Mon. | Dec. 7 – The Most Unique or Most Memorable Book(s) Read This Year – not necessarily your favorite book because it could be memorable for how bad or how much you liked or disliked the characters.
The cover is an accurate preview of the contents of Fabien Vehlmann and Keroscoet’s creepy Beautiful Darkness: there’s the lush forest undergrowth, a big-eyed doll, and, yes, a decomposing hand. Unless you’re like me and somehow manage to look at the cover without seeing the hand. I was horrified a couple of pages in when this strange army of little dolls comes marching out of the decomposing body of a young girl. But I couldn’t stop reading. It’s a deeply disturbing take on survival of the fittest and a story you won’t soon forget.
A fractured fairy tale picture book with an utterly unique color palette and a Cinderella who’s a spaceship mechanic? Yes, please. I even enjoyed the rhyme in Interstellar Cinderella–which I normally hate in picture book text.
Here’s the thing: Ballet Cat is kind of annoying. She’s really self-absorbed and even a bit of a bully. But I also can’t help loving her for her complete incapacity to take anyone else’s interests or preferences into account. And I love that there is a series for young readers starring such a pathologically egotistical character. Welcome to Age 3! Also, the glitter effect on the cover is totally cool.
I used to hate ABC books, but now there are so many quirky, weird ones–like Maira Kalman’s delightful Ah-ha to Zig-Zag, an alphabet in 31 objects selected from the Cooper Hewitt design museum. This is a really idiosyncratic book–in the objects chosen, in the design, in the writing–and perhaps the quirk factor might be a bit much for some, but for me, it absolutely works.
Zombie Baseball Beatdown is a middle-grade novel with a seriously silly cover and a seriously awesome hook: a group of baseball-loving middle-school boys has to save the world from the zombie apocalypse. But Bacigalupi has a lot more on his mind in this book: immigration, racism, CAFOs, the industrialized food industry. It’s a lot to tackle in a story that’s also trying to be humorous, but somehow it works.
I read Derf Backderf’s graphic novel memoir, My Friend Dahmer–and then kind of wished I hadn’t. Backderf was a classmate of Jeffrey Dahmer, who was just as weird as you imagine he must have been in high school. Backderf was maybe the closest thing Dahmer had to a friend, but it still seems like a stretch to call them friends. Even more than a memoir of his high school friendship with Dahmer, Backderf’s graphic novel is an exploration of the social and familial conditions that breed mental disturbances. A book that will stick with you–even though you won’t want it to.
I don’t entirely understand the audience for this lyrically written, majestically illustrated counting book that highlights the need for animal conservation (counting books necessarily skew very young, while the poetic text seems best suited for middle-grade or older), but it’s one of the most beautiful books I looked at all year.
You wouldn’t think a slender (under 100 pages!) graphic novel without that many words would be the best vehicle for telling a complex story like Hurricane Katrina, but Don Brown is a master at this form. (See The Great American Dust Bowl and America Is Under Attack: September 11, 2001 for more brilliant nonfiction graphic novels telling very complicated stories.) Brown manages to tell a nuanced story of the storm and its aftereffects with a strong theme of social justice. I was outraged all over again at the criminal ineptness of federal and state governments in response to this disaster. But outrage isn’t really the point here: understanding and reflection are.