This second volume of Hilo has rocketed to the top of the New York Times bestseller lists, and with good reason: Winick has created a masterful new series that appeals to a wide range of readers. Enough background is given so that readers can start fresh with volume 2 without even realizing there is a volume 1.
Unlike some kids’ graphic novels series that have labyrinthine plots and as many characters to track as there are Duggars, the premise is fairly simple. Hilo is a robot (the good kind) who is being chased by Razorwark, who is also a robot (the bad kind). His human companions are D.J. Lin, an Asian boy in the throes of adolescence and minor family drama, and Gina Cooper, an African-American skeptic who gets dragged to cheerleading practice by her older sisters.
Readers of a variety of ages and experience levels will find something to laugh about here as well. Younger readers will probably giggle over the bathroom jokes. (Who knew that robots had so many dietary restrictions and sensitivities?) Hilo is also an eternal optimist—perhaps that’s another robot quality we humans haven’t mastered yet—so he’s excited about mangoes, smelling like a gorilla’s armpit, and waiting outside the principal’s office.
Winick also has a strong intuition for how much content his readers can take in on a page or within a panel. He understands that sometimes less is more when it comes to dialogue, and rather than crunch a panel with dialogue, it’s much better to spread the dialogue out over several panels and draw out character gestures instead. He also cleverly uses wordless panels to add a “beat” to the narrative rhythm. Rather than draw the characters identically from panel to panel, he will make their gestures slightly different in a wordless panel to convey something more emotional than verbal, whether it be an expectant waiting or a grimace from an awkwardly tight hug. I think elementary and middle school readers flock to these kinds of “gesture-first” storytelling styles, considering that Raina Telgemeier of Smile, Sisters, and The Babysitters Club puts similar priorities on drawing character gestures.
Winick’s artwork also shows care and attention. While the colors are mostly bright, vibrant, and varied, a mild watercolor style with some fades and shadows give this book some additional depth and show evidence of a loving hand at work. Some readers may not pick up on the fact that a dream sequence/recovered memory has a grey background and the frames on the panels are slightly frayed. This subtlety might impact comprehension for less experienced readers, but it doesn’t interfere with enjoying the major storyline.
There are other slightly more philosophical aspects of Hilo that Winick reserves for slightly older tween readers that have to do with Hilo’s origins as a robot and Razorwark’s motives for attacking planet Earth. Sophisticated readers will also appreciate Gina’s questioning nature and a neat example of foreshadowing that leaves this volume on a terrific cliffhanger.
Aside from a few moments where I felt the plot got a little too ridiculous for its own good, like a remote control that can measure portal juice, I think this book is entirely deserving of its place on the bestseller lists and belongs in most elementary and middle school library collections.
Hilo, vol. 2: Saving the Whole Wide World
by Judd Winick
Random House, 2016
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12