Marcie: “It’s not fair!”
Lynne: “So? So? Look, Mars. This is not soccer. This is dealing with people who have power over you… There are no rules and there is no ‘fair.’”
Lynne: “If you want your book, go get it.” (p. 29)
Power and agency are often lacking in the life of a child, so when circumstances provide them in the form of a person or instrument, it can become one of the most life-sustaining and important things in that child’s existence. For Marcie Grosvenor, this magical thing is a book—and eventually, the mere idea of one.
Marcie is the youngest of three siblings. Her father is bedridden and he spends his days yelling and cursing. Her mother is oftentimes busy working and taking care of Father. But her mother does have a friend named Jaeger, who is a Finder; he finds objects for people, and one day he brings Marcie a book.
Marcie can’t read yet, so Jaeger reads to her. Not only does he gives her the attention she craves, he gives her a huge, fascinating world in which she is the heroine. But then he goes away, continuing on his travels, and Marcie is left without her stories. Even worse, her book is eventually lost, part of the tragedy of being a powerless child, dependent on the whims and values of the adults that surround her.
Eventually, Marcie learns how to read paper books, a rarity in a world where most people plug into a technological feed implanted in their necks for information and entertainment. She goes on with her life and builds an identity that is studious, neither trendy nor modern. Though she is growing up, she never quite gives up the hope that one day she’ll find her long-lost book.
And one day she does—but the solution is not so simple.
In Carla Speed McNeil’s Finder books, precise black-and-white panels bring future Earth to naturalistic life. McNeil calls the setting of her books “aboriginal Sci-Fi” and her characters live in a domed world called Anvard, ruled by castes. She draws a world with detailed and cross-hatched backgrounds that is at once familiar and singular. The details that McNeil adds to her panels are finely observed and feel like real-life. For instance, the doll head that young Marcie wears in her hair in the opening flashback, striving to create magic that will vanquish an evil cabinet in her bathroom.
This could be a little girl at any house, playing out a scenario in her imagined world—except in Marcie’s world, magic is real, but she doesn’t have the inborn ability to use it. Much of Talisman is about the power of imagination and its relation to magic, specifically the lines between the magic we make for ourselves and that which the world chooses to give us. McNeil outlines Marcie’s struggle with these concepts with subtlety, drawing in the themes of family dynamics and the realities of the larger world so that the reader realizes things alongside the story’s protagonist.
Although characters recur, no previous reading is necessary to enjoy the story of Talisman. It’s a story that is likely to strike a chord with most readers as it addresses the primal need to find comfort, self, and a place in the world through a search for a treasured object from childhood. Though this story could have been written to pander to lovers of stories, librarians, and readers of all stripes, McNeil is a far better author and artist than that. The story she tells belongs solely to Marcie, but will resonate beyond that context. Although the book is only 96 pages, it contains a whole world and a whole life.
The world of Finder: Talisman is totally convincing and its story satisfying. It’s enchanting to meet such real people. Though McNeil does not settle for the easy solution, her delightful story is easy to read. It’s a cut above cookie-cutter sci-fi, and lucky for us, there’s more where that came from.