Lowry, Lois. A Summer to Die. Clarion, 2016 (reprint). ISBN 978-0544668416 192 pp. $
I re-read this as an adult, and had forgotten the voice of the adolescent character; her insightfulness, authenticity, and resiliency. 13-year-old photography buff Meg copes with her family’s move from a college town to the countryside while her father takes a sabbatical to write his book; her 15-year-old sister takes ill in the fall with what is at first assumed to be the flu but is revealed to be cancer. The heartbreak of loss is tempered with new friendships with the property owner, Yankee Will, and his other tenants, a Harvard graduate student and his pregnant wife. A beautiful story that stands the test of time as a YA classic.
Orwell, George. 1984. Signet, 1961. ISBN 978-0451524935 382 pp. $9.99
The first thing that struck me upon re-reading this 30 years later was the anti-Semitism–someone referred to as a jewess, and the focus of Party’s hate on a Jew. The next thing that struck me was the constant rewriting of history to form a preferred narrative. The next was the utter boredom and darkness of a scheduled existence, the utterly colorless utilitarian life, the drudgery of the every day. The propaganda. The feeling that I had in 1991 that this could never happen here, paired with the horror of our divided USA and the gross divide between the haves and have-nots as the middle class continues to shrink.
I slogged through the manifesto, rolled my eyes at the “romance” and shuddered at the torture. And drained, I shelved the book and turned back to romance novels. 1984 is no longer a science fiction novel for me–it is horror.
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein: The Graphic Novel. Perfection Learning, 2005. ISBN 978-0756958091 176 pp. $
This comic book adaptation of Shelley’s gothic novel stays faithful to the nested story structure, but eliminates the epistolary style altogether in favor of a simpler and more streamlined narrative about a man tormented by his actions. Captain Walton rescues Victor Frankenstein and the dying man reveals a fantastic tale of his life, and his misbegotten attempts to understand the nature of life and death by playing God. The themes of the power of knowledge, nature vs. technology, and what it means to be monstrous are explored through the narrative, but this adaptation doesn’t come close to addressing the feminist issues at the heart of the novel.
The complete exclusion of ANY direct quotes or excerpts from Shelley’s masterpiece is surprising, but those familiar with the original text will marvel at Irving’s interpretations. For example, Reed’s telling doesn’t reveal that Frankenstein’s mother’s dying wish was that he and Elizabeth marry; but the concept is conveyed with the mother gripping them by the hands, one on each side of her deathbed. Victor’s zeal for chemistry and his laboratory are minutely detailed in his increasingly thin and wan face. The monster is horrific without being terrifying and his violent acts, whether bumbling or deliberate, are not glorified.
The artwork is made up of far too many dark and murky panels–for example, in an ocean scene on page 102-103 the page is more gray than anything else. Scenes viewed through a haze of rain, wind or snow are beautifully rendered, such as the opening and closing sequences of the Archangel in the Arctic, and the storm sequence on pp. 38-40. Characters sometimes slip into grotesque caricatures, while one or two silhouetted scenes evoke the era strongly. Panels vary greatly in composition and style, making the work as a whole dynamic.
Author and illustrator notes at the end explain the creation process but don’t add much to our understanding of the text. Biographies of Reed, Irving and Shelley follow. Less sensational than the Classics Illustrated version, this version may well hook students who might not be otherwise exposed to the story, and (hopefully!) whet their appetites for the real thing at a later date