MMGM and #IMWAYR: My Aunt Is a Monster, Improve, Messy Roots, and more!

I'm finishing up spring break, during which I:

  • devoured a bajillion and a half graphic novels (hooray!)
  • listened to good amounts of music
  • lived in my own brain (which is as much of an experience as ever)
So yeah! Let's dive into some book reviews!

Middle Grade

My Aunt Is a Monster

Written and illustrated by Reimena Yee
Graphic novel · 2022

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

Safia thought that being blind meant she would only get to go on adventures through her audiobooks. This all changes when she goes to live with a distant and mysterious aunt, Lady Whimsy, who takes Safia on the journey of a lifetime!

While the reclusive Lady Whimsy stops an old rival from uncovering the truth behind her disappearance, Safia experiences parts of the world she had only dreamed about. But when an unlikely group of chaotic agents comes after Whimsy, Safia is forced to confront the adventure head-on. For the first time in her life, Safia is the hero of her own story, and she must do what she can to save the day.

And maybe find some friends along the way.

Reimena Yee returns with an all-new graphic novel filled with action, magic, and family. My Aunt Is a Monster explores how anybody can do anything as long as they are given the chance and have the right people behind them.

· · · · · ·

I grabbed this book at BookPeople a few weeks ago, and I wasn't sure what I thought as I made my way through it, but it grew on me by the end!

There's a slightly absurd sense of humor to this story that is unique and delightful—the number of Bureaus and Societies and character names like Professor Doctor Cecilia Choi definitely bring to mind a world that revels in clichΓ©s, adventuring, scholarship, and even pretentiousness, and it is so fun to see.

And Reimena Yee's art is fantastic—the page layouts can be a little chaotic at times, but the detailed illustrations and vibrant colors really bring Safia's world to life.

The interpersonal relationships here are also really well-executed. There's an apology scene that—for once—hits all the right notes as far as good apologies go, and there's a resolution to a different complicated relationship that is ultimately satisfying while also realistic.

I wasn't always the most fond of Safia's optimistic, slightly-naive personality, but she is definitely the kind of spunky yet realistic kid that can propel a story forward! I did love Aunty Whimsy as a character pretty much 100%, though.

I do think, as far as adventure stories go, this one is lacking in actual adventure—I feel like Safia's Aunty Whimsy is awfully reliant on other people to do the dirty work of adventuring, and there really weren't a lot of unique places or settings besides a cruise ship (which, let's be real, I hope isn't the only exciting sight to see on this Earth).

I'm also always slightly cautious about non-#ownvoices stories, but I think Safia's blindness is generally depicted with compassion here.

Young Adult

Improve

How I Discovered Improv and Conquered Social Anxiety

Written and illustrated by Alex Graudins
Graphic memoir · 2022

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

Alex has crippling social anxiety. All day long, she is trapped in a web of negative thoughts and paralyzing fear. To pull herself free of this endless cycle, Alex does something truly terrifying: she signs up for an improv comedy class. By forcing herself to play silly games and act out ridiculous scenes, Alex confronts the unbearable weight of embarrassment, makes new friends, rediscovers parts of herself that she'd hidden away, and ultimately faces her greatest fear by performing onstage for all to see.

· · · · · ·

If it's not obvious from the fact that I'm a book hermit who anonymously blogs online, I have a good chunk of social anxiety. Honestly, the fact that I have human conversations now and discuss my experiences and—gasp!—have actual IRL friends is nothing short of (a) a miracle and (b) an example of hard work (mine and that of my therapist).

So I had to read this book once I saw it—and it totally delivered!!!

The title here is a bit of a misnomer. Alex Graudins is explicit about not trying to sell readers on improv as a solution to social anxiety—it's more that she had always been drawn to improv in the first place, and finally took the plunge as a way of fighting back against her social anxiety.

So this book is more of (a) a delightful look at the inner workings of improv (and a compassionate author's note about the ways in which the improv world needs to become more inclusive), (b) an achingly real depiction of social anxiety (I related to everything and then some), and (c) a genuine portrayal of Graudins's lived experience over time.

