February 20, 2012

Monday Review: ZITA THE SPACEGIRL, VOL. 1 by Ben Hatke

Zita the Spacegirl, Vol. 1 was this year's Cybil Award winner in Elementary/Middle Grade Graphic Novels. Now that the winners have been announced, we judges are released from our vows of silence and can now discuss our opinions freely. Bwahahaha.

A quick note: please excuse any similarities in style or phrasing between this review and the official blurb. I helped write the official blurb, and both the blurb and this review reflect the notes I took while I was reading. (Is it really plagiarism if I'm plagiarizing myself? That's a Zen koan for writers if I ever heard one...)

Reader Gut Reaction: Everything about this, to me, screams kid appeal—one of the key must-haves of a great Cybils title. And it's GOT everything: adventure, aliens, robots; critters from the cute to the weird to the scary; friendship and humor aplenty. It felt a little like a Hitchhiker's Guide for kids—to me, the perfect combo of humor and sci-fi adventure. I thought the visual style was fantastic, too, and I read it in one sitting—which was testament not to length or simplicity but to its sheer ability to get me hooked. I'm really glad there's a sequel...

Concerning Character: Zita, the book's heroine, is smart and self-sufficient, and loyal to her friends whether they happen to be human, robot, or giant mouse (and, believe me, she encounters and enlists the help of ALL of those). Her bravery and sense of adventure are balanced out by the fact that she is thoughtful, non-judgmental, and wants to do the right thing. She's drawn in an appealingly loose and open style—well-drawn but not overly complicated. The side characters are varied and interesting, as noted, while from a visual perspective they're consistent with the overall style. In other words, everything fit neatly from a graphic storytelling standpoint.

Recommended for Fans Of...: Stories of adventuresome, plucky, creative, smart kids, like Frankie Pickle or Babymouse (although, technically, I guess she's not a kid...)--if you've got a reader who's "graduated" from those titles and is looking for something a bit more advanced, I think this would be a great choice.

Themes & Things: In my opinion, this was really well-written and has a lot of very thoughtful themes for a graphic novel aimed at the younger set—friendship, loyalty, giving people a chance to prove themselves and looking beyond the exterior to who they really are, creative problem-solving, not losing hope in the face of disaster. While some might see it as more of a genre piece, without a lot of character setup or "message," I see that as a strength, myself, something that helps highlight the book's themes rather than overshadowing them, if that makes sense.

Review Copy Source: Library

You can find Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke at an independent bookstore near you!

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