Recommended for readers 12-16
High schooler Willow Sparks is tired of being bullied by her school’s “in crowd”. Staying out of their way doesn’t seem to do anything – they find a way to go after her and tease her about her clothes, her skin, her everything. When she stumbles on a hidden library while at her public library job one night, she finds books with people’s names on them – including hers – that record every moment of their lives. She discovers that she can write her own story, and instantly, her skin clears up, her fashion gets an upgrade, and she’s getting attention – good attention – from one of the guys in the in crowd. As life improves for Willow, she grows farther away from Georgia and Gary, her best friends who’ve stuck by her. What Willow doesn’t realize is that for every give, there’s a take, and the future, whether or not Willow’s writing it, has a way of defending itself.
There’s a lot going on in this graphic novel: Willow and her transformation is the main plot, but there are subplots that get a short shrift: I’d love to have learned more about why these books exist and where they came from – it’s alluded to that other libraries have these hidden libraries; I’d love to see a book about them. (I do love the idea of a librarian being the keeper of this secret, valuable information.) Willow’s friend Georgia is moving, and George is starting the process of coming out; both of these stories are glanced over, and have the potential to be really interesting, especially when combined with the hidden histories. That said, the story is relatable, especially to teens: who wouldn’t want to be the author of their own life? Write out those potentially embarrassing moments, the bad skin, the crush(es) that didn’t work out. Start a booktalk with that idea, and watch the teens perk up.
The Altered History of Willow Sparks is a quick, enjoyable read. It starts a good discussion about the downsides of wish fulfillment, and illustrates that everything comes with a price. The realistic artwork is largely rendered in gray and white and is reminiscent of Faith Erin Hicks’ work. Booktalk with other creepy fantasy graphic novels like Hicks’ Friends With Boys, Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost, and Doug TenNapel’s Ghostopolis (the latter two skew younger in age). The book is a Spring 2018 Junior Library Guild Selection.