Because of some conflicting release-date information, I’ve been sitting on these reviews of two new books from First Second. Both are enjoyable but could use a bit more polish.
“Americus” by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill — “Americus” is one of those great underdog stories and should be read by anyone who celebrates Banned Book Week, which starts this year on Sept. 24, especially its target audience of young teens and older.
It’s the story of Neal Barton, a new high school freshman and bookworm who lives in a conservative small town. When a local Bible thumper, the mother of his best bookworm friend, attempts to have a mega hit fantasy series removed from the library, he must step up with the librarian and defend it.
Intermingled with the story are scenes from the “latest” “Apathea Ravenchilde” book that underscore the action going on in the main story.
The core of Reed’s story is strong. Neal is a great character and instantly relatable to anyone who liked books over sports. And the “Apathea Ravenchilde” bits are good enough that I’d love to see a separate series of her adventures.
But the story meanders a bit with too many subplots. For instance, Neal’s dealings with some upperclassmen girls at his new school don’t really go anywhere and are more of a distraction than a firm part of the narrative. Fleshing out the bits that do work, such as Neal’s best friend getting shipped off to military school, would have made the book stronger.
But the story does do a great job at making fun of the ignorance and self-righteousness that make these kinds of fights all to common in libraries and schools around the country without being a total slam job. And it’s careful not to make Neal seem perfect. He’s got some growing up to do, too.
Hill’s art is a fine complement to the story, with distinct looks for his real and fantasy worlds.
Don’t let the dull cover fool you: This is an important story that deserves a place on your bookshelf. You also can read the book online at the “Americus” website.
“Bake Sale” by Sara Varon — Varon’s latest (she also did the award-winning “Robot Dreams”) skews considerably younger, and if you can get over the conceit of a cupcake running a bakery, making cupcakes (and other confections) and selling them to living food items that make up the ingredient lists of those baked goods, “Bake Sale” is an enjoyable little trifle.
It moves at a leisurely pace as Cupcake learns his best friend Eggplant’s aunt knows his idol, baking guru Turkish Delight. Eggplant invites Cupcake on a visit to his aunt so Cupcake can meet Ms. Delight.
Business isn’t booming at the bakery, though, so Cupcake tries some new ideas to earn money for the plane ticket. Unfortunately, that necessitates dropping out of his band, only to be replaced on drums by a potato.
Yes, that’s about as heavy as the drama gets in “Bake Sale,” which is just fine when the target audience is 8 years old and up.
For that age group, it’s quite the fun little book. Cupcake and Eggplant make good BFFs, and Varon’s colorful, cartoony art is a delight in itself. She also includes recipes and directions for making many of the items mentioned in the story, including sugared flowers, raspberry squares and peppermint brownies. All sound pretty tasty.
The only problem with the story is that it doesn’t end. It doesn’t resolve. It just stops abruptly, and not even on a cliffhanger. It reads like there’s a chapter missing. According to First Second, it’s a stand-alone book.
But the story leading up to that point is cute, so I still say it’s worth a look.