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The Heartless Troll

Oyvind Torseter, trans. from the Norwegian by Kari Dickson. Enchanted Lion (Consortium, dist.), $19.95 (120p) ISBN 978-1-59270-193-3

Torseter (Why Dogs Have Wet Noses) builds this marvelous graphic novel on the scaffolding of a traditional fairy tale in which a king loses six of his seven sons to an evil troll and reluctantly sends the seventh out to search for them. Readers join Prince Fred as he sets off in a floppy hat astride an unwilling horse. “Goodbye, father!” Prince Fred cries. “Do we really have to go?” murmurs the horse. “I’m sure they can find their own way home.” Prince Fred makes his way deep into the troll’s lair, littered with skulls and bones, and discovers a cool-headed princess being held against her will. The two defeat the troll with a smooth team effort that involves—among other things—distracting an octopus with a saxophone. The delicate, spidery lines and dark landscapes of Torseter’s panels combine the energy of Ralph Steadman, the effervescence of Jules Feiffer, and the charm of the Moomintrolls. Mordant grotesquerie (a broken table leg replaced with a femur) vies with hilarity as Prince Fred is shown perched miserably on the rim of the troll’s gigantic, bone-filled commode. Dickson’s translation shines as well. Ages 10–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Varmints

Andy Hirsch. First Second, $16.99 ISBN 978-1-62672-279-8

Hirsch’s (The Royal Historian of Oz) Western comic offers wall-to-wall mayhem, from saloon brawls and train wrecks to a massive road race whose winner will get to meet the West’s most dangerous criminal. Gruff, coonskin-cap-wearing Opie and her younger brother, Ned, fend for themselves amid the chaos (some of which, admittedly, they cause). Opie’s chip-on-the-shoulder attitude hides shame: she feels responsible for their mother’s death, and she knows who their real father is, a secret she’s keeping from Ned. Sunny Ned, by contrast, trusts everyone. This would seem unwise in a Wild West full of ruffians, but it works. When faced with a mute giant of a man clad in bearskin, he asks, “How’d you get so big? Is that a real bear yer wearin’?” winning him a powerful friend. The allies Ned charms help the pair along the way until the final, mighty showdown. Hirsch’s art is a tornado of energy, the pace approaches mania (there’s even a Broadway-style musical number), yet Ned and Opie survive and grow in the midst of it. Give this to action-hungry readers and stand back. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo

Drew Weing. First Second, $15.99 (128p) ISBN 978-1-62672-339-9

Charles, a heavyset kid in a baseball cap, fancies himself a hard-hitting journalist; he already has his own blog. After his parents move to Echo City to renovate a decrepit apartment building, it doesn’t take long for a news item to emerge: a terrifying, snaggle-toothed monster looms over his bed on his first night. The next day, Charles’s new friend Kevin passes him a business card for one Margo Maloo, Monster Mediator. “They say monsters are afraid of her,” Kevin says. “Don’t show it to any grown-ups!” In the adventures that follow, Charles plays a bumbling Watson to Margo’s chilly Sherlock: “You don’t know how stupid you sound right now,” she snaps. The world of monsters Margo introduces Charles to produces endless surprises, as when he discovers that his building’s resident monster has a better collection of Battlebeanz figurines than he does. Weing’s (Set to Sea) artwork combines urban landscapes with an exhaustive interest in monster forms and the way they appear in the dim light of basements. It’s a beautifully conceived and executed trio of stories, and readers will hope that more installments are on the way. Ages 8–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Laser Moose and Rabbit Boy

Doug Savage. Andrews McMeel, $9.99 paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-4494-7094-4

Savage, creator of the Savage Chickens webcomic, builds out the story of his Laser Moose character over three comics that see the laser-eyebeam-equipped mammal keeping vigilant watch over the forest. Laser Moose’s zap-first-and-ask-questions-later attitude is balanced by that of his sidekick, Rabbit Boy, who cheerfully rushes into potential danger, such as introducing himself to the sharp-toothed aliens that land in the first story. Laser Moose never lets his guard down (“Beautiful days are the worst,” he tells Rabbit Boy. “You have to be extra-focused on looking for evil when it’s a beautiful day”), but his zealousness often gets the best of him, as when he mistakes a deer eating berries in a shrub for a serious threat. “Well, you should eat berries in a less suspicious manner,” he tells the now-three-legged deer. In the second and third stories, Laser Moose faces off against a bear mutated by runoff from the local toxic waste factory and a mechanical squirrel created by his nemesis, Cyborgupine. It’s goofy, off-kilter fun, ideal for fans of shows like Adventure Time and Steven Universe. Ages 7–12. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Pasadena

Sherri L. Smith. Putnam, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-1-101-99625-6

With her best friend dead in an apparent suicide, a 17-year-old girl with demons of her own sets out to uncover what really happened in Smith’s deeply tragic and darkly humorous tale. Jude isn’t even in California when she learns that Maggie Kim is dead, found floating in the family pool, full of pills. When she arrives back in Pasadena, Jude is enveloped in the cloud of loss that hangs over Maggie’s friends, who scrabble to claim a spot as number one mourner. Positive that her friend wouldn’t commit suicide, Jude—who, through Smith’s keen narrative voice, is a sharp and often biting observer of human nature—tries to reconstruct Maggie’s final days, pulling from her own memories of a friend who knew her like no one else. Turns out, Maggie played that role for several people, yet no one truly knew her, an often heartbreaking paradox of teenage friendship that Smith (Orleans) explores deftly. The answers Jude seeks matter far less than the painful journey of a tough character who comes to terms with something deeper than grief. Ages 14–up. Agent: Kirby Kim, Janklow & Nesbit. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Oxblood

