A girl haunted by her mother’s abandonment and saddled with a ghost must navigate her first days of high school. In this moody, atmospheric graphic novel, she gets unexpected help putting her anxieties to rest.
Maggie won’t admit that she is nervous about attending high school for the first time especially after her older brothers take the tough love approach: sink or swim. Her face, in a series of comical close-ups, reveals her anxiety as well as a hint of sadness. A glimpse of a family photo provides a clue to happier times when Maggie’s mother was still in the picture, homeschooling her. Maggie is haunted by her mother’s departure. In parallel, the ghost who is hovering around Maggie has lost something, too. She's the widow of a sea captain, and she won’t leave Maggie in peace.
At school, it is understated but significant that Maggie becomes friends with two outcasts, sister and brother Lucy and Alistair. The banter among the misfits comes easily, and it's a great testament to their budding friendship that Maggie tells them about the ghost. One night, they help her “borrow” the prosthetic hand of the sea captain from a museum in an effort to appease the ghost. But during their escapade, they have a run-in with a popular group of athletes. Although most scenes are suffused with humor, with this encounter, the mood changes to violent. Tensions and rivalries that have been simmering beneath the surface come to a head. Maggie’s brothers rally behind her to put things to right. In the process, secrets are shared and issues brought into the light.
The emotional intensity, handled with an easy touch, will resonate with raw teens everywhere. Although readers never learn why Maggie’s mother left, they are certain that Maggie’s bond with her brothers and friendship with Lucy and Alistair will help her move forward. As if in response to this, the ghost trails off. Maggie’s realizations are perfectly paced, and the art captures them in wordless panels so readers can absorb her responses and growth. The characters’ faces are incredibly expressive as is the body language. And the black-and-white palette perfectly suits the moody, atmospheric story. Sure to strike a nerve for all those in the sweet, spooky throes of adolescence.
Extras: Check out the webcomic edition with author comments and lots more: http://www.friendswithboys.com/
Reviewed by JMcD
THEMES: BEST FRIENDS. BROTHERS AND SISTERS. BULLIES. FAMILY LIFE. GRAPHIC NOVELS. SCHOOLS & SCHOOL STORIES. SUPERNATURAL.
First Second Books / Roaring Brook / Macmillan, 2012
Suggested Ages: Ages 12 an