Now, THESE are what young-adult graphic novels for girls should be. I have been disappointed again and again by DC’s Minx books, but I highly recommend Salamander Dream and Chiggers by Hope Larson, author/artist of Gray Horses, which I also enjoyed. Larson’s books are beautifully illustrated stories about young girls coming of age. They have elements of nature and magical realism that called to mind the films of Hayao Miyazaki. Like those, Larson’s books are about and for pre- and early adolescent girls, but able to be appreciated by adults as well, which is what characterized really good YA fiction, to my mind.
Salamander Dream begins with 8yo Hailey, who explores the woods and hopes to meet her friend Salamander and hear a story. As Hailey grows older, she sees Salamander less frequently. The story, of growing up and away from the magical friends of childhood, has been told many times. But Larson’s art style and combination of words and pictures make it new and vibrant.
In Chiggers, Abby returns to summer camp, but it’s not a completely happy experience. She struggles with insecurities about her friends, annoyances with her bunkmate(s), and shyness around a boy she likes. Her old friends feel distant, and she’s not sure how she feels about the new girl. In straightforward black and white, Larson recalls the emotional ebbs and flows of early adolescence, and depicts a summer camp experience (complete with instructions for card games and campfire activities) both bitter and sweet, as in real life. Chiggers is something more, though, because some of Abby’s flights of imagination are beautifully drawn and lend an element of magic to the mundane.
Geekiana: Larson is married to Bryan Lee O’Malley, writer/artist of the very funny Scott Pilgrim series, which I love.