MMGM and #IMWAYR (11/23/2020): Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Journey to Justice, written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Whitney Gardner
Normally, I would review a YA book this week, but I didn't read one because I am super-crazy-ridiculously-busy (I'm already writing this post late at night and a day later than I planned to). With that in mind, I do have an MG review for today, of the fabulous graphic-novel biography Becoming RBG: Ruth Bader Ginsburg's Journey to Justice, written by Debbie Levy and illustrated by Whitney Gardner.
Most of you probably know that, as yet another awful moment of 2020, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the beloved second female U.S. Supreme Court justice, passed away several weeks ago. Her seat on the Supreme Court (which she held until her passing) has been filled by another woman (though a far more conservative one), Amy Coney Barrett. Barrett's appointment was marked by drama (as is anything Donald Trump is involved in), but, as I said in my post when RBG passed, it is important not to let the drama overshadow Ginsburg's legacy. Special thanks to #IMWAYR blogger Shaye Miller, who runs an utterly delightful blog you should all be reading called The Miller Memo and recommended a number of books on Ruth Bader Ginsburg, including this MG graphic novel which I am recommending today!
Becoming RBG tells the story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life from childhood, to college and law school, to working as a lawyer, to being appointed as a federal judge, to serving on the Supreme Court itself! We watch Ginsburg learn the then-radical ideas that a woman could think for herself (gasp!) and have a job (gasp again!) from her mother during childhood, we see her navigate college and law school as one of the only women while dealing with grief, we see her meet her husband Marty (who she describes as "the only boy I ever met who cared that I had a brain"), we see her give arguments at the Supreme Court as a lawyer on cases for gender discrimination, and we see her appointed as a federal judge and eventually as the Supreme Court judge who is so beloved by all! The author of this book, Debbie Levy, actually interviewed RBG for this book and a picture book on RBG called I Dissent, and there are approximately 3 bazillion citations in the back of the book, ensuring that we get an incredibly accurate picture of RBG's life in this excellent book.
It's somewhat difficult to review this book because I also feel like I am reviewing Ruth Bader Ginsburg's life (I mean, she gets five stars, but...it's still weird). I think I'll harp on about how awesome RBG is in this paragraph and the next and then harp on about specific things about the book in the paragraph after that. I think most of us think that justices on the Supreme Court are just figureheads, voting their political views from behind a camouflage of "justice" and "law." And I think a lot of people, even those who know RBG is great, don't really know why she is great if she is just another one of those justices. So let me clear up a few misconceptions. I have been taking a government class these last few months, and though it has mostly taught me how much more there is to learn, I did read the opinions (including RBG's dissent) in the Supreme Court case NFIB v. Sebelius (which is when the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act could not take away Medicaid funding from states that refused to expand Medicaid through the act). In her dissent, Ginsburg argues that, because the federal government is allowed to offer money to states on certain conditions (like to fund Medicaid in the first place), the result of the majority opinion is to say that, if Medicaid had been repealed and replaced by the Medicaid expansion, adding conditions or not offering up the funding would have been fine, so it is completely arbitrary to prevent new conditions only when the initial law is being expanded and not repealed. (Only 1 justice agreed with her—the result was 7-2.) My point is that there is a lot of thought that goes into any Supreme Court opinion, including countless eloquent arguments and countless citations, and you have to recognize that the Supreme Court justices are far more than figureheads or...politicians. In short: RBG was as smart as all get-out, which makes the rest of her story just icing on the cake! (Copious icing. In multiple colors. With a lot of legalese written in cursive using icing on the top of the regular icing.)
(Confession: I was going to keep my RBG thoughts confined to the last paragraph, and then I failed. So here we are in paragraph 2 on RBG.) I don't know if I have been epically failed by the education system (oh, wait—yes, I have) or what, but I had no idea—zilch—that Ginsburg was a lawyer who actually fought cases regarding gender discrimination (against both men and women) on behalf of the ACLU! (Imagine standing in front of the nine men of the Supreme Court and arguing that gender discrimination is wrong like she did.) Ginsburg was at the forefront of the legal changes to prevent gender discrimination—if it wasn't for the fact that I know nothing at all about any of the cases she was not part of, I would strongly argue that she is pretty much the reason our legal system recognizes gender discrimination as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. Also, I was completely unaware that RBG has kids—it's fascinating to think that she paved the way for women being able to have careers and not have kids while herself juggling both (I literally have no idea how she pulled that off). I learned a ridiculous amount from Becoming RBG, and it is definitely a wonderful way to understand exactly why Ginsburg was so beloved and so awesome.
OK, now let's talk about what Levy and Gardner did well. Debbie Levy's script for the book pulls in a ton of fascinating details about RBG's life and career, and although the story is largely about her journey up to the Supreme Court, there is a sizable prose epilogue about her time on the Supreme Court with plenty of other interesting facts! The general tone of the story perhaps portrays RBG as more...happy than she actually acted in real life, but it could very well be that she actually is that way and I don't know anything (there is certainly evidence for my not knowing anything in the above paragraphs). I appreciate all of the research that went into this book; there is a bizarre sentence that Ginsburg says on page 93 that sounded like it would never have come out of her mouth, yet there is a citation for it right there in the bibliography. (Now that I think about it, it might have been sarcasm on her part. You know, it was probably sarcasm. That makes way more sense.) Whitney Gardner's illustrations are just awesome as well! They have a wonderfully whimsical and energetic style, full of the sort of childlike wonder kids will be feeling as they read about such an awesome person! I love the use of red, white, and blue for the color scheme as well—on-the-nose, sure, but kind of perfect! All in all, the formatting, organization, and emotions in this story are completely on point, and they really allow readers to understand what made Ginsburg tick.
Isn't it sad that we always wait to learn about awesome people until they are no longer with us? I think it is, but still, better late than never to learn about Ruth Bader Ginsburg's incredible legacy and accomplishments! Ginsburg truly was one-of-a-kind, and Debbie Levy and Whitney Gardner do a wonderful job combining facts and emotion to paint a wonderful portrait of such an incredible human being! If you feel sick of hearing about the many obnoxious politicians who feel compelled to keep being heard over and over again, pick up a copy of this book and see for yourself just how amazing RBG was!
Update (11/30/2020): My rating is: Really good!
Update (2/6/2021): My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 4!