Why I am reviewing Space Dumplins, by Craig Thompson (GRAPHIX , August 25, 2015, middle grade graphic novel), today (after having it in the house for months):
Amelia Bloomer Project list was announced yesterday, and as usual it is a great collection of books celebrating girls and women whose lives and choices give us feminist role models. I was home sick and feverish yesterday when I read the list, and that might be why when, feeling better today (though still poorly), I tidied a pile of books (as one does) and I saw in the pile Space Dumplins, and thought I remembered seeing it on the Amelia Bloomer Project list. I think my mind had conflated Interstellar Cinderella and Dumplin', which are in fact on the A.B. list. But in any event, before I realized that it isn't in fact on the A.B. list, I was inspired by my mistake to sit down and finally read Space Dumplins, and did not, in my reading of it, find it lacking in feminism....much in the same way that Zita the Space Girl was an A.B. listed book back in the day.
So in any event, there will never be a better time than today for me to actually review it, so here I go:
Violet and her mom and dad are a close-knit family, not well off (they live in the intergalactic equivelant of a trailer park) but very loving. Except that, as is so often the case, the financial thing has made things a bit tense between Violet's parents. Then her dad, a big tattooed guy who lets Violet drive his space truck equivalent, goes off on a longer term job than usual (he is a harvester of space whale poop, which powers this civilization). And her mom, a fashion designer, gets a promotion that takes her and Violet up to one of the more elite nodes of residence, a high-falutin space station.
And then her dad goes missing.
Violet's mom makes all the calls she can, but no one is interested in helping her (her husband isn't important enough). So Violet sets off to do the rescuing herself, getting her own space motorbike equivalent in working order and heading off on her father's trail, with two mostly stalwart comrades-a sentient chicken boy and an orphaned alien boy. Turns out her father's ship has been swallowed by a space whaler, and turns out the rich and powerful were doing some questionable whale experimentation....and then it all turns out alright, yay! (that was me leaving out lots of plot particulars--this is a longish graphic novel, and there are lots of particulars that add to the story and the world-building).
So--this is the only book for middle grade readers, graphic novel or otherwise, that is clearly about a working class kid in space. Violet doesn't have the material trappings of the rich girls at the school on the space node where her mother's new job is, and she doesn't get into the school either, because her father's past as a somewhat delinquent youth showed up in the background check. Her mother is hired for the fashion job on the space station because she'll be able to supply the folksy edge that "her people" (the ones living outside the space stations) have. And I think it is feminist in the Amelia Bloomer list criteria sense, in as much as Violet has many mechanical and technological skills that are still unfortunately coded as male in our society, and uses them to save her dad.
The illustrations are complex and detail rich, depicting a sort of mad almost steampunk welter of technology, helping carry the story along nicely.
In short, it's easy to recommend Space Dumplins to any fans of Zita the Space Girl, or to any young reader whose looking for wild and whacky adventure in space. Kirkus agrees with me on this one (I just checked), saying almost exactly the same things:
"Thompson's art is wild and busy, with overcrowded, unconventional panel structures. The worldbuilding is a strikingly imaginative pastiche that seamlessly blends biblical references, poop jokes, and social satire. Fans of Ben Hatke's Zita the Spacegirl series should gravitate to this offering.
A weird and wonderful intergalactic tale."
And when Kirkus and I agree, they are almost always right, so there you go (although there weren't exactly "poop jokes" so much as running (as it were) references to space whale diarrhea, so don't be put off by Kirkus' suggestion that there's lots of potty humor).
disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher at BEA (I think).