Review: Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

drawing from memory

Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

Released September 1, 2011.

This is a captivating look at the life of Allen Say and his journey to become an illustrator.  It begins with his childhood in Yokohama, Japan which he had to flee when the bombings started in 1941.  As a child, his mother kept him safe at home and not out playing near the water.  He learned to read early and fell in love with comics, deciding at a young age to become an artist.  His father dismissed his dreams, wanting him to follow a more respectable path.  Say lived with his grandmother while he went to school until at age 12, he moved and lived alone in a rented apartment in Tokyo.  Following his dream, he approached the famous cartoonist, Noro Shinpei in the hopes of becoming his student.  Say found his sensei and a new father figure in his life.  Readers will discover the long hours, hard work, and talent that made Say the artist he is.

Say weaves photographs, drawings and paintings together into an extraordinary look at his life.  The text blends humor  with  brutal honesty about his family’s lack of support for his endeavors.  Always the book is optimistic, exploring the dedication that it takes to attain greatness.  It will serve as inspiration for young artists who may themselves be being ridiculed for their dreams.

More than a graphic novel, this is an autobiography told in images and words that is surprising, moving and luminous.  Appropriate for ages 9-12.

Reviewed from ARC received from Scholastic.

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Review: Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer

blood wounds

Released September 12, 2011.

Blood Wounds by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Willa’s life may not be perfect, she lives in a blended family with sisters who get their expensive hobbies and trips paid for by their mother, while Willa doesn’t get those opportunities.  Their family is happy though.  Of course, there’s a reason that Willa feels the need to cut, so maybe things aren’t as good as they seem.  Then one day, with a series of murders in a faraway state, Willa’s life is thrown into crisis.  Her biological father is on the run after killing his wife and children, and he’s probably headed to get Willa next.  As the crisis throws their life into turmoil, Willa discovers more about her family than she’d ever known, including secrets that answer a lot of the questions she’s never dared to ask.

Pfeffer has created a book that starts with a thrilling premise but that turns out to be less of a thriller and more of a psychological look at a teen girl who has to deal with the aftermath of her father’s madness.  Willa is a very intriguing and complex heroine.  She struggles to be the perfect daughter, never revealing what she really thinks to her family.  On the inside though she is filled with doubts, with unvoiced thoughts, and with resentment.  With her father’s murders her life begins to reflect more of her inner world, becoming just as confused and tumultuous. 

The writing here is very well crafted.  With so many themes: blended families, cutting, murder and forgiveness, it could have become muddled.  Instead the themes support one another, creating a tapestry of interwoven ideas that strengthen one another. 

Readers will pick the book up for the thrilling premise and then be riveted as they discover a much more complicated read than they were expecting.  Appropriate for ages 13-15.

Reviewed from ARC received from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

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