Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: June 28-July 2, 2021

Honey Mine

Collected Stories

Book Cover
Camille Roy
Eric Sneathen, editor
Lauren Levin, editor
Nightboat Books
Softcover $17.95 (352pp)
978-1-64362-074-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Camille Roy’s rich literary collection Honey Mine features outcasts and shows what it’s like to live as one.

In the book’s sixteen short entries (both prose and poetry pieces), the character who speaks is always named Camille. But she transforms throughout the book, becoming different people and living different lives—all while remaining, at her core, stable as a theme. She visits relatives in the country, and works in a city parlor. She lives in Chicago and in San Francisco. She deals with slurs, tough lovers, and threats. She handles her community. She has various relationships with various lovers.

Camille is seen sneaking into abandoned houses as a child, doing drugs with a schoolmate, and attending school. Her voice is centered, but she doesn’t view the world through a single set of eyes—beyond consistently detailing what it’s like to be a lesbian, working class, and socially othered in America in a time of racial struggles.

Camille Roy’s prose reads like poetry; her poetry reads like prose. Honey Mine is an unusual collection as a result. Though it is dense and impenetrable at times, Roy’s writing refuses to be put into a box, or to be labeled as just one kind of narrative or another. Instead, it touches the innermost parts of the body, its language tactile and clear. “I detail the experience without making it intelligible,” Roy writes in “Craquer: An Essay on Class Struggle.” That is exactly what Honey Mine reads like: experiences gathered by an earnest attempt to communicate truths, fathomable to others or not.

Honey Mine is an experimental literary collection that breaks the boundaries of identity and other social constructs.

MICHAEL ELIAS (June 25, 2021)

It Could Be Worse

Book Cover
Einat Tsarfati
Candlewick
Hardcover $17.99 (40pp)
978-1-5362-1791-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

As if being stuck on a broken bit of ship isn’t bad enough: Albertini is lost at sea with George, the most optimistic castaway in history. George is unfazed by mermaids’ earworms, fish waste falling from the sky, and rain clouds concentrated just above their heads. Pursued by ghost pirates and chased into the sea, these two adventurers finally find a way to coexist in this bubbly, bumbly, color-washed, giggle-inducing story about surviving disaster with your sanity intact.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (June 25, 2021)

Quarantine Comix

A Memoir of Life in Lockdown

Book Cover
Rachael Smith
Icon
Softcover $19.95 (224pp)
978-1-78578-783-6
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Depression and a pandemic might not seem like promising fodder for a comic, but Rachael Smith’s graphic novel Quarantine Comix captures the daily challenges of the creative life during the Covid-19 lockdown in the UK in an inviting, self-deprecating way.

For Smith, a self-employed comics artist, the quarantine feels isolating; she spends most of it with a housemate, her boyfriend, and a cat. Pining for her partner’s company, her sense of time changes: “Why does April have 200 days in it this year??” On walks in the Yorkshire countryside, it’s reassuring for her to see spring blossom; in a period of uncertainty, nature is still a reliable source of solace.

Most of the pages contain three to five black-and-white panels, with occasional full-color pictures bursting in like Technicolor video game scenes. Depression surfaces when Smith compares others’ achievements to her own feelings of paralysis. In an effective extended metaphor for her mindset, she contrasts “Barky,” an embodiment of the age-old black dog symbol for depression, with “Friendly,” a white canine who dispenses kindness to neutralize the negativity. The imaginary pair vie for her attention. In one tableau, they latch onto opposite sides of her garment and start to tear it apart with their teeth.

The narrative reveals how emotions compound each other, as when Smith feels guilty for being despondent and giving into unhealthy habits—like doomscrolling and not changing out of her pajamas before Zoom meetings—when she knows that others are worse off. Once troubling situations are also put into perspective: “I miss Brexit,” she laments. As lockdown regulations are altered, her coping mechanisms adapt, too. Wild swimming, being reunited with her boyfriend, and returning to part-time work in a café all help to improve her mood.

Quarantine Comix is a lighthearted graphic memoir about ordinary mental health struggles during an extraordinary time.

REBECCA FOSTER (June 25, 2021)

Celestia

Book Cover
Manuele Fior
Jamie Richards, translator
Fantagraphics
Hardcover $29.99 (272pp)
978-1-68396-438-4
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A pair of telepaths fight for their lives, and the future, in the surreal, poetic science fiction world of the graphic novel Celestia.

Celestia is an island that once served as refuge from a great invasion. Now, it’s inhabited by criminals and a group of telepaths, among others. There, Pierrot is a telepath who has distanced himself from the group and his father, who serves as their leader. He connects with Dora, a disillusioned member of the group who declares, “No more telepathy.”

Pursued by Pierrot’s enemies and the telepaths searching for Dora, the two make for the desolate mainland and meet a child with amazing telepathic abilities and intelligence. They deliver the child to a nursery, where a host of nameless children waits, preparing to build a new future.

The impact of memory and intimacy is central to the story. Pierrot and Dora grow closer as she shares in a traumatic memory from his past. But the desire and need for privacy also weighs on the plot, resulting in questions around commitment and compromise. With a prevailing aura of mystery, and unanswered questions about the details of the Great Invasion, the story is rich, satisfying, and complex.

The book features striking, haunting visuals, like a prostitute wearing a Venetian moretta mask, the geometric maze architecture of mainland dwellings, and the symbolism of the drawn-on tear that Pierrot wears on his face. The art shows a practiced breadth of skill that encompasses tender emotions and dynamic action scenes. Celestia is a thoughtful, beautiful graphic novel.

PETER DABBENE (June 27, 2021)

The Atlas of Disappearing Places

Our Coasts and Oceans in the Climate Crisis

Book Cover
Christina Conklin
Marina Psaros
The New Press
Hardcover $29.99 (240pp)
978-1-62097-456-8
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

The Atlas of Disappearing Places is a virtual tour of coastal regions that are vulnerable to climate change. “We come from the sea,” it contends, so protecting the sea is a collective responsibility.

Acidification, declining fish populations, and plastic pollution have put the oceans in a poor state. And from New York City to Shanghai, metropolises are threatened by rising sea levels—a gradual hazard, as opposed to “‘fast’ emergencies,” like the hurricanes that ravage Houston and Puerto Rico. Meanwhile, construction increases CO2 levels and threatens wetland habitats.

The book’s speculative vignettes are positioned in 2050, showing what might change per high-end Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predictions, and what preventative or adaptive measures might be taken. The metaphor of the ocean as a body that’s suffering from chronic inflammation and trauma is effective. Statistics and expert quotes are used to lend support to the book’s models without overwhelming its storytelling.

Painted with water-soluble inks on sheets of dried seaweed, the book’s maps are textured, attractive, and informative. They complement its suggestions for practical ways to reduce climate impact, like cutting single-use plastics, eating less meat, and getting involved in environmental advocacy. “What we do, and when, matters,” the book insists. Climate change is not just about melting ice caps and starving polar bears, and The Atlas of Disappearing Places brings that reality home.

REBECCA FOSTER (June 27, 2021)

Barbara Hodge

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