Books

Good As Lily by Derek Kirk Kim

Katie Haegele
The Philadelphia Inquirer (MCT)

Inventive graphic novel for girls explores fear of the future.


Good As Lily

Publisher: Minx
ISBN: 1401213812
Contributors: Jesse Hamm (Illustrator)
Author: Derek Kirk Kim
Price: $9.99
Length: 176
Formats: Paperback
US publication date: 2007-08
Amazon

Earlier this year, DC Comics started a new line of graphic novels called Minx in an attempt to attract young female readers. I wish they'd lose the smarmily sexualized name, but I'm still intrigued by the series -- at least one previous Minx book, a collaboration between young-adult writer Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg, called "The Plain Janes," has been interesting.

The newest title, Good as Lily, was created by two guy-type people -- award-winning graphic novelist Derek Kirk Kim and underground cartoonist Jesse Hamm -- but it features a young female protagonist, the smart and driven Korean American Grace Kwon.

The story opens on Grace's 18th birthday. She's sitting on a park bench fretting rather than celebrating. "By the time Mozart was 18, he had written two operas and a group of symphonies," she berates herself. Like many ambitious teens, she's worried that she'll never amount to anything (even though she just found out she got into Stanford).

Her friends Jeremy and Rona bring her out of this overachiever's reverie by surprising her with a party in the park. Jeremy, who's plainly in love with Grace, gives her a special T-shirt that she accidentally leaves behind. She goes back after dark to look for it, but finds instead a little girl crying, a young woman splashing around in the lake who calls out to her for help, and an elderly woman in a quilted parka who grouses at everybody.

Once these four people orient themselves, they take a closer look and notice a surprising resemblance.

"What's your name?" they ask each other. "When is your birthday?" They turn out to be not different people but different incarnations of Grace herself at age 6, 29, and 70.

And they won't leave her alone.

She tries to focus on her regular life, at the forefront of which is the school play and -- blush -- her drama teacher, the floppy-haired, fresh-out-of-college Mr. Levon.

But her pesky other selves keep getting in the way.

They may be versions of Grace, but they have their own agendas. The old Grace drinks and smokes and seems to have little in her life but TV, which worries the present-day Grace. The almost-30 Grace is having a minor freak-out about her love life. Eventually, we learn who the Lily of the title is, and why she has cast a shadow over Grace's life since she was a sad 6-year-old.

To get her life back on track, Grace must fix what's troubling the other three, which requires summoning love and compassion -- for herself, really. Her other selves -- even the littlest -- have some things to teach her, too. So the science-fiction-worthy theme proves an inventive way to look at the fears people, especially very young people, have about the future.

The paneled drawings are reminiscent of manga books aimed at girls, with attractive but realistic daily scenes occasionally punctuated by a comically overemotive facial expression. Also, Grace "has a butt," which is a nice touch. As with most male-made comics, there's a little too much attention given to the female characters' bodies, but Grace's appearance isn't Lara Croft-crazy, and neither is she confined to any stereotypical "smart-girl" shape.

Another good detail is the footnote that tells us Grace's parents' speech was "translated from Korean."

When talking with her family or Grace's friends Rona and Jeremy, who are also Korean, her mother even slips in the occasional "ai-goo (Korean for "oh man, oy gevalt, OMG"). We are always mindful of the characters' heritage because it plays a big role in their everyday lives.

This modern, imaginative story is a good choice for readers, male or female, who are looking for a book that has both brains and heart.

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