Bliss

In a dark fantasy world where deities walk free and a mystical drug steals the memories of those who use it, a hitman for the gods must face his past while his conflicted son tries to save his future.

Bliss, an eight-issue miniseries from Image Comics, opens with the trial of Benton Ohara, whose life’s legacy is a trail of bodies and a crowd of grieving loved ones hungry for blood and vengeance. Benton’s lone defender is his son, Perry, who recounts his father’s life in a series of flashbacks set parallel to the current narrative. In a city full of suffering, Benton was a man without options. To save his sick son from death, he agreed to serve three lesser gods, buying his son’s life with the murder of countless others. Clinging to what remained of his soul, Benton wiped away the memories of his crimes with Bliss, a drug which steals painful memories from those who use it.

In the present day, Benton faces judgement for his crimes while Perry struggles to reconcile his father’s violence with memories of the man who sacrificed so much to protect him. And when the gods’ schemes emerge from the past to upend both Benton and Perry’s lives once more, loyalty, justice, and memory will collide in a struggle to face the truth and find a path toward the future.

Written by Sean Lewis, Bliss is a bold story that blends dark urban fantasy with gripping family drama. Weaving together dual narratives along with complex thematic and character work, this comic manages to pack a wealth of storytelling into its limited run. Setting a tone of desperation right from the start, Lewis does not shy away from the violence of Benton’s crimes or the tumultuous emotions of families torn apart by violence. Without settling for easy answers, Lewis allows each character to exist in their complexity, doing service to the subject matter in recognizing the humanity of its subjects. What does it mean to change, to forgive, to hate, to mourn—and what do we do when these feelings come crashing together?

Lewis situates this storytelling in a world familiar to our own. Gritty and uncertain, the main difference comes in the gods who move freely among humanity. Whether offering the sweet relief of Bliss from a bathhouse on the docks, or ruling in power from their divine domains, the magic of these gods pervades the more mundane lives of those they affect. It is the will of the gods that sets off the events of Bliss, with each scheme for power using Benton and those around him as pawns. Lewis brings all this to life with worldbuilding that is both strange and real, creating a world that is believable even in its darker corners where monsters roam free.

Bringing both world and characters to life, Caitlin Yarsky details the grime and magic of the world across each page. With dramatic and dynamic paneling, she brings the reader through seedy streets and violent confrontations. She also does incredible work spotlighting the emotional beats of the story—the sorrow and fury of the characters, as well as their moments of happiness. Fantasy and noir collide across each page of Yarsky’s artwork, cinematic in portrayal, mythic in scope, and achingly human at every turn.

And I would be remiss not to also include Ari Pluchinsky who serves as colorist for Bliss, imbuing each scene with a shifting palate of hues, from earth tones of the country to the dim shades of Feral City to the rose colors of Bliss itself which wash each memory in mournful urgency. With dramatic lighting and bold colors that serve each turn of the story, Yarsky and Pluchinsky create a visual experience that carries the writing and lingers in the reader’s mind.

Image rates Bliss T+ for older teen, and the story is indeed best suited for older teens and adults. With some strong violence and language—as well as its core themes around the clash of trauma with familial love—this comic will find plenty of readers with teens and adults alike. But for any reader of crime thrillers, fantasy comics, or thematic drama, Bliss has a great deal to offer. This is an ambitious story crafted at each turn by a skilled team using the comics form to great effect. From the gripping opening moments through the lone, lingering image of the final page—and beyond even that to the illustrated author’s note which follows—Bliss is harsh and hopeful. It is tragic and it is beautiful. It is one of those comics that entertains and leaves you pondering  long after it is over. In the end, Bliss is keenly human and unafraid of the deep, difficult uncertainty that comes from living, loving, and finding ourselves responsible to one another. It’s a remarkable comic, and well worth picking up for anyone willing to be taken on a journey by these expert storytellers.

Bliss
By Sean Lewis
Art by Caitlin Yarsky
Image, 2021
ISBN: 9781534318915

Publisher Age Rating: T+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Japanese-American,

We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration

It begins with a knock on the door from the FBI. Two months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, a silent invasion permeated the United States, targeting Japanese American citizens as enemy aliens.

