Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Review- Friends With Boys



Comic book artist/ animator Faith Erin Hicks has penned and illustrated a new tale, following her success with Brain Camp (written by Susan Kim and Lawrence Klavan, who also wrote City of Spies- another very good read!). Set to release on Feb 28, the book was originally posted as an online comic. The title of the book raised an eyebrow when I saw it- "Friends With Boys" and I thought- "Ugh! Not some emotional coming-of-age real world we've-all-been-there-so-why-read-about-it kind of book!" But then I saw Hicks name in the catalog as the author and illustrator and I remembered her work on Brain Camp and liked it. I saw the story summary and the little bit of a supernatural element thrown in and remembered reading Anya's Ghost on a friend's recommendation (thanks, by the way!) so I thought- "sure, why not review this one?"
Hicks does not disappoint. Her story centers around Maggie, a young girl who has been home schooled up through the eighth grade but is now starting high school in a public school. Maggie's dad is the chief of police for the small town they live in, and her three older brothers are there to support her. Her mother left the family- no reason is given why but Maggie blames herself and her close relationship to her father and brothers. Outside of her family, the only person Maggie has any regular contact with is a ghost who simply follows Maggie but never says anything or offers any reason why she follows and watches her.
In school, Maggie has to not only learn about her classes, she has to learn about how high school works- social interactions, cliques, prejudices and pre-concieved notions about people, and how and where she fits in and deals with her family situation publicly. Looking at the story as a parent and adult, these things seem easier to navigate and adjust to with the benefit of experience and the wisdom gained from that experience. But the truth is, dealing with these problems is a life-long ordeal. They just come more cleverly disguised and more slickly wrapped.
The bonus to this book is that there isn't just one story going on here, but several. Some are short and some are interwoven through the entire work. There is Alistair and his sister, the only two people at school who seem to really befriend Maggie. There are Maggie's twin brothers, Lloyd and Zander, who can't go one minute without fighting like Cain and Abel. There is the underlying story of Maggie's mom, and a great but sad tale about who the ghost really is. And there are other stories going on within the book.
A nice surprise Hicks has thrown into this book is that not all of these endings get wrapped up nice and neat and everyone walks away happy or a better person for what happened. Some of these stories don't end happily or not at all. That's an element of real-life that comics, and books in general, too often ignore. Not everything ends the way we want it to, and some things we never find out how they end. But life goes on and people move to the next challenge.
I need to talk about the art, because any good piece of comic art should be able to tell a story on its own. But when put with words, the two should work together to give detail and life and context to a story. Hicks' setting of a small town with an old-style theater, an old graveyard, and everything done in black and white sets a mood that is dark and subdued, but her characters and expressions give a ray of hope and optimism in nearly every picture. Hicks also manages to infuse enough humor into the story to keep things from getting heavy, and her use of sound effects for things like AWKWARD SILENCE and MANLY HUG are just hilarious and brilliant.
I don't know if Hicks will do a follow up to Maggie's story, but I know I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.

Friends With Boys goes on sale Feb. 28. You can pre-order the book through most online book sellers and comics shops. You can learn more about the book and Faith Erin Hicks at :01 Books.

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