FFW Student Blog
Our student committee members share their thoughts, observations, reviews, and other fun facts they've learned about Festival 2014 authors and their work.
Friday March 7, 2014 at 2:32 PM
by Corrie Baker
In her introduction to A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans writes that she started the book, in part, because she was nervous about the prospect of motherhood. At a point in her life where many of her friends were starting families, Evans struggled to find an appropriate way to react to the pressure she felt to have children coming not only from her peers, but also from her evangelical faith. Feeling that there must be more to being a biblical woman than motherhood, Evans set out to put into practice all the Bible’s rules pertaining to women.
Evans’ project required her to learn new skills, practice various virtues, and complete tasks which she had never needed before in 21st century Tennessee. In her attempts to learn how to cook, sew, and knit, Evans relates a number of relatable moments. Her goal of making Thanksgiving dinner led to a number of particularly funny shenanigans. Going beyond the traditional American views of what it means to be a good woman, Evans dove into Old Testament law. This meant she had to cover her head in church and sleep in a tent when she was on her period. When she faced sleeping in a tent by herself with cramps, Evans struggled to maintain the virtues she tried so hard to practice.
Though I appreciated the jokes and the pithy prose, I especially enjoyed the way that this book incorporated the experiences of women with a variety of backgrounds. To complete her project, Evans interviewed and got advice from a number of groups including Orthodox Jews, the Amish, and a skilled group of seamstresses. Each chapter tells the story of the women that Evans met along the way, as well as a number of women from the Bible. Though it makes no absolute claims about biblical womanhood, A Year of Biblical Womanhood delves into a messy topic with humor and humility, giving everyone a number of ideas about how to live biblically in the 21st century.
Monday March 3, 2014 at 5:14 PM
by Natasha Strydhorst
When I first picked up Things That Are, it wasn’t this title that first grabbed my attention, but the one below: Essays. I have to admit that (as a college student) the last thing I usually want to immerse myself in is an essay. But Amy Leach changed that from page one. These were essays of a kind I’d never before encountered: essays that are compelling and meaningful—a delight to read. So compelling in fact, that I read it in almost one sitting. So meaningful, I want to go back and read it all over again.
Amy Leach writes in such a way that it’s not just the words that come alive, but the pages themselves—transporting the reader back to the forest from whence they came—expressing the myriad personalities of every sort of creature, from peas (page 36) to beavers (page 6) to flighty memories themselves (page 122). Despite perpetuating the stereotype, I must say that (as a Canadian) I was especially enamoured of the beaver description spanning several of the early pages of Things That Are. “An animal more contrary than the beaver would build a grumpy shanty of sticks in the forest; an animal less contrary the river would drag and distract and make into memorabilia” (page 6).
It seems that every sentence is begging: don’t let the Things That Are become the Things That Were. They’re too precious for that. This plea comes into sharp contrast with the presentation of Leach’s “Memorandum to the Animals,” in which she poignantly declares with the increasingly loud voice of unrestrained humanity: “we salute you, Animals… but the future belongs to us” (page 108). The thoughtful construction of each sentence gives each of the creatures described a personality, and a voice of their own that makes readers indignant for their sake. Things That Are seems a living example of the innate power of words.
Wednesday February 26, 2014 at 4:52 PM
by Tom Speelman
As superhero films have gone on to become the dominating genre at the box office, and comics as a whole have enjoyed a more sterling critical reputation in literary circles than years past, both Marvel and DC Comics have attempted to capture this zeitgeist in two ways:
1. Launching new comic books with minimal continuity and offering a simultaneous digital-and-print release in order to attract more readers.
2. Hiring big-name writers from outside the comics field to write for them.
DC went about this in September 2011 with “The New 52,” wherein all of their ongoing titles were canceled and 52 new titles in a new timeline were launched simultaneously. Besides getting returning top-tier comic scribes like Gail Simone and Grant Morrison onboard, they also enlisted short-story writer and Sarah Lawrence College writing professor Scott Snyder to write Batman, a decision that has paid off astonishingly well, with the book winning multiple awards and consistently being a best-seller.
A few months after “The New 52” launched, Marvel announced the “Marvel NOW!” initiative, which had the same goals as DC's effort, but with one catch: instead of a rebooted continuity, they kept the existing one, with the Marvel Universe remaining interconnected on the same sliding timeline it’s had since the '60s (the books always take place in the present, but anything that happened to Spider-Man in the '60s still happened to the Spidey that's around today). They also published books deliberately constructed to ease new readers in.