On February 19, 1942, Executive Order 9066 was passed, uprooting nearly 120,000 Japanese Americans from their homes into internment camps. We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration, written by Frank Abe and Tamiko Nimura, with artwork by Ross Ishikawa and Matt Sasaki, chronicles the bold exploits of three intrepid Japanese Americans who challenged the constitutionality of the executive order during their internment.

This epic story begins with a montage of three incidents: An ominous rapping on the door of twenty-two-year-old Jim Akutsu, a civil engineering student living with his parents in Seattle, disrupts their peaceful evening. FBI agents are on the move to round up Japanese Americans into relocation camps. High school graduate Hiroshi Kashiwagi, nineteen, gets pulled over by a cop for staying out past curfew one night in central California. Upon closer inspection, the cop labels him a “Jap spy.” Twenty-one-year-old Mitsuye “Mitzi” Endo, a typist for a state agency in California, receives a letter one day threatening dismissal from her job on the grounds of purported affiliations with the Japanese community and thus, holding allegiance to the Emperor of Japan. This interconnected trio of stories sets the stage for the harrowing events in the Pacific Northwest impacting Japanese Americans subjected to the camps without due process. There they will be tested for their loyalty to the US government.

Meticulously researched and intricately narrated, each story unfolds from the point of view of the internees as well as the US government officials. At Camp Minidoka, Akutsu refuses the draft to serve in the army, for he believes the so-called loyalty questionnaire from the Selective Service to be a ploy to incriminate himself. Signing this oath of allegiance would equate to confessing to a nonexistent allegiance to Japan even though he was already a natural-born American citizen. Kashiwagi refuses to sign the loyalty oath altogether while in Tule Lake, testing the limits of his rights as an American. In Topaz, Mitzi Endo foregoes an opportunity to leave the camp in a strategic move to serve as a witness in a lawsuit against the US government for having imprisoned people based solely on race. Through defiant acts in the form of draft resistance, hunger strikes, and prosecuting lawsuits, the trio stood their ground to uphold their unalienable rights as American citizens.

The narrative flow of each character’s experiences unfolds fluidly, juxtaposing Sasaki’s abstracted and expressionist style of Hiroshi Kashiwagi’s story alongside Ishikawa’s more solidly rendered character designs of Jim Akutsu and Mitzi Endo. Historical documents contextualize the plot with startling and compelling authenticity. Typewritten memos to war relocation authorities, racial profiling signs, front page newspaper headlines, reenactments of speeches and discussions amongst US government officials—these visual details merge seamlessly to create a historical account of the socio-political milieu on the US home front during World War II.

On the eightieth anniversary of Executive Order 9066, We Hereby Refuse adds a critical chapter to the annals of US history and complements all library collections. This graphic novel tackles themes of racism, assimilation, survival, and resilience, centering on the lived experiences of Japanese Americans and their tenacious stand to test the integrity of the American justice system. Theirs is a story that deserves to be told and retold for future generations lest history repeats itself.

We Hereby Refuse: Japanese American Resistance to Wartime Incarceration
By Frank Abe, Tamiko Nimura,  ,
Art by Ross Ishikawa, Matt Sasaki,
Chin Music Press Inc., 2021
ISBN: 9781634059763

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation:  Japanese-American,  Character Representation: Japanese-American,

Squad

In her new home of Piedmont, Becca yearns for what every high schooler desires: a place to fit in and a squad to call her own. Much to her surprise, the most popular clique in school immediately accepts her into their fold, bonding over shopping trips, gossip, and… bloodlust? On a full moon’s night, Arianna, Amanda, and Marley reveal their secret: they are werewolves, preying on skeevy boys who target unsuspecting girls at parties, and they want her to join the pack. Filled with a need for acceptance, Becca embraces the transformation, feeling a kind of strength she never had before. But with this power comes a dangerous hunger that rattles her to her core and tests her morals. Tensions only flare higher as longstanding rules are broken, authority in the pack is questioned, and one wrong kill threatens to expose them all. In this fast-paced, strikingly illustrated graphic novel, Squad perfectly balances its elements of drama and horror, though unfortunately does not live up to the full potential of its story.

