MANGA MONDAY: Saint Young Men

For today’s #MangaMonday I chose a re-released old classic that is so full of joy, you can’t help but smile while reading it.

Saint Young Men by Nakamura Hikaru is the story of Jesus and Buddha as roommates in Tokyo while they take a vacation from their godly duties to explore Earth. Each chapter is a snippet of the adventures they go on together and the hilarious mishaps two gods find themselves getting into while trying to function as regular humans.

I remember loving this series in high school because I thought the concept alone was hilarious. I saw snippets of the anime and laughed when I heard about the trailer for a live action film just a year or two ago. For anyone concerned about the religious content, I am not a religious person in the least but I can respect those who are and I feel Nakamura was sure to be respectful when putting out this series. The jokes are hilarious but never distasteful, even when addressing the Crucifixion or Buddha’s death.

This manga is definitely a feel-good, slice-of-life comedy that makes the perfect read for this time of year when keeping upbeat can be difficult. If you’re looking for a bit of fun with wonderful artwork and a loveable character duo, I highly recommend picking up the newest edition of Saint Young Men.

An Evening with Miriam Toews

All I knew about Miriam Toews prior to the wonderful night I met her, was that she wrote “the chicken book” (more commonly known to people as A Complicated Kindness). However, upon hearing about the content of her latest novel, Women Talking, there was no way I wasn’t going to attend the first stop on her wonderful book tour, hosted by my absolute favourite bookstore, Ben McNally Books.

miriam-toews-april-400x600.jpgThe evening was a pleasant one as people lined up outside the small Toronto theatre, so many had arrive that the line stretched past not one but two subway stops around the block. People of all varieties were there to hear one of many In Her Voice talks hosted by Ben McNally Books showcasing female authors and giving them a larger platform for their voices. Of course, I bought my copy of Women Talking the moment I got through the doors and found a seat with the lovely librarians I had been chatting with in line.

Upon introductions of the two authors present, Toews herself came out to give a brief background on the Mennonite community mentioned in the novel before reading an excerpt not quiet at the beginning of the novel. The excerpt was surprisingly funny and the audience all laughed more than once, showing that despite the heavy content of the novel, it would still be lighthearted and hopeful. Miriam finished the reading and was then joined on stage by Canadian journalist and non-fiction author, Rachel Giese.

Although I was not familiar with Giese’s work, she was a phenomenal – for lack of a better term – interviewer and was on top of the poignant questions regarding how we as “outsiders” see the Mennonite communities and their seemingly backwards ways. Toews had insightful answers about how there are these hyper conservative communities where women are no better than the animals they look after all day, where they are basically slaves to the community they are held by, but not all of them are like that. The discussion went in depth about how sexual assault cases aren’t always black and white, even to the victims of such crimes.

The phrase that rung out hardest with me was when Toews was discussing the death of her sister and how she never thought she would write again. “Sometimes words can save us,” Toews said, “and sometimes they can’t.” Given the loss of my cousin only a few months ago, this hit home for me and is relevant to my life in more ways than I can say.

At the end of the discussion, Giese asked what was going to be coming next from Toews and her answer had us all in stitches. “I feel like a retired cop who’s finally gotten out of the game. But then the phone rings and I’m drawn back in saying, ‘What did the Mennonites do this time?'”* The theatre promptly cleared out as everyone got in line to have their books – new and old – signed and it was a lovely evening all around.

My book has “Keep Talking” written in the front cover now and thanks to Miriam Toews, that’s what I plan to do.

* this has been paraphrased for clarity

In Her Voice with Miriam Toews was held at the The Isabel Bader Theatre in Toronto on August 20th, 2018 with many thanks to the theatre, Ben McNally Books, and Penguin Publishing Canada/Knopf Canada.


And now for the review.

I knew a little bit about Mennonites going into this book, as in my old neighbourhood there were often many wandering about while their children were in the local hospital (I volunteered at a Ronald McDonald House across the street where most of them stayed). Any interactions I had with them were brief, but always delightful. Of course, out of fear of offending anyone, I never asked any questions but was always curious about how their communities worked.

Given the times, and the #MeToo movement, it’s the perfect time for this book to be published. It’s also an incredible way to frame the question of addressing sexual assault. Given that the women in the book – based on the very real people these terrible abuses happened to – are in this kind of hyper conservative, almost anti-woman, community, it brings out how things are far more complicated to the victims than someone may believe.

