Thursday, April 21, 2011

Book Review: Love & War 1 (Library Wars) by Kiiro Yumi

What's it about? manga; libraries; censorship; military training; crushes

Summary? In the near future, the federal government creates a committee to rid society of books it deems unsuitable. The libraries vow to protect their collections, and with the help of local governments, form a military group to defend themselves---the Library Forces! Iku Kasahara has dreamed of joining the Library Defense Force ever since one of its soldiers stepped in to protect her favorite book from being confiscated in a bookstore when she was younger. But now that she's finally a recruit, she's finding her dream job to be a bit of a nightmare.

Why did I read it/Where did I get it? That pesky (*grin*) coworker recommended it, as it's militant librarians protecting books from militant censors. As I'm a librarian and there's a bit of love crushin' going on in the story as well...clearly, I was meant to read this. (Checked out from Glendale Public Library)

What I thought...
First off, I ended up adoring this book - I immediately put volumes 2-5 on hold, and am very annoyed that they have not magically appeared on my desk instantaneously. I can't believe other library users dare to have known about this delightful series before me. I feel cheated. ; )

That said, I wasn't crazy about this at first. I was a bit confused, and not just because I had to read this from right to left, as traditional Japanese comics are read. While I have had a bit of experience with this, it's not exactly easy for me. The other reason I was a bit lost: this story is set in a dystopian Japan, where the passing of the Media Betterment Act enables the Media Betterment Committee censors to ban and confiscate 'offensive' media. In response, the Library Defense Forces were created and are the only obstacle between the Committee and the people's free access to books and information. As deaths resulting from the Committe/Defense Forces wars have been decriminalized, working for the Forces is incredibly dangerous...and, in Iku Kasahara's eyes, incredibly heroic.

In her teens, Kasahara's 'offensive' book purchase was protected by a Library Defense Force agent, and his actions inspired her to join the Defense Force. However, it's very hard work - the job she wants requires that she not only train to be an elite soldier, but also to complete extensive training as a librarian. Exhausted and frustrated by a hard-nosed (and cute-as-can-be) instructor, Kasahara's finding it difficult to keep herself motivated.

This is that bizarre mix of serious and cutesty-sweet that I've only experienced in shojo manga, and is evident in the cover illustration, in which a female soldier (Kasahara) is smiling and cradling a rifle. Okaaaaay.... Kasahara goes on a wilderness survival training exercise - serious - and when they stop for the night, abruptly falls asleep on her instructor's shoulder. When another instructor approaches, Kasahara's instructor shoves her off his shoulder in a pratfall manner - weird, yet adorable.  Kasahara's that awkward yet very physically capable female character, and her mean instructor (or is he?) clearly is fascinated by her, yet determined to ignore that fascination. I ate it up. 

I also am enjoying the artist/writer's asides - for those of you more familiar with manga and/or shojo, is this author aside normal? I seem to remember it in others... And I really like it. : )


YA Reading Challenge: 8

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Book Review: Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

What's it about? music; rock bands; coming of age; deafness; teen fiction

Summary? Eighteen-year-old Piper becomes the manager for her classmates' popular rock band, called Dumb, giving her the chance to prove her capabilities to her parents and others, if only she can get the band members to get along.

Why did I read it & where did I get it? A coworker recommended it to me because, as she said, "It's about a fledgling rock band, and the main character's deaf. Total Kearsten catnip." I've a fascination with sign language and I love fiction about rock music (Nick and Norah!), so I quickly checked it out from my library.

What I thought...
Wow. I loved this book so much it took me a month and a half to write about it, mostly because I wanted to do it justice. I've finally decided that's not possible,so I'd write anyway, and just hope my adoration speaks clearly enough!

Piper is decidedly not digging on high school, but since it's her last year, she's intent on toughing it out. When she unexpectedly witnesses an 'impromptu' performance by some of her classmates' band Dumb, she's impressed - not by their music, but by their 'showmanship.' And by the fact that their set ends with their amplifiers catching fire. She's unsure as to whether their music was any good because she's deaf.

Piper was born hearing, but it began to fail when she was six years old, and so by now, at eighteen, she's quite used to mixing sign language and reading lips to get along, though for the most part, she's an outsider at her high school, making it that much more of a surprise to the members of Dumb, her hearing little brother and her parents when she offers to manage the band.

This was brilliant. Five Flavors of Dumb is funny, interesting, musical and a just little bit sweet, without the sugar hangover after.  Piper is a great character - she's tough and snide, which I love, but also vulnerable, which comes out most often when she's interacting with her parents, both of whom are quite consumed with Piper's baby sister who, born deaf, got cochlear implants, enabling her to hear perfectly. Piper's parents' amazement and delight in the baby's ability to hear twists a knife in Piper's stomach every time, as she's told that her hearing loss wasn't 'significant' enough to merit the cochlear implant investment. And yet, Piper's own dad doesn't know enough sign language to communicate well with his oldest child.

Piper's interactions with her parents, her younger brother Finn, the members of Dumb, her friend Ed and others are rich and layered. Finn, along with Piper's mom, is fluent in sign language, but is reluctant to act as Piper's translator all the time. While Piper can read lips and speak, throughout the book she finds it to her advantage (such as when negotiating a contract for Dumb) to pretend she can't, and Piper and Finn's actual conversations, contrasted with what Finn conveys are delightfully funny.

There is so much to this book - Piper's feelings about her deafness, her parents, her future; the band and its inability to get along and settle on a style of music; Piper's rush and struggle to learn about rock music, when unable to hear it (they live in Seattle, meaning they get to visit some very cool locations - Kurt Cobain and Jimi Hendrix's houses); Piper's realization that she's good at managing a band, despite not being able to really hear them; Antony John's wonderful writing...

Like I said, I completely loved this book, and really feel I haven't done it justice. So I'll leave you with a few quotes that struck me as I read!

On watching Dumb's lead singer perform for the first time: "...swoony Josh Cooke on vocals, his mouth moving preternaturally fast and hips gyrating as if a gerbil had gained unauthorized access to his crotch..."

In talking with a hairdresser who helps Piper make a change: "...Don't worry about wanting to change; start worrying when you don't feel like changing anymore. And in the meantime, enjoy every version of yourself you ever meet, because not everybody who discovers their true identity likes what they find."

Highly recommended!

YA Reading Challenge Count: 7