I spent a lot of time this summer reading graphic novels this summer. They’re quick, enjoyable reads and are rapidly growing in popularity. Ever since reading Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol last fall, I’ve been picking up lots of titles that are published by First Second. Two that I were very eager to pick up were Sara Varon’s titles Bake Sale and Robot Dreams. Here are my thoughts on those two books.
Cupcake’s life is pretty good. He’s got his bakery, and his band, and his best friend, Eggplant. His days are full of cooking, socializing, and playing music. But lately, Cupcake has been struggling in the kitchen. He’s sure the solution to all his problems is out there somewhere. But maybe that solution is hiding closer to home.
Sara Varon returns with an ageless tale as dreamy and evocative as her break-out hit graphic novel Robot Dreams. At once deeply metaphorical and hilariously literal, Bake Sale is a story for anyone who’s ever looked for an easy answer to life’s intractable difficulties. It’s also a cookbook: Varon includes seven delicious recipes, from classic cupcakes to sugared flower petals to marzipan.
Bake Sale is the story of a cupcake who bakes cupcakes and dreams of making it big in the culinary world. While the premise sounds like it could be kind of weird (I know I looked at it and wondered if Cupcake could be cannibalistic), this is actually a very sweet read. I thought that having Cupcake and all of the other characters in this book be food was very different and cute. The drawings were done simplistically and in pastel colors, which gave the book a sunny and cheerful feel for me. For the most part, I thought Varon wrote an engaging story as well, but like a lot of other readers, I was frustrated by the ending and wanted a bit more resolution. I get that not every story ties up perfectly, but I thought that this was a bit in excess. I would love it if Varon continued Cupcake’s story in future volumes.
Richly endearing and full of surprises, Robot Dreams follows an ill-fated friendship between a dog and robot. After a Labor Day jaunt to the beach leaves Robot rusty and immobilized in the sand, Dog, unsure what to do, abandons him. As the seasons pass, Dog tries to replace his friend, making and losing a series of new ones, from a melting snowman to epicurean anteaters. Meanwhile, Robot passes his time daydreaming, escaping to better places...Through interwoven journeys, the two characters long to recover from their day at the beach.
Although its adorable characters and playful charm will win over young readers, Robot Dreams speaks universally to the fragile nature of friendship, loss, and redemption.
I know a lot of people favor Robot Dreams over Bake Sale, but I am not one of those people. I thought that Robot Dreams was poorly executed. The basic concept of this book is great, and I think it will work for readers of all ages. Robot Dreams is actually almost wordless, which makes it all the more interesting. I liked the story well enough, but the whole time I was reading it, it felt as though Varon was nearly ordering me to discuss this with a book club. Good books should be discussed among book clubs, and readers will want to do so. However, if I feel like you’re begging me to do it, the message of your story isn’t subtle enough and your storytelling lacks polish. Robot Dreams is a solid effort, and while it’s not awful, I can’t deem it a success. Hopefully next time I pick up a Varon book I find it more sophisticated and less heavy-handed.
Disclosure: I checked these books out from my public library.