[Monday Reading] Monstrous Awkwardness of Tweendom Captured in Middle Grade Novels “Awkward” and “Nimona”

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Myra here.

It’s Monday, What are You Reading is a meme hosted by Jen from Teach Mentor Texts and Kellee and Ricki from Unleashing Readers (brainchild of Sheila at BookJourney). Since two of our friends, Linda from Teacher Dance and Tara from A Teaching Life have been joining this meme for quite awhile now, we thought of joining this warm and inviting community.

Last Week’s Review and Miscellany Posts

We’re also inviting everyone to join our Award Winning Books Reading Challenge for 2015 (#AWBRead2015)! You still have a few months left before the year ends to win book prizes.

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Here is the sign up page and the September-October linky if you already have reviews up. One randomly-selected participant would receive a copy of Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick courtesy of Pansing Books.

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Click here to view my announcement post to learn more details.

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I deliberately hunted down these two middle grade graphic novels after I saw how much book love they have been receiving from comic aficionados and respected book bloggers. I am grateful that our public libraries are all shades of awesome.

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Written and Illustrated by: Svetlana Chmakova
Published byFirst Yen Press Edition, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

If one would like to tick off certain items to check whether this graphic novel has all the elements of a multicultural graphic novel, you would most likely get a perfect score: there is a refreshingly multiethnic cast, varied family issues represented, themes on bullying and fitting in are likewise apparent.

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The young female protagonist Penelope – Peppi – Torres has just moved in and is attending a new school where she is trying mightily to blend in with the middle-grade-woodworks. As luck would have it, she couldn’t have made herself more visible during the first day of school as she accidentally tripped into a quiet boy in the hall, who happens to be the convenient target of the school bullies – making her another possible target by association:

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I like how this graphic novel explored the many motivations of making the wrong choices – from being downright nasty to a compulsive need to be perfect all the time to gain parental approval to self-preservation. Each character has a full-bodied back story that makes them distinctive, and I especially liked the thread about Maribella, the go-getter leader of the Art Club who seems to have the energy of ten people:

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Truth be told, I didn’t particularly like the character of Peppi although there really is nothing wrong with her – I just found her reactions to be a tad exaggerated (but then again, everything is meant to be comically expansive in most graphic novels), but I resonated more with Jaime Thompson who appeared to have a quieter self-possession, plus a gentle and intelligent disposition. I also liked the way the teachers were portrayed, especially the Science Teacher who drinks student tears for breakfast:

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I enjoyed how the author seems to be challenging conventions and expectations and showed how the blurring of boundaries (between science and art, or even among cliques/groups) may actually be the best thing that can happen to tweeners who are finding their voice and place in their tween-universe.

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Written and Illustrated by: Noelle Stevenson
Published by: Harper Teen, 2015
Borrowed from the Jurong West Public Library. Book photos taken by me.

When I found out that the entire premise of the novel was on monster girls, I knew that this was a book that I would enjoy, but I didn’t expect to like it as much as I did. Nimona is a fan girl and the determined sidekick of the master villain Ballister Blackheart, disgraced knight. Ballister is the archnemesis of the stalwart Goldenloin, the Renowned Champion of the Institution who earned his rank by defeating (read: cheating) Blackheart in the joust that defined their roles in the Kingdom as Hero vs Villain.

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Enter Nimona with her astounding shapeshifting abilities and capacities for self-healing, snark, zest for mayhem and destruction – upsetting the balance that these two former friends (Blackheart and Goldenloin) had established over the years. Nimona has a clear backstory that was not really adequately revealed in the narrative – there were allusions about a myth, an old witch (that may or may not have existed), and possible genetic experimentation that all seemed pretty superfluous when one has to juxtapose this with Nimona’s being misunderstood, abandoned, and perceived as a freak all her life.

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Not surprisingly, this has made Nimona less tolerant, more impulsive, and unbelievably paranoid when it comes to people who claim to want to help her be ‘better’:

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While she is clearly self-sufficient, she is also painfully lonely, and I especially liked reading the parts where she was at her most vulnerable despite her evident strengths that would be the envy of any comicbook superhero (she seems to have it all):

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The question of whether she is a girl pretending to be a monster or a monster pretending to be a girl is one that permeates the entire narrative and propelled it forward: the thoughtful questions the novel raised while preserving its snide wit, the irrepressible eagerness to please matched by the testy impulsiveness that can be set off at the slightest provocation were masterfully done by Stevenson. I also loved reading the backstories of Ballister and Goldenloin the orphans. I would love to read more Nimona stories in the future. This monstergirl has made a fan out of me.

Currently Reading…

This week has been extra busy for me with two international consultants who flew in from the Philippines and New Zealand to talk about picture books and their link to social and emotional learning. We visited a lot of libraries here in Singapore and they also conducted a few lectures in the university. And so because of that I was only able to finish reading October Mourning: A Song for Matthew Shepard by Leslea Newman – such a heartbreaking story and underscores the significance of including diverse stories in our classroom.

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This week, I am planning to read the following books:

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The Circle by Dave Eggers for my book club at the institute.

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The Carter Family: Don’t Forget This Song by Frank M. Young and David Lasky – still for our current reading theme.

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Nimona: Longlisted for the National Book Award 2015

#AWBRead2015 Update: 85 (35)

10 Comments on [Monday Reading] Monstrous Awkwardness of Tweendom Captured in Middle Grade Novels “Awkward” and “Nimona”

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed Nimona. It is one of my favorite graphic novels of the year so far (Next to The Encyclopedia of Early Earth) Awkward sounds interesting so I’ve added it to my list of books to read. Thanks for all these books! Happy reading this week.

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  2. My students are very much enjoying Awkward. I need to read Nimona!

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  3. I would like to read both of these graphic novels at some point! I’ve held off since they are both older than my students (our building goes up to 4th). One day I’ll get to them!

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  4. Nimona is one of the best GNs I read this year. I just found out I have the audio of October Mourning on my laptop and may listen to it.

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  5. I need to read NImona and Awkward! Thanks for sharing. And October Mourning is going on my TBR pile.

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  6. We are hosting a Graphic Novel Celebration #GNcelebration each Thursday in October and haven’t heard of these two books – Thanks for the recommendations

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  7. Love these graphic novel suggestions! October Mourning was just so sad…it took me a long time to work that book through my system.

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  8. October Mourning is just beautiful. I am still touched by that book, long after I read it. This week, I am going to see the play The Laramie Project. I’ve heard it is good, so I am really looking forward to it. Happy reading this week!

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  9. I also loved Awkward! Your book review is spot on. My seventh grade girls are really enjoying it, too.

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  10. OMG. Awkward is a must-read for me! There’s a character named Akilah! And she spells it correctly! Thank you for posting about it. I thought it looked cute from the cover, so A+ inclusion of pages from the book there. I’m going to see if it’s at the library right now.

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