly detailed. Each vignette is inspired by a particular word, and the story of two nameless lovers is told in alphabetical rather than chronological order. It's an idea that could have been twee or trite in the hands of another author, but Levithan has created something simple, beautiful, and devastating.
A big book starring tiny birds, Big Questions is a fable that examines the existential quandaries in which we all find ourselves mired: why do we suffer? How do we deal with the unexpected and unexplainable? What happens when we die? Are our lives meaningless, or is there some kind of plan? Despite its length and heavy themes, the book moves along quickly, with its meandering philosophizing grounded in a plot that twists and curves in surprising, sometimes surreal, ways. Nilsen's art style is simple and organic, with a light and patient hand. As his cartoony gray finches ponder deep philosophical questions, the story and art toe the line between wryly humorous and strikingly evocative.
Part graphic memoir, part treatise on creativity, What It Is examines memory, images, words, dreams, play, and thought. With her distinctive drawings interspersed with lush collages, Lynda Barry pulls apart and recreates the creative journey of an artist.
First, imagine that Hunter S. Thompson and Bill Hicks, through some awful accident of science, managed to produce offspring. Give that offspring a two-packs-a-day smoking habit, numerous tattoos, a fondness for guns, a deep sense of justice, and a drug-fueled writing habit. Add a supporting cast of half-alien pimps, strippers-turned-bodyguards, two-faced cats, corrupt K-9 police, and evil politicians. Then, place them all in a setting that is somewhere between Disney World, Amsterdam's red light district, pre-gentrification Wicker Park, and the inside of Phillip K. Dick's mind. Add some politics and a lot of scatological humor. Then stand back and watch it go boom.
Memory and taste are also at the heart of Relish, a graphic memoir by Lucy Knisley. A collection of stories of her life interspersed with recipes, Relish takes us from New York to Chicago and back again, with stops in Rome, Mexico, and Italy. Each chapter uses a particular food as a gateway to a memory, or vice versa. Knisley's art is bright and cartoony, with colors popping off the page, and extra detail is given to the drawings of her food. I'm not gonna lie, I drooled a little while gazing at her illustration of apricot jam-filled croissants.