Reading Round-Up #2 — Comics that AREN’T Superheroes

Welcome back! This blog is part of a series on what I’ve been reading lately (Check out part 1 on young adult books). As a comic fan, I am contractually obligated to get everyone I know to read comics. My friends will always throw up the “But I don’t like superheroes” defense. You fools! There as many different comic genres as regular book genres! So this Reading Round-Up for all those interested in comics, but maybe not the ever-expanding, ever-contradicting world of superhero comics. All of these books are self-contained within their own series. All you got to do is order issue 1 to join us.

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moonstruck-1_f762cf46adMoonstruck Vol 1: Magic to Brew

Julie is just your normal werewolf barista who gets flustered around her crush Selena and accidentally gets her friends cursed.

ADORABLE, is the perfect word for Moonstruck. The art is cute (and diverse!), the story a fun adventure, the love story feel-good and warm (and queer!), and the characters absolutely loveable. There are rocker gorgons, college fratboy fairies, prophecizing baristas, and my favorite, the happy-go-lucky centaur Chet. Moonstruck is for anyone who loves magic and wants a fun romp.

Written by Grace Ellis, art by Shae Beagle and a whole talented team.

81xdabagn8lHead Lopper & The Island or A Plague of Beasts 

Norgal, better known as the swordsman Head Lopper, does exactly as his name implies. He kicks ass and takes heads. This particular adventure has Norgal on the island Barra, sent by their queen to kill the Sorcerer of the Black Bog. However, his quest is not quite as simple as Norgal assumes. There are unknown dangers, treacherous advisors, and ancient orders of witches.

Head Lopper is bloody, but fun, adventure story with heavy Nordic influences. I could easily Head Lopper as a video game, where the hero is walking into a complex world already in motion. The action sequences are stunning and the side characters surprisingly complex. My favorite is the bitter, sarcastic witch’s head Norgal carries around.  While it is a series, the first volume is a complete adventure. It’s nice not to be left on a cliff hanger.

Story and art by Andrew Maclean, color by Mike Spicer.

81ieh5ruevlTaproot

The budding romance between a ghost and a gardener is threatened when a dark forest starts to appear.

A sweet, queer love story, Taproot is a soft-spoken story. Really, anyone who enjoys drawings of plants is going to love this one. The art is beautiful. The love story is super sweet too but has some darker moments that gives you all of the feels. It’s also a graphic novel so its a stand-alone story. Would recommend for anyone who likes a heart-warming read.

Story and art by Keezy Young.

 

51eertetuql._sx323_bo1204203200_Rock Candy Mountain Volume 1

An unbeatable man, Hobo Jackson, is trying to find the mythical Rocky Candy Mountain and brings the unluckiest man alive, Pomona Slim with him. Meanwhile, the hobo mafia, the FBI, and the literal Devil are on his tail.

Rock Candy Mountain is a great mix of comedy and adventure. It really is a wild west story, but with hobos instead of cowboys. All I can say is it’s a wild time and you should read it. There are only two volumes so it’s a quick read (still got to get vol 2!).

Story and art by Kyle Starks, color by Chris Schweizer.

51mfwvsyr4l._sx258_bo1204203200_SuperMutant Magic Academy

So on paper, it’s about a magic school and the misadventures of its student body. Harry Potter, but more high school drama with crushes, D&D, puberty, and performance art rather than epic quests to defeat evil wizards. Sounds like a fun young adult read, right?

However, the entire graphic novel is told in comic strips that are maybe two pages max, a single image at their shortest. It’s like Peanuts, but with high schoolers, magic, and the most absurdist, bizarre sense of humor. The result is a collection that is more than the sum of its parts. As you read, you get to know students like Wendy, Frances, Cheddar, and Marsha. You’re privy to their funny stories and their heartbreak. And by the end, you’ve connected with something, whether it’s the characters, life as a teenager, the greater entropy of the universe.

Story and art by Jillian Tamaki.

Do you have any favorite comics and graphic novels that aren’t superheroes? Tell me about them in the comments!

 

Analogy – Figures of Speech #2

This blog is part of a series called Figures of Speech, where I define a figure of speech, deconstruct an example from a great writing figure, and try my hand at writing the figure myself. Our second figure of speech is analogy!

What is Analogy?