Personal tidbit about me, I love werewolves, they’re my favorite monster, star in my favorite horror films, and can be abundantly diverse in terms of storytelling and design. I also love the girl gang trope found in films like Heathers and The Craft, which this comic utilizes perfectly, as I found so many parallels between this comic and the latter film. Naturally, I was excited to dive into a story about a pack of female werewolves taking a bite out of the patriarchy in a way only werewolves can, but was ultimately disappointed once I reached the final page.

Most of my issues with this comic comes from its story and how certain elements do not receive any development that would have made it more memorable. The themes of Squad, such as finding community, reclaiming agency and control from potential aggressors, and challenging oppression towards women are all there, but become muddled due to its fast pace and short page length. Standing at around two hundred pages, this does not give Squad the time it deserves to properly flesh out its message, characters, or lore and, as a result, its impact is compromised significantly. Though the comic strives to highlight female empowerment, the internalized misogyny shown by the main characters, exhibited through fatphobic remarks and moments of victim blaming, is seldom addressed or even combated. There are also several microaggressions committed against Becca, who is Asian, that receive the same treatment, which is odd considering they mainly come from her eventual love interest. Seeing this, I was waiting to see how the climax would handle these moments, if they were to serve some purpose for a more nuanced message about feminism or the effects of, as Ms. Norbury so eloquently put it in Mean Girls, “girl on girl crime.” Unfortunately, those scenes just sit within the story, unanswered for.

Some of the characters and their dynamics almost exist as afterthoughts, appearing through the uneven character development of our main cast, or the tacked-on romantic relationship between Becca and Marley that begins nearly fifty pages before the end of the comic. While it is always wonderful to see more LGBTQ+ representation in young adult graphic novels, it still needs to be quality representation that has enough time and focus devoted to make it truly resonating. What is truly disappointing about Squad is that its lacking elements could have worked, if only given a little more time to breathe, develop, and not feel so constrained by its own page length.

The saving grace of the comic would definitely be Lisa Sterle’s illustrations, which evoke an engaging atmosphere that revels in the story’s horror aspects. In the more suburban scenes, the colors are flatter, more evenly toned to match the domestic setting, but, in moments of high emotion or violence, Sterle incorporates a startling scarlet red, making these scenes stand out in a perfectly visceral way. The character designs are memorable, giving off a more modern Archie Comics vibe while having their own identity. Sterle deciding to give the squad’s wolf forms a leaner, more emaciated look is a good touch, tying in nicely with their insatiable appetites, though having them all mostly be different shades of brown makes it difficult to tell who is who at times.

Fans of series like Riverdale, Teen Wolf, and The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina will appreciate the dramatic and horror elements of the story, and for teen readers there is the additional appeal of connecting with a high school setting and the social issues brought up in the story. As Squad has multiple instances of gore and violence, along with one moment of near sexual assault, I would agree with the publisher-given age rating of 14 and up. While I would not recommend this comic as a must have for a collection, it may interest librarians and educators looking to include titles that share the appeal of the previously mentioned series or have a high circulation of female-centered, character-driven stories.

Squad
By Maggie Tokuda-Hall
Art by  Lisa Sterle
Harper Collins Harper Alley, 2021
ISBN: 9780062943149

Publisher Age Rating: 14+

NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: Japanese-American, Bisexual, Jewish
Character Representation: Black, Japanese-American, Lesbian

Big Hero Six: The Series, vol. 1

Fans of the 2014 Disney film Big Hero 6, loosely based on the eponymous Marvel superhero team, will enjoy this manga adaptation of the spinoff Disney XD series Big Hero 6: The Series. The first volume includes three chapters, each of which has the same title as its corresponding episode of the series. In Chapter 1: Issue 188, Hiro’s thermodynamics professor pairs him up with an unfriendly girl named Karmi, whose place as the youngest student at the San Fransokyo Institute of Technology was supplanted by 14-year-old Hiro. In a Big Hero 6 showdown against mother-daughter supervillain team High Voltage, Hiro saves Karmi’s life, leading Karmi to develop a huge crush on Big Hero 6 member Hiro—whom she doesn’t realize is the same person as her classmate. Big Hero 6 member and comic aficionado Fred tells the group about the infamous comic Captain Fancy Issue #188 and suggests they may glean useful information from the elusive comic. That is, if they can convince Fred’s archnemesis, 10-year-old comic collector Richardson Mole, to let them read it.

