Goblin, by Eric Grissom/Illustrated by Will Perkins, (June 2021, Dark Horse Books), $14.99, ISBN: 9781506724720
Rikt is a stubborn young goblin who argues with his parents and storms off to bed. He wakes to the smell of smoke, and discovers his home is under attack by a raiding party of humans. His parents are slain, and he’s forced to run into the woods to escape with his life. Angry, grieving, alone, Rikt vows revenge, but where does he begin? A benevolent deity intervenes and sets him on a path to what he thinks will give him the tools to exact vengeance – but along the way, he meets friends and learns a great deal about himself.
Goblin is a gorgeously illustrated fantasy graphic novel. The colors are as incredible as they are horrible at points: the insidious curling of the smoke around Rikt when he awakens; the firelight as his home burns; the colors dance across the page, looking almost real. Will Perkins brings Rikt’s grief and terror to the page, using color and shadow, to hit readers in the feelings. The majesty of the Goddess as she appears to Rikt is one of the best panels I’ve read so far this year.
Let’s talk about Eric Grissom’s writing: his dialogue is wonderful, with humor, pathos, and wisdom throughout the book. He expertly addresses negative stereotypes, and the damage it wreaks, in a fantastic setting. Think of your own literary biases: when you think of a goblin, do you think of a loving family? A sweet, typical kid? Probably not: and that’s the point of the story. Rikt often hears that goblins are “filthy monsters”, or “dirty filthy thieves”. Grissom touches on the cycles of violence that cause generation after generation to kill (see Jason Reynolds’s Long Way Down for a brilliant, meditation on this cycle) and even hints at the violence against indigenous populations, with the murder of Rikt’s family. There is an incredible amount of wisdom waiting in this book. Perfect for fantasy fans and middle schoolers. A must-add to your shelves.
Bad Girl Gone, by Temple Mathews (Sept. 2017, Thomas Dunne for St. Martin’s Group), $17.99, ISBN: 9781250058812
Recommended for readers 13+
Echo is a 16 year-old girl who wakes up in a dark room; no idea where she is, no idea how she got there. She soon discovers that she’s in a place called Middle House; think of it as Limbo for teens who met brutal and unfair ends. Each of the teens has a special gift to help them bring their killers to justice; only then can they head toward the light. After Echo finally accepts that she is dead, and that she was murdered, she sets out to find out who killed her and why, while also helping her boyfriend, Andy, move on with his life.
This is an absolute teen revenge fantasy. Echo discovers that she wasn’t the nice girl she thought she was in life, and her boyfriend is so devastated after her loss that he contemplates suicide to be with her, and she gets to have a cute fellow ghost boy fall for her, too. All the teen residents of Middle House have paranormal gifts to help them get back at their murderers so they can move on to the afterlife, righting the ultimate wrong – but Echo gets a different choice. I didn’t love Echo or any of the characters in Bad Girl Gone, but it works for a light paranormal fiction reader. Bad Girl Gone is a quick read with an interesting plot twist, good for an additional purchase where you need more fiction.
Thornhill, by Pam Smy, (Aug. 2017, Roaring Brook Press), $19.99, ISBN: 9781626726543
Recommended for readers 10-14
Two girls, two decades, one story: Thornhill is a story told in prose and pictures, switching back and forth to tell each character’s story. In 1982, Mary is a lonely orphan living in the Thornhill Institute for Children, relegated to her room where she makes puppets, for fear of the merciless bullying she suffers. The Institute is on the verge of closing, and the girls are being re-homed – except for Mary and her tormentor, who continues unabated by the social worker who prefers to victim blame. Mary’s story unfolds through journal entries, where we see the bullying turn her, desperately, to a plan for revenge that will echo for decades.
In 2016, Ella is the new girl in town, living in a home with a perfect view of the abandoned Thornhill Institute. As she looks out the window, she sees someone in the lonely attic window at Thornhill. Determined to discover who she is, Ella wanders onto the Thornhill property and unravels Mary’s – and Thornhill’s – story. Ella’s story is told through stark black and white artwork, leaving much for readers to discover. The narratives follow one another; Mary’s narrative enriches Ella’s story. The chilling ending will leave readers breathless.
Thornhill is captivating, urging readers to its conclusion. Mary and Ella are kindred spirits on their own journeys; while Ella’s story is relegated to what we see on the pages, there is a wealth of material there for sharp-eyed observers. It’s a great choice for suspense and thriller fans.
Imelda and the Goblin King, by Briony May Smith (Oct. 2015, Nobrow), $17.95, ISBN: 9781909263659
Recommended for ages 5-8
Imelda is a young girl living in an enchanted forest, surrounded by the local fairies she calls friends. But the awful Goblin King appears to kidnap the Fairy Queen, and the fairies ask Imelda for her help. Now, it’s up to Imelda to get rid of the Goblin King for good!
