Thursday, September 11, 2014

Reader's Diary #1065- Faith Erin Hicks: Friends with Boys

I very much don't like the title to Faith Erin Hicks' graphic novel Friends with Boys. I realize, of course, that I was not the demographic the publishers probably had in mind, but I think boys could easily enjoy this book (really the title is my only beef) and would certainly be alienated by this title which sets them apart as other. It also isn't very representative of the plot. I actually thought the strongest new friendship formed in the book was actually between two of the female characters. In the rough drafts at the back of the book, it shows that the working title was actually the Education of Maggie McKay. While I get that "Education" in the title is probably not a marketer's dream, it's better than misrepresenting the story and discouraging potential male readers. I think I'd like it called, Homeschooled. Home-schooling is a topic of the book, it conjures up the familial bonds that are prevalent, it still gets the learning across (from the original title), it doesn't imply that gender issues are the predominant focus (they're not), and school, with its double o's, subtly conjures up that eerie ghost sounds*.

Ghosts? Perhaps I should summarize the plot. Friends with Boys is about a teenage girl named Maggie who is going to high school for the first time. It can be a daunting time for anyone, but made even more terrifying by the fact that she doesn't exactly have a lot of public school experience: until recently her mother had home-schooled her. Fortunately her older brothers are there and she quickly makes friends with another brother-sister team, Alistair and Lucy, who are quite nice and seem to go against the grain from the majority of kids at the school. And, as promised there's also a ghost. Though Maggie has seen the ghost of a woman since her childhood, it ramps up its appearances seemingly without provocation and becomes a more full-fledged haunting. Maggie enlists her friends and her brothers to help.

Put that way, it sounds like a Scooby-Doo episode and doesn't really do the book justice. The book, to me, wasn't as much about the ghost as it was relationships, forgiveness, being oneself, and "having each other's back." That's not to say the ghost is irrelevant either, but its role is... complicated. At the end, I think I know what purpose it served to the plot (Maggie's mother walked out on the family and Maggie seems to project her confusion onto the ghost, the ghost helps unite the characters) but that was Hicks' motives; just what the ghost's motives were more illusive.

It's creepy sometimes, more often touching, but it'd be a disservice not to also point out how hilarious Friends with Boys sometimes is as well.

The artwork is also great. Character-wise, I found it similar to Brian O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim with the large, expressive eyes.  But the setting and artistic story-telling are quite different. There's one scene for instance, where Maggie is leaving the house and her various positions along the path are shown in a single panel. It's different from the norm, though I have noticed the approach becoming more common in graphic novels. I think it works best in small doses and when it's purposeful; in Friends with Boys it captures Maggie's springy pace, complimenting her attitude in that scene and felt like I was being invited along for the walk. Hicks has also done some amazing things with the lighting. Just check out the very first page:

Note how she not only sets the time of day, but also the mood. That final panel is suddenly so much brighter, like the obscene abruptness of an alarm clock, and even the lettering has changed colour (and position) signifying the forceful passage from night into day.

I look forward to reading more of Hicks' work!

*I also considered the title Home's Ghouled, but it's too punny even for me.


Nikki in Niagara said...

I love her to pieces! I didn't like the title of this book either, though not for the same reason. The title suggested to me it was going to be about boyfriends and dating, rather than about brothers.

John Mutford said...

Nicola: Yes, I read your review as well. And some on Goodreads. It seems the title has been the bone of contention for many. The connotations of the title are off for many reasons!

Barbara Bruederlin said...

And I thought the title referred to friends, a married couple, who had male children.
Title aside, I am intrigued by your review and will certainly keep a watch out for this book. I found myself quite lost in the drawing that you showcased.