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Book Review

Swan Lake Ballet Theatre

By Denebola | Published: December 2009
Rachael McNally Swan Lake Ballet Theatre By Jean Mahoney Illustrated by Viola Ann Seden

Losing the News: The Future of the News that Feeds Democracy by Alex S. Jones

By George Abbott White | Published: November 2009
Goodbye newspapers? Or goodbye news? Or goodbye to both? Two years ago I attended a journalism gala at The Michigan Daily in Ann Arbor. More than $11 million had been donated to completely refurbish the 1930s Student Publications Building.

Alex S. Jones

By Adam Goldstein, Shayna Sage and Justin Quinn | Published: November 2009
Alex S. Jones is a journalist and and author. He covered the press for The New York Times, and is currently director of the Shorenstein Center at the JFK School, Harvard University. His latest book, Losing the News (2009) is reviewed in this Section.

Escape from “Special” Miss Lasko-Gross

By Morgan Seiler | Published: October 2009
Escape from “Special, a graphic novel by Miss Lasko-Gross, is a semi-autobiographic account of the middle and late childhood of a girl's coming of age in the competitive, judgmental, over-aware suburban environment, whose hypercritical insights and painful vulnerabilities will be well-known to Persepolis readers. Melissa, the girl's name, is what we now call 'Ëœquirky' or 'Ëœeccentric.' A reflective, highly independent thinker, she is portrayed several times questioning or musing about things you would not expect from someone of her age'€from what other adults think of one another to a psychotherapist who arrogantly pries into his patients' life entirely unaware of how she's onto him. Skillful in some ways similar to her peers, Melissa's mind separates her from her peers, the ones she nevertheless'€and to her humiliating shame and frequent disappointments, sometimes at her own hand'€greatly desires to join. Miss Lasko-Gross mirrors her protagonist's confused and struggling cast of mind by willfully distorting the drawings that'€more or less'€represent that mind. Girls and young women need to feel “pretty; the culture, media, magazines and general environment tell them how to “be pretty 24/7. So Lasko-Gross draws Melissa “unpretty, whether in school or at camp, at a swimming pool or in her room. Lasko-Gross not only flattens the picture plane, reducing, exaggerating or unflatteringly rearranging anatomy, but compresses'€and intensifies'€emotion by using comic-book captions for Melissa'€and others''€thoughts, observations, exchanges and monologues. Form is not the only thing altered. Lasko-Gross flattens'€or drains'€color, her panels a series of sad and caustic black-and-white-and-gray snapshots of Melissa from a young child through middle school. Thus readers see mapped out how Melissa goes from a confused girl who wants to fit in, to a self-assured young woman who is ready to be herself, scars nicely hidden. Girls and young women in our culture are also supposed to be “nice. Melissa is not nice, not in the sense of suppressing what she believes to be honest or important, even when what she is being honest about is wrong. Melissa easily takes offense, spots injustice and hypocrisy with laser-like accuracy and intensity. While the personality of the youthful protagonist may appear unique, it contains more than enough parallels to make the essential elements easily (and un-easily) recognizable to many. Melissa comes across through Lasko-Gross's brilliant artistic flare in portraying these powerful emotions through facial expression and awkward posture, as well as critical and self-conversations that work to reveal more about Melissa than forward any sort of plot'€except getting older and getting on. One of many complaints about graphic novels is that the reader does not get as much access to the characters' minds/thoughts and the focus is therefore more external. Almost the opposite goes for this book. Miss Lasko-Gross has completely tossed out the generic plot map in favor of a character-driven novel. The reader will end up caring far less about what happens and more about what Melissa thinks'€and feels'€about what has happened. And plenty has happened, not all of it intra-psychic or internal. Melissa undeniably had a bit of an unusual childhood. She toured, we learn, with a band, almost died, went to a school for non-mainstream learners, and was raised by incredibly understanding and positive parents who, nevertheless, had their own share of problems and failings'€very few of which escape Melissa's (a little-too sharp eye). Despite abasing herself before thoughtless and even nasty fellow-campers or putting a younger sister in real danger at a pool, Miss Lasko-Gross manages to engagingly narrate the age-old story of an adolescent who is torn between disinterest/dislike for social convention and the need to fit in. Trying not to ruin the content of the book (much, much more to tell), I'll just reveal its value. For anyone who has, at some point in his or her life, tried to fit-in with this or that group or clique in the face of constant rebuffing, Melissa is a character who will be extremely easy to relate to. It is actually easy'€if personally embarrassing to remember'€those AWFUL situations, to sympathize with Melissa's attempts to navigate dangerous waters such as religion or the social circles of middle school girls (yikes!). For the others who haven't undergone this psychologically brutal ritual experience, either through natural social ease or general apathy about the opinions of their peers, Melissa is remains an entertaining character. Like the narrator in Persepolis, Melissa is as hard on herself as those who mistreat her. She's not quite sure she's always right, many times willing to admit she was off track in a harsh judgment. But she also sees the absurdity when others insist everything is or will be “all right. And says so. Melissa can be self-pitying (hard not to feel bad for her); she can also be funny. The discourse between her and those around her makes for a good read. Even noting what she chooses to say and what she doesn't is humorous within itself. Escape from “Special is not a severely dramatic memoir, fairy tale, or superhero story. It's the narrative of someone we either are, or see every day. Throughout the course of the novel, the reader realizes that nobody really listens to Melissa, but on the other hand, she doesn't really try to get someone to understand her or her perspective. Yet through the medium of comedy and art, Melissa finally gets an audience to listen. Us. While the majority of the pages are full of humor, at least the kind that seems humorous when you are 10 years distant from it, there are parts now and then, here and now, that aren't. I don't think they are meant to be. This is a story about the confusion of a girl who grows up labeled as “special, and all the troubles that entails in a world that would rather just smooth things over rather than confront. Melissa is most definitely a person worth getting to know through the pages of a book. In this regard, Miss Lasko-Gross has made a successful contribution to literature on misunderstood children. (Many of us, at one point in our lives!) If you don't know a Melissa in real life yet, I assure you that after reading Escape from “Special," you will want to.
Book review: Sean Turley I remember very little of my childhood. I never kept a journal. There were no picture blogs documenting every charming angle of neither my “firsts nor a place like Facebook to link my embarrassing adolescent traumas to a digital timeline. When my parents did attempt to put my likeness onto film, I always cringed or hid. To my parents' dismay, I always found having my self “captured a scary proposition. Part of me has always liked the idea that my memories, as few as they are, remain unfinished, random recollections of moments without a well-rehearsed historical narrative or photographic scrapbook to bring them to life. Over the last couple decades, Neuroscience has demonstrated the need for us all to be skeptical when considering the apparent objectivity of our memories.  When information comes into our brains through our senses, passes through the hippocampus and then is stored across the far reaches of each person's neocortex, that information degrades, merges with other memories, and even takes on the hue of the emotional state through which it is recalled at a later date.  Physical records of memories (i.e., pictures and videos) can serve to further mess with our ability to recollect as memories of viewing these images can replace and/or misinform the original recollections of the experience.  It follows then that memory is fallible, unreliable, and stricken with imperfections that can frustratingly mislead a person seeking unadulterated truths in their mind's eye. On the bright side, the fact that our memories are so malleable means we can write our own histories and find our own iconic recollections. When it comes to memories, less can be more; the fewer the records, the more power each memory possesses and the more freedom we possess to reinterpret it any way we please. Escape from “Special, Melissa Lasko-Gross' semi-autobiographical recounting of a jarring childhood and adolescence, transcends the crushing nature of an over-remembered life. The heroine of the piece, “Melissa, is presented as a self-reflective and temper-prone girl who wears her bleeding heart on her sleeve. Rather than reading like a diary or journal, the graphic novel has the feel of a young women re-experiencing her various childhood recollections through the emotional ups and downs of her later life. She seems to openly embrace her memories not as a coherent narrative but rather as a random assortment of parts that can be rearranged to tell whatever story she pleases. The presentation of Lasko-Gross's story in a graphic form allows her to fashion a chronicle disconnected from the narrative constraints of a traditional novel.

