Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Secret Coders

Hopper is the new student at Stately Academy, and she pretty much hates it there. She gets hit in the head with a glop of pudding on her first day and then almost gets into a fight. Her classmates are not very inviting. The teachers are creepy, as are the principal and the janitor. And there are weird birds everywhere, and they get weirder once they see certain numbers.

Hopper eventually befriends Eni, a student who has been at the school since kindergarten and who has a penchant for basketball, math, and coding. Together they start to unravel the mysteries about campus, such as why certain doors are always locked and what those birds are up to. Along with each revelation comes new mysteries, such as an enigmatic, large green man who has the principal's ear. This book ends with a cliffhanger that is to be resolved in the next volume, but in the meantime there is a website avid readers and puzzle solvers can visit to tide them over.

Overall, I think that the mysteries here are pretty compelling, and I had no problem with the lack of resolution. I also really enjoyed the cartoony artwork that conveys both emotion and movement very well. But I still felt a little let down by this book, mostly because I felt it was a little wordy in places. I get that they are teaching elementary concepts about computer science and coding via the text passages, but I thought the exposition bogged things down from time to time.

This book is a collaboration between Gene Yang and Mike Holmes. Yang is one of the premier comics creators working today. He won the Printz Award for his graphic novel American Born Chinese, and he explores themes of immigration, belief, identity, and growing up in his many works, including The Eternal Smile, Level Up, The Shadow Hero, the twin volumes Boxers & Saints, and his current run on Superman (yes, THAT Superman). Holmes is best known for his work on the weekly comic True Story and drawing some Adventure Time comics. This article sheds more light on the origins of this book, as does this interview with Yang.

All of the reviews of this book I have read have been celebratory. Publishers Weekly commented that "Holmes’s bold cartoony illustrations are a natural fit for Yang’s geeky enthusiasm, and their combined effort offers an enticing first taste of coding that may very well yield some converts." Kirkus Reviews wrote that "the friendly art and nifty concept will leave readers eager for the next book." Dustin Cabeal called it "one of the best books I’ve read all year."

Secret Coders was published by First Second, and they have a preview and much more here.

Thank you, Gina, for the review copy!

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