Raina Telgemeier is credited in the acknowledgments (unless I'm 100% misremembering, which I almost never do, to be honest), and I really do think this book's art style and general structure are reminiscent of her memoirs, which is a great thing!

Also despite the title, this book actually captures the truth about anxiety: there is no cure to it, and even when you push past it once, it worms its way back into your brain eventually, often in the most irrational of ways. I was hoping Graudins had some miraculous answer to share with their readers, but the lack of one is a powerful reminder that no one can or should be expected to "fix" their anxiety—the best we can do is live with it, cope with it, and fight back against it. It's a long fight, but a worthwhile one.

Doughnuts and Doom

Written and illustrated by Balazs Lorinczi
Graphic novel · 2022

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

Being a teenage witch—or rock star—is tougher than it looks! But maybe enemies can become friends…or more? Flying brooms and electric guitars set hearts aflame in this fantastically fizzy graphic novel.

When Margot meets Elena, emotions run high, magic is in the air, and doughnuts...float? One is a stressed-out witch trying to get her potions business off the ground, the other is a struggling rock musician whose band is going nowhere. Neither of them are having a good time! No wonder things quickly escalate from words to literal sparks flying when they first meet. Could this be the start of a delicious new relationship...or is a bad-luck curse leading them to certain doom?

· · · · · ·

This was another BookPeople find, and it was...a little chaotic, honestly. I breezed through it in about 20 minutes, though!

The art is adorable, and the premise is basically flawless—romance, witches, rock music, and doughnuts? What's not to love?

But the plotting is messy. Margot is so toxic to Elena at their first meeting that frankly, their relationship should have just died there, even if they do reconcile afterward.

Then Elena is really pushy about getting Margot to overcome her anxiety. Not to get back on my soapbox for the second time today, but all these romances where one person pushes someone else out of their comfort zone (looking at you, Dash & Lily, even though I love you so) completely ignore the fact that doing so involves inflicting more anxiety on a person and implicitly telling them that the way they currently are is not good enough. So, future partner of mine: proceed with caution.

And then the ending is a tad cringey—Elena acts totally out of character, Margot basically steals Elena's spotlight but we're supposed to read it as a good thing, and everything is magically solved and good forever! Yuh-huh.

Messy Roots

A Graphic Memoir of a Wuhanese American

Written and illustrated by Laura Gao
Graphic memoir · 2022

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

After spending her early years in Wuhan, China, riding water buffalos and devouring stinky tofu, Laura immigrates to Texas, where her hometown is as foreign as Mars—at least until 2020, when COVID-19 makes Wuhan a household name.

In Messy Roots, Laura illustrates her coming-of-age as the girl who simply wants to make the basketball team, escape Chinese school, and figure out why girls make her heart flutter.

Insightful, original, and hilarious, toggling seamlessly between past and present, China and America, Gao’s debut is a tour de force of graphic storytelling.

· · · · · ·

Oh my GOSH—this is literally one of the best graphic novels I've ever read. Ever. I just flipped through it again for 20 minutes because I couldn't help getting sucked in a second time. I can see why this was a Cybils winner this year.

I don't even know where to start. I think one thing is that Laura Gao's writing skill is unparalleled—she can weave together so many themes, move throughout time, and link her experiences to the broader world, and it feels completely effortless (a sign that it was, in fact, the opposite of effortless).

And yet, Gao also brings a boundless sense of humor I did not expect—trust me, you will pause to think about some of the pain they have experienced, but you will also smile or laugh on pretty much every page, because this book can be hilarious. And sometimes, you will laugh and your heart will ache at once, because no matter how many people and forces have tried to take away Gao's humanity, she still can't help but move through life with the humor-laden viewpoint she has.

This book explores so many important and relatable themes and topics, in part because it follows Gao through so many eras of their life—early childhood to college. A couple themes that stand out include Gao's strained relationship with her father, who has some pretty clear anger issues; anti-Asian racism that escalated profoundly during the pandemic, in part because the coronavirus originated in Wuhan (obviously, the fault of exactly zero Wuhanese people); Gao trying to carve out space within themself for the different parts of their identity as an immigrant; and Gao figuring out the complexities of her own queer identity.