True Compass

By Joel Bleiwas | Published: September 2009
Senator Edward M Kennedy Twelve Books (New York: 2009) It is, of course, much too early to effectively evaluate the career of Senator Edward M (“Ted) Kennedy.

Yankee Years

By Mark Garrity | Published: May 2009
Yankee Years by Joe Torre and Tom Verducci Joe Torre's life in baseball didn't begin with the Yankees and surely has not ended with them. But, that Bronx pinstripe world was dead center, and is dead center for many fans still.

Book Review: Stu Cohen’s The Likes of Us

By Jason Agress | Published: April 2009
The Likes of Us: Photography and the Farm Security Administration Stu Cohen Boston: Godine Press (2009)

Hiroshima Mon Amour

By Suzanne DeRobert | Published: December 2008
Marguerite Duras? Outrageous, simply outrageous. She was self-dramatizing, self-promoting and self-destructive, both as artist and individual, yet no account of French literature or cinema or theatre would be complete without her.

Angler, The Cheney Vice-Presidency

By George Abbott White | Published: November 2008
Author: Barton Gellman It's a good thing our President-Elect taught constitutional law at the University of Chicago. Alongside saving the economy, managing two wars, rebuilding America's relations with virtually every country on the planet, reversing global warming and effecting U.S. energy independence, Barack Obama's most important task may well be setting the nation's legal house in order.

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