Staff Picks Category: Friendship

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto []

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Eisner award winner Taiyo Matsumoto’s semi-autobiographical account of the Star Kids orphanage is hands down the greatest unsung hero of contemporary manga currently being published. Why this book has not shown up on more “Best Of” and “Required Reading” lists is a puzzle, and I can only hope that this small dispatch might somehow get these books into more hands. The 6 volumes of Sunny (5 currently available – part 6 to be published any day now!) follow the day to day happenings at the Star Kids home – with each chapter showcasing one of the disparate, displaced children and their caretakers. These are mostly simple stories: the new kid tries to settle into his new home, dinner time arguments about what to watch on t.v., the fallout from a white lie about a cup… but what makes them special is Matsumoto’s ability through his poetic mastery of the language of comics to instill something stronger than empathy – the reader is actually transported into the hazy logic of youth through the combination of pictures and words.

The following chapter titles, one from each volume, hint at the simple majesty at work:
Chapter 2: “Why’re Dracula’s fingernails so long?” “‘Cause he doesn’t cut ’em.”
Chapter 12: “The city always seems angry.” “Like it’s shoutin’ ‘HEY!’ or somethin’?”
Chapter 17: “If I had my own department store, I’d make every floor for toys.” “That’s just a big toy store.”
Chapter 24: “Auoooh.” “Waaaaa.”
Chapter 29: “You think a rainbow’s hot if you touch it?” “The blue part’s gotta be cold.”

These slice of life vignettes somehow manage to capture the elusive feelings and perspective of a child – treating all of their melancholy and frustration, as well as their elation, with an uncanny sympathetic tone – all through his evocative illustration style combining scratchy pen with spots of ink wash. The ambivalence of a runny nose, the proprietary daydream space of a broken down car (a Nissan Sunny 1200, for which the series takes its name), and the powerfully charged relic of a mother’s hand salve tin are all presented with what could only be considered magic. At some moment while reading (possibly during a characters’ first foray into shoplifting, or while everyone is scurrying to get out of an oncoming storm), through some sort of literary sleight of hand you’ll realize your heart has just been inextricably joined to the Star Kids’ lives and will potentially need some mending when you flip closed the last page.

Beautifully designed and printed as part of Viz’s Signature Editions, these small hardcovers are given the proper presentation to contain the deeply affecting stories held within.

Sunny by Taiyo Matsumoto

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Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match by Monica Brown []

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A wonderful book about self confidence and being an individual! The story centers around a young Scottish-Peruvian girl who is extremely creative, confident, and embraces her mixed heritage. Everyone in Marisol’s life tells her that she doesn’t match- her clothes, her name, even her red hair. Marisol tries to change her appearance and the way she acts but ends up very unhappy. Her teacher asks her why she changed and Marisol could not find a reasons. In the end she realizes that other people’s opinions don’t matter and she is happy to be herself.

 

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If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan []

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Negin Farsad is playful and intentional in her reading of this beautifully tragic love story by Sara Farizan. Sahar and her best friend Nasrin have grown up together in a world where homosexuality is a crime. They know they are in love, but they must hide their romance from everyone in their lives. Their romantic feelings for one another become even more dangerous when Nasrin is engaged to marry a man. Sahar must deal with Nasrin’s engagement and the loss of their own romantic relationship, but this is not easy for her. The feelings she has are so strong and there is no safe way for her to talk about them or express them. Sahar makes a drastic decision that she hopes will save her relationship with Nasrin, but how far will she go to be with the woman she loves? Will she ever get over her first love? What’s more, how will she continue to pursue her career goals and take care of her father while being true to herself?

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The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky []

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Johnny Heller narrates exactly the way you imaged Charlie’s voice while reading The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Charlie’s matter-of-fact tone and use of direct language juxtaposes with the intensity of his experiences and the sometimes stunning depth of his observations. Anyone who has been 15 knows that navigating friends, family, and high school can run the gambit from terrifying to exhilarating. Charlie is figuring out how to be a person in the world. He is called a freak, he experiences pain and love and every emotion in between. I highly recommend both the print book and the audio book to adult and teen readers. And while I’m at it, the movie is pretty great too!

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One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia []

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One Crazy Summer tells the story of an eleven-year-old girl and her younger sisters who travel from Brooklyn to Oakland, California to live with their mother for the summer. Their mother is unapproachable and the girls have a hard time adjusting to the new atmosphere. The three sisters are eager to build a relationship with their mother and are intrigued by her involvement with the Black Panther Party. What little they know of the Black Panthers they learned from television, but now they have come face-to-face with party leaders as their tough-love mother sends them to the program for breakfast and lessons.

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Coffee Will Make You Black []

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April Sinclair’s young adult novel tells the story of Stevie, a young black girl, living in Chicago in the late 60s/early 70s. Stevie has to deal with other people’s ignorance about race and sexuality as she comes into her own identity. Her mother wants her to use bleaching cremes to lighten her skin, but she’s becoming involved in the Afro-American Club at school and she begins to wear her hair natural. Stevie’s Grandma and her mama are strong influences on Stevie and she finds comfort with her Grandma and is often frustrated by her mama. This is a great book for adults, young adults, and teens.

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak []

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Liesel Meminger lives with her foster parents, Hans and Rosa Hubermann, in Munich, Germany. It’s 1939 and Liesel and her family are living under Nazi rule. Despite tremendous risk the Hubermanns house a Jewish man, Max. After Liesel endures her first tragedy books become a way of life for her. Zusak writes beautifully with hints of surrealism that make this story quite extraordinary.

“Together, they would watch everything that was so carefully planned collapse, and they would smile at the beauty of destruction.”

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