Thursday, May 26, 2011

More Tween Lit in a Toddler Household

Growing up, comic books were rare in my household. While I consumed several forests worth of books with the currency of my blue library card, comic books cost actual, green money. Probably for that reason, the comic books stationed eye-level by the National Enquirer were unconsciously relegated to vacation-reading.

Unlike the kids behind me in Wal-mart yesterday, my brother and I didn't bother begging my mother for whatever impulse item the store dangled before our eyes while we stood and waited. If we wanted it, we paid for it. With only a $20 a month allowance throughout high school, it was a big deal for me to stand in line at the check-out counter and actually buy something there.

Each summer, though, I would loosen the very tight purse strings and buy a comic book with Betty, Veronica, and Archie, something to help fill a several-day drive to visit some distant family member. Then came a travel game to play with my brother, and finally, a bag of M&M's that I would pour into an empty peanut butter container. Somehow, they tasted better that way.

Somewhere along the way, I left Archie for the classics illustrated in comic books. My first was Charles Dickens' Great Expectations. For a literary kid, I was in heaven.

That's close to how I felt last month when I reviewed G.P. Taylor's second book in The Dopple Ganger Chronicles graphic novel series. I couldn't stop talking about it because it was genuinely the neatest literature to come across my desk since my childhood when I discovered literature redone as comic books.

However, Taylor's second book, The Secret of Indigo Moon, had some problems. I loved the whole concept of a graphic novel done in the vein of C.S. Lewis's Narnia series, with characters representing an angel (Madame Raphael) and God the Father (the Companion), but the book was very hard to get into for two reasons.

One was that Taylor's text-to-comic ratio was a bit off. Some ideas/actions he tried to convey through blurbs in comic frames just left me a bit confused. Secondly, as one who had not read the first in the series, I found the book a hard sell as a stand-alone novel. Granted, a series means "must read in this order," but still, a book should be able to stand on its own binding.

Thankfully, Taylor's newest third novel in the series, The Great Mogul Diamond does not suffer from these two flaws. In this third installment of the series, twins Sadie and Saskia Dopple along with Erik Ganger and private eye Dorcas Potts must help writer Muzz Elliot figure out who is recreating her novels in real life. If they don't, she could end up in jail...or worse. The plot is just as nicely fast paced as the second novel, but this time, it is much easier to follow from page one and works quite well as a stand-alone graphic novel.

While Taylor doesn't beat the reader over the head with Christianity, this book does a fairly good job of demonstrating what it means to have faith in God through difficult circumstances. I don't want to spoil the plot, but in one scene, the angel reveals what Erik should do next, and he must act on faith, even when such an action seems crazy in human terms.

In this third novel, the reader is also introduced to a new character, "The Man of Good-Bye-Friday," a neat nickname for Jesus. When Jesus is first introduced, Taylor gives the reader a Moses-like experience on holy ground, with Erik being told to take off his shoes.

While it bugs me more than a little that Christ is depicted as a tall, thin, long-side-burned guy in a pinstripe suit, I'm not sure any depiction of a comic-drawn Jesus would not give me pause. Even so, I love that Taylor focuses the dialogue on the scars on His hands and the loving warmth He exudes so that Erik never even needs to ask who the man is--he knows, and so does the reader. In the novel's end, he even has the angel asking about Christ's sacrifice on the cross even for people who get it wrong and Jesus saying, "It was worth it."

Simply put, by this third novel, G.P. Taylor seems to be well settled into this type of literature and focusing more on (1) creating a novel that stands alone as well as fits into the series and (2) emphasizing the Christian elements, both while staying true to rapid, interesting plots for a tween reader.

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