In Chapter 2: Failure Mode, Hiro is tasked with creating a miniature building that can withstand an earthquake with a Richter magnitude of 9.0. He procrastinates, and the building he ends up turning in instantly falls apart. When he finds out that all of his follow-up ideas for the building have already been tried, he becomes disheartened. Healthcare companion robot Baymax shows Hiro video footage of his late brother Tadashi considering giving up after his 58th attempt to create Baymax; obviously he persevered, since he successfully completed Baymax. Meanwhile, local villain Globby attempts to steal art from the local museum, and Big Hero 6 member Honey Lemon teaches Baymax about art. This subplot is very charming, with the logical robotic Baymax struggling to understand emotional concepts; it is reminiscent of and will appeal to fans of Data’s characterization in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Case in point, Baymax’s mechanical explanation for his desire to learn about art: “I am coded to expand my therapeutic capabilities. Perhaps I should increase my understanding of art.”

In Chapter 3: Baymax Returns Part 1, we see how Hiro recreated Baymax after the events of the Big Hero 6 film. Yama, a criminal whom Hiro defeated in bot fights in the film, steals Baymax’s exoskeleton and attempts to blackmail Hiro into stealing a mysterious sculpture from his professor’s office. This chapter occurs chronologically before either of the other chapters, so the choice to place it at the end of the first volume of this manga is strange. Since it’s a two-parter, it seems the decision was made solely so this volume would have a cliffhanger. But the cliffhanger’s tension is undermined by the knowledge that Hiro must succeed in retrieving Baymax, since Baymax appears in the other chapters unharmed.

The art differs between the film and series, and since this manga is based on the series, one would guess the art would mirror its 2D hand-drawn animation style. But by drawing the characters in kodomo anime-style art, Hong Gyun An evokes the rounded 3D animation of the original film. The illustrations are rendered in full color, though the colors are more muted than those of the film or the series. Unlike typical manga, this book is read from left to right. Consider purchasing this series where the Big Hero 6 franchise is popular, or where kodomo adventure manga like Pokemon Adventures circulates well.


Big Hero Six: The Series, vol. 1
By Hong Gyun An
Yen Press JY, 2021
ISBN: 9780316474641
Publisher Age Rating: 8 and up
Related media: Movie to Comic, TV to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: Japanese-American

Himawari House

Born in Japan and raised in the United States, high school graduate Nao has moved to Tokyo for a year to reconnect with her Japanese heritage. At Himawari House, a shared house for students, she befriends two fellow Japanese-language students: Hyejung from Korea and Tina from Singapore. Himawari House follows a year in the lives of the three young women, delivering a spirited, heartfelt slice-of-life story about friendships and identities that bridge cultures.

Stories about study abroad experiences often have a travelogue quality, but Himawari House emphasizes everyday life and relationships, never exoticizing its Japanese setting. This graphic novel centers on Nao, Hyejung, and Tina’s friendship, their bond a source of strength and humor as they navigate school, work, family, and romance. The three women have each come to Japan for different reasons—introspective Nao wants to rekindle her Japanese identity after a childhood of blending in with her white American peers, sensitive Hyejung desires independence after losing her sense of self to family obligations and a manipulative boyfriend, and fun-loving Tina craves direction and validation while working a demeaning waitressing job.

Himawari House celebrates connections forged across personal and cultural differences, whether that’s navigating a multicultural identity, communicating honestly with family members who hold different values, or pursuing romance across a language gap. The graphic novel interweaves profound questions of love, purpose, and identity with the mundane episodes of a year living away from home for the first time. We follow the characters as they work low-pay jobs, learn to cook, nurse crushes on celebrities, and find catharsis through a night of karaoke with friends. The threads of their stories capture the emotional intensity and sheer adventure of a being a newly independent young adult.

