MMGM and #IMWAYR: Beetle & the Hollowbones and Heartstopper!

Hi hi! This is a very sudden blog post—I've been thinking semi-deeply about what I want to do with this blog in the future, but I also realize I should quit agonizing over that and instead squeal about some books on the Internet. And I must say, assembling this post delivered the most wonderful short-term emotional benefit—I hope reading it will do the same, so let's dive in!

Middle Grade:

Beetle & the Hollowbones

Written and illustrated by Aliza Layne
Graphic novel · 2020 · Re-review (see my original review)

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

A Stonewall Honor Book

An enchanting, riotous, and playfully illustrated debut graphic novel following a young goblin trying to save her best friend from the haunted mall—perfect for fans of Steven Universe and Adventure Time.

In the eerie town of ‘Allows, some people get to be magical sorceresses, while other people have their spirits trapped in the mall for all ghastly eternity.

Then there’s twelve-year-old goblin-witch Beetle, who’s caught in between. She’d rather skip being homeschooled completely and spend time with her best friend, Blob Glost. But the mall is getting boring, and B.G. is cursed to haunt it, tethered there by some unseen force. And now Beetle’s old best friend, Kat, is back in town for a sorcery apprenticeship with her Aunt Hollowbone. Kat is everything Beetle wants to be: beautiful, cool, great at magic, and kind of famous online. Beetle’s quickly being left in the dust.

But Kat’s mentor has set her own vile scheme in motion. If Blob Ghost doesn’t escape the mall soon, their afterlife might be coming to a very sticky end. Now, Beetle has less than a week to rescue her best ghost, encourage Kat to stand up for herself, and confront the magic she’s been avoiding for far too long. And hopefully ride a broom without crashing.

· · · · · ·

(As a fan of Steven Universe, I can confirm—this book is indeed perfect for fans, like the publisher says!)

Since I've already read and reviewed this book once before, I figured it served as a good place to beta-test a new review format—bear with me!

This book features:

  • A twelve-year-old goblin named Beetle who is loyal to the very end, dramatic in the best ways, and always ready to write fanfiction
  • A skeleton sorceress with over 2,000 followers who is way more complex than you'd expect
  • A shape-shifting gelatinous ghost who deserves all the hugs and no more hardship
  • Beetle's goblin grandmother, whose love and wild escapades would make her best friends with Granny Blue from The Key to Extraordinary
  • A magical mall filled with monstrous inhabitants, gumball machines that dispense screams, the most wild basement of all time, and the Worm of Endearment ("It has no moral compass")
  • Visual gags for days—for days
  • Moments of unease and, ultimately, self-discovery that will resonate with any queer person
  • A poignant exploration of how abusive people keep others subjugated yet always ready to forgive them
  • A pitch-perfect ending full of heart-pounding adventures, followed by immense love and compassion for every character
You know, I don't love that review format, but I love this book with my entire heart and soul—not every graphic novel deserves a re-read, but this one is one I'll be coming back to again and again, y'all.

Young Adult:

Heartstopper

Volume 1

Written and illustrated by Alice Oseman
Graphic novel · 2019

· · · The back of the book says: · · ·

Boy meets boy. Boys become friends. Boys fall in love.

Shy and softhearted Charlie Spring sits next to rugby player Nick Nelson in class one morning. A warm and intimate friendship follows, and that soon develops into something more for Charlie, who doesn't think he has a chance.

But Nick is struggling with feelings of his own, and as the two grow closer and take on the ups and downs of high school, they come to understand the surprising and delightful ways in which love works.

· · · · · ·

Why. Did. I. Take. So. Long. To. Read. This???

I'm being silly with the phrasing, but seriously—I don't know what insane psychology was going on in my subconscious and preventing me from reading this series, when (a) I know actual people who like it, (b) it's absurdly popular and beloved, and (c) it was obvious both before and especially after reading volume 1 that it is perfect for me!!!

I don't even know what to say that isn't just excited screaming (often par for the course with these reviews), but I'll try to focus here. Charlie and Nick are adorable, for two main reasons. One, they are incredibly kind to each other, and everything is so not-dramatic between them—no matter how everyday an interaction they are having, the love just hums in every single word they say to each other. And it helps that they have all these facial expressions and responses and they're standing near each other and it's all so wonderful and cute I can hardly stand it. Geez.

Now, besides all the cuteness and love and sweetness (and I swear, it's not nearly as sickly-sweet as I make it sound, it's just everything you could ever hope for in a relationship), we've also got plenty of depth and real-world issues. Like, seriously—to the point where I am so glad I was in the closet all of high school and didn't date, because I cannot imagine exes and future partners all running around in the same halls as me every day while other students look on and gossip behind my back. I literally want so much better for these two kids than they actually have...it's so wild.

