I have been interested in checking out graphic novels lately. I see them reviewed here and there in the blogosphere (almost always highly rated) and the idea of a graphic novel that is not based on a superhero intrigues me. The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci has popped up on several blogs I read so I thought I would start there.
The book starts out with high-schooler Jane being a victim in a random bombing in Metro City, similar to the 9/11 attack. She becomes attached to another victim, John Doe, who is in a coma, visiting him on a regular basis. Her parents now scared that Metro City is unsafe, move Jane to a suburban neighborhood far away. She tries to fly under the radar in her new school just waiting to graduate so she can get back to the big city. Refusing to assimilate into the popular group, she chooses to sit at a lunch table filled with more Janes (Jayne, Jane, and Polly Jane). Inspired by John Doe's sketchbook entitled "Art Saves", Main Jane (as she becomes known) decides to do an art installation in a construction site. She enlists the help of the other Janes who each bring their own attributes to the installation. They form P.L.A.I.N. (People Loving Art In Neighborhoods). With each covert installation, the town gets more worked up seeing the art as vandalism and even equating it to terrorist attacks. Curfews and rules try to curb P.L.A.I.N., but the girls somehow get around them all, until the end. I really enjoyed this and I think its an interesting commentary on art installations. At my small college, each spring we would find various art installations pop up around campus, they always provoked spirited discussions about what art really is. In the Plain Janes, I think P.L.A.I.N. becomes a way to help Main Jane heal emotionally from her experience in Metro City. The sequel, Janes in Love just came out September 23rd. Publisher Minx Books, a division of DC Comics, has several other titles similar to this one. These might be good choices for reluctant female middle school age readers (the publisher suggests grades 7-10). Unfortunately, in looking around at Minx Books on the internet, I came across this article detailing the failure of Minx. It's really too bad they couldn't give it a go awhile longer. I think it is a really neat idea to create graphic novels geared toward girls.
Other reviews of The Plain Janes can be found here: Girl Detective, The Hidden Side of a Leaf, So Many Books, So Little Time, and Presenting Lenore.
Although, I was attempting to link two books with the theme of high school, this next book is drastically different from Plain Janes. I recently finished The Power of Three by Laura Lippman, an adult crime novel. Lippman writes the Tess Monaghan series, which I haven't read, but would like to get to some day. The Power of Three is one of her stand alone books. We open with one girl hiding a gun in her backpack. Then, there is a school shooting. One girl is dead, one is injured in her foot, and the third (presumably the shooter) a botched suicide attempt. The whole book centers around trying to figure out what exactly happened in the bathroom to make three best friends become victims/enemies. There are flashbacks throughout the book to see the girls' friendship throughout the past ten years. Lippman does a wonderful job with character development. I feel like we really get a sense of who each of these girls are, what makes them different from each other and the rest of the high school crowd. Lippman guides us along in the investigation of the shooting letting us in on secrets here and there. I spent much of the book thinking I could figure it all out and I somewhat did, but I think I did at the pace that Lippman wanted her readers to figure it out. It was nicely predictable. And there was a tiny bit of a twist at the end as to who the "fourth girl" really was when the shooting took place. Any fans of Harlan Coben would most likely really enjoy this one. I found Lippman to sort of be a female version of Coben. I still have What the Dead Know sitting on my shelf and I'm looking forward to getting to that one as well.