Creator Harmony Becker makes smart storytelling choices to reflect the diversity of the Asian and Asian diaspora cultures she portrays. Expressive monochromatic artwork blends Japanese manga conventions with a North American aesthetic, mirroring Nao’s bicultural heritage. The text itself is multilingual; speech bubbles with dual translation and missing or blurred-out words, paired with Japanese sound effects, represent the jarring experience of being immersed in an unfamiliar linguistic environment. Becker also uses phonetically-written language to represent the different dialects of English spoken in Himawari House, peppering conversations with Japanese, Korean, and Singlish vocabulary and sentence structures. In an afterword, the author explains that she chose to write dialogue phonetically as a celebration of Asian and Asian diaspora language, pushing back against the white tradition of reproducing Asian accents for pejorative comic effect. The effect is a story that feels authentically multilingual.

Just as Himawari House explores gaps and connections between cultures, the graphic novel itself bridges a divide between American comics about Japan, which have often centered a white audience, and Japanese manga aimed at a domestic Japanese audience. The result is a funny, sensitive, culturally rich coming of age story that will appeal both to young adult and adult readers.


Himawari House
By Harmony Becker
First Second, 2021
ISBN: 9781250235565
Publisher Age Rating: Young Adult

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16)
Creator Representation: East Asian
Character Representation: Japanese-American, Korean, Singaporean

Blade Runner 2029 Vol. 1: Reunion

The year is 2029. Twelve years ago, Aahna “Ash” Ashina was the LAPD’s greatest Blade Runner – one of the elite police detectives tasked with hunting down and killing any Replicant running loose on Earth. Yet Ash had a secret that would destroy her career were it discovered by her fellow cops; she was dependent on a rechargeable spinal implant to walk.

Ten years ago, Ash left the force and went on the run, acting as the protector and foster mother of a runaway girl, to honor the dying request of the Replicant clone of the girl’s biological mother.

Three years ago, Ash returned to a radically different Earth, where the manufacture of Replicants was outlawed after an attack on the Tyrell Corporation erased every record of every existing Replicant. Naturally this did nothing to stop the rich and powerful from ordering their own custom grown Replicant “servants” on the black market.

Two years ago, Ash rejoined the LAPD and the Blade Runners, joining the hunt for the last of the Nexus 8 Replicant models: the most human Replicants ever made. But Ash had a secret beyond her artificial spine. She had become part of the Replicant Underground, working to free the new Replicants who are born as both fugitives and slaves on Earth.

Now, Ash is relatively content, having found love with the Nexus 8 Replicant Freysa Sadeghpour. But a ghost from the past has thrown Ash’s new life into sharp relief; a ghost called Yotun, who is the only Replicant to ever escape Ash’s clutches in her old life and the leader of a Replicant terrorist cell out for revenge on the idle rich responsible for the creation of the latest Nexus 8 Replicants.

Fans of the Blade Runner franchise hoping for more of the same after Titan Comics’ excellent Blade Runner 2019 series will greatly enjoy this first volume of Blade Runner 2029. Michael Green, Mike Johnson and Andres Guinaldo, the creators on the first comic series centered around Ash’s adventures, have all returned for this second series and their respective contributions are as fine as ever. Green, who co-wrote the screenplay for Blade Runner 2049, continues to expand upon the setting of the original film, while slowly building up the elements he introduced in the sequel. Ana’s lover Freysa Sadeghpour, for instance, was a character in Blade Runner 2049.

Andres Guinaldo continues to capture the essence of the neo-Noir setting of Blade Runner. There is grit and grime aplenty, as befits the mean streets of Los Angeles. Yet there is also neon splendor and bright lights concealing the dark heart of the city’s underground, well rendered by colorist Marco Lesko. Suffice it to say the unique aesthetic of the movies is replicated perfectly throughout this book.

