MMGM and #IMWAYR: Saving Sunshine and 49 Days!

Hey, I'm rushing to get this post up because I'm bad at time management! So I'm going to cut my usual blithering at the top of the page—suffice it to say that I'm grateful for how this spring break went, and I'm grateful to be me, and I'm so grateful to have the people and books and songs in my life that I do. 😊

Also, if you missed my short post from last week, I got my first car a few weeks ago—woohoo!!!

So that's that—now for some graphic novel reviews!

Middle Grade:

Saving Sunshine

Written by Saadia Faruqi and illustrated by Shazleen Khan
Graphic novel · 2023

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

From Saadia Faruqi and Shazleen Khan comes a relatable, funny, and heart-wrenchingly honest graphic novel about Muslim American siblings who must learn how to stop fighting and support each other in a world that is often unkind.

It's hard enough being a kid without being teased for a funny sounding name or wearing a hijab.

It's even harder when you're constantly fighting your sibling―and Zara and Zeeshan really can't stand each other. During a family trip to Florida, when the bickering, shoving, and insults reach new heights of chaos, their parents sentence them to the worst possible fate― each other’s company! But when the twins find an ailing turtle, it presents a rare opportunity for teamwork―if the two can put their differences aside at last.

· · · · · ·

Apparently I didn't make note of who's recommended this graphic novel, but I know I saw it all over the blogosphere a while back. And I definitely made note of the fact that it's written by Saadia Faruqi, who is quite the established children's author. I'm really glad I finally got around to Saving Sunshine—there's a lot to love here.

I really love the characters in this book. Zara and Zeeshan are nerds, and I say that with great love as a massive nerd myself. Zara cares about animals and environmentalism, and Zeeshan is fascinated by space exploration—and I loved seeing their passion, as well as the animal/space facts scattered through the story. (I actually used to be a NASA nerd like Zeeshan as a kid—I once presented on the Cassini-Huygens mission for a school project!) Both of the twins feel like kids I could meet in real life, with excitements and frustrations and ways of speaking that are bound to remind you of someone you know (or yourself when you were young). And aside from the kids, I also adore their parents, Drs. Rasheeda and Bilal Aziz, who are filled with love for each other and their kids, and who share their meaningful backstories of growing up in Pakistan and moving to the U.S.

Saving Sunshine also tackles discrimination and microaggressions head-on, with some eye-opening themes I haven't seen expressed this well in any other books. The story thinks about the nuances of the question many White people ask many people of color—"Where are you from?"—and leaves room both for the asker's potentially-good intentions and for the recipient's frustrations with a behavior that others them. There is also a beautiful flashback of Zara deciding to follow in her mother's footsteps and wear the hijab for the first time. One student says of Zara, "She's still the same person. Even if her religion makes her wear something different," to which Zara responds, "Nobody's making me wear anything!" Zara is choosing to wear the hijab, and watching her made me think about my own mother, and how much I aspire to be like her—if I could wear something that linked me to my mother and the people who came before her, I'd choose to do it in a heartbeat. So I really resonated with Zara in this scene.

And the cherry on top of Saving Sunshine is the STUNNING artwork by Shazleen Khan, who is absurdly talented and deserves applause. The illustrations are fluid, gently abstracted, and keenly aware of color and texture—there are spreads of oceans and skies and rain that I could get lost in forever. The art creates a warm space inside the story where readers will want to spend time, and it elevates the story of these twins and the world around them to another level.

I do have a few quibbles with Saving Sunshine. One thing I would have loved to see is more exploration of why Zara and Zeeshan are in so much conflict. I know I've had conflict with my brother before, but it makes me wonder, why? Do siblings fight because we're young and have big feelings and take them out on whoever's around? Do we fight because we spend so much time together and can't get a break for ourselves? I don't know the answer, and I kind of hoped Saving Sunshine would dig into the question a little more, since it would flesh out the twins' motivations throughout the story.

I also feel like the story has a gentle, peaceful cadence, and the ending drifts away from that tone to create tension—I kind of wish it had stuck to the quieter energy of the rest of the story, since that would still leave plenty of room for emotional impact for kids and adults alike.

Last, there is a character in the story who is a concierge where the Aziz family is staying, and I wish that he had a name and more depth to his personality, considering his frequent appearances in the book.

Despite these concerns, I'm still really glad I read this book. The state of diversity in the kidlit graphic novel space is pitiful, quite frankly, and any story that brings meaningful representation to the table while also just being warm and delightful to read is worth celebrating! Saving Sunshine definitely meets those criteria, and I hope it's a book that will end up in many more kids' hands in the future.

