Thursday, July 21, 2016

Good as Lily by Derek Kirk Kim, Jesse Hamm


Rating: WARTY!

This is a graphic novel which is well illustrated and decently written but I had some problems with it. For one, there is a disconnect between the cover image and the interior images. If this were a novel, I could understand such a difference (between the cover and the character description inside) because the author has no say in the cover and the cover artist (in my experience) either has no clue what the novel is about, or simply doesn't care.

This is why I pay little attention to the cover of a novel, but with a graphic novel, it's different: the creators also do the cover, so why the cover image shows one body style and the interior a completely different one is as inexplicable as it is inexcusable to me. The cover image matches the text in that the main character, Grace, is "chubby" (to use a term employed in the novel). The interior images show a slim main character, which makes no sense when she's described (even vindictively) as chubby. Did the artist not read the novel until it came down to finally painting the cover?! Given this disconnect, parts of the story make no sense.

I'm typically interested in time-travel novels, and this one is a such a story in a sense. Grace is evidently a 2nd gen Korean teen living in the US. Her parents speak an oddball brand of English which I associate with racist stereotypes. Yes, I know the author, at least as judged from his last name, may well have Korean ancestry, but this doesn't excuse him from employing racial stereotypes. The mom and dad also run a convenience store. Seriously? Could we not get away from that and have them do something non-stereotypical or must everyone be pigeon-holed? This story makes the same mistake that stories featuring western characters do: it's all Caucasian, with only a token sprinkle of Asian and African. This story puts that in reverse: it's all Korean, with a token sprinkle of Caucasian. That doesn't make things better; it makes them just as racist.

On her eighteenth birthday, Grace breaks a piƱata, and soon discovers that she has somehow unleashed three other versions of herself: a six-year-old, a twenty-nine-year old, and an elderly one. Despite the fact that Grace's life seems to be well on track and she's heading to Stanford after graduation, she seems to be inexplicably in disarray. She's unhappy with her lot, yet we're offered no valid reason whatsoever as to why this is. The only hint comes late in the novel and is embedded in the title: Grace had an older sister, Lily, who died young. I guess Grace felt like she never measured up to Lily, but since Lily died young there never was anything to measure up to in any practical sense, and nowhere in the novel do we ever get any real sense that Grace's problems lie with her parents' love or with her prematurely-deceased sibling.

The novel is very much like the movie Heart and Souls, wherein several recently deceased people attach themselves to a still-living guy and he, resentfully, has to help them complete unfinished business before they can move on in the afterlife. The same thing applies to Grace's three visitors. They have something to do and it's not clear what. At random points in the story, they disappear one-by-one having completed whatever it is they needed to, but the story is so vague about what it is, we get only the haziest notion of what they accomplished that helped them graduate, and so we receive no solid sense of closure for each of these phases of Grace's life.

For me, the biggest problem though, and why I'm rating this negatively, is Grace herself. We're told that she's going to Stanford, but never does she come off as very smart, or creative, or imaginative. Never do we get any idea as to why she's so down on herself and she never tries to figure it out, smart as she's supposed to be. When the school play production runs into a roadblock, she fails to apply her intellect, and fails to solve it. We're never told why so much money is needed to put on this play, or why inexpensive minimalist solutions wouldn't work.

When the school budget is cut and the golf team survives while the arts are cut, no-one organizes any sort of protest. The 'solutions' run to juvenile car washes and bake sales instead of having people simply approach local businesses and ask for donations of time, talent, or necessary items. There's no way they can earn thirty thousand dollars this way, and there's no justification given as to why thirty grand is better spent on producing this play than in being applied to a more worthy or more encompassing cause.

Grace is also pretty dumb about the guy who's interested in her. It's the tired old chestnut of lifelong best friends not realizing they're destined to be together. It's been done to death, and we're offered nothing new or original here: no twist, no great insights, no passion, no creative interactions, no imagination, and no romance. It's boring and uninventive, and I can't recommend this novel.


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