This volume is rated 15+ and I consider that to be a fair rating. There is nothing in Blade Runner 2029 that would be inappropriate for an older teen audience and nothing likely to upset fans of the original movies, which were rightly rated R for violence, nudity and sexual themes. There is nothing so overt in this collection, though there are some disturbing images of one body being impaled on rebar, a dissected corpse post-autopsy and some loose body parts in various Replicant labs.

Blade Runner 2029 Vol. 1: Reunion Vol. 01
By Michael Green, Mike Johnson,  ,
Art by  Andres Guinaldo
Titan Comics, 2021
ISBN: 9781787731943

Publisher Age Rating: 15+
Related media:  Movie to Comic

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Character Representation: Indian American, Japanese-American, Lesbian, Mobility Impairment, Prosthesis,

Shadow Life

Aging can be a scary ordeal, one which we must all experience as we travel along the path of life, for the threat of death looms overhead. In her debut graphic novel Shadow Life, Hiromi Goto and Ignatz-nominated cartoonist and illustrator, Ann Xu take us on a slice-of-life journey through the lens of an elderly woman who defies the pervasive, menacing fear of death, preferring, instead, to embrace and savor life to its fullest.

Kumiko Saito, a seventy-six-year-old widow, resides in an assisted living home where her well-intentioned daughters have placed her, much to her discomfort. One night, she sneaks out and runs away in pursuit of a little freedom, finding refuge in a cozy apartment. She touches base online with her eldest daughter Mitsuko, but refuses to divulge her secret hangout. While relaxing at her home away from home, she relishes in the mini pleasures in life—swimming at a community pool, snacking whenever she pleases, and taking cat naps at her leisure. In the midst of her private revelries however, a malevolent supernatural being has surfaced and begins to hound her with relentless determination. Later on, she pays a visit to have tea with her former female lover from another life time, but detects another spirit occupying her home. Sinister forces and other eerie occurrences are set into motion as she must soon combat the onslaught of death itself.

Goto and Xu have constructed a captivating story that explores the steadfast will of an elderly character who challenges stereotypes of aging. While she goes about taking care of daily tasks such as taking pills and cooking meals, the feisty Ms. Saito must also navigate a labyrinth of threatening obstacles seeking to ensnare her at every corner. Shadow Life depicts the dynamic resilience of an elderly woman whose courage perseveres at all odds while she dispenses a few bad ass tricks to battle the encroaching specter of death. A fluid storytelling style, combined with intrepid characters and sparse dialogue, creates a symbiotic narrative flow. Similar to watching a silent film, each shot captures minute details with careful attention, sometimes in a montage style. From quizzical facial expressions and photo snapshots to shadowy beings lurking in the corners, the intricately crafted elements in each panel unify to produce a visually gripping and well-designed plot.

Many stories featuring Asian seniors portray them as sage gurus, but this story offers a refreshing and rarely seen take by creating one imbued with agency. A haunting story interspersed with bits of the macabre and supernatural realism, but also radiating with warmth and compassion, Shadow Life offers a thrilling piece of literary fiction fit for all library collections.


Shadow Life
By Hiromi Goto
Art by  Ann Xu
First Second, 2021
ISBN: 9781626723566

Publisher Age Rating:  General Adult

NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+)
Creator Representation: Japanese-Canadian, Queer,
Character Representation: Japanese-American, Bisexual,

Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories

Cautionary Fables and Fairy Tales is the umbrella title for a series of three compilations themed after a specific region of which this one is the third. The first two cover Europe and Africa while the fourth one, on Oceania tales, is in publication. All have been funded through Kickstarter efforts.

I had high hopes for this collection of Asian folktales, but was dismayed to discover that few of them have source notes or any markers for context. The geographic location is mentioned, but no background is provided for readers who may not be familiar with yokai, kitsune, demons, and other supernatural beings from Japan, China, India, Georgia, Laos, Myanmar, Turkey, Iraq and Tibet. I was very pleased, however, with the reworking of “The Ballad of Mulan” which followed the ancient tales rather than the Disney film. Aside from this tale and a few others such as the title story and “Urashima Taro,” most of the stories may not be familiar with young audiences. This is not a criticism, but it is also where source notes could have made this an outstanding addition to the ongoing reworkings of folklore in the comic book format.

