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Book Reviews Review: Eileen Cook’s The Hanging Girl, E.K. Johnston’s That Inevitable Victorian Thing and Samya Kullab’s Escape from Syria

The Hanging Girl

By Eileen Cook

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 320 pages, $23.99

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Eighteen-year-old Skye wants to move to New York after graduation. But she doesn't make enough money working at the Burger Barn and giving fake tarot card readings to make her dreams come true. Enter Paige Bonnet, a rich, popular girl who wants to fake her own kidnapping and use Skye's psychic reputation as part of the ruse. Skye thinks this is a terrific way to make a quick buck until, not surprisingly, the whole thing goes sideways and she is thrust into the role of reluctant detective. The premise of a fake crime turned real isn't new, and it seems that Eileen Cook has written a solid, if not entirely predictable, mystery thriller – until the very end. The final twist is creepy and, like all good twists, makes perfect sense when reading back to see what you missed.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing

By E.K. Johnston

Dutton Books, 336 pages, $23.99

Canada seems to be E.K. Johnston's best muse. Her first book, The Story of Owen: Dragon Slayer of Trondheim, was about national politics and an international dragon problem. In her seventh book, another alternative history, she plunges Ontario into the Victorian era. In Johnson's world, Queen Victoria was a radically progressive leader, believing that the British Empire would be strengthened through intercultural marriages and an acceptance of diversity. The present day is a delightful mash-up of technological advancement and Victorian etiquette, a truly original set-up for a story of adolescent self-discovery. And that's really what this novel is about – three teens with deeply held secrets that all converge in one pivotal Ontario social season. The result is part Emily Dickinson, part woke Pierre Berton with a whopper of a plot explosion that rings true, even when set against a history of sparkling, beautiful lies.

Escape from Syria

By Samya Kullab, illustrated by Jackie Roche

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Firefly Books, 96 pages, $19.95

The Syrian refugee crisis has been going on for years, but the experiences of survivors are just making their way into books for young people. Samya Kullab, a journalist based in the Middle East, has partnered with illustrator Jackie Roche to tell the story of Amina, a young girl who is forced to leave Syria with her family. Although the characters are fictional, Kullab bases the narrative on extensive interviews and reporting while also seamlessly integrating the facts readers need to understand the political situation. The story focuses primarily on the events leading to Amina and her family's resettlement, but Kullab is careful not to paint Canada as a utopia for newcomers; the final pages show that there can be no happy ending when millions are still suffering. This is a powerful, eye-opening graphic novel that will foster empathy and understanding in readers of all ages.

Algonquin comic book creator and TV producer Jay Odjick responds to the idea that diversity in comic book storylines is to blame for falling sales. Odjick is the creator of Kagagi, a superhero comic book series and TV show
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