Another winner from Nobrow! This debut by Briony May Smith is a fun fairy tale with a strong female main character and eye-catching, bright art that fills each spread with movement and interest. The Goblin King is suitably dour and fierce looking, and his little minions look just as distasteful. Imelda is a great fairy tale heroine, rosy-cheeked and pink-dressed, but she’s no passive princess locked in a tower, waiting for a prince – she’s got a plan to turn the Goblin King into a worm, and she enlists the fairies to do it.
I also love the great fairy tale font. It’s very bold, with emphasis on the “stomps” and exclamations of “Goblin King!” It’s a different font that makes the story as interesting for a reader as it does for the audience in a read-aloud.
A fun fairy tale for school-age kids, this one will be a fun addition to collections where fairy tales do well. I’d pair this one with Kate Beaton’s Princess and the Pony for a read-aloud on princesses who can save themselves, thank you very much. Put this on a shelf with Luke Pearson’s Hilda series, too – the kids will love it.
The Suffering, by Rin Chupeco (Sept. 2015, Sourcebooks Fire), $16.99, ISBN: 9781492629832
Recommended for ages 13+
Tark and Okiku, the boy and his ghost from The Girl from the Well are back in this sequel that takes a deeper look into the complex relationship Tark and Okiku now share following the events of the first book. Tark is now something of an exorcist, trapping wayward spirits in the bodies of dolls – a skill he learned spending time with the women of the temple in The Girl from the Well. Okiku is still restless and still seeks vengeance, spurring Tark on to hunt child murderers down so she can take her revenge and set the victims’ souls free. When he receives word that Kagura, one of the temple women, has disappeared along with a ghost hunting reality show crew in Aokigahara – Japan’s suicide forest – he and his cousin, Callie, head over to Japan to help: but what’s waiting for them is nothing they could ever have imagined.
I got sucked into The Suffering right away, because I enjoyed The Girl from the Well so much. We’ve got the same cast of characters returning for another go, and Ms. Chupeco gives us an increasingly deep look into the complex relationship between Okiku and Tark, with clues as to the changes in Okiku’s behavior between The Girl from the Well and The Suffering. There’s horror here, for sure, but there’s also mystery/thriller, and Japanese folklore. I was fascinated by the story behind Aokigahara, and Chupeco’s story takes the horror of a suicide forest even further to create a thoroughly skin-crawling reading experience. We get desiccated corpses, demonic dolls, avenging spirits, and a forest filled with dead people who may or may not want to stay that way- horror fans, turn down the lights and read this at your own risk. And when are we getting movies made about this series?
As with The Girl from the Well, more sensitive readers may shy away from the subject matter.
The Demon Notebook, by Erika McGann (Sourcebooks Jabberwocky, 2014). $6.99, ISBN: 9781402295386
Recommended for ages 10-14
Grace and her friends, Una, Jenny, Rachel, and Adie want to be witches – well, they want some wishes to come true, and figured magic would be the best way to make it happen. Their spells have failed, but when they use a Ouija board, something happens – the notebook where they wrote their spells has a strange message, all of their spells are coming true – and it’s not always great to get what you think you want – and Una is acting… strange. Worst of all, one of the spells is something awful, made while one of the girls was angry – the girls have to stop the magic before that last spell runs its course, AND figure out what’s wrong with Una and how to fix her. They’re going to need some help to face this.
This was a fun book with some genuinely creepy moments. It reminded me of a middle school version of the ’90s movie, The Craft – will any middle graders even know that movie if I mention it to them? I really enjoyed Mrs. Quinlan and Ms. Lemon, the two adult characters the author introduces into the story; it was gratifying to a) see the girls realize that they needed help and actually ask for it, and b) have two adults that weren’t completely incompetent or dismissive of the girls.
This book has a June 1 pub date, making it a perfect summer reading choice for tweens. Obviously, there’s magic and talk of demons, so for those audiences and parents that are sensitive to that subject matter, this isn’t your book. For anyone else who wants a good read about friendship and sticking together through thick and thin, with some good, old-fashioned creepiness, check this one out.
Middle graders, listen up! Buzz! makes spelling bees AMAZING. You’ll want to start your own underground spelling bee after you read this book. Promise.
Ananth Pangariya and Tessa Stone’s graphic novel, Buzz, takes a look at the seedy underworld of underground spelling bees – yes, you read that right. Spelling Bees. But here, spelling bees are more like Fight Club with words. Words carry literal power here, bringing thunder and damage with them. Forget lining up in the school auditorium in your assembly clothes, these kids are from all walks of life, hiding out in abandoned spaces, and spelling themselves into a frenzy.
Check out the rest of my review on WhatchaReading!