Reviews of The Other Boy, A Game for Swallows & Seeking Refuge

May 8, 2018 -- by anashaw40

If I begin in the order that I read them, Seeking Refuge, is a graphic novel written by Irene Watts and drawn by Kathryn E. Shoemaker.  This novel was a pleasant surprise, as I hadn’t realised Goodbye Marianne was the start of a trilogy that was based around Watt’s experiences as a refugee in the United Kingdom during the war.  I was curious to learn what happened after Marianne reached the train station in Berlin to head to London.

The tale was interesting, and I sympathised with her traumatic experiences by ‘well-meaning’ foster parents, but the graphics confused me as it felt like a different graphic artist had drawn this novel. Goodbye Marianne was more delicately rendered, while Seeking Refuge was harder to see with smudgy charcoal.  While this was intentional to capture her dark mood, it wasn’t so aesthetically pleasing for me having prior expectations. But nevertheless, a good follow-up to Goodbye Marianne.

Seeking Refuge
Goodbye Marianne

The Other Boy, by M.G. Hennessey, was recommended to me by an avid reader in my class and I am hugely grateful for the pick.  Hennessey deftly tells the tale of Shane Woods experiences of being a transgender boy in middle school and what happens when his parent’s decision to keep this information private comes out. An insightful and enlightening story that skilfully captures a 12 year boy who is torn by what is private and what is keeping secrets or just lying.  The beautiful relationship between Shane and Josh ‘Team Swoosh!’ was positively affirming, as was his loving mother who feels his pain so strongly.

And great news for anyone who considered recommending it at school as Hennessey has said on Twitter: “I’m currently booking no-fee virtual school and library Skype/FaceTime sessions for this fall, happy to discuss The Other Boy and other trans-themed / . DM me for more info.” What a great opportunity.

It also, reminded me of another novel I finished recently and also enjoyed, This is How it Always Is by Laurie Frankel, who wrote the novel loosely based on her own experiences of having a daughter who was born a boy.  This was from the parent’s perspective and the agonising choices they needed to make. Frankel approaches the topic  from when Claude was a toddler until she reaches upper middle school. Both novels pair well, with the varied perspectives on the same topic.

Lastly, A Game for Swallows: To Die, To Leave, To Return, by Zeina Abirached, is a memoir of Abirached’s childhood in Beirut during the civil war. The novel focuses on a night when Zeina and her brother are watched over by their loving neighbours, in their foyer, during an attack as they anxiously wait for their parents return.

Ironically, A Game for Swallows‘s back jacket likened the novel to Persepolis – and, as I mentioned in my review of Arab of the Future, graphic novels under a regime are cursed in always being compared to Perspepolis, when it is such a hard standard to meet. And writing this on the jacket set the novel up, in my mind, as the graphics had a similarity that was slightly uncanny.

What I enjoyed most about Game of Swallows was the way the characters nonchantly leaned on the panels. It felt so relaxed and natural, as you can see below.   I also how it captured that moment in time where tension is fraught, but a community pulls together.

A Game for Swallows

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