Dogears: Inverting Tropes in Storytelling

Becoming Unbecoming Una Arsenal Pulp Press December 1, 2015Becoming Unbecoming

Arsenal Pulp Press
December 1, 2015

Una simultaneously explores the terror of living through her own sexual abuses and the entirely-too-geographically-close Yorkshire Ripper’s serial killings in 1977 Northern England. There is an amazing amount of thoughtful material about abuser’s tactics, survivor’s coping mechanisms, the commonplace attitudes that breed violence against women, and the widespread fascination/exaltation of male serial killers and abusers. Additionally, the mostly black and white art combines simple line drawing, sketches, and dreamy landscapes as a powerful mirror to the trauma Una survives and witnesses. Becoming Unbecoming is a painfully beautiful and thought-provoking addition to the feminist comics canon.

—Jennie Law

Crazy Rich Asians Kevin Kwan Anchor Canada/Penguin Random House Canada May 20, 2014Crazy Rich Asians

Kevin Kwan
Anchor Canada/Penguin Random House Canada
May 20, 2014

I love this series so much, and I’m so happy it’s being turned into a movie. Oddly enough, I read its sequel, China Rich Girlfriend, when it first came out because I was told that you could read it on its own (you can), but I never got to read the first one until now. During a stressful week off from school (I know, I know), it was really calming to have such a fun book to burn through. Nick and Rachel are going to Singapore for his best friend’s wedding for the summer, and after two years of dating, it’ll be Rachel’s first time meeting his family. There’s rich and then there’s rich, and Nick comes from a rich family. Oops, hijinks ensues, and I highly recommend binging both Crazy Rich Asians and China Rich Girlfriend before the third book, Rich People Problems, hits the shelves in April.

—Ardo Omer

Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling Various, edited by Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates Apex Book Company December 13, 2016Upside Down: Inverted Tropes in Storytelling

Various, edited by Monica Valentinelli and Jaym Gates
Apex Book Company
December 13, 2016

I backed this anthology on Kickstarter sometime last year, and I’ve been eager to get my hands on it ever since. It boasts a few of my favorite writers of the moment–people like Alyssa Wong, Shanna Germaine, and Delilah S. Dalton–taking literary tropes and playing with them. As the title implies, there’s a deliberate attempt to turn these tropes on their heads and make something new with them.

The anthology is at its best when it takes a harmful trope and hands it back to those most likely to be affected by it, letting them turn it to new, subversive purposes. Wong’s The White Dragon is an obvious standout for its subversion of the “Yellow Peril” trope, as is Elsa Sjunneson-Henry’s artful reimagining of the “Blind People Are Magic” trope in Seeking Truth. These stories understand the tropes themselves, but, more importantly, they understand their ramifications and each one is a delightful twist on the average theme or tone.

As an anthology, it has its ups and downs. Some of the stories fail to do anything meaningful with a trope beyond including it, while others lean too heavily into avoiding a trope and miss the subversive aspect. The collection also includes a series of essays at the end, dissecting the purpose and meaning of tropes from various perspectives. These essays, too, vary in quality, but lend the collection an academic bent that rounds out some of the rougher stories into a larger conversation. It’s far from the best collection, but Upside Down has a lot to offer readers looking for unique perspectives and twists on tools many authors tend to overuse or abuse.

—Melissa Brinks

Unbecoming Jenny Downham February 23, 2016 David Fickling BooksUnbecoming

Jenny Downham
February 23, 2016
David Fickling Books

This book caught my eye when it was published last year because of its eye-catching cover. I think I liked the promise of the woman with the 1950s hair and bright red lipstick. After reading the synopsis I became more intrigued. Finally, after it was listed on the Stonewall Book Award list I decided to actually pick it up! Unbecoming is the intertwined stories of three women: Mary, an unwed mother in the 1950s who gives up her child for unclear reasons, Caroline, that child who lives a life of struggle and sacrifice, and Katie, Caroline’s daughter who is struggling with friends and her sexuality. We first meet them all when Mary who has dementia, shows up in Caroline’s life after many years estranged. With nowhere else to go, Katie volunteers to take care of Mary for the summer and decides to try to help her recover her memories. It’s a slow, contemplative story that jumps back and forth in time between Mary’s memories and Katie’s present day.

All three women face difficult life situations. At first, Caroline seems horrible and cold as she tries to refuse to take care of her mother. Mary seems selfish; she abandoned her daughter to a harsh, borderline abusive sister so Mary could live her dream life. Katie seems spineless and meek. But as you get the fuller stories of these three women, you see that you need the whole truth before you can pass judgment. As someone who has an estranged family member, I found I connected to both Caroline’s bitterness and Katie’s optimism. The author did a lovely job reading the audiobook, as well. I’d definitely recommend this to anyone looking for a gentle coming out story–with a supportive family–or who want stories about teens, mothers, and grandmothers.

—Anna Tschetter

Anna Tschetter

Anna Tschetter

Anna is a teen librarian North of Boston. She runs, sews, eats cookies, and is so obnoxious she names all of her D&D characters after 19th century New England whaling families. Tweetsies: @lcarslibrarian