These women have three options: forgive their rapists and continue their lives in fear, stay in the community and fight for their rights, or leave. These women don’t speak English. These women don’t know where they exist in the world. These women have nothing to their names but the clothing on their backs. It’s not an easy decision to make and that’s what the book is about. The two days they have to make their decision before their rapists return to the village.

As mentioned above, Women Talking is an incredibly real and serious book tackling a very difficult topic for anyone to talk about openly. But it is a book about perseverance, hope, laughter, and love. It gives these women a voice and a way to be angry and scared. It is a story about being strong for those you care about and stay true to what you believe in with all your heart and soul.

I loved this book and am proud to have read it. You don’t need to be religious for this book to speak to you. If any part of you believes in equality, feminism, and justice for the victims of hateful crimes, you need to read this book.


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Author: Miriam Toews
Published: August 21, 2018
Pages: 240
Publisher: Knopf Canada
ISBN: 9780735273962

Synopsis:Based on actual events that happened between 2005 and 2009 in a remote Mennonite community where more than 100 girls and women were drugged unconscious and assaulted in the night by what they were told (by the men of the colony) were “ghosts” or “demons,” Miriam Toews’ bold and affecting novel Women Talking is an imagined response to these real events. The novel takes place over forty-eight hours, as eight women gather in secret in a neighbour’s barn while the men are in a nearby town posting bail for the attackers. They have come together to debate, on behalf of all the women and children in the community, whether to stay or leave before the men return. Taking minutes is the one man trusted and invited by the women to witness the conversation–a former outcast whose own surprising story is revealed as the women speak. By turns poignant, witty, acerbic, bitter, tender, devastating, and heartbreaking, the voices in this extraordinary novel are unforgettable. Toews has chosen to focus the novel tightly on a particular time and place, and yet it contains within its 48 hours and setting inside a hayloft an entire vast universe of thinking and feeling about the experience of women (and therefore men, too) in our contemporary world. In a word: astonishing.

REVIEW: The Book of Essie

Lately the book subscription that intrigues me the most is the Book of the Month Club, however, it does not ship to Canada. So instead I’m watching their selections as they are announced and request books from the library or even buy them at Canadian stores. Obviously, I’d prefer the subscription, but for the time being, I feel like this is a decent way to pick which books to read.

One of the books that really caught my attention was the debut novel from Meghan MacLean Weir, The Book of Essie. I normally don’t read much contemporary, and when I do it’s definitely not about reality TV or religion. However, there was just something about the way the synopsis was phrased (combined with it’s inclusion in BotM) that piqued my interest.

The plot centres not only around Essie herself, but her upper-classmate, Roarke, and a complicated tabloid journalist for print and TV, Libby. Essie Hicks discovers that she is pregnant and – being the star of a Keeping Up With The Kardashians style reality show about their Evangelically religious family – is not left with many options. The family decides that marriage is their best way to mask the pregnancy, leaving Essie entirely out of the decision making… or so they think.

Meanwhile, Roarke is struggling with family issues of his own. Too poor to say their store and their home while also being too poor to send their son to college, Roarke and his family get swept up in the Hicks’ family drama while still very much dealing with his own.

And through all of this, ex-cultist Liberty Bell is trying to make a name for herself now that she has outgrown the hyper-religious, survivalist, and intolerant up-bringing she fought her way through. Having been in what she believes to be the same suffocating situation as Essie, Libby is striving to help this young girl get to a point where she can live her own life and not the life of her parents.

The three perspectives are incredibly insightful and honestly lead to a story with far more depth than what one might initially think. The characters are fully developed in their trauma and their beliefs while showing growth even before the story really starts. What I really loved best with this novel was how it delved into the consent from children into religion as well as celebrity life. It explored intolerance and how that can have very different reactions from each person who is forced into trying to change themselves. It explores cult mentality and how fanatics and extremists of anything are really no different than what society considers a cult.

But most importantly, this is a book about being brave. It is about holding your chin high and doing what you know is right, even if it is hard. It is about strength in friendships.

Trigger Warnings [[ spoilers ]]

Despite how much I love this novel, I do want to mention that there are strong mentions of homophobia, conversion therapy, suicide, racism, and sexual assault.


