I wish I’d had a book like this when I was middle grade reader! I scoured the shelves for escapist fiction for boys, and this is escapist literally, as well as literarily.
Jonathan is a bully-magnet. He has recently moved in with his divorced dad, from whom he’s been estranged. His father is busy and doesn’t always seem to have the time to spend with Jonathan. Jonathan attends a prestigious art school — he loves to draw. But as is true with any high school in America, there are bullies, and being the new kid, and unable to find the courage to stand up against the bully, Jonathan is pick upon over and over again.
New town, new school, no friends, and an absentee father, Jonathan escapes in to the world of a comic book. Gangsterland, is a 1920’s era comic that captures not only his attention, but his self! Some of the pages are blank, until Jonathan finds himself sucked in to the 1920’s and in the middle of the story he was reading. There, he encounters Molly, a beautiful young woman for whom he develops a mad crush, and who is as bullied in her life, as Jonathan is in his.
Jonathan manages to escape from the comic, time and time again (by sketching), but not without some unfortunate physical proof of having been there (welts, and bruises, and even a gunshot). He knows it’s dangerous, his father and school officials think he’s causing the harm to himself, but he’s smitten with Molly (even drawing her when he’s back in his own world/time) and he knows he has to help.
The story moves along quite well, and we enjoy reading about Jonathan’s life both inside the comic, and out. This is a testament to his character, as created by author Ansha Kotyk, and to the worlds he lives in. There’s a beautiful set-up for the next book, and yet this is a complete story in itself.
There’s a little bit of everything here: art, mystery, science fiction, romance, YA struggles, even history. Kotyk blends it together nicely.
The bullying scenes play all too real and I have to admit that I grew increasingly uncomfortable with Jonathan’s getting in to trouble with the adults around him because of what the bully does. I understand that a student often feels completely alone when being picked on, but in this case it’s taken to the extreme that not only is he truly alone, he’s being bullied by the adults as well. This sort of hopeless scenario occasionally had me not wanting to read any more. One adult seems to recognize the situation that Jonathan is in and reaches out, but this potential story-line does not go anywhere (in this book).
Hopefully not too many middle schoolers suffer from bullies the way Jonathan does (no one should), but almost everyone can relate to the sense of being misunderstood and the desire to be better. These are the traits that Jonathan exemplifies.
Looking for a good book? This middle-grade reader is a page-turner that will really capture a youngster’s attention. It is highly recommended!
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author: Ansha Kotyk
series: Ink Portal Adventure #1
publisher: Busstop Press
paperback, 175 pages