I’m late to the game with these reviews, plus I missed the best and worst of the year talks, but I don’t wanna falsely claim these as 2023 reads next year, so here goes. I’ve done very little in the way of reading these last two months of the year, pretty much keeping to my usual comfort picks, as I’m sure you can tell. Getting married, working 50 hours a week for a little while, and having two major holidays, will do that to you, I guess! The only newcomer to the ring is Elle McNicoll, an impulse buy from Target; based upon the title and cover art, my immediate guess was autism, a suspicion that was confirmed by the blurb on the back. My dumb self didn’t even realize this was a book I’ve had on my Amazon wishlist for ages, only with a different book cover, until after I’d already finished it.
Pictured above is the cover I knew it by, not the one I bought it with. This book is what I’ve been looking for all this time, trying book after book with autistic (or autistic coded) characters. You get autism from every angle, and without turning anybody into a caricature or the butt of a joke, and without spreading misinformation. AKA, a super low bar to clear, yet a rarity nonetheless, much like the Bechdel Test. Seeing autism being treated simply as a character’s reality as opposed to a joke or a sideshow, being shown the highlights as well as the lowlights, and seeing that navigating the whole situation, whether you’re the autistic person or those around them, is a struggle. This is what you get with A Kind of Spark and I look forward to reading McNicoll’s other neurodivergent-centric books.
Next up is the continuation of the second arc of Chainsaw Man. Though I still maintain it’s yet to fully find its footing and compare to that first arc, things are starting to fall into place and gel together. With this volume, the overarching plot appears to be coming into view, and Denji is back (thank god), though in limited capacity. I’ve since read on a little past this, and just have to say that it feels like two different comics when you compare Chainsaw Man with and without Denji. Even though his personality is more muted now, which makes sense considering the events of that first arc, he just seems to pop off the page in a way that these new characters don’t yet. Again, though, I might change my mind once I actually read these in their proper collected form, rather than chapter by chapter, then reviewed as volumes here.
This is another light and breezy issue, with the Doombot plotline providing plenty a laugh, so I’ll give it plenty of credit for that. However, it is short lived and She-Hulk stupidly walks herself right into a sticky situation at the end. Why? Because they needed her to and couldn’t think of a better way to get her into it, I guess? What a bummer ending to one of the better issues so far.
I’ll be honest with you and tell you I skipped the stories I’ve read in the past. I meant to go back and re-read them now that they’re in this collection, but I never got around to it. So consider this my review of the ones that hadn’t already been released elsewhere in the past. Unsurprisingly, I adored the return of Lincoln and Beth, though the end to that story was more of a bummer than I was hoping for. Stop toying with my emotions like that, Rainbow Rowell! Then there’s the super-meta story that is written as if it’s literally set inside Rowell’s own mind; again, though, stop with the bummer endings! The Simon/Baz story was decent by Simon/Baz standards (can you tell I want the whole Watford universe to be done and buried already?). Winter Songs for Summer was another standout, and one without a bummer ending! Lastly, I think the fact that I remember absolutely nothing about The Snow Ball says enough. That being said, I do remember it being decent, so that’s two that were alright and three that were great, all without taking into account the others I’d already read, which I recall all being better than those two “decent” ones. So, for her first collection, that’s not bad. If only I had gotten it before the wedding like I was supposed to, not weeks later. When you pre-order two copies and neither arrives on release day. Feels bad, man.
One copy was ordered from Rainbow Rowell’s local bookstore in Omaha just to get this additional story, done zine-style. I considered pre-ordering a different copy too, for the chance of winning custom Simon and Baz Funkos (I know, I’m not big on them, but I like unique memorabilia like that), but didn’t. I worried it would be a lot of money and effort for nothing, but somehow she managed to take characters I don’t care much about and make me freaking cry with them. It took writing Simon/Baz AU where they’re a florist and tattoo artist, AKA a story without any of the magic/vampire bullshit, but I’m still in awe. This is, no joke, one of my favorite stories by her. Just… how? What sort of sorcery is this, Rainbow Rowell? I don’t get you, sometimes.