According to literarydevices.net,

“An analogy is a comparison in which an idea or a thing is compared to another thing that is quite different from it. It aims at explaining that idea or thing by comparing it to something that is familiar. Metaphors and similes are tools used to draw an analogy. Therefore, analogy is more extensive and elaborate than either a simile or a metaphor.”

I never thought how closely related most figurative language is. Metaphors, similes, analogies, synecdoche, hyperbole and many more are all just comparisons. To me what stands out about analogy is the explaining bit. I think about people or characters speaking to each other. Like in a classroom where a teacher is trying to explain an scientific concept. Or in a comedy show where John Mulaney is trying to explain what it’s like to have Trump as president. 

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Deconstructing the Figure

As much as I would LOVE to deconstruct Mulaney’s “Horse in a hospital” joke, I can’t upload videos to this blog (good old free but limited accounts), but feel free to add your analysis of the joke in the comments!

Instead, I chose a quote from one of my favorite (and very eloquent) characters on Game of Thrones, Lord Varys, Master of Whisperers:

“Influence grows like a weed. I tended mine patiently until its tendrils reached all the way from the Red Keep to the far side of the world, where I managed to wrap them around something very special” -Lord Varys, Game of Thrones Season 3 Episode 4

The first part of Varys analogy, “Influence grows like a weed,” fulfills the first part of the definition. He is comparing very different things, Influence and Weeds. That is, unless the weeds in on my patio are conspiring invade my house and overthrow me.  But what makes something an analogy is the explaining bit. Analogies are suppose to explain by using something familiar. Anyone with a yard is familiar with weeds. They grow in nooks and cracks, often unnoticed, and very hard to be rid of. They are small things that collectively have great power (like thwarting my mother’s gardening attempts). Varys says influence is the same. Influence is not big and mighty, but small and everywhere.

Analogies are more complex than one simile or metaphor. Varys going on to explain his gardening technique, “I tended mine patiently until its tendrils reached all the way from the Red Keep to the far side of the world,” is adding that needed depth to make his simile an analogy. So not only is influence many small bits with a long reach like weeds, but you need to cultivate them like any plant.

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Varys loves comparisons

Emulating the Figure

Here is my attempt to write an analogy as the clever Varys does:

Infatuation comes in like the tide. I watch until its white foam rushes across the sand to the tip of my toes, tickling with cold, but nonetheless it retreats, depriving me of promised relief from the hot sand and burning sun.

I decided to mirror Varys by describing an abstract concept with something from nature. Like Varys, I start with a simple simile, “Infatuation comes in like the tide.” This explains part of the nature of infatuation, in that it is intense, but fleeting. I say it “rushes across the sand” but it only ever touches “the tip of my toes” and then “retreats.” So infatuation never gives you what it want; it only teases you. When you feel an infatuation it feels like you’re in love, but you’re not. And before you can ever be in love, your infatuation fades away.

But I wanted to add that second layer of complexity with the latter half like Varys does, so I wrote, “depriving me of promised relief from the hot sand and burning sun.” Not only does infatuation leave suddenly, it makes your emotions before the infatuation worse. The sun and sand (or loneliness, frustration, etc) is even more intense because you have no relieving distraction.

Analogies are like onions, they have layers. You could keep digging into the words from John Mulaney, Lord Varys, or me, and find even more connotations and meanings–helping you understand what’s being explained with more depth or from another angle.

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What’s your favorite analogy? Got an example of an analogy from your favorite book, show, or movie? Share them below in the comments!

 

Reading Round Up #1 – Young Adult

The semester is finally over! Now I have time to tell you all about the books I’ve been reading.

518iftlvnol._sx327_bo1204203200_Bone Gap by Laura Ruby

Finn is the local strange kid in his rural town of Bone Gap, Illinois. The book opens some months after Roza, the close friend and roommate of Finn and his brother, has disappeared. While everyone else has given up, Finn believes Roza is still out there, kidnapped by a mysterious man.

I can’t really say anymore than that without spoilers, because this book is nothing what it seems. It’s beautiful, heartfelt, and very, very strange. Would recommend for anyone who likes character driven stories with a magical twist. The prose is a bit heftier than usual YA books, but Ruby’s use of language is so rich. Her use of imagery and clever foreshadowing really gives the characters and world a whimsical feel and great depth.

51u0ltozipl._sx329_bo1204203200_Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds

Dante’s Inferno meets a Christmas Carol, this novel in poetry follows one elevator ride, during which the protagonist, Will, must decide whether to avenge his brother Shawn. Will gets into the elevator convinced he is going to kill his brother’s murderer, but by the end he isn’t so sure.

This story is truly meant to be told in poetry. Reynolds’s conversational, emotionally raw style conveys the voice of the narrator honestly. He also uses the size, shape, and space between words to create tone, rhythm, and flow. Not to mention the characters are so rounded, flawed, and fascinating. Even if you don’t like poetry–Read. This. Book. I would say it is a perfect for both poetry lovers and people who don’t even like reading because it goes by so fast.

33830830The Devils You Know by M.C. Atwood

Five teens enter Boulder House, a tourist attraction that is part museum, part maze, part crazy fun house, where they are trapped by a demon. Despite being drastically different, and often in opposition to each other, they must work together and confront their own demons to escape.

A fun ride, is a perfect description of Atwood’s YA horror novel. The characters have unique personalities and there’s always a different crazy monster or obstacle around the corner. The novel flies by, partly because it continuously switches between the five perspectives of the main characters. I would recommend this novel to anyone who loves a supernatural adventure.

91x3tjpbsmlThe Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert 

Alice and her mother have always been chased by bad luck. After her grandmother, the reclusive author of a book of dark fairy tales with a cult following, dies, Alice’s mother thinks their bad luck is over. However, it only gets worse. Her mother disappears and Alice starts seeing her grandmother’s fairy tales come to life. Along with a super-fan from her school, Finch, Alice must find her grandmother’s estate, the Hazel Wood, to find her mother and solve the mystery of her family’s past.

The Hazel Wood is one of my favorite twisted fairy tale stories because it captures the essence of fairy tales, but instead of retelling old tales, Albert invents new ones. Her tales are dark and imaginative. The world pulls you in. There is an ominous atmosphere to the whole book. The stakes feel real. Also, the characters are real standouts. Alice is fierce and independent, but her brashness makes her flawed. Her chemistry with Finch, a sweet but sheltered rich boy, is natural and fun. They balance each other nicely. This novel is great to anyone who loves fairy tales, but also darker adventures.

51iwzpshkpl._sx346_bo1204203200_The 57 Bus by Dashka Slater

This is the true story of Sasha and Richard. Both teens living in Oakland, CA. Sasha is nonbinary, from a middle class, white family, attends private school. Richard is young black man from an area plagued by gang violence and crime doing his best to stay on the right path. One day, while both taking the same bus home, Richard sets Sasha’s skirt on fire.

I read nonfiction very rarely, but I could not put Dashka’s book down. Her writing carries a journalistic style, but she chooses all of the right details and quotes that let the story tell itself. The reader can read what Sasha, Richard, their parents, the local justice department, and everyone involved has to say for themselves. I would recommend this book to anyone with a natural curiosity to learn about the social issues of today, whether its gender, race, or the justice system. Even if you think your opinions on these issues are set in stone, I would ask you to give The 57 Bus a try. Despite the heavy politics involved by the nature of the story, the book never forgets that its characters are human.

51mb-gczedl._sx331_bo1204203200_Ash by Malinda Lo 

Ash is a retelling of Cinderella, but that description does not do this book justice. Yes, it takes elements of the original–the sweet orphan girl, the evil stepmother, the prince’s ball–but it weaves those elements and the spirit of fairy tales into an imaginative, original story about a a girl yearning for freedom, a mysterious young Fae man, and the King’s Huntress.

Ash is a quiet book, but I think it’s one that surprises you in subtle ways by subverting the typical fairy tale. It’s so refreshing to see a story where the Fae are beauitful and dangerous.  It stays with you because the characters are so memorable, it’s not a “the girl gets everything in the ending” story, and the love story is so honest. Trust me, unnecessary romantic plots are my pet peeve, but this one is done so wonderfully because it, like everything, always comes back to how it changes the protagonist and what the story is ultimately saying. And don’t worry, it’s not a prince gets the girl type of love story. 😉

 

REVIEW: Pretend We Live Here

Pretend_We_Live_Here_Cover_041818_JVWHad the pleasure of reading and reviewing Pretend We Live Here by Genevieve Hudson (published by Future Tense Books) for Glassworks literary magazine. I really enjoyed Hudson’s collection of short fiction. It’s filled with sharp edged prose and queer characters, questioning what home means in sense of place, but also self.

Check out my full review on the Glassworks website: http://www.rowanglassworks.org/book-reviews/review-pretend-we-live-here.

Hyperbole – Figures of Speech #1

This blog is part of a series called Figures of Speech, where I define a figure of speech, deconstruct an example from a great writing figure, and try my hand at writing the figure myself. Our first figure of speech is hyperbole!

What is Hyperbole?

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“Is it the end of Hyperbole?”

“I’m so hungry I could eat a horse.” “He talked for a million years.” The overstated, “We’re all going to die” when you forget to thaw the chicken for dinner. Or the exaggerated click bait titles, like “How Millennials Killed Mayonnaise.” Love or ate, we just can’t stop exaggerating. And that’s all hyperbole is, exaggeration.

Despite how often I see hyperbole, I’ve never been advised to use it in my writing. I’ve seen it listed on every literary devices list I’ve been handed in English or Creative Writing. I suspect that it’s hyperbole’s easy corny or cliche factor that wards writers off. But every Figure of Speech can be genius in the right hands. For a great figure to pick apart today, I’m turning to the master of subtle corniness, The Princess Bride, novel and screenplay written by William Goldman. The handsome Wesley and the kind Fezzik made this movie a childhood favorite for me. The gold quality quotes made it a lifetime love.

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Me when people say they hate The Princess Bride

Deconstructing the Figure

The quote I selected to pick apart, in my humble opinion, is not loved enough. Princess Buttercup, having finally figured out that Prince Humperdinck has kidnapped her love Wesley to force Buttercup into marriage with him instead, let’s loose the sickest of burns:

“You can’t hurt me. Wesley and I are joined by the bonds of love. And you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds, and you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords. And when I say you are a coward that is only because you are the slimiest weakling ever to crawl the earth.” –The Princess Bride, 1987

The passage includes more than one insistence of hyperbole, but when you add up all of the little bits of hyperbole and other figures of speech, it becomes an eloquent declaration.

The first major part of this passage is a metaphor, “Wesley and I are joined by the bonds of love.” To exaggerate anything, there has a to be thing first and in this case the thing Buttercup is exaggerating is “love.” Though love is an abstract emotion so it’s hard to visual anything to exaggerate. That’s why mixing metaphor and hyperbole does so well here. By starting with “bonds of love,” the writer gives the viewer a more concrete starting place to compare to the following exaggeration. Though “bonds” is a bit abstract itself, it does provide a lot of implicit metaphors that might vary from each viewer. “bonds” conjures images of strings, ropes, chains, or even the invisible force of gravity holding two bodies together.

The second major part is where the hyperbole starts, “And you cannot track that, not with a thousand bloodhounds, and you cannot break it, not with a thousand swords.” What I find clever about this exaggeration is that it is also true. You could argue that it is both literal and figurative. “Bonds of love” is an abstract concept, an emotional connection, so it is literally impossible to physically track or break. The exaggeration does not make Buttercup’s statement seem outlandish, but sincerely powerful, which is only strengthened by the use of parallelism.

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Buttercup, Princess of Insults

The third and final part is the fun one, “And when I say you are a coward that is only because you are the slimiest weakling ever to crawl the earth.” Like the whole passage, the sum of other figures gives this sentence its’ cutting hyperbole and specificity. For example, Buttercup does not just call Prince Humperdink a coward, she defines her meaning further to be clear (a figured called distinctio). And then she adds “slimiest” to “weakling” to deepen her insult (a figured called transferred epithet). Lastly, she ends on a classic hyperbole when she says “to ever crawl the earth” to illustrate that no one matches the prince in his cowardice. The verb “crawl” twists the cliche just enough to make it original and adds to the unsettling feeling.  I would say the whole sentence is a hyperbole of how cowardly someone can be.

Emulating the Figure

So, here’s my attempt to match Buttercup’s hyperbole:

You can’t know me. I am lost in the woods inside my skull. And you cannot fell these pines, not with ten thousand axes, and you cannot burn these pines, not with ten thousand torches. And when I say you are a fool, it is that you are most misguided, lovesick simpleton to wander the world.

I decided to keep with the intangible vs. tangible theme with the image of an inner mind. We often wish to know someone’s thoughts, but their intangibility and hidden nature is juxtaposed with methods by which someone may try to clear a visual obstruction.  I also attempted to weave multiple figures to create a nuanced hyperbole. I emulated many figures from the original, like metaphor, distinctio, and parallelism. I also tried my hand at alliteration (“wander the world”), and scesis onomaton (listing generally synonymous words for emphasis, “misguided, lovesick simpleton”). I like to think the result was an imaginative, heartfelt passage.

From taking a good look at Buttercup’s sickest burn (and trying it out myself), I found that its layered nature was what made it compelling. Each of her insistence of hyperbole are good, but they truly shine when woven with each other and other figures. Hyperbole is a figure that works well in tandem because by its nature it is more. The more figures, the more hyperbole add up to a layered, encompassing hyperbole through a whole paragraph, even perhaps a whole work.

Do you have a favorite hyperbole from a book, song, movie, show, or some other amazing thing you love? Feel free to share in the comments.

-Laura

Who’s The Boss? Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Nothing compares to the feeling you have when you discover that there is a sequel to a book you fell in love with. Double that feeling when I found out that Annihilation by Jeff VanderMeer is just the first book in the Southern Reach Trilogy. The second book, Authority, skyrocketed to the top of my summer reading list. 

BEWARE: IF YOU HAVE NOT READ Annihilation OR Authority CONTINUE AT YOUR OWN RISK. THE FOLLOWING IS UNCENSORED LITERARY RAMBLINGS.

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Authority takes place after the events Annihilation, following the new director of the Southern Reach, John Rodriguez, or “Control” as he calls himself. The survivors of the eleventh expedition, who explored Area X in Annihilation, have reappeared without explanation, the previous director is compromised, paranoid, presumed dead, and the passive aggressive assistant director Grace continually sabotages Control. What a great first day.

For me, sequels often disappoint. As a reader, I grow attached to that beloved first book and then when that pesky author tries new things in the second book, I just want to go back to the familiar. VanderMeer switches the protagonist, the setting, the tense, and I don’t even care. He hooked me with a skillful, suspenseful use of dramatic irony. In Control’s first scene at the Southern Reach headquarters, he studies three women through a one-way mirror:

     “The surveyor had been found at her house, sitting in a chair on the back patio.
The anthropologist had been found by her husband, knocking on the back door of his medical practice.
The biologist had been found in an overgrown lot several blocks from her house, staring at a crumbling brick wall.
Just like the members of the prior expedition, none of them had any recollection of how they had made their way back across the invisible boarder, out of Area X.” (6)

Queue internally screaming. Having read Annihilation, I know that the biologist went off to who-knows-where in Area X and became who-knows-what, know the surveyor and anthropologist are dead, know that the Tower created memory fogged copies of the twelfth expedition that were also found back home without explanation, and I know that Control knows none of this. While Annihilation creates suspense because I did not know what would happen next, Authority creates suspense because I know (or I’m assuming) what’s coming. If it’s like anything that happened to the Biologist, it’s not pretty. I’m consumed by a dread and fascination that compels me to read on.

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Dramatic Irony

There is so much to unpack in this book that I cannot discuss all of it, but one of its strongest elements is the relationship between Control and the Biologist/Ghost Bird. The book does seem to direct the reader into the assumption that Control will follow down a similar path as the Biologist.

The first red flag is Control’s preferred name. Like the Biologist, he goes by a name that boils him down to a job, a descriptor. Instead of personalizing him, Control’s name depersonalizes. Like how the Biologist in Annihilation longs for isolation through her chosen career, Control wants to lose himself too in a way. He reveals he gained the nickname from his Grandpa, borrowing from “spy jargon” (13), and he fulfilled it in a way by becoming an agent of the government. He is a cog in a machine, like how the Biologist was an organism in a biosphere of Area X–both pieces in a larger network. Though Control’s name implies he desires to be a larger, more central piece in the network with more, well, control. When Grace sends the Anthropologist and Surveyor away without his permission, Control’s thought is, “he was going to have to take something away from Grace as well. Not to get even but so she wouldn’t have been tempted to take yet more from him” (31).  The moment perfectly encapsulates Control as a character. He is in constant struggle for control and authority (Haha, I see what you did there Jeff), which makes his attraction to the Biologist, or the Biologist’s copy that is now going by Ghost Bird, stand out.