I miss this book now that it ended. There are scenes I wanted to live inside of—like some of Gao's conversations with people in college, or their experience returning to Wuhan and reuniting with childhood partners in crime (well, mischief, to be precise). And even in the scenes that are maybe less comfort-read-esque, the illustrations are so lush with color and energy, yet so accessible and aching and powerful, that you can't help but stare for a little while.

This book is a masterclass for what graphic novels should be.

Bookish thought:

Wendy Mass—as in, the genuine goddess of middle grade lit—has written an MG graphic novel (!!!!!) that comes out in May. It's called Lo and Behold and is illustrated by Gabi Mendez.

And then Mass and Rebecca Stead—as in, my favorite author of all time (including time before my birth and after my eventual death)—have cowritten a second MG novel together that comes out in August, called The Lost Library.

So basically, what I'm saying is that I'm going to be crying with joy for the next five months and probably talking about these books incessantly. Buckle in, y'all.

Another thought:

You all might know that I am a massive fan of the cartoon Steven Universe, which basically sustained me from about 2015 to 2020 (I'm only slightly kidding). Well, the long and short of it is that before writing this post, I was reading an interview with the creator of the show, Rebecca Sugar, and literally crying with excitement and newfound psychological insight.

(The interview is here, but DON'T read it if you haven't watched the show—it has major spoilers!)

The gist is that I have literally spent the last several months idolizing a character who gives and gives and gives much to other people, and this interview pointed out that said character is basically a cautionary tale about hating yourself, deciding everyone else is better, and prioritizing them instead. Which...I think I've totally been doing for, like, my whole life.

So I'm definitely going to be thinking about how I can respect myself for who I am, rather than respecting myself for what I can give to other people (which has up-to-now been my go-to pick-me-up).

And I'm also going to be thinking about when I'll have the time and energy to rewatch the entire show and realize all the major themes I totally missed because I was too busy doing all the unhealthy things they were encouraging me not to do!

For the record, Rebecca Sugar and all the other people who worked on Steven Universe (the Crewniverse, as they are known) are absolutely brilliant and I love them to death.

That's all, y'all! Thanks for visiting! ✨✨

Comments

  1. Lots of graphic novels on your shelf. I'm looking for good historical ones (particularly about WWII and the Holocaust). Have you read any of those?

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    Replies
    1. Good question! The book that comes to mind that I've read is White Bird by R.J. Palacio (a loose spin-off of her novel Wonder), which is definitely worth a read. Also, Maus is a graphic novel I have *not* read, but that is very historically significant as well. Thanks so much for stopping by, Carol!

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  2. Well, I'm off to my library because it has "Messy Roots"! You've certainly caught me wanting that one, Max. I've noted the others, too, especially Improve. That one fits a few students I've known through the years, know it will be good for many! Hope you had a good spring break & know back to school will take more time, but thanks for taking this time to shared so many that sound great! Happy Spring, too!

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  3. Sounds like a fun filled spring break of all things reading. I read The Lost Library (it's available on Edelweiss+ if you're interested) Such fun! Happy MMGM

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  4. I've been curious about Reimina Yee's books, especially My Aunt is a Monster. Hope you have a pleasant reading week ahead!

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  5. What an interesting collection! - Andrea L. Mack

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  6. Lo and Behold and The Lost Library are now both on my TBR list. I look forward to reading them and hearing your thoughts about them.

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  7. I'm glad you were able to share all of these titles and thanks for the heads up on those exciting upcoming new releases. The "absurd humor" tag has me anxious to read My Aunt is a Monster. Thanks for your insights and Happy belated MMGM.

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  8. You have been busy! I think Improve sounds especially intriguing. I will try to find a copy. Thanks for the post.

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  9. A nice list of titles here! I think that the new Wendy Mass book is calling to me!

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  10. Oooh, yay! I just downloaded Improve to review! (I am WAY behind on reviewing graphic novels!) and Messy Roots sounds so good, too! As always, thanks for your very thorough, very enthusiastic reviews. I love to read your thoughts on the books you enjoy. And - also as usual - I am way behind in my visits, so I hope you HAD a good week of reading!

    Sue
    Book By Book

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