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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

‘Friends with Boys’ by Faith Erin Hicks

 From the BLURB: 

After years of homeschooling, Maggie is starting high school. It's pretty terrifying.

Maggie's big brothers are there to watch her back, but ever since Mom left it just hasn't been the same. 

Besides her brothers, Maggie's never had any real friends before. Lucy and Alistair don't have lots of friends either. But they eat lunch with her at school and bring her along on their small-town adventures.

Missing mothers...distant brothers...high friends... It's a lot to deal with. But there's just one more thing.


It’s Maggie’s first day of high school. After being home-schooled by her mum, in a class with her older brothers, Maggie is now going out into the big, wide public school system for the first time. It’s one of just many upheavals in Maggie’s life lately – from her mum bailing on the family a few months ago, to her dad becoming chief of police, her twin brothers Lloyd and Zander constantly fighting (more than usual) lately and her oldest brother, Daniel, being cast as lead in the school play. 

But this is just the beginning of strange changes and coincidences in Maggie’s life. When she starts school she befriends punk-pixie Lucy, and her mohawked brother Alistair – both of whom seem to still be reeling from some unspoken event that happened not so long ago. 

And then there’s the fact that Maggie’s ghost is back – a spirit from the churchyard has upped the ante and started following Maggie home, but to what purpose?

Friends with Boys’ is a graphic novel by Faith Erin Hicks.

I heard about this graphic novel through the Centre for Youth Literature, it came as recommended reading from Jordi for those who are just starting their love-affair with graphic novels. And I've got to say, as someone who has long loved young adult literature; this particular graphic novel makes for superb reading. It’s got a little bit of everything – from coming-of-age to school bullying, a little haunting and family saga. 

When we meet them, Maggie’s family have settled into a new routine without their mother, who up and left the family a few months ago. We get the impression, from the family’s new (if, slightly chaotic) routine and the awkwardness that ensues when their absent mother is mentioned, that they’re all just starting to settle into the new normal. Everyone really, except Maggie who is carrying around an anvil of guilt over her mother’s departure. Maggie is also having difficulty adjusting to life after home-schooling. As the youngest sibling, she was last to leave the comfort of her mother’s teaching, and she has missed having her beloved older brothers as classmates. In the public school environment she feels lost and invisible, maybe even a little bit abandoned by her busy and popular brothers.

Erin Hicks beautifully draws the chaos of high school as seen through Maggie’s eyes, and her customized maps. Especially in contrast to the lovable chaos at home, the painful monotony of high school is perfectly communicated in repetitive panels and we really understand why Maggie misses spending time with her brothers when they absolutely steal the limelight and the laughs in their appearances.

Lucy and Alistair are a welcome relief from the painful tribes and cliques of the school environment. Maggie perhaps doesn’t find it terribly odd that siblings Lucy and Alistair spend so much time together, when Maggie herself wishes her brothers would pay her more attention at school. But Lucy and Alistair have bad blood between them, and while their story isn’t terribly explosive, it is very raw and emotional, and very well paced by Erin Hicks.

What didn’t work so well for me was the ‘haunting’ storyline. Certainly it made for some interesting imagery, but I spent majority of the novel wondering what the purpose was … and at the end Erin Hicks has to have Maggie all but spell out the correlation between her haunting and her mum’s leaving. To me, it was an odd thread left dangling and never really satisfying. But that’s my only complaint in an otherwise flawless graphic novel about growing up, growing apart and fighting for your family. Beautiful.


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