Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier, Scholastic, 2016. 9780545540612.
Guest review by Robert in San Diego.
The Allende-Delmer family is moving away from sunny southern California (and their favorite regional fast food chain) to Bahia de la Luna, a fog-shrouded coastal northern California town. Older sister Cat knows she’s leaving her friends (including boyfriend Ari) not just because her Dad’s got a new job there, but because the moist salt air will help her younger sister Maya, who has cystic fibrosis.
No single world adequately describes Bahia de la Luna. Nearby neighbor boy Carlos is self employed as a ghost tour guide. The whole town takes their ghosts seriously, especially when the dead come back in their proper shapes (not their usual drifting formless shades) for the annual Dia de los Muertos party!
Cat’s nonplussed when her first new friend at her new school confesses the really cute boy she dances with has been dead for about a century. Cat doesn’t want to meet the disembodied locals. Maya, on the other hand, wants to meet ghosts. No matter how positive her outlook is (and she is very positive), she has a pressing need to know what happens when people die. The ghosts try to take some breath from Maya, not knowing she needs all she’s got. This leads to a hospital trip. The ghosts regret their error, but that mistake reinforces Cat’s defensive tendency towards her sister.
That’s not the only regret. Cat and Maya’s Mom regrets the estrangement between herself as a teen and her own mother. “I never even learned to speak fluent Spanish.” Even one of the ghosts, who Cat briefly thinks might be her grandmother, sadly confesses “No hay familia.” (“I don’t have a family.”)
Estrangement and its resolutions are the theme of Ghosts. The devoted sisters have a falling out when the almost entirely housebound Maya learns Cat hasn’t even mentioned her to Cat’s new friends. Cat and Carlos, on the outs after Maya’s hospital trip, make up thanks to traditional Mexican pastries. And Maya does finally get to question a ghost.
Glister by Andi Watson. Dark Horse Books, 2017. 9781506703190. 302pp.
This is an omnibus edition of four shorter graphic novels originally published by Walker Books back in 2009 and 2010: Glister: The Haunted Teapot, Glister: The House Hunt, Glister: The Faerie Host, and Glister: The Family Tree. I’m a huge fan of Andi Watson’s graphic novels for kids (Princess Decomposia, Gum Girl) and adults (Little Star, Love Fights), but somehow failed to connect with this series when it was first published. Having all the books in one volume seems to have made all the difference — they’re excellent.
Glister Butterworth is a fearless, friendly little girl who lives in Chilblain Hall with her father and, well, others. Strange things happen around her, her world is full of ghosts and creatures and faeries, and her house is somehow alive (and moody). In the first book, her supernatural adventures are far more fun than freaky. The teapot is haunted by the ghost of a terrible author who runs her ragged when she helps him finish a novel. In the second, after being insulted, Chilblain Hall’s mood is in the dumps. Glister tries (and fails) to cheer it up, so it leaves. She sets off to find it. The third book opens with Chilblain Hall getting a new neighbor, Faerieland, and a new visitor, Glister’s missing mother, who she talks with in her mirror. Glister will, of course, have to set off into Faerieland to rescue her. Luckily she has the magic hoodie her mother made for her when she was a child. In the fourth, the Butterworth Family Tree blooms, and to Glister’s delight, several of the relatives she’s only seen in portraits around the Hall come to visit. Her delight doesn’t last long and the visits may cost her and her father their home.
Watson’s style is more cartoony than realistic, and it has a sketchy, hand-inked feel that gives his stories an energy lacking in many kids’ graphic novels. Each of the stories is reproduced using a single color, which seems to highlight his talents. It’s the perfect way to create a world in which the supernatural is present but isn’t too threatening.
Slam! Volume One written by Pamela Ribon, Illustrated by Veronica Fish. BOOM! Box, 2017. 9781684150045. Contains SLAM! #1 – #4.
Two friends, Jennifer Chau (muscular, brainy student studying for a masters in geology) and her friend Maisie Huff (skinny, recently dumped) meet when they’re freshies, new to roller derby. Roller derby gives participants many things: bruises, friends, enemies, and a sense of who they are. Jen and Maisie are drafted by different teams. Jen’s team’s all-star jammer seems to have a personal problem with her, while the less athletic Maisie struggles with her confidence and skating skills. After some drama when they’re both working with a new crop of freshies, their friendship seems over, and then their teams have a bout against each other.
Fish’s art really conveys the power of the derby without going over the top, and the panel layouts give the action just the right pace. Props to Pamela Ribon’s writing, too — she was (according to the cover) one of the writers of Disney’s Moana— her script allows the story to achieve a great balance between the words and pictures.
Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke. First Second, 2016. 9781626722644. 205pp.
Mighty Jack and the Goblin King by Ben Hatke. First Second, 2017. 9781626722668. 207pp.
In the first book, it’s summer, and Jack has to stay home and take care of his quiet little sister, Maddy. He is not happy. At a swap meet, at Maddy’s urging, he trades his mom’s car keys for a packet of seeds that he’s told will change his life. Mom is angry. The next day, as Jack and Maddy are planting their garden, Lilly introduces herself. (Jack saw her practicing sword fighting the day before, which is good because it’s a skill she’s going to need.) Magic plants grow. Veggies grant unusual powers. And a dragon tells Jack that evil is growing in his garden. There’s a beanstalk of sorts. At the end of Mighty Jack, he and Lilly set off to another world to rescue Maddy. Mighty Jack and the Goblin King is about their other-worldly rescue mission.
