Neal, a high school freshman, who finds himself in the middle of a fight to keep a popular series in the public library. Danny, Neal’s best friend, gets into trouble with his mother when she discovers he is reading The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde. His mother believes that books with witches corrupt young minds and she goes on a crusade to not just have her children not read them, but remove them from the library as well. Danny is sent to military school, leaving Neal behind. But Neal slowly comes out of his quiet shell in high school, finding new friends and discovering new interests like punk rock. The book challenge plays itself out in front of the library board and inside families in town. Neal starts working at the library and is asked to speak for the teens who love the series and how important it is to him. This look at censorship and small town politics rings true, especially for those of us who live near West Bend, Wisconsin.
Reed’s text is a refreshing mix of teen angst and lightness. There is plenty of humor to move the story along, though this is more of a dramatic graphic novel than a funny one. Neal is a character who shows real growth through the book, just slow and steady enough to read as real. He is not a hero, but a young man who breaks through his shyness to speak out for something that is important for him.
Reed also has other characters who are complexly drawn. The two girls in shop class alone break stereotypes. The kindness of the rock and roll boyfriend, who is also desperate to escape a table full of girls and their gossip, is a moment that is just lovely. Neal is exposed to new music in that scene in a way that is engagingly written.
Hill’s art is done entirely in black and white. The scenes from The Adventures of Apathea Ravenchilde are done in a different style with more shadows and a darker palette of gray. The contrast is striking and well done. I appreciated the fact that the books are more realistic than the real world of the graphic novel. As a reader, that really speaks to how vivid books can be.
A great pick for high school graphic novel fans, this book belongs in all public library collections. It is engaging as well as empowering. Appropriate for ages 13-15.
Reviewed from library copy.
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