Cast No Shadow by Nick Tapalansky and Anissa Espinosa. First Second, 2017. 9781596438774. 220pp.
Two things I immediately loved about this graphic novel: the ghostly “bees” (there are a few on the dedication page) and the grey tones done by Alex Eckman-Lawn, which reminded me of some of Andi Watson’s best black and white art.
Greg doesn’t cast a shadow. He’s missing his mom and is more than a little angry that his dad’s girlfriend, Ruth, is moving in. His best friend Layla is super tough, and tired of his moping. The town’s mayor is always trying new attractions to bring in tourists (the latest is The World’s Largest Hairball). They mayor’s son Jake is not Greg’s favorite person. Oh, and there’s a haunted house, the scene of several murders, where the ghosts mess with whoever messes with the house.
Greg and Layla go into the house where Greg finds out he can see the very cute ghost of a teenage girl who haunts the place. He more than kinda falls for her which is good because she hasn’t had anyone to talk to for a long while. But Layla has also fallen for Jake, which isn’t good. Plus Greg is being a jerk to Layla. And then his shadow suddenly shows up.
The book is way more romantic than harrowing, and seems to be part of a wave of middle grade graphic novels about mostly friendly ghosts. All in all it’s a bit of innocent fun which touches on bullying, dealing with the romantic lives of friends and parents, and embracing weirdness.
Taproot: A Story About A Gardener And A Ghost by Keezy Young. Roar Lion Forge, 2017. 9781941302460.
A sweet, LGBTQ-friendly graphic novel about a ghost named Blue and Hamal, the gardener who can see him (and other ghosts). There’s a spooky looking dark place ghosts can suddenly find themselves and a scythe-wielding being called a Reaper (who is after a necromancer in our world, and wants Blue’s help), but mostly this is a sweet romance with a lot of nice moments and great colors. It’s low-key enough for middle and high schools, though I think older students and adults with good taste will enjoy it the most.
Written in Red (A Novel of the Others) by Anne Bishop. ROC, 2014. 9780451417909. 512pp.
This book takes place on the a continent ruled by The Others — supernatural beings including shapeshifting crows, coyotes, werewolves, plus spirit bears, elementals, weather ponies, vampires, and more. Humans are tolerated and traded with, but they stay in their settlements because mostly they’re seen as food. Into one of the Others’ villages stumbles Meg, a young woman who escaped her lifelong captivity and is on the run from the men who profited from her powers of prophecy. (Say that five times fast.) The werewolf in charge, Simon, trusts his instincts and hires her to be the Others’ human liaison, which mostly means she delivers mail. Meg’s innocence and kindness allow her to interact with the Others in a way no other human has, and she’s slowly accepted by them. Which is good because the men who want her back are hunting her, and she needs protection.
It’s all pretty lighthearted with a decent amount of violence, and lots of scenes in the world’s scariest bookstore (which Simon runs). There’s a hint of romance throughout, a cop trying to keep humans safe from beings he knows could wipe them out in a heartbeat, and a drug that drives both humans and Others to savage violence. It’s the setup for the rest of the series but worth reading on its own.
YOU liked that book? you ask, incredulously. Yes, yes, I did. My first paranormal romance, kinda. I blame YA author Lish McBride, who hand sold it to me at Third Place Books last month along with Sarah Gailey’s fabulous novella River of Teeth, a truly diverse western about 1) getting feral hippos out of the swamp that was once the Mississippi River and 2) revenge.
The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo by Drew Weing. First Second, 2016. 9781626723399.
Charles and his parents have moved from a small town to Echo City, where they’ll live in the top-floor apartment of the building his dad is renovating. As awful as it is to Charles to have to be in a tiny room, in a busy and (he thinks) dangerous city, it’s terrifying when he finds that his building has a resident monster who peeks out of his closet and steals his stuff. Another kid in the building gives him a business card (don’t show any grown-ups) from Margo Maloo: Monster Mediator. Margo swoops in through Charles’ window and takes him down a hidden access shaft to a blocked-off hotel kitchen. There they find a troll (Margo knows him well, his name is Marcus) and he and Charles end up bonding over their respective collection of Battlebean toys. More adventures follow as Margo lets Charles tag along on her cases around the city.
Kid detectives were my favorite genre in elementary school and this brought back happy memories of free-range kids solving mysteries. This isn’t just a throwback, though, these are very modern kids. I especially liked Charles’ vague questions to his dad about monsters — he assumes Charles is talking about the problems of gentrification. And maybe he is, really, as many of the stories touch on the monster population (who have their own neighborhoods and grocery stores hidden within the city) being pushed out by humans wandering into their territory.
Don’t miss the endpapers that have a map of Echo City. You’ll recognize neighborhoods and streets named after your favorite cartoonists and children’s authors!