Friday, February 15, 2013

Friends with Boys

Hicks, Faith Erin. Friends with Boys. New York : First Second, 2012. 169 pages, ages 12 and up. 

These posts will not always be very professional in format and not entirely objective because, well, they don’t have to be yet. This is a personal project and will often read so, and this one I’m afraid will be a little cranky. So, Friends with Boys by Faith Erin Hicks, I’m still not entirely sure what to do with this book. Full disclosure: I should probably go back and read it a little more carefully and not sleepy with cough syrup, but on an initial read, I’m not impressed. I was really looking forward to this one, it's been on my list forever and was recommended by people I tend to agree with. I have gone to other review sites and there are overwhelmingly positive feelings about this book from critics, and it just won a Cybil Award. So what am I missing? I never felt attached to any of the characters and why WHY is there a ghost? That just felt unnecessary and weird and last minute and to me didn't add anything to the plot. I guess it is supposed to be like the specter of their missing mother since all of the siblings can see it but I thought that was just dumb if that’s the case. I don’t really understand what this book was trying to tell me. What was it even about? Sort of a coming of age story, intro to high school, trying to make friends but I felt that nothing actually happened. I suppose you could make the argument that, well life is like that sometimes. There isn't always a clear beginning, climax and resolution. But well, sorry but that’s what art is for. It’s not just a mirror to reality because that would be boring.

Here’s the general gist of the story. Maggie is the youngest and only girl of four children. Their father is a police chief, their mother has inexplicably left, leaving Maggie to start high school - after being home-schooled to this point - without any real guidance. Oh and there’s a ghost, FOR NO REASON. The loneliness of being the new kid was sort of addressed, but my probably with Maggie is that she didn't do anything about it. She just waited until someone decided to get to know her. She is a very passive character and I never felt like we really knew her - or anyone else for that matter. I think this is a very difficult task to do within the graphic media because they are generally shorter and less word descriptive than a novel. You have to get a sense of your characters very quickly and early on without just throwing in “Maggie likes the movie Alien, isn't that quirky for a girl?” half way through the book. I would think I would be the prime audience for this book because I’m young enough to remember awkward high school time without too much nostalgia, but I didn't feel like the story had anything to say to me beyond “This girl is having a hard time -sort of- feel bad for her?” Another thing, this book is called “Friends with Boys” but well, Maggie has one friend (kind of? I’m confused about Alistair and what his purpose is in general) who is a boy beyond her brothers because she never makes an effort to make any friends! AGH! Was this a web comic? I could see it being successful in that form if it is intended to continue far beyond the confines of one volume. Otherwise I felt that the character’s didn't do much of anything, didn't have any real agency and were extremely thinly drawn. And the ghost sub-plot was totally unnecessary and that is why I am not even touching on it. All in all, a disappointment.

The one strength is the art, and you can't review a graphic novel without at least mentioning the artwork. So I'm mentioning it. The illustrations are all black/white with shades of grey and the style is a little bit anime with great expressive figures. There's a good attention to detail without overwhelming the simplicity of the line drawing and the spaces felt fully realized and realistic. If only the depth and attention she places in her artwork translated to the plot and characters, this book would have worked a lot better for me.

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