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Koko Be Good Paperback – September 14, 2010

3.8 out of 5 stars 39 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

When readers dive into Wang's first graphic novel, they may at first believe they have another slacker coming-of-age story on their hands. And to some extent, that is true, although it travels in unexpected directions. Wang follows three characters as they struggle to define their places in the world. Jon is a recent college graduate planning to follow his older girlfriend to Peru to work for an orphanage, and his story, which opens the book, feels the most familiar. In the midst of his existential crisis, he meets Koko, an eccentric, sometimes almost feral young woman who ricochets from encounter to encounter, often leaving a trail of chaos in her wake. The relatively slim plot follows them, as well as Faron, a slight teenage boy, as they wrestle with what it means to be good and how goodness can be combined with happiness. Wang's strength is her art work. The watercolor panels, with an ochre template, are stunning and emotionally evocative, and the book is at its best when she tells the story through images. At times the dialogue sounds too much like a late-night college bull session, especially when it turns to philosophy. But Wang's delicate images, and her ability to capture the earnest emotions of her characters, should pull in all but the most hard-hearted reader. (Sept.)
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From Booklist

*Starred Review* A richly woven story of three misfits, each of whose intersecting lives threatens to crash and burn, but who survive and even thrive emotionally, unfolds in gorgeous watercolor-hued panels and tight, credible dialogue. Koko is a twentysomething who really wants to be “good,” although she has a tendency to do just the wrong thing so often that others have difficulty trusting her motives. Slightly older Jon wants to join his older girlfriend in do-good work in Latin America, but she drops him. Faron, a teenager somewhat younger and less independent than Koko, works in a Vietnamese restaurant, where he is the scapegoat. All three characters are fully developed, delightfully drawn, and actively portrayed in contemporary San Francisco, whose neighborhoods also come to life on the large pages. This is stellar storytelling and art, opening a complex but accessible window onto real-life situations and self-discoveries. It should be most appealing to literary graphic-novel readers, other readers willing to cross over for the sake of a high-quality bildungsroman, and anyone else looking for beautiful and subtle art. Much more than a boy-meets-, or -loses-, -girl affair, the story of Koko, Jon, and Faron is a multicultural fable in which universal truths are made fresh and inspiring. --Francisca Goldsmith

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 299 pages
  • Publisher: First Second (September 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1596435550
  • ISBN-13: 978-1596435551
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #245,407 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jon is unsure of his life path. He is planning a move to Peru with his much older girlfriend Emily. She's working at an orphanage and doing good things. Jon wants to help her, but she questions his decision because Jon is young and hasn't had a chance to explore his life, to determine what is right for him.

Koko is the quintessential free-spirited screw up. She bounces around from one place to another, one job to another, taking what she wants with sheer disregard for the people around her...until she meets Jon. After a talk, Koko decides she wants to change, to do something purposeful and good with her life.

Faron is an unmotivated slacker. He lives and works with his family and doesn't seem to have any aspirations beyond playing video games and sometimes performing Kung Fu tricks as Koko's sidekick. But his life takes a turn when he gets in trouble with the law.

It's not always easy to tell a cogent story with picture panels and word bubbles, so I tend to be more forgiving with graphic novels, but 'Koko Be Good' suffered from problems with consistency and pacing (which tended toward slow), more than a few of the panels were difficult to follow, and some sections lost their meaning altogether. The overarching story was interesting enough, ultimately asking the reader to consider what "good" actually means, but even as a character study, this book faltered and it could have benefited from another round of edits for clarity and depth.

The artwork on the other hand was excellent. I love Wang's loose, almost unfinished, sketchy style with subdued sepia and umber toned washes. It worked well for the story and its characters. The top notch construction of the book also gave me pause.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Jen Wang can draw. There is no question about that. The artwork for "Koko Be Good" is fantastic. Wang's style is loose and frenetic, stylistically solid and beautifully colored (water color? Maybe). There is so much life and energy in her imagery that the pages of the book have a hard time containing it all. Her characters are all circles, and Wang has a great way with facial expressions.

The real question is can Jen Wang write? That same wild energy that appears in the artwork has a hard time being tamed into a compelling story. Koko's introduction into the story is so visually confusing that even when I re-read the five or so pages I realized I had no idea what was going on. But the real problem is that her characters are mostly superficial, and the closing of the story is apparent from the first few pages. There are no surprises, and the book ends exactly like I thought it would. "Typical Hollywood Ending" comes to mind.

The basic story set up starts with Jon, an aimless 20-something recent collage graduate who is planning to move to Peru to be with his 30-something girlfriend who plans to dedicate her life to helping the poor. Jon has no particular dreams or ambitions of his own, and so is just tagging along with his girlfriend. He feels that doing something is better than doing nothing, and simply wants to be with his girl. Jon had dreams once, of playing music, but the fire has left him. The girlfriend on the other hand is ambivalent, afraid that Jon is coming for the wrong reasons and not afraid to tell him so. Suddenly, into Jon's life comes Koko, an explosion of id who acts without thinking, full of strange passion and drive but with no focus at all. Koko is pure impulse, and forget the consequences.
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The story is a familiar one, especially in current graphic novels: coming of age & trying to make sense of life as the world opens up before you, with everything much bigger & more intimidating than you'd imagined. But this first work by Jen Wang has something more than that going for it. Not only does she take that familiar story & move it in unexpected directions, she does so with impressive art, rendered in a muted palette & just a touch of cartooniness. This combination of a contemplative tone & energetic linework brings the characters to vivid life on the page.

Jon, in his early 20s, is preparing to leave for Peru to join his girlfriend ... but he's not really sure if this is what he wants, even if he can't admit it to himself. He's a little mopey, a little too serious; at the same time, he's aware of that & can laugh at himself, albeit uneasily. The result is someone we identify with, because we all went through the same thing at some point in our lives. He genuinely wants to be a grown-up, and believes he's doing the right things -- but he's still playing a role to some extent.

When Jon meets the frenetic Koko & her friend Faron, everything starts to change. I'm impressed by the author's willingness to make Koko quite annoying & almost unbearable at first, before we start to see the uncertain human being hidden beneath the frenzied, snarky facade. And if her barbs get Jon to start looking at his life in ways he's been avoiding, his basic decency & desire to make something meaningful & real of his life gets through to her as well.

Yes, there's some late-night college philosophizing -- but it belongs here, because it's honest to the characters & their situation. It's easy to dismiss being overly earnest when you're years beyond it; but at the time, it's the way things are, and that philosophizing helps you get through an awful lot. A promising debut!
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