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Author: Meghan Maclean Weir
Published: June 12, 2018
Pages: 336
Publisher: Knopf
ISBN: 9780525520313

Synopsis: Esther Ann Hicks–Essie–is the youngest child on Six for Hicks,a reality television phenomenon. She’s grown up in the spotlight, both idolized and despised for her family’s fire-and-brimstone brand of faith. When Essie’s mother, Celia, discovers that Essie is pregnant, she arranges an emergency meeting with the show’s producers: Do they sneak Essie out of the country for an abortion? Do they pass the child off as Celia’s? Or do they try to arrange a marriage–and a ratings-blockbuster wedding? Meanwhile, Essie is quietly pairing herself up with Roarke Richards, a senior at her school with a secret of his own to protect. As the newly formed couple attempt to sell their fabricated love story to the media–through exclusive interviews with an infamously conservative reporter named Liberty Bell–Essie finds she has questions of her own: What was the real reason for her older sister leaving home? Who can she trust with the truth about her family? And how much is she willing to sacrifice to win her own freedom?

REVIEW: The Wicked + The Divine: Fandemonium

I mentioned in my review of The Wicked + The Divine volume 1 that it’s been a long time since I’ve read “real” comics, but with this review I want to mention that I haven’t screamed over a comic since 2013-ish. And boy did I scream over the ending of this one.

In my last review, I mentioned the American Gods vibe of the first five issues, well combine that vibe with the death count of Game of Thrones and you’ve got what volume 2 is all about. Of course, what differentiates this from what I’m referencing is the inclusion of so much diversity in race, gender identity, and sexual orientation.

From what I’ve gotten so far from the way the characters – especially the gods – present themselves, no one is straight. Like, no one. Not only that but the trans character, Cassandra, is always referred to with female pronouns and terms. It may be a story of death, grief, and violence, but the inclusion and respect is truly wonderful.

This is an incredible story, an incredibly series, and I’m already devastated by the end of this second volume. I can’t wait to sink my teeth into volume 3 and continue to suffer.

Conclusion ★★★★★


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Authors:  Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles
Published:  July 1, 2015
Pages: 168
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 9781632153272

Synopsis: The second volume of the award-winning urban fantasy series where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. Following the tragic and unjust death of Lucifer, it takes a revelation from Inanna to draw Laura back into the worlds of Gods and Superstardom to try and discover the truth behind a conspiracy to subvert divinity. Includes issues 6-11 of the series, plus supplementary material.

 

REVIEW: The Wicked + The Divine: The Faust Act

It’s been a hell of a long time since I’ve read comics, but I’ve been needing more fast, fun things to read lately and figured I’d get caught up on the good stuff. Starting off this graphic-novel binge, I chose The Wicked + The Divine from one of my favourite authors, Kieron Gillen (who’s Journey Into Mystery run gave me life).

The Story

The plot of The Wicked + The Divine is that every 90 years, a pantheon of gods assume the form of regular people who will die within two years of gaining their forms. There are non-believers of course, but for the most part the youth of the times idolize these gods in a similar way as celebrities are adored by society now. But there have been several gruesome murders, and Luci (Lucifer) is being held accountable despite insisting innocence. Her biggest fan, Laura, is now responsible for finding the true murderer and freeing her friend and idol before all hell breaks loose.

It gave me strong American Gods vibes with the flashy colours of something out of the 80s (although it’s set in modern times) and I loved every page.

The Characters

Being a comic series of less than 150 pages in this volume, there’s still a lot to learn about the several main characters – that I’m hoping to get out of volume 2. To keep it simple, I’ll just talk about Laura specifically and then the gods as a whole.

Laura is kind of hypnotic as she narrates her life. She’s lonely and just wants to be a part of something special, something important, something bigger than herself. She wants to mean something. It’s a really relatable feeling and her passion is fierce as she defends Lucifer.

The gods themselves are intriguing. It makes me want to read up on more mythology as they aren’t from a single culture. Sure, we have Lucifer of the Catholic faith, but we also have Baal, The Morrigan, Sakhmet, and even Minerva. It’s a curious combination and I’m really looking forward to learning more about all of them and how this reincarnation thing works.

The Issues

None. None at all.

Conclusion ★★★★★

I loved this. It was a lot of fun and the writing leaves enough holes in the story to make you want to continue reading, while still giving you enough information to keep from being confused. I am majorly surprised there’s been no talk of a TV series out of this one and would die to see it (even more so if Evan Rachel Wood played Luci – the two of them are identical). I’m already starting volume 2 and look forward to seeing where this series is going to go.


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Authors:  Kieron Gillen, Jamie McKelvie, Matt Wilson, and Clayton Cowles
Published:  November 12, 2014
Pages: 144
Publisher: Image Comics
ISBN: 9781632150196

Synopsis: Every ninety years, twelve gods incarnate as humans. They are loved. They are hated. In two years, they are dead. The team behind critical tongue-attractors like Young Avengers and PHONOGRAM reunite to create a world where gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods. But remember: just because you’re immortal, doesn’t mean you’re going to live forever.