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YALSA Winner and Powerful Read:
by Scott Tingley, January 19, 2008

It's too bad we aren't supposed to give high school kids books to read in class with the F word all through them. Well, I'm not sure about that. Maybe it is okay to assign books with swearing in them, but you sure aren't allowed to give a comic book with swearing in it. Sure, you can recommend a borderline book to a kid like my grade 10 teacher did when he told some kids they should read Breakfast of Champions (I prefer Hocus Pocus and Bluebeard myself), but you are asking for a whole lot of trouble if you hand a questionable comic or graphic novel to a student.

That said, kids swear like sailors (sorry sailors, just a figure of speech) and if there is a powerful book that will get them to read and think, then the F word shouldn't stop them from the opportunity. The Young Adult Library Services Association seems to think so anyway.

YALSA, the fastest-growing division of the American Library Association, has just announced the winners of the 2008 Alex Awards, ten adult books with specific teen appeal . The awards, sponsored by Booklist, were just announced at the 2008 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Philadelphia , and Jeff Lemire's ESSEX COUNTY (VOL 1): TALES FROM THE FARM was one of the ten winners! And to put this in perspective, the last graphic novel to make this list was Persepolis , and that was five years ago. (from TopshelfComix.com)

Essex County vol 1 is a powerful graphic novel by Canadian talent Jeff Lemire. It shows visually what a many of my favourite Canadian novels tell about. That rural emptiness. That desperation that comes from trying to hold together your end of the deal: I will work sun up to sun down working this land, and you will pay me a fair price for my product. Unfortunately, the farmer is often the only one holding his end down. One look at the emptiness that permeates the farmer, his family, his land, his trees and his tractor….one look and you know him – or at least you have a good idea of his troubles and his feelings that he has been betrayed. The character of Uncle Kenny is a man given the task of caring for his young nephew. He didn't ask for it, and probably doesn't want it, but he tries his best, and I felt his emptiness and frustration when his best efforts are ignored.

There is a sense of loss on the boy and his uncle. A loss we learn about fairly quickly – a loss that left two people with few choices.

Xeric Award-winning cartoonist Jeff Lemire ( Lost Dogs ) illustrates the tale of Lester, a recently orphaned 10-year-old who goes to live on his Uncle's farm. Their relationship grows increasingly strained and Lester befriends the town's hulking gas station owner, Jimmy Lebeuf. The two escape into a private fantasy world of Superheroes, Alien Invaders and good old-fashioned pond Hockey. (from TopshelfComix.com)

Taunted with “F*g” and “F*g Boy” and Lester, an ex-hockey player that suffered some brain damage on the ice, swears a fair bit, so I'm not sure if it would be allowed for use in a high school lit. class, but it might be okay to recommend. I really don't know what the line is for high school, so you will have to make that call yourself. Lester says F*** a LOT! But it should be made clear that there are no gratuitous scenes of sex and violence in this book. This book is unlikely to turn your kids into a degenerate.

Lester wears a superhero costume through much of Tales From The Farm, and it seems a bit odd for a while. I was uneasy about it actually. I read and enjoy all sorts of comics and graphic novels, some superhero some not at all. I was worried that someone new to comics might check it out, see the kid in a mask and cape, and put it back on the shelf with their preconceived notions that comics are just guys in capes confirmed. In my opinion, people that pick up Tales and come away still clinging to that idea are likely too narrow minded to have their minds changed and we can't worry about them.

This was a real strong first read for me. Lemire's story reminded me of the works of Canadian writers like David Adam Richards and musicians like Fred Eaglesmith. High compliments from me. If you can get by the F word, pick this up for yourself and a teen in your life.

Essex County Vol. 1: Tales from the Farm
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
ISBN: 1891830880
Price: $9.95



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