Both publishing initiatives have been massively successful, but it's “Marvel NOW” that has consistently retained critical acclaim, with a great deal of commentators noting that Marvel has encouraged a more diverse variety of art styles and stories, while DC has, by and large, enforced an artistic house style and kept most of its writers—the aforementioned Snyder and a few others excluded—under the constraints of whatever line-wide crossover event is currently happening.
So into this revitalized superhero landscape, then, comes Ms. Marvel, and what a marvel it truly is. Festival 2014 speaker G. Willow Wilson's script and Adrian Alphona's art, coupled with stellar coloring, lettering and editing, has combined to create not just one of the best superhero comics of recent years, but one of the best comics of the year, period.
Released earlier this month, the book follows 16-year old Kamala Khan, a Muslim-American, Pakistani girl in Jersey City who has the typical high school experience, except for her unabashed enthusiasm for the Avengers (she writes fanfiction) and her heritage. This gets her insulted by the requisite high school Queen Bee, a white blonde girl named Zoe who cracks jokes about honor killings in the guise of compliments.
Kamala's home life isn't any easier, with her banker father dismissing her brother Aamir's religious orthodoxy as an excuse to avoid finding a job while forbidding her to go to a party. Of course, she sneaks out and, after being mocked for the way she loudly spits out alcohol, she runs away just as a strange, alien mist (technically tied-in to an ongoing Marvel event, but that isn't addressed within the book itself, nor does it matter) rolls over the area. Kamala, inhaling the gas, then has a vision where she meets Iron Man, Captain America and Captain Marvel (the latter singing in Urdu) and relays her fears, saying to Captain Marvel, “I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated. I want to be you.”
It should be noted that the current Captain (formerly known as Ms.) Marvel, Carol Danvers, is a white, blonde woman, not unlike Kamala's tormentor, Zoe. That lends a slight edge to Kamala's longing to be normal—one that might be uncomfortable to some, but is absolutely necessary to hear and see.
Speaking of Carol Danvers, yes, this book is technically what's called in superhero comics a “legacy title:” a book starring a superhero identity readers are familiar with, but with a new person taking up the mantle, so that the publisher can retain its hold over the trademarked name while doing something dramatically interesting with the character (for another example, see the 5 Green Lanterns that are from Earth). But fortunately, virtually no knowledge of the prior Ms. Marvel is necessary whatsoever.
This is not your typical origin story, or at the very least, not the sort of origin we've seen in a long time. Kamala's outcast status echoes, as has every teen hero before her, of Peter Parker's original predicament, but her unique status—unfortunately or not, this is the first time either of the “Big Two” publishers has had a book published with a Muslim writer (and editor in Sara Amanat), featuring a Muslim character as the protagonist—is what keeps her story above the rest.
Wilson's script doesn't read like the tale of someone discovering their destiny, but rather like the first chapter of a particularly inventive, piercing young adult novel. Given that her World Fantasy Award-winning novel Alif the Unseen dealt with similar subject matter and also had a young protagonist, this shouldn't be surprising. But it is, with fully defined characters just waiting to be explored—like Bruno, the Shaggy to Kamala's Velma or Kamala's friend Nakia (who resists being called Kiki in an effort to reclaim her Turkish heritage)—in subsequent issues.
Artist Alphona is best known for being the original artist on the now-legendary Marvel teenage team book Runaways, and his artwork has only gotten better since then. He gives the world a cartoonish look, but one that enhances the characters and their very real problems, rather than detracting from them. Such a look easily recalls the stellar work done by both major companies in their animated television efforts.
The rest of the creative team—colorist Ian Herring and letterer Joe Caramagna—help lift Alphona's art into a thing of utter beauty. Herring uses bright, vibrant tones to help flesh out Alphona's pencils, while Caramagna makes every bit of dialogue pop.
Bottom line: this is a tremendous achievement, both as a comic book on its own accord and in terms of the historical record. When Ms. Wilson comes to the Festival in April, I will most certainly be asking her about this book. And if you can pick up this book—which is available digitally at Comixology; a second print run of issue #1 will be in comic book stores March 19 (you can locate a comic shop near you at—I hope you will too. Comics are getting big again, and this time, they've brought some new tools to the workshop.
- Seeking a Healthy Dialogue February 19, 2014
- Orner Says it Better February 6, 2014
- Murder! Intrigue! Episcopalians! January 20, 2014
- Giving Faces to the Faceless January 10, 2014
- Risky, Not Reckless December 20, 2013
- Conversations with Devin Johnston December 9, 2013
- The Unseen Wonder of "Alif the Unseen" October 21, 2013