Young Adult/Adult:

49 Days

Written and illustrated by Agnes Lee
Graphic novel · 2024

· · · The publisher says: · · ·

Day 1

Gotta get up. Gotta keep moving. This map – it says I have to cross over here. Wait, what’s that…?

And so begins a graphic novel story unlike any other: 49 Days. In Buddhist tradition, a person must travel for forty-nine days after they die, before they can fully cross over. Here in this book, readers travel with one Korean American girl, Kit, on her journey, while also spending time with her family and friends left behind.

Agnes Lee has captivated readers across the world for years with her illustrations for the New York Times Metropolitan Diary. Her debut graphic novel is an unforgettable story of death, grief, love, and how we keep moving forward.

· · · · · ·

I need everyone to drop what they are doing right now and read this book. I bought this at the bookstore with my boyfriend on such a whim, having never seen it before (it just came out), and it fully ended up being one of the most beautiful things I've ever read. Like, I just—if this doesn't win an award (or seven), I will have a conniption fit.

There are many books—many books—about grief. Especially in and around the realm of kidlit, where dead or dying parents or siblings sometimes unfortunately seem like a plot device to create drama. (Because apparently these authors forget that childhood has plenty of other sources of drama?) But every once in a while, a book comes along that has something new, and real, to say about grief. And 49 Days is one of those rare, rare books.

For one thing, I don't know that I've ever seen a book that allows—and asks—the person who has died to come to terms with their own death. How unfair it is that in most grief books, the most important person in the situation is one whose voice and perspective is never shown. But 49 Days gives Kit the kindness of getting to exist in her own story—although "kindness" is a bit of a stretch, because her journey is grueling. How do you grieve your own life? With a lot of repetition, and every emotion from boredom to rage to pure, unadulterated sorrow. But even in this darkness, there is still hope, and peace, to be found.

The tone and energy of 49 Days is unlike anything I've ever read. There are moments when it is wise and heady and demanding—I fully did not understand what was going on at the beginning of the story, until I basically reread the book for this review and understood the context of what comes after. (And paid more attention.) And there are moments when the book is light and casual and funny—Kit herself is the kind of person who has a joke for everything, who sees the fun in everything, and that humor pervades the book in a way that is sometimes so darkly discordant with the story, and sometimes such a perfect reflection of the character this story is an ode to. I am in love with the fact that these characters are not introspective—they are clearly not self-inserts for Agnes Lee, who is obviously the wisest person ever. These characters are wise, but in the way that real human beings are. They go to the grocery store, and bicker, and don't know what to say on the phone, and they don't seem purpose-built to navigate grief in a picturesque way, yet they do navigate grief, because we all do. We are all capable of surviving loss.

I didn't outline this review because chaos is running through my veins, so I'm going to keep talking about the characters in the story, which is the same topic but in another paragraph. (Gasp!) 49 Days alternates between Kit's travels after her death, and her family back in the living world—her Umma (the Korean word for "mother"), her older sister Sam, and her younger brother Tae Soo. Every one of these characters deserves a huge, huge hug. The story also flashes back to memories that the characters have, and the stories this family has together are so freaking beautiful—Kit and her Umma cooking Korean food together, Kit getting wildly competitive at Mario Kart with Tae Soo, Kit and Sam lying together and chatting before bed. This book is keenly aware of the meaningful moments that make up everyday life, and that's one of those things that quickly makes a book my favorite. And the way Kit's family—and her friends, like budding ceramicist Kevin—navigate their own grief is just as flawlessly written as Kit's inner journey. I love how some characters instinctively find comfort in their memories of Kit, while others have to find their way back to those memories, because they hurt so much—but all the characters get to navigate this journey together. And again, even as these characters are so incredibly normal and human, they are so incredibly compassionate and lovely—there is a scene where Sam shows kindness to Tae Soo in a way that is so simple, and so exactly what he needs in that moment. Oh my lord. Also, I love Kit's Umma so much—she is overly anxious and uptight and a little closed off, and she also loves her kids so hard and moves through every day and is the kind of person I want to be in the world.

Oh, and then there's the art. Like the rest of this book's tone, the art is somehow both lighthearted and cerebral at once. If you've read Understanding Comics, you might remember Scott McCloud discussing how simpler, cartoon-ier art styles make the story less specific and therefore more relatable—and this book is the definition of that art style, and indeed the art gives you the space to relate to the characters almost like a blank slate, but I would also argue with McCloud that at least here, Kit and the worlds of her story couldn't feel more specific either. Agnes Lee is a master of visual storytelling—there are a few moments where she goes fully abstract with the visuals and conveys exactly what she means to convey, without drawing it out in a way that would feel gratuitous or crass. That's not to say the illustrations are always clear—there are many points in Kit's storyline where I was fully confused what was happening, at least until rereading. But when Kit and her loved ones are on a seemingly impossible journey, it does feel like a fair expectation to give us some difficult work too. And I promise, this story is worth the effort some pages take to decipher—worth it and then some.

