Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Americus, by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill
by MK Reed
illustrated by Jonathan Hill
New York: First Second
Two boys navigate eighth-grade graduation amid a book-banning crisis at the local library, where their parents are on opposite sides.
Neil is an undersized bookworm who has not enjoyed the social gauntlet of middle school. He's not looking forward to high school, either, because his best friend Danny will be headed off to military school at the behest of his mother, who thinks that he needs a stiff dose of discipline and religion to keep him on the straight and narrow path. When Danny's mom finds him reading one of the popular Apathea Ravenchilde series (strongly reminiscent of Harry Potter), she goes ballistic and takes the librarian (an excellent character, I must say) before the board of trustees to challenge and ban the books. Neil must find it within himself to stand up for his beliefs in the face of vocal adversity and social pressure.
This story was obviously written by a kindred spirit -- someone who loves books and has not-too-fond memories of adolescence. The major figures in Neil's moral drama are his mother, his friend Danny's mother, and Charlotte the librarian: all a little broadly-painted, but with layers of personality that keep them interesting. (It seems that despite Mrs. Burns's scripture-spouting tirades and unwillingness to "spare the rod", she really does want her children -- including Danny -- to grow up well, and she worries for their well-being.) Hill's artistic style leaves plenty of white space, and it reminds me a little of the Archie comics, evoking that small-town atmosphere. I found it particularly interesting that the illustrations change markedly when the narration delves into the Apathea storyline -- it's still in black and white, but as different as using a new font. I'd recommend this title for ages 12 and up, with a note about parental violence toward youngsters and some harassment and bullying between students that may be disturbing (probably more so to those who haven't lived it). Juicy topics for classroom discussion can include censorship, freedom of speech, and civic engagement.
Media: pen and ink