A really key element to all this is that Alice Oseman is a book wizard—this series is so absurdly popular precisely because of its absurdly high quality, and no matter how little any of us understand the technical storytelling mechanics of why it is good, we can feel the warmth and realness and richness leaping off the page at us anyway. Rainbow Rowell describes this book in her blurb as "Beautifully paced," and I'd agree—this is one of those books where every single moment flows in a fully rational, well-thought-out way, without any confusion.

And continuing on that same note—this book does really wild craft things in terms of comics and I am so here for it!!! The pages are sparse, with white space and large panels—which I think does a perfect job of representing the larger-than-life feelings this story is capturing. Part of how Oseman accomplishes this comic-panel economy is by sometimes including dialogue without panels—they'll have a whole bunch of speech balloons when a character is overwhelmed by others' opinions, or they'll throw an (adorable) emoticon in a balloon to represent the speaker's tone without drawing a whole extra panel. She also does this thing that happens in The Magic Fish where a moment gets split into several panels that draw your eye across the scene and make the emotions feel fragmented and frozen—so good. And most importantly, we have the leaves. You know, the sort of romantic leaves that fall around people in movie scenes and whatnot—but on basically every page. As if love is a force that follows these characters around no matter how far they try to run from it.

This volume of Heartstopper totally ended on a cliffhanger, and you can rest assured that I've already ordered three more volumes in the series and thought about reading Oseman's other novels and totally committed myself to this fandom I am absurdly late to. Heartstopper is a gift to this Earth, and frankly, you are missing out on a profound, smart, soothing, emotional-rollercoaster, and most importantly, kind series of books if you decide not to read it!

(Oh, and did I mention there's a show? Written by Alice Oseman? I can't even deal with that yet, y'all—my heart can only take so much.)

Random thoughts:

Through an Internet rabbit hole, I found this comic about the nature of comics by Melanie Gillman, creator of Other Ever Afters—it is so short and so profound, so definitely check it out!

I've been thinking about this blog, and I have so many confusing and contradictory ideas about the future of it, tied into my hopes for my own life, my philosophy on the nature and purpose of reviews, and my intense desire to obsessively reorganize things into sortable databases and engage in absurd technological workarounds. (Y'all, I think I literally came up with a way to shoehorn Blogger comments onto any website, even one that isn't Blogger—I'm out of control right now.) So I don't know what all that means, but what I do know is that I love books, I love getting to rant about them to y'all, and I feel better just writing this post out, biding my time until the remaining Heartstopper books arrive tomorrow! 😁

That's all, y'all—take care of yourselves this week, and I'll see you soon! ✨✨

Comments

  1. I think we all go through phases where we rethink our blogs, blogging, why we do it, etc. If it makes you happy to go down a tech rabbit hole then do it!

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  2. I agree with Helen about phases of rethinking our blogs. My focus will change a bit next year. I love the idea of a goblin as a main character. Glad you reminded us about this one.

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  3. Best wishes for your blog journey, Max. I've dropped some things through the years, but remain wed to finding great books for kids to read & to my poetry. Find what touches your heart! You always bring new titles to me & I appreciate that! Wishing you a great week ahead!

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  4. I'm constantly rethinking my blog and how to improve it, so defiantly can relate. I also really enjoyed the review format you used for Beetle and Hollowbone, after reading your thoughts I now really need to read this book. Have a lovely week and happy MMGM

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  5. Good luck with your blog deliberations, Max! I know the feeling, I want to rethink mine too. I'm looking forward to seeing your technological innovations! Have a great week!

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  6. You have me sold on Beetle and the Hollowbones. Your original and today's review were both well done, although different people like different formats. You can never please all. The key is to keep it fresh and enjoyable for yourself. Anyway, thanks for being a part of MMGM again this week.

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  7. Oh, wow - I am also a planner and organizer, but I wish I had your tech skills!! Anything behind-the-scenes makes me crazy (and I have 2 blogs, a YouTube channel, an multiple social media accounts so I am often frustrated and stuck on tech stuff!).

    These both sound great! I haven't read either of them yet, so thanks for the heads up.

    I love your blog as it is, but I hope you figure out what future Max would enjoy :) I would love to move my blogs, but with 17+ years of content, I am terrified of losing something (see? tech stuff).

    Enjoy your books this week!
    Sue
    Book By Book

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  8. P.S. Since you understand tech stuff ... I was not able to post my comment (error message) on my usual browser, Firefox, and had to open up Safari and copy my comment to get it accepted.

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  9. P.P.S. It's Sue Jackson - it says Anonymous because I was also unable to log into my Google account to comment on both browsers!

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  10. Thanks for sharing that short comic. Blogging is such an odd thing. Sometimes I wonder why I bother but then I remember the awesome community but then I also remember how annoying WordPress is .

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  11. I often wonder whether or not blogging is something I want to keep doing. I guess when I decide to give it up, I will. I love the cover of Beetle & the Hollowbones. If it is any indication of the art inside, i'd like to take a look. Thanks for the reviews.

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