Please read this book. Please! It's just wild to me how such an incredible, one-of-a-kind graphic novel seemed to track me down and drop itself in my lap. This book has an entirely new perspective about death, a balance between insight and delight that is rare to see in stories, and a cast of characters, most importantly Kit, who are entirely human and entirely earth-shattering. There is one thing I can promise Kit after reading this book—her short life left an impact. On her family, and her friends—and on all of us too.

That's all, y'all—take care, and happy reading! ✨✨

Comments

  1. Congrats on your new car. Saving Sunshine sounds good, though a story with enough tension is important to me. Glad you mostly enjoyed it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Natalie! I get what you mean about wanting enough tension in a story—that definitely helps me stay invested in a book, although I can be surprisingly invested in a peaceful story too! With Saving Sunshine, I think I was mostly just bothered by how much tension there was in the ending compared to the rest of the book—more consistency there would have been a plus. Thanks so much for stopping by, and take care!

      Delete
  2. Both of these sound soooo good! It pleases me to no end that there are so many amazing graphic novels out there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad they sound good, Helen! I love it too that there's a seemingly never-ending supply of graphic novels to try out—I'm practically drowning in things I want to read next. Thanks so much for stopping by!

      Delete
  3. You write such compelling reviews Max that It feels as if you should be writing for some book review paper or magazine! I love the idea of both, the siblings living their lives however filled with challenges & this "49 Days', a book of grief from a new perspective, full of characters living their lives as they say goodbye to a loved one, while she says the same from her leaving. My library has them, lucky me! Congrats for getting a car. Enjoy! And thanks much for every word!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is the kindest comment, Linda—thank you so much!! Maybe one day I could write the more official kinds of book reviews—I suspect that would be a ton of fun. And I'm so glad both books appeal to you and your library has them—you are right on the mark with what 49 Days feels like to read. I really appreciate you stopping by, and take care!

      Delete
  4. Looks like two good recommendations--thanks for sharing those.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Well, I just put both of these on my to-buy list. Ha! They both sounds so good. I love your descriptions of 49 Days-- definitely going to check that one out.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm so glad both books caught your eye, Kasey! 49 Days is definitely worth checking out—I always love getting to discover a book that clicks so well with me. Thanks so much for stopping by, and take care!

      Delete
  6. I'm so glad to hear you're doing so well and are so happy with yourself and your life :) I enjoyed Saving Sunshine - my last book read in 2023. I agree with everything you said, and I loved the nature illustrations. I hadn't heard of 49 Days yet, but it sounds absolutely amazing - thanks for reviewing it!

    Sue
    Book By Book

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember seeing you discussing Saving Sunshine on your blog, and I'm so glad you got the chance to read it too! And I'm glad I could bring 49 Days to your attention. Thanks so much for stopping by, Sue!

      Delete
  7. And we are always grateful for the reviews you are able to completer and share given your busy schedule! Saving Sunshine is one I had heard about, but you provided much more needed detail. I have it now on my future read list. Also...Three honks of congrats for your new car!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I appreciate that a lot, Greg—I'm trying to bring blogging back into my life, because I've missed it, but I feel like I say that a lot and then fail to actually do it, so we'll see if this time's the charm! And I'm so glad I could give you more information about Saving Sunshine. Thanks so much for stopping by, and take care!

      Delete
  8. First car, eh? That's very exciting! Both of these books sound great. I will definitely try to check them out. Thanks for the heads up on them.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, Rosi—I'm very excited about it!! And I'm so glad both of these books caught your attention—I hope you enjoy them if you get the chance to try them. Thanks so much for stopping by, and take care!

      Delete
  9. Thanks for sharing 49 Days. Will keep an eye for it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm glad 49 Days sounds good to you, Earl, and thank you so much for stopping by!

      Delete
  10. I didn't know about the book by Saadia Faruqi. Great author! The characters in this one sound great. I enjoy books with characters that you just fall in love with.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If I ever have the time, I'd love to check out more of Saadia Faruqi's works! And I definitely feel like the characters are ones you can root for in this story. Thanks so much for stopping by, Lisa!

      Delete

Post a Comment

Please feel free to leave a comment—I always love reading them! ✨✨

Popular posts from this blog

MMGM (4/24/2017): Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol

MMGM and #IMWAYR: Isla to Island, Scout Is Not a Band Kid, Skim, and more!

MMGM and #IMWAYR (11/16/2020): This One Summer, written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrated by Jillian Tamaki