Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Americus by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill

When Christian fundamentalist unite to have a popular fantasy series banned from a small town Oklahoma library, a shy teenager finds the courage to stand against them in Americus, a graphic novel by MK Reed and Jonathan Hill. As happened with the Harry Potter books in real life, the Apathea Ravenchilde series is being challenged on the grounds that it promotes witchcraft. (And witches are girlfriends of the devil, don't you know!) Neil and his best friend Danny are both big fans of the Apathea novels.

Danny's mother is the one who spearheads the campaign against the books. In a heated exchange at the supper table, she tells him, "Everything I do is to protect you from the people who want to put your soul in jeopardy -- the damn liberals, the atheists and gays..." Danny leaps to his feet to exclaim, "Damn it, Mom! I'm gay!" There is major fallout after this declaration, as you might expect.

But before all that, on the night of Neil and Danny's graduation from Grade 8, there's the principal's speech. In addition to being hilarious, it reveals a certain mindset within the community.

"I remember a day, not so long ago, when you parents first brought your young boys and girls here to Americus Middle School. That day we began to fill their empty brains with knowledge, teach them obedience, and burn into their minds respect for God and country. But tonight, we open our doors to push these fledgling birds from the nest so that they can be transformed into beautiful butterflies ready to build a better future for tomorrow and defend our nation against all its enemies. As our little pioneers settle the new frontier of McGraw-Coyne High School this fall, they will bring with them the game plan for success. They will emerge from our locker room of education ready to tackle any rushing based offense, block any tight end, recover their fumbles, and turn life's fourth downs into touchdowns, complete with two-point conversions, and by saying no to drugs and yes to Jesus, they will all be winners. Our future parents, teachers, farmers, soldiers, businessmen, pastors, and athletes all sit before you tonight, preparing to soar majestically like our great eagles that symbolize our nation's greatness..."

Scenes from Apathea Ravenchilde are interspersed throughout the book, providing insight into the actual contents of the much-discussed series. Aspects of it -- dragons with the ability to shapeshift into human form, a heroine who has larger things on her mind than the gossiping girls around her -- brought to mind Rachel Hartman's Seraphina. 

There are gossipy teens in the contemporary storyline, as well as some sassy girls who demonstrate to Neil how to stand up for themselves. In his Grade 9 shop class, there are only two girls. On the first day, the teacher walks in saying, "Quit screwing around, take your seats and shut your traps. This is industrial arts, not home ec. This is where you boys are gonna to learn how to be men." Stacey puts up her hand. "Mr. Geary, what about me an' Amber?" He answers, "This is where you'll learn you don't need men." "Cool." is Amber's response. Took the words right out of my mouth.

Of course there's a great librarian character, too. Charlotte is a valiant defender of intellectual freedom.

Jonathan Hill's clean, swoopy black and white art reminds me of newspaper cartoons like Family Circus and Dennis the Menace. I enjoyed Americus very much.

Readalike: Friends with Boys (Faith Erin Hicks).

No comments: