Tag Archives: literature

Holes (book)

Holes is a book written by Louis Sachar, the renowned children’s book author. One of the reasons why he is so renowned is because he doesn’t talk down to children. He writes books that are easy to read, but still deep in meaning. Holes just might be his masterpiece.

Simply put, the novel is about an unlucky kid named Stanley Yelnats who is wrongfully accused of a crime that he didn’t commit, and he is sentenced to eighteen months at a detention center where he must dig a hole each day. He’s told that digging holes builds character, but there’s a hidden agenda behind the holes. It’s not surprising that a story about holes could be so deep. This is a story about fate, of luck, of destiny and defeat, where the past and the present collide, and the reader stay riveted throughout.

Good books rely on metaphors and symbolism to tell amazing stories. Everything about Holes has an underlying layer to what’s presented on the surface. It’s like an onion. There’s more than meets the eye. Everything is presented for a reason, everything has a purpose, and everything has more than one meaning. All the characters have names that match their personalities. Everything that Louis Sachar writes is intentional and nothing is coincidental. Holes is the perfect example of what a literary genius is capable of. Read it. Read it now. Read it again if you’ve already read it. And appreciate it.

Critically Rated at 17/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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The Sandman: Endless Nights (comic)

Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman is one of the most important comics of all time. Endless Nights is a follow-up to the acclaimed series. There are seven stories, each one focusing on one of the Endless. They are character studies of Death, Desire, Dream, Despair, Delirium, Destruction, and Destiny. There’s a different artist for each story, so each story feels more unique and reflective of the main character. On the Peninsula (Destruction’s story) might be the highlight of this graphic novel. It has amazing art by Glenn Fabry and an interesting plot about an archeologist uncovering artifacts from the future. All in all, Endless Nights is not essential reading, it has no bearing on the main storyline. It’s a way to learn more about Dream’s fucked up family and get a little more information about The Sandman Universe. So only read it if you’ve read all the other ones, otherwise you’ll be lost.

Critically Rated at 14/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Bookmarks

Not so long ago, before the arrival of Kindles and Nooks, there were real books. Real books had real pages made out of real paper. If somebody had to stop reading, they would put a bookmark in the spot where they left off. It was a great way to remember where you were in the story. They are called bookmarks because they marked your place in the book. Bookmarks used to be real physical objects, made from paper, cloth, leather, or some crappy art project a 5-year-old made. Now bookmarks are all electronic and you use them to save your favorite porn sites on the Internet. That’s progress.

Critically Rated at 9/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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The Sandman: World’s End

A group of travelers get caught in a storm and seek refuge in a mysterious Inn. They pass the time by telling stories. But since this is a Neil Gaiman story, the travelers come from different times, places, and dimensions, the storm that rages is a reality storm, and the inn itself exists between different realms. I think Neil Gaiman smokes a lot of drugs.

            This is the eighth volume of The Sandman, collecting issues #51-#56. Morpheus only makes a few appearances in this volume, the main character is a new guy named Brant Tucker. Brant is driving cross-country when it starts to snow and he gets in an accident. He seeks help at an inn called World’s End. He meets a bunch of other travelers and they regale each other with stories.

            There are stories about characters that we already know like the faerie Cluracan and the immortal Hob Gadling. There’s a story about a US President that makes you wonder how an English author knows so much about Americana. There’s a haunting story about a guy who gets caught in the dreams of a city. And there’s another story about people telling stories in a city for the dead. It’s very meta. Neil Gaiman is telling a story about a guy telling a story in a bar about how he heard stories in an inn, and one of those stories had characters telling stories in that story. Get it? Because I understand it and I still don’t get it.

            This is one of my favorite volumes of The Sandman. If you’ve thought about reading it but aren’t sure if you want to invest all the time, start here and see if you like it. You can just pick it up and read it and understand what The Sandman is about without reading the entire series. It’s a good entry point. It’s smart. It’s entertaining. And it’s a great story.

Critically Rated at 16/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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The Sandman: Brief Lives

Morpheus has a unique family tree. He is one of seven siblings known as the Endless. They are the embodiments of Destiny, Death, Dream, Destruction, Desire, Despair, and Delirium. They are more powerful than gods and they each have a task to do (coincidently they have to do what their name implies). And then one day, Destruction decided that he’s had enough and abandoned his realm and his family. After 300 years, Delirium realizes that she misses she misses her older brother, thus setting in motion the events of Brief Lives.

            Brief Lives is the seventh volume of Neil Gaiman’s The Sandman. It collects issues #41-49. This volume humanizes Dream more than the other installments. He’s moping and feeling sorry for himself after his girlfriend dumps him, when Delirium asks him to help find Destruction. He only agrees to go with Delirium to distract himself, and he gradually gets emotionally invested with the journey. He is changing but he refuses to acknowledge it, even when others point it out to him.

Dream and Delirium embark on one of the weirdest road trips in literary history, trying to track down characters that know where Destruction is hiding. The problem is that everyone they’re trying to track down keep getting killed, an unfortunate byproduct of Destruction’s safeguards. Dream feels regret that people have died, something he wouldn’t have felt thousands of years ago.

Dream and Delirium eventually succeed in their task and are briefly reunited with their brother and his talking dog. They shoot the shit for a while. Destruction explains why he left and why he’s not returning. They have philosophical discussions about who they are, what they represent, and if they are even necessary.

            Brief Lives showcases the unique relationships that the Endless have with each other and with us lowly mortals. Mortals die. Gods die. Even the Endless can end. We all have brief lives. Oh, I get it now. That’s clever, Mr. Gaiman. Brief Lives is another interesting and enjoyable volume of The Sandman, full of great moments and characters.

Critically Rated at 14/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Rereading a Book

I still read books despite the Internet’s many distractions. And when I finish a good book, I’ll usually reread it as soon as I’m done. I mentioned that to a friend and he looked at me like I’m an alien. He never reread a book in his life. If he read it once, he’s already read it, so what’s the point of reading it again? You read it again because you like the story. You read it again to see character development and to spot clues and themes and symbolism. You watch a movie again if you like it. You listen to a song again if you like it. The more you like something, the more you want to experience it. Rereading a book should be no exception.

Critically Rated at 14/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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The Sandman: A Game of You

The Sandman is one of the best comics of all time because it appeals to both male and female readers. Volume 5 of the series is one of the female stories according to author Neil Gaiman. Morpheus takes the backseat as Barbie (Rose Walker’s roommate in Volume 2) takes the spotlight. When Barbie dreams, she is the princess of a magical land called The Land. The only problem is that the Cuckoo is taking over Barbie’s dream kingdom. Barbie’s friends in her real life and dream life come to her aid, and there are triumphs, betrayals, and deaths along the way.

            Barbie used to have vivid dreams about her life as Princess Barbara, but she has stopped dreaming. An entity known as the Cuckoo is slowly destroying the Land. Her dream pal Martin Tenbones comes to the real world to bring Barbie back. He dies but still succeeds in his mission, and Princess Barbara returns to the Land. She hangs out with her talking animal friends as they make their way to confront the Cuckoo.

Back in reality, Barbie’s friends are also under attack from the Cuckoo’s minions. Luckily, her friend Thessaly is a witch and is able to use her witch powers save the other friends: a drag queen named Wanda, and two lesbians (one of which is pregnant). Then Thessaly and the lesbians use the moon to go to the Land to help Barbie and kill the Cuckoo, but only after Thessaly makes a dead guy talk by nailing his face, eyes, and tongue to the wall. Witchcraft in the Sandman universe is a little more extreme than in the Potterverse.

            The battle to save Barbie in her dreams is fought in both in her dreams and in the real world. Some of her dream friends come into the real world and some of her friends go into her dreams. There are consequences for doing that in the Sandman universe.

Gaiman was clearly inspired by Narnia and other fantasylands, but he manages to put his own spin on it. The Cuckoo is a great character. It isn’t evil, dangerous yes, but it’s only doing what it’s supposed to do. A Game of You is another great addition to the Sandman saga.

Critically Rated at 14/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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The Sandman: Dream Country

Dream Country is the third and shortest volume of The Sandman series. It collects issues #17-20 and each of the four stories is self-contained. Calliope is about a writer who imprisons a Muse. A Dream of a Thousand Cats explores how our feline friends experience dreams. A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream shows the premiere of Shakespeare’s play performed in front of an unusual audience. Façade is about a former hero who desperately wants to die but can’t. Morpheus is almost a secondary character in the first three stories and doesn’t even appear in Façade. Dream Country deviates from the main storylines somewhat, but it is thematically relevant, and it has some of the most memorable moments of the series.

Calliope is the first story. Richard Madoc is the author of one successful book, but he is suffering from writer’s block and is way past the deadline for his follow-up novel. He makes a trade with another writer. He gives the writer a bezoar in exchange for Calliope, who is one of the Muses from Greek mythology.

Madoc spends the next few years spending his days writing and raping his secret prisoner. Madoc gets more and more success and fame, and Calliope becomes more and more depressed. She’s able to get a hold of Morpheus and you can tell that there’s some history between the two of them. Morpheus tells Madoc to give her up, but Madoc doesn’t want to because he needs ideas. So Morpheus gives him what he wants: ideas that never stop coming. The flood of excess ideas drives Madoc crazy, but you can’t feel sorry for a rapist.

A Dream of a Thousand Cats is one of the most memorable stories in The Sandman. It’s about a secret cat meeting with a special Siamese cat keynote speaker. The Siamese cat tells an epic story about falling in love with a Tomcat, which resulted in a litter of kittens. Her owners didn’t want the kittens and killed them, and the Siamese cat grows disillusioned with being a pet.

She has a dream where she goes to the Dreaming, and finds Morpheus in feline form. Morpheus tells her that back in the day cats were in charge and humans were subservient. But then man found out that dreams shape the world and a thousand humans dreamed that they were in charge and the world became what it is now. The Siamese cat goes around spreading her message, hoping that she can convince a thousand cats to dream of a world where cats are king again. You’re gonna love this story if you’re a cat person. Dog people might also find it interesting.

A Midsummer’s Night Dream is one of those comics that gets accepted as genuine literature. It even won a World Fantasy Award, the only comic to achieve that feat. It’s probably accepted by the mainstream because it deals with Shakespeare. And it does it in a clever way. Shakespeare and his theater troupe perform A Midsummer’s Night Dream for Morpheus and some notable guests from Faerie. Gaiman makes it meta because Robin Goodfellow (Puck), Titania, and Auberon are audience members and also characters from the play. Robin Goodfellow even takes over playing himself at one point. It’s one of the most creative takes on Shakespeare to date.

Façade takes an obscure and forgotten DC character named Element Girl and shows what happens to a hero that has given up. Urania Blackwell has been forced to retire, she has no friends or family, and no reason to live other than the fact that she can’t kill herself. Her superpowers won’t let her die, and she wants to. It’s a short and depressing story that ends on a happy note when she finally dies. Death can be a good thing for some people.

Dream Country is a great introduction to The Sandman. It’s short, it’s memorable, it’s significant, and you can see if you want to read the other volumes without spoiling the main plot. You can try the flavor of The Sandman and see if it’s right for you.

Critically Rated at 15/17

Written, Rated, and Reviewed by Brendan H. Young

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Brisingr (book)

Brisingr is the third installment of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle, an epic saga of a young Dragon Rider named Eragon and his dragon, Saphira, as they take on the evil King Galbatorix and try to restore freedom to Middle-earth… I mean Alagaësia. Alagaësia is a land of magic, elves, dwarves, witches, and dragons. You can’t forget about the dragons.

The book starts off a few days after the events of the second book. Eragon and Saphira are helping Roran (Eragon’s cousin) rescue his bride-to-be from the clutches of the evil Ra’zac. They kick some ass and rescue Katrina and Eragon finally gets to kill the creatures that killed his uncle. Revenge is sweet.

Roran and Katrina consummate their relationship, and so there’s a slight rush to hurry up and tie the knot so as not to taint Katrina’s honor. Eragon performs the marriage ceremony, and then has to leave to oversee the election of the new Dwarf king. Eragon narrowly escapes an attempted assassination by a dwarf clan, which helps give Orik, his friend and ally, enough votes to secure the crown for himself.

Eragon realizes that he’s still pretty fucking stupid and weak compared to Galbatorix. So he and Saphira go back to Ellesméra for some additional training with his mentor Oromis and his dragon Glaedr. Oromis and Glaedr teach Eragon about the source of Galbatorix’s power. Long story short, he’s been collecting Eldunarya, which are basically dragon souls. Dragon souls are powerful and they make you more powerful. That is how Galbatorix was able to defeat the Dragon Riders and also how he’s able to control Murtagh and his dragon, Thorn.

Eragon also uses his time in Ellesméra to make a new sword, a proper sword. A Dragon Rider’s blade is like a light saber; it’s your personalized weapon. You can use someone else’s but it will never be as powerful as your own. It’s the same concept as the wand choosing the wizard. Eragon is able to manipulate the elven sword smith into making him a new sword, which he dubs Brisingr.

With a new sword in hand, Eragon and Saphira fly back to join the Varden as they are in the middle of a battle. Eragon and Saphira show up in the nick of time and they do some damage and kill soldiers and stuff. He rescues Arya from certain death and they discover some bad magicians trying to conjure up a Shade. And then Arya kills the Shade and there’s no damage done.

The first two books have a lot of parallels to A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back. They seemed like Star Wars meets Lord of the Rings. This book starts to take it in a new direction. For one thing, this book is a lot more political than the first two. Nasuada, the leader of the Varden, becomes more powerful politically and starts to play a bigger role. You get a glimpse of how the dwarves elect a king and how their society functions. Eragon has ties to the Varden, to the Dragon Riders, to the elves, to the dwarves… he must tread carefully and not step on any toes.

Eragon and Saphira spend a lot of time separated. The first two books they are practically always together. In Brisingr they are often on opposite sides of Alagaësia. There is a bond between a Dragon and its Rider, often times they act as one being. So when they are separated they feel a sense of isolation that in not fathomable.

The Inheritance Cycle will never be a classic like Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, or the Boxcar Children. But they are worth reading if you like magic and dragons and geeky shit like that. Christopher Paolini’s Alagaësia is a hodgepodge of fantasy clichés and characters. But he makes it his own. You will see a lot of similarities between his work and other works, but nothing is truly original anymore. Everything is a remix these days.

Critically Rated at 13/17

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Eldest (book)

Eldest is the second book in Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle. It continues the story of a young Dragon Rider named Eragon and his dragon Saphira as they continue their fight against the forces of the evil King Galbatorix. If you like dragons, war, magic, and epic tales of revenge and honor than you’ll like these books. Paolini is a young writer, and his style is a bit easier to read than authors like Tolkien.

The story picks up just a few days after the events of Eragon. The leader of the Varden, Ajihad, is suddenly attacked and killed. Murtagh is also attacked and presumed dead. Eragon’s scar that he got from fighting the Shade causes him to have seizures a few times a day, with no way to stop them. Things aren’t off to a cheerful start. Ajihad’s daughter, Nasuada, assumes control of the Varden.

Eragon and Saphira go off to Du Weldenvarden, home of the elves, to continue training as a Dragon Rider. When he arrives he meets Oromis and Glaedr. Oromis is the last true Dragon Rider and Glaedr is his dragon. Oromis is broken though, he can only do easy spells. Glaedr is missing a leg, he too is broken. Eragon also finds out that Arya is a princess. He starts to have feelings for her, but she doesn’t feel the same.

Oromis and Glaedr teach Eragon and Saphira what it means to be bonded. Eragon and Saphira become more dependent on each other and their connection grows even stronger. The Elves have a ceremony called the Blood-Oath Celebration, and Eragon is transformed into an Elf-Human hybrid, and he gets superhuman senses and gets stronger and stuff. Even better, his back gets healed and he no longer has seizures from doing normal Dragon Rider stuff. And even though he’s kinda Elvish now, Arya still won’t have him and so he’s sad about that.

While Eragon is learning more about magic and Dragon Ridering, the story occasionally flashes over to Roran, Eragon’s cousin. Galbatorix can’t get to Eragon easily, so he sends the Ra’zac to Carvahall to get Roran. Roran leads the people of Carvahall in a battle against the Ra’zac and they manage to hold their own, but Roran’s fiancé Katrina gets snatched by the Ra’zac. Roran vows to get her back, but until then he has to protect the people of Carvahall. He decides the best way to do that is to evacuate the town and get all the villagers to leave and join the Varden.

The Varden meets the evil king’s army for the Battle of the Burning Plains. Eragon and Saphira show up in time for the battle. Roran and the people of Carvahall show up in time too. And there’s fighting and violence and suddenly another Dragon Rider appears. And it’s Murtagh! He didn’t die, and now he’s working for Galbatorix.

A lot of people compare the first book to Star Wars, and you can definitely see similarities. Eldest has a lot of similarities to Empire Strikes Back. The protagonist finds a new mentor to train him, one who is even older and wiser than the previous one. He leaves his training early to help his friends in a fight. There’s a huge revelation involving family. And basically all the characters you know and love return and there’s a few new ones, and the story gets more complex and darker.

This is a fun fantasy novel. Paolini has a very clear idea for how his universe works. This book really explores how magic works in Alagaësia. There are rules and consequences if you break the rules, like he did in the subplot with Elva, the baby that he thought he blessed but actually cursed.

If you like Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones but can’t get through a chapter in those books, you should try the Inheritance Cycle. It’s not an easy read, but it’s an easier read. It’s more like Rowling than Tolkien. There’s still a lot of detail, themes, and layers, it’s just presented in a more friendly fashion.

Critically Rated at 14/17

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume II

Alan Moore is the shit. The League or Extraordinary Gentlemen proves that. This is the second installment, and solidifies Alan Moore as a Comic Badass. The first issue in this series brings together a bunch of Victorian Literature characters together, and this second volume reunites them. We already know the characters so we can have fun with them. That’s that Moore does. He jumps right into the story, and it’s a better story than the first one.

The first issue of this series is important, because it introduces the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Now that we know each character and what the represent, the new conflict will either make or break the ensemble, and there is more drama and tension if it does so. There is much more at stake than in the previous story. The plot recreates the War of The Worlds, and so not only must man deal with foes from beyond, but they must deal with themselves internally.

Mr. Hyde and the Invisible Man go at it. Much of what occurs between the two is implied, but it is horrific. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but there is man rape in this story. Savage, dirty man rape. And it is justified. Literature doesn’t have to spare feelings; it just needs to reflect the real world. And man rape is a part of the real world.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen celebrates literature. The second volume rejoices in it. You have cameos from John Carpenter and creatures from The Island of Dr. Moreau and The Wind in the Willows. The character are much more active and independent from their creative author, Alan Moore gives them much more room to explore their boundaries.

Alan Moore has fun unifying classic literary characters. He pays homage to their origins, but also makes them his own. Mr. Hyde is the best example of this. Everyone who pretends to be cultured knows about Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Moore makes Hyde more of a villain and more of a hero than Robert Louis Stevenson ever could have fathomed. He redeemed Mina Murray in a savage and brutal, yet honest way, the only way that he could have.

The League of Extraordinary Gentleman is a great comic. There are more than two volumes, but they are all the evidence you need to prove their longevity. They are essential. They are necessary. They  are worth reading, so get on it.

Critically Rated at 15/17

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Marvel 1602

Neil Gaiman’s Marvel 1602 is his return to writing comics after a five-year absence. It’s a welcome return. The eight issue series isn’t some of his most intellectual material, but it’s a fun read. Gaiman is a master of storytelling and he brings lots of characters from the Marvel Universe and real people from history together in a comprehensive and cohesive way. Superheroes have appeared about 400 years too early, because of a rift that threatens the universe. Dr. Stephen Strange and Sir Nicholas Fury must find a way to prevent the end of the world.

A bunch of Marvel characters show up as old-timey versions of themselves. They have different but older versions of their names, like Peter Parker is Peter Parquah, and Charles Xavier is Carlos Javier, etc. Instead of mutants, they are referred to as “witchbreed”. Subtle twists like this add to the flavor of the story. Real historical figures play imports roles in the plot. Queen Elizabeth dies and is replaced by the crazy and powerful King James. Virginia Dare plays a central role. She was the first English baby born in America. She was part of the Roanoke Colony, which disappeared in real life, but was saved in this alternate universe by a huge white Indian named Rojhaz.

So there’s the main story about noticing the world is in trouble, finding out what’s wrong and how to fix it, and some people are good and some people are evil, and some people change loyalties, and eventually good defeats evil, and the world is saved. What’s cool about this story is that it celebrates history. Both Marvel history and world history. It’s a big “What If?” storyline, and it’s fun to explore all the different incarnations of well-known Marvel characters. The artwork is impressive, and the cover art also stands out.

Neil Gaiman is a great writer. This is him having fun writing. There are a lot of Marvel in-jokes and references. It spawned a few sequels, but this one is the best. He crams in a lot of characters, but keeps the storyline pretty easy to follow. There’s a good twist with Rojhaz and it makes you kick yourself for not realizing who he was earlier. Neil Gaiman is legit. Shitty last name though.

Critically Rated at 13/17

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The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Volume One

Alan Moore is a genius. The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen is proof of such. There are a few volumes out already, this rant is about the first Volume. A bunch of characters from Victorian literature work together to recover a stolen item in order to prevent an aerial attack on British soil. Mina Murray, Allan Quaterman, Hawley Griffen (the Invisible Man), Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde, and Captain Nemo are the Extraordinary Gentleman (and Woman). A bunch of other literary characters also make cameos, it’s rewarding to whoever paid attention in English class.

Kevin O’Neill’s artwork is scratchy and rough, a good fit for Moore’s storytelling. It feels old fashioned, and it captures the vibe of Victorian London.

It is quite a chore to take characters from different authors and different genres and be able to tell a story that would actively involve all of them. It’s a pretty dense story, and Moore is able to give each character time to develop and contribute to the action. A lazy author would be content merely writing famous characters into an original story, Moore makes them his own and gives them something to advance the plot.

There’s a lot of steampunk technology, but it’s nowhere near as obnoxious as Wild Wild West. I won’t even comment about the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen movie fiasco. That shit was just insulting.

This is a cool comic book. It is essential reading if you like Alan Moore. You can bring up this book in literary conversations and advance the dialog. It’s a very smart comic, you have to have read classic literature to know these characters. Moore assumes that you know them, or at least know about them, and brings them together in a clever way.

Critically Rated at 14/17

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Maus

Maus is one of those graphic novels that you give to people who think that graphic novels are all about superheroes and childish things. Art Spiegleman’s graphic novel is based on the true story of his father Vladek, and how he survived the Holocaust. The characters are depicted as animals. Jews are mice, Nazis are cats, and other animals represent various nationalities.

The framing is also interesting. It is set up as Art interviewing his elderly father over several visits, and it flashes back to the events leading up to and including Vladek’s experiences in the camps. Not only does the novel delve into the traumatic experiences, they also show how damaged Vladek is as a result. He is a broken individual, hard to deal with, hard to love, but impossible to ignore.

This graphic novel transcends being a mere comic. It is a literary masterpiece, proof that comics are a valid form of literature. I would recommend Maus and/or Watchmen to any first time comic reader.

Critically Rated at 16/17

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