The art is colorful and kinetic, and the whole story is pure upbeat Ben Hatke (Zita the Spacegirl, Julia’s House for Lost Creatures, other amazing books). For me this read like one long story — I like the books much better together than apart — when you give them to your favorite young relative this holiday season or check them out at the library, make sure you get both.
I’m still looking for a horror novel or graphic novel for the Halloween season, but these at last have friendly ghosts. Those count, right? Added bonus: they’re both good readalikes for Raina Telgemeier’s last book, too.
Graveyard Shakes by Laura Terry. Scholastic Graphix, 2017. 9780545889544.
Ghosts and ghouls dance beneath a cemetery, but they don’t like Little Ghost, who is scared of them. But he has a friend who lives there, Modie, a boy whose father keeps him alive by using a spell every thirteen years to feed Modie the life of another child. (Yeah, killing that kid. This happens the beginning and makes the whole book seem like it’s going to be much more grim than it is. And on the up side Modie is trying to convince his dad to stop.)
Fast forward twelve years and eleven months… In the nearby Bexley Academy’s dorm, two sisters Victoria (older, calm) and Katie (little, wild) are getting ready for their first day of class. They’re scholarship students and the other kids treat them like crap (though Katie doesn’t really notice). As Modie’s dad searches for a new life to feed his son (and Modie pleads with his father not to do such a horrific thing), the girls try to fit in. Victoria finally makes a friend — Little Ghost! — and Katie makes friends with wilder ghouls who lead her to behaving badly. It’s pretty clear that one of the girls will need rescuing from Modie’s dad eventually, but it all unfolds organically and somewhat unpredictably. The storytelling, drawings, and the color all look wonderful.
Surfside Girls: The Secret of Danger Point by Kim Dwinell. Top Shelf, 2017. 9781603094115.
Dwinell’s first graphic novel is a story of two surfing friends, Jade and Samantha. Jade is a bit boy crazy. Samantha prefers bugs. After they hear that a resort is going to be built on Danger Point, ruining their surfing beach, Samantha finds out that she can see ghosts and that she has become the guardian of Danger Point. There’s even a cute young boy ghost. It’s an entertaining book with a pro environmental message full of girl power.
The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks. First Second, 2016. 9781626721562. 240pp.
The Stone Heart by Faith Erin Hicks. First Second, 2017. 9781626721586. 256pp.
There’s a great city that’s called by different names by different peoples. The City has a thousand names but it doesn’t really have just one. It’s also got an impressive feature called The Hole in the Sky, a hole in a mountain through which the river joins the ocean, and which shows the power the original founders of the city, The Northern People, must have possessed.
The Dao are the city’s current rulers, having conquered it 30 years ago. Kaidu and other young Dao have just come to the nameless city from their homelands. They are surrounded on all sides by those who would like to conquer the city for themselves, so Kaidu and the others are being trained to fight. Kaidu’s father, General Andren, introduces himself to his son (they’ve never met) and takes him into the city, which he clearly loves.
Later, after a tough day of fighting lessons, Kaidu tries to return to the market he visited with his father. Lost, he asks for help from a young girl called Rat. She takes his knife and flees to the rooftops. A friendship slowly develops as Kaidu meets Rat for lessons in how to race across the rooftops of the city, despite their differences. After Rat overhears Dao soldiers planning to assassinate The (Dao) General of All Blades and his son (the soldiers want to return home instead of occupying the city), things get complicated. General Andren’s proposal to put a council of nations in place to oversee the city gains a bit of momentum, which leads to plot developments in the second book.
Hicks clearly put a lot of thought into the cultures and design of the city and its people, which shows in the story and the concept art in the back of each book. It’s amazing how each page showcases the setting without getting in the way of the characters. And I love the way she uses motion lines whether characters are running or fighting for their lives.
Full disclosure: My daughter and I are huge fan of Hicks’ graphic novels, especially Friends With Boys and Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong. (Dad’s note: my daughter could be a character in either book.)
The Witch Boy by Molly Ostertag. Scholastic Graphix, 2017. 9781338089516. 214pp.
Aster’s family can use magic. Girls learn spells and potions and how to talk to trees, that kind of thing. Boys learn to shapeshift, and have the ability to see the demons they fight. Aster isn’t allowed to learn girls’ magic even though he feels drawn to it (and practices it in secret). Worse, his grandmother’s twin brother secretly learned girls magic, lost control, and had to be cast out because he was a danger to himself and the rest of the family. He prefers the girls’ company but can’t spend time with them during their lessons, and he’s a bit of an outsider where the boys are concerned, but he makes a friend outside of his family’s land, a normal girl named Charlotte who also hates the way boy and girl stuff is split up at her school.
Aster’s witchery gets stronger while his shapeshifting skills fail to develop. His parents don’t know what to do. There’s a big bad evil beyond the boundaries of the family’s land. Bad things happen, good things result. It’s really good. In less-skilled hands it could really come off as a thinly-veiled after school special about gender roles and sexual identity, but it reads like a good all-ages story full of magic. My advanced copy’s art was mostly black and white; the finished graphic novel will be color throughout, and based on the few pages that were colored in this, I can’t wait to read it again — it looks beautiful.