The length of the stories varies as does the black and white art work in this anthology. Several of the tales have been modernized to including texting and other nods to contemporary life, but the vast majority have retained the ancient settings; particularly those by a diverse range of illustrators including Gene Luen Yang, Nina Matsumoto, and Carla Speed McNeil. Most of the other creators in this collection are known better through their webcomics and indie titles. The illustrations range from manga-like cartoon-y artwork to detailed and realistic penciling and the application of black and shadows. The mood of the stories is also as diverse as the tales themselves, with a mixture of light and dark themes. Some of the tales are excerpts from longer legends and books such as Yang’s “From the Journey of the Monkey King” from American Born Chinese. All the tales offer warnings or advice for the protagonists and the readers. Unfortunately for many of the protagonists, there is a great deal of pain in learning these lessons. They do, as the overall theme indicates, offer a cautionary edification for the reader.

I wish I could recommend this for library collections but the lack of source notes for this storyteller is truly a stumbling block. There is no need in today’s publishing world not to respect the tales and culture from where the stories originated. Very few of the entries even acknowledge that the individual tale has been adapted.

Tamamo the Fox Maiden and Other Asian Stories 
By C. Spike Trotman, ed. Kate Ashwin, ed. Kel McDonald
Art by Carla Speed McNeil, Gene Leun Yang, Nina Matsumoto, et al
ISBN: 9781945820342
Iron Circus, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: all ages
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11), Tween (10-13)

Browse for more like this title
Related to…: Inspired by myth, Retelling

They Called Us Enemy

George Takei is known for his role as Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek and for his passionate commitment to civil rights. After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Takei and his family—along with over 100,000 Japanese Americans—were imprisoned in internment camps for the rest of World War II. Their crime? They were Japanese. They Called Us Enemy portrays Takei’s family’s experiences in the camps and the impact they had on his life. The result is a compelling and powerful narrative that lays bare the continuing prejudice, injustice, and passion in America.

Takei and his co-writers, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott, have developed an engaging and relevant narrative. The story goes back and forth between the World War II era and contemporary times as it traces Takei’s family’s experience in the internment camps and his career as an actor and activist. The authors also provide accessible explanations of the political forces and factions at play, but it’s the personal story that drives home Takei’s points. Takei narrates his family’s experience from the perspective of an adult who has come to understand what happened, yet goes on to show how this experience and his family’s support have helped him in his career as an actor and activist. The mix of the past and the present with the personal and the political gives the story a balance between sad and hopeful. Takei also draws connections between the Japanese internment camps and the cruel treatment of immigrant children at the border, thus sending an important message about injustice and the importance of action in a democracy.

Illustrator Harmony Becker’s black and white illustrations both capture key historical events and figures as well as the emotional impact of Takei’s experiences. The illustrations portray historical figures in recognizable ways, yet the particular strength of Becker’s work lies in the emotional impact her work carries. Deceptively simple with strong manga influences, Becker’s illustrations portray the difficulties of Takei’s family and a child’s youthful exuberance and innocence with equal aplomb; the illustrations work well with Takei’s reflections, contributing to the surreal and painful mood that arises from the contrast between a child’s experience with an adult’s understanding of the injustice.

They Called Us Enemy is a powerful work that, thanks to its important message, the discussion of historical events, and Takei’s popularity, should find a readership in both public and academic libraries. The book explains the internment camps and themes of injustice and activism in a way that should be accessible to a range of ages. There are a couple of violent scenes (portrayed with minimal gore), and there are some difficult topics whose subtle presentation might go over the head of very young readers; therefore, this reviewer would recommend early middle school and up as the audience for They Called Us Enemy.

They Called Us Enemy
By George Takei Justin Eisinger Steven Scott
Art by Harmony Becker
ISBN: 9781603094504
Top Shelf Productions, 2019

Browse for more like this title
Character Traits: Japanese, Japanese-American Gay
Creator Highlights: Own Voices, BIPOC Creator