Wilhelmina “Will” Huckstep is afraid of the dark. As a teen, she should probably be more embarrassed about this, but she has her reasons. Besides, she can deal with it. She has supportive friends and her hobby is making creative lamps out of found objects — a great way to keep things light. But Hurricane Whitney is coming and she’s going to be a big one with major power outages predicted. Pretty soon, the lights are going to go out, and Will is going to have to face her darkness.
This is a story of a girl learning to grieve, discovering that it’s okay to lean on her friends, and finally opening up to her family. It’s also a story of creativity. Every major character in this story is a person who makes things. Will has her lamps, and her two best friends are a cook and a girl who makes puppets. As they bond and meet new people against the backdrop of a teen-organized summer arts carnival, creation and performance are everywhere.
The art might best be described as bold. Grayscale drawings defined by thick black lines make the characters really pop. Poses occasionally look a little stiff, but overall the characters are lively and appealing. Most of the backgrounds are drawn with thinner lines, making them take second stage to the characters, while still being rich and detailed.
Light and dark are used to great effect in these pages. Will is followed by shadowy forms, which are drawn in a pointillism style, not seen in any other element of the story. These forms are tall and intimidating when the light is low, underscoring Will’s fear of the dark. Otherwise, they simply exist around her, creating shapes that echo her feelings. When she is riding a bicycle early in the story, for example, her shadow is that of a long, three-seater bike with two empty seats, which the reader will later realize represent the parents that Will lost a year ago. Darkness comes into play again when the power goes out: the margins of the pages go from white to black for a whole section of the book as Will struggles with her fear and grief. (Don’t worry, things do get lighter again!)
Dealing with sadness but consistently optimistic, Will & Whit could be a good book to hand to teens who have suffered a loss. Creative teens may also find inspiration in spending a little page time with such an artsy crowd and seeing what Will and her friends accomplish. Tweens and older kids will appreciate the story and art as well. There’s no violence and only the occasional smooch, but crushes and adolescent emotions are a big part of the story, so younger kids may not relate as well (especially since some of the witty humor would likely go over their heads). I haven’t read the author’s other well-known book, Page by Paige, but from its art style and description, I suspect that fans of that book would also enjoy Will & Whit.