Control was the one thing the Biologist never wanted. To me at least, the Biologist wanted the annihilation of herself, to be one with Area X. They act as great foils to each other, and I would say the Biologist reveals Control’s true nature by comparison. Take for example the covers of Annihilation and Authority. Annihilation, the story of the Biologist, and Authority, the story of Control. Annihilation‘s cover features a plant, which reflects the Biologist’s status within Area X. She is a small part, but intertwined and indistinguishable from the rest. Authority‘s cover features a rabbit. Very strange choice when the first half of the novel depicts Control as the Big Director of Southern Reach, Puppet Master Spy. But as the novel progresses, VanderMeer reveals that Control is nothing more than a rabbit–a small prey animal desperately taking in information with all of its senses to stay alive in a world it can never control. Compared with the Biologist/Ghost Bird’s understanding of Area X (or acceptance that she will never understand), Control appears desperate and small minded. VanderMeer repeatedly associates Control with the rabbit. If you don’t pick up on the repeated mention of the white rabbit experiment, Whitby’s depiction of Control’s face on a rabbit is quite clear. The symbol completes itself when Control runs away from Area X when the border expands.

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Source: Comic Crits

When considering both Annihilation and Authority together, the message seems clear–it does not matter if you accept or resist, Area X, or perhaps all of nature, is the true authority. But the story is not over! I look forward to seeing how Ghost Bird and Control develop in the final book.

Feel free to leave your own thoughts on the Southern Reach Trilogy in the comments! I always love hearing other people’s takes too.

Until the next read,

Laura

 

So Something Awesome Happened on Twitter

So I decided to share my first summer read on Twitter (review coming soon).

And JEFF VANDERMEER REPSONDED!?

This was me:

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I have never been so happy to be told something ominous and possibly horrifying. It just felt really nice, especially as a student writer with interest in speculative fiction, to connect with one of my favorite authors, even if it was for a silly and fleeting twitter thread.

So of course, I was like……how long can I keep this going? and continue it did.

Honestly, the coolest thing that has happened to me on the internet.

The novel ‘It Devours!’ is as human as it is strange

Original published by The Whit

Despite taking place in Night Vale, a desert town where angels, hooded figures, strange lights in the sky and flesh-eating librarians are common place, “It Devours!” by Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor resonates in today’s polarized climate, and maybe gives us a little hope. The novel is the latest installment in the world of Night Vale, which was first introduced in Fink and Cranor’s podcast “Welcome to Night Vale” in 2012. While characters from the podcast make appearances, readers do not have to be a follower of the series to enjoy “It Devours!” However, the novel keeps Night Vale’s signature surreal and bizarre tone that makes for some hilarious moments.

Readers follow Nilanjana Sikdar, a scientist who moved to Night Vale to research “the most scientifically interesting town in America,” as she gets caught up in a world ending mystery. Something or someone is causing earthquakes (not the normal, scheduled ones) and sink holes that are devouring Night Vale piece by piece. While otherworldly and apocalyptic, the plot reads like a classic mystery with intrigue, thrills and red herrings that keep you guessing.

Nilanjana, sent by fellow scientist Carlos to investigate, becomes the reader’s window into the weird world of Night Vale. Being an outsider, and rational thinker, she reacts as the reader would react when confronted with something like almost being eaten by a monstrous government employee in the hall of records, which is to freak the heck out. Nilanjana helps ground a setting, which would be too off the wall otherwise.

Through her investigation, she becomes entangled with the other main character, Darryl, and his church, the Joyous Congregation of the Smiling God. Darryl, despite his inability to smile without appearing insincere, is a genuinely kind young man who was raised by his church. Through Darryl and Nilanjana’s relationship, Fink and Cranor hit the core question of their story—how can the epitomes of religion and science ever come together? With such opposing forces, the narrative could have easily written off one side as the villain. Instead, both Darryl and Nilanjana are explored as full people, with strengths and flaws. As readers, we see both characters become increasingly vulnerable and human as they begin to see each other as human too. They aren’t the only representations of their ideologies either. Readers meet characters from both the laboratory and the church who illustrate that not everyone who shares a label, whether that is church member or scientist, is the same.

Something about finding two deeply flawed, normal characters struggling with the most basic human desires — communication, connection, understanding — in the middle of a town that is anything but normal is reassuring. If Nilanjana and Darryl can work together to save the town from a sinister horror, why can’t I have a conversation with an ideologically opposed classmate or neighbor? Fink and Cranor have brought mystery, humor and their specialty brand of weird together to create a story that everyone can find themselves in.