Reviews of the Week with George Takei, Tillie Walden, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and More!

Every weekday we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, or in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

A necessary graphic memoir about the forced internment of Japanese Americans during WWII; the artful journey of two runaways for a safe place to call home; the surreal adventures of exiled animals forced to make it in today’s urban landscape; the long-awaited fiction debut from an important voice in current events; a tour of the United States as seen through the eyes of a Malaysian immigrant family during the 2016 elections. Voyages through history, the present day, and self-discovery appear in the Reviews of the Day, posted between July 8 and July 12, below.

Monday, July 8

They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, & Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker

Takei has spoken publicly about his childhood experiences in internment camps during WWII, and this graphic memoir tells that story again with a compelling blend of nostalgia and outrage. He was very young when he and his family were forced out of their California home and sent to Camp Rohwer in Arkansas, so some of his memories of that time are touched with gentle affection, though that fondness is short-lived. As he grows older and they’re relocated to a camp with harsher conditions, it seems less like an adventure and more like the atrocity it truly is. Takei, together with Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, interweaves scenes of his adult realizations and reflections, as well as key speeches and historical events of the period, among the accounts of his childhood, which is very effective at providing context for those memories. Becker’s spare, fine-lined, manga-inspired artwork focuses intently on faces and body language, keeping the story centered in the realm of the personal.

Tuesday, July 9

Are You Listening? written and illustrated by Tillie Walden

Bea, 18, and Lou, 27, are both on the run in Texas, though in very different ways, and a chance meeting at a gas station brings their paths together in ways that help them both. At first, there’s tension between the two young women, but when they rescue a cat and set out to return it home, to a town they can’t find on the map, they gradually begin to trust each other. Walden (On a Sunbeam, 2018) is up to her usual visual tricks in her latest, with intriguingly layered, intricately detailed images in rich, warm, sunset colors that lack concrete realism but cultivate powerful atmosphere. As the days of the road trip muddle together, her panel borders melt, shatter, and blend together, disrupting the sense of time passing, and when odd events begin to trickle in—like the pair of empty-eyed road inspectors unusually curious about the cat, and roads that appear or disappear in a flash—that disrupted sense of reality takes on ever more meaning.

Wednesday, July 10

Leaving Richard’s Valley, written and illustrated by Michael DeForge

Richard’s Valley is a bucolic setting where off-kilter animals dwell alongside affectless humans under the benevolent but resolute hand of its eponymous leader. But when Ellie the Squirrel, Neville the Dog, and Omar the Spider defy Richard’s edicts to save the life of Lyle the Raccoon, they’re expelled from the valley, which turns out to be just a corner of a Toronto city park. Exiled to the city, the motley group is forced to live in an unfamiliar and unforgiving world, turning to newly found if arbitrary skills—supermodeling, architecture, noise-rock—to survive. At the same time, they must tackle urban challenges ranging from traffic to gentrification as well as enduring strains on their longtime friendships. Leaving Richard’s Valley originally appeared as a webcomic, and the discipline of producing daily installments has focused DeForge’s storytelling. While his drawings remain bizarrely idiosyncratic—the animals are barely recognizable as such, with Lyle the Raccoon resembling a Valentine’s heart with legs—they’ve gained graphic clarity, and his narrative is more linear and coherent than usual.

Thursday, July 11

The Water Dancer, by Ta-Nehisi Coates

Hiram Walker is the son of an enslaved woman and her slave master, owner of a prominent Virginia estate. When Hiram is nearly killed in a drowning accident, he detects an amazing gift he cannot understand or harness. He travels between worlds, gone but not gone, and sees his mother, Rose, who was sold away when he was a child. Despite this astonishing vision, he cannot remember much about Rose. His power and his memory are major forces that propel Hiram into an adulthood filled with the hypocrisy of slavery, including the requisite playacting that flavors a stew of complex relationships. Struggling with his own longing for freedom, Hiram finds his affiliations tested with Thena, the taciturn old woman who took him in as a child; Sophia, a young woman fighting against her fate on the plantation; and Hiram’s father who obliquely acknowledges him as a son. Throughout his courageous journey north and participation in the underground battle for liberation, Hiram struggles to match his gift with his mission.

Friday, July 12

The American Dream? A Journey on Route 66 Discovering Dinosaur Statues, Muffler Men, and the Perfect Breakfast Burrito, written and illustrated by Shing Yin Khor

Malaysia-born, LA-dwelling Khor introduces the “two Americas” that were their obsessions growing up: a Los Angeles “full of beautiful people and sunlight and open roads” where 10 years of living has also added “lots and lots and lots of traffic,” and a landscape defined by Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, in which the Joad family desperately pursues the American Dream. Khor takes that “feeling of desperately searching for something better, for a new start,” and adapts it to their own “pilgrimage” as immigrant and artist traveling historic Route 66—“the part of America that my brain finds more American than anything else.” Traversing from LA to Chicago in their 2010 Honda Fit will require their “tiny adventure dog,” Bug, and the kindness of multiple friends and strangers en route, captured in whimsical full-color detail. The end-of-the-road realizations are (surprise!) not what they expected, but the rewards—of course!—are many.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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