AnnaLisa Grant. Open Road, $14.99 ISBN 978-1-5040-1874-6

In this exciting, if believability-stretching thriller from Grant, author of the self-published Lake series, Victoria “Vic” Asher, 20, eschewed college to work in a diner while her academically minded older brother, Gil, chose law school. Now he’s in Italy for a six-month exchange program. Or so Vic assumes, until she receives one of Gil’s private notebooks, a clue that something is terribly wrong; she soon learns that there is no exchange program, and Gil is missing. Dropping everything and flying to Rome—using settlement money from her parents’ untimely death in a plane crash—Vic conveniently runs into a handsome and tight-lipped British Interpol agent, Ian Hale, who tries to persuade her that there’s too much danger ahead. Vic is tougher than she looks, and sparks predictably fly between the two as she is (too easily) taken under the wing of Ian’s secret Rogue-14 team. Chase scenes through scenic Italian towns and earnest discussions about feelings don’t always gel, but the breezy thrills of this series opener should whet readers’ appetite for future installments. Ages 14–up. Agent: Italia Gandolfo, Gandolfo Helin & Fountain Literary Management. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Odds of Lightning

Jocelyn Davies. Simon Pulse, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-1-4814-4053-0

Davies (the Beautiful Dark trilogy) offers a heady story of four once-close friends finding their way back to each other during a “stormpocalypse” in New York City, the night before they take their SATs. Nathaniel is a science whiz living in the shadow of his dead older brother; Will, formerly overweight, is now a popular soccer star; Lu, a theater kid, buries her many hurts; and Tiny, Lu’s (supposed) best friend, feels insignificant to the point of invisible. During a chance encounter on a rooftop during a party, the four are struck by lightning and survive to find themselves supernaturally transformed in ways connected to their insecurities: Lu feels nothing but numbness, Will suddenly looks like his soccer co-captain, etc. In third-person chapters that flip between her characters’ past and present, Davies acutely expresses their innermost feelings, hopes, and vulnerabilities. As these four teens crisscross the city, contemplating who they really are and what makes them worthy of friendship and love, readers will be hard-pressed not to reflect on similar questions themselves. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jessica Regel, Foundry Literary + Media. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Girl Mans Up

M-E Girard. HarperTeen, $17.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-240417-6

In this powerful debut, Girard explores questions of family, friendship, loyalty, and identity through the voice of Pen Oliveira, a 16-year old girl who’s “not into dudes,” looks and dresses like a boy, and doesn’t “get why it’s such a big deal to people, the way I am.” The second child of conservative Portuguese parents who immigrated to Ontario, Pen has long felt accepted and protected by her older brother, Johnny, and her childhood friend Colby, who treats her like one of the guys. With Colby increasingly acting like “an entitled jerk,” especially toward girls, Pen confronts difficult choices about where her loyalty lies. New friendships with Colby’s ex Olivia and a girl named Blake, who shares Pen’s love of gaming and wants to be her girlfriend, make her reconsider the meaning of respect, which her parents have always demanded. Girard forcefully conveys the fear Pen lives with, having experienced frequent mockery and bullying, and her courage in aspiring to a safe, loving community for herself and her friends. Ages 14–up. Agent: Linda Epstein, Emerald City Literary. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Detached

Christina Kilbourne. Dundurn, $12.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-4597-3431-9

Kilbourne (Dear Jo) thoughtfully addresses the topic of suicide through the story of Anna, a young artist who seems to have it all. Anna is starting classes at a new school where she can focus on her artistic talent, surrounded by those with a similar bent. She comes from a loving, well-to-do home and has friends, as well as the eye of a boy named Kyle. Yet those things take a back seat to the yawning void inside her, the insidious sensation that steals emotions and leaves her searching for a way to permanently give in to the darkness even as she tries to hide how she feels with lies and misdirection. Kilbourne draws readers deep into Anna’s thoughts and reactions, but the examination of the effects of suicide continues via the perspectives of Anna’s mother and friend, Aliya. Unfortunately, Anna’s recovery is rushed, especially in comparison to the attention given the events leading up to her suicide attempt. A too-pat ending and glossing-over of what mental illness treatment entails detracts from an otherwise sensitive and forthright discussion. Ages 14–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Vassa in the Night

Sarah Porter. Tor Teen, $17.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7653-8054-8

Porter (the Lost Voices trilogy) delivers a suspenseful reinvention of the Russian fairy tale “Vasilisa the Beautiful,” set in a darkly magical version of present-day Brooklyn. “Traps don’t get more obvious than this,” reflects protagonist Vassa at one point. “And they don’t get more irresistible.” The wryness and impulsivity in Vassa’s comment are emblematic of her personality, and it’s that very mix of qualities that drives her to make a fateful stop at the infamous local bodega, BY’s, which sways on chicken legs and advertises its right to behead shoplifters (the head of one of Vassa’s classmates hangs outside, as proof). Accusing Vassa of stealing, the proprietress, Babs, forces her to work in indentured servitude for three nights, during which time Vassa discovers that Babs’s magic may be connected to the growing imbalance between day and night affecting the city. With help from her talking wooden doll, Erg, Vassa endeavors to bring down the witch. It may take a little effort for some readers to ground themselves in the near-hallucinatory strangeness of Porter’s setting, but those who do will be rewarded with a feverishly imagined and deliciously surreal adventure. Ages 13–up. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 07/22/2016 | Details & Permalink

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