Saturday, May 13, 2023

Cartoon Saturday- Four Eyes

Ogle, Rex. Four Eyes.
May 2, 2023 by Graphix
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

In this graphic novel, young Rex Ogle (Free Lunch) is apprehensive about starting middle school. He lives with his hardworking mother, younger brother Ford, and Ford's father, Sam. Rex's father has a new family, and while he is well to do, does not support Rex monetarily as well as he should. Middle school is tough, especially when his long time best friend Drew decides to hang out with the "cool kids" that bully Rex and make fun of the fact that he gets free lunch and his mother works at a local Chinese restaurant. Rex struggles in school because he can't see the board, and he gets headaches from trying to focus. He eventually gets examined for glasses, but ends up with a pair he thinks are ugly because they are less expensive. The lenses are thicker than he expects, and Oliver makes fun of that as well. There are other tensions in Rex's world, including the fact that his mother fights with his abuela, who is one of the few people who seem to understand Rex, and who offers rare treats like new clothes and different food, which angers Rex's mother further. Hiding during lunch one day, Rex meets Scott, who used to wear glasses and likes comics. Rex had spoken up when Oliver was picking on Scott, and the two become friends, bonding over their shared interests. Middle school is still a struggle for Rex, but he gains a little perspective when his abuela shares things about her impoverished upbringing that are even worse, and he talks to his mom about her reasons for resenting her mother. After suffering with broken glasses for a while, Rex gets new ones that he likes better. His father pays for them after his mother complains, and thanks to contributions from both his abuela and father, Rex is able to go on a Washington, D.C. trip with his classmates and feels somewhat better about his whole experience. 
Strengths: The style of artwork is appealing, and conducive to showing all of the angst that Rex is feeling. His mother and stepfather seem a bit nicer in this book than in Free Lunch, so the story centers more on Rex's struggles in school and with his glasses. It's good that he makes a friend not only in Drew but with a couple of other students who like Star Wars and comics; it was very realistic that his elementary school classmates could have gone to a different middle school, leaving him with few friends. Rex does make efforts at standing up for himself and for others, which was good to see. Graphic memoirs see a lot of circulation, but fewer of them have boys as the main characters. 
Weaknesses: I got glasses in 7th grade, almost fifty years ago, and not a single person made fun of me. I was also very short, and wore a back brace for scoliosis, so I was much geekier and much more of a target than Rex! I've talked to students at my school as well, and so many people have glasses and braces that this is no longer a subject of derision. I'm sorry that Ogle was bothered by bullies when he was growing up, but I'm not sure how this will resonate with my young readers. 
What I really think: This is a good choice for readers who like graphic novels about children who struggle with various issues, like Telgemeier's Guts or Libenson's Invisible Emmie

Beatty, Robert and Sherrell, Braeden (illus.) Serfina and the Black Cloak
April 4, 2023 by Disney Hyperion
E ARC provided by Edelweiss Plus

Serafina and her father live in the basement of the Biltmore Mansion in the early 1900s. Her father works there repairing equipment, and Serafina toils on as the chief rat catcher, finding rodents in the night and carrying them outside to release them. She is not allowed out in the day, and her father tells her that no one must see her. She does come to the attention of the young, orphaned Braeden Vanderbilt, and talks to him about the fact that children have gone missing from the estate. Serafina has had a run in with a dark and creepy figure in a black cloak, and thinks that it is behind the disappearances, but no one would believe her. She talks to her father about her background and finds out odd and disturbing secrets about her past. When she is out of the basement in the daylight, a staff member wants to know who she is, but she makes her escape with Braeden in a carriage. The two share a deep bond neither understand but find comforting. When they run into trouble in the woods, the need to solve the mystery of the disappearances grows more desperate. Will Serafina be able to solve the mystery and return the lost children to their parents?

It's always interesting to read a graphic novel version of a novel I read years ago (this originally came out in 2015), and see what I remember. Serafina wearing her father's shirts so he wouldn't be seen buying dresses in town was foremost in my mind; sure enough, the drawings do show her in a belted garment that looks suspiciously like an old fashioned undershirt. I also remember violent killigs of rats, but this seems to have been changed to relocating them. She does still have to grab them and hold them tight, which was uncomfortable to read! The rest of the story remains the same, and some of the issues in Serafina's past are made more clear by having illustrations. 

While it's rather disturbing that Serafina has been hidden away in a basement for her whole life, her father has good reasons for it that I don't want to spoil, and they do get beds and linen in the end! The mystery of the figure in the black cloak is rather dark, and there's a pervasive sense of dread and doom because of it. The pages mirror that feeling with very muted colors; blues for the night, and tans and maroons for the daytime. Despite the missing children and the evil of the cloak, Braeden and Serafina finally have each other and are able to have a soul mate to help them deal with their trauma. 

There are several novels in the original series, so I wonder if more will be adapted into graphic novels. This put me in mind of several other middle grade novels, although I can't think of anything that is exactly like it. I think Serafine would be friends with Bunce's Myrtle Hardcastle, the figure in the cloak reminded me of some of the creepiness of Smith's Hoodoo, and this also had the adventure and something of the feel of Chadda's City of the Plague God

Ms. Yingling

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