dreadful-fate-jonathanA foolish Jonathan York tries to take a shortcut through a swamp but quickly finds himself miserably lost. Thankfully, he’s found by a ragtag group of travelers who lead him to an inn where he can trade storytelling for a room to safely spend the night. A wholly average and uninteresting man, York finds that not only is he terrified of speaking in front of others, but he cannot think of a story to save his life! He is thrown out by the innkeeper and thus finds himself wandering the swamp again, having to outwit dangerous monsters in order to survive. This is a wonderfully dramatic and artfully told story that would be enjoyed by a wide range of audiences, though the publisher’s target audience is children aged 8 to 12.

The Dreadful Fate of Jonathan York comes across as a more mature version of a picture book, ideal for independent reading or for “strange at heart” parents to read to younger kids. It’s much more text-heavy than your average graphic novel, but the fonts are so distinct and carefully designed that they can be viewed as a part of the art itself. When tensions are high the font is jagged and menacing, and during playful rhyming stanzas it transitions to embellished and cutesy curlicues. Merritt demonstrates a very smart use of colors throughout; color, or lack thereof, deeply informs every page by developing the mood and the world of the swamp. The character development is similarly made visual through the increasingly frantic hairstyle that York develops over the course of his adventure.

The book uses pretty advanced vocabulary in a context that both exposes the reader to the word and teaches the definition at the same time, akin to reading Lemony Snicket’s Series of Unfortunate Events. The humor is a bit twisted at parts—cats are ground into custard, emaciated cows are over-milked to make ice cream, York often finds himself at knifepoint—but it is presented in such a cartoonish manner that it clearly aims to be comedic rather than terror-inducing. Merritt’s world building is incredibly robust and impeccably detailed, fleshed out with entire ecosystems of monsters. He tucks into the story allusions that only an older reader would catch, generally through York’s perception of himself and the bizarre world he encounters.

A librarian’s first inclination may be to shelve this with the juvenile fiction, but I see this book as having such a broad appeal to older readers that it seems a shame to not shelve it with the young adult books. Some of the visuals of the first sub-plot may be disturbing for unsuspecting younger readers and their parents (animal cruelty, a brief torture-interrogation scene). The varied vocabulary might also be a bit beyond the average juvenile fiction reader. This book will easily draw in reluctant readers, readers who enjoy the art’s aesthetic, or those who are seeking a spooky tale for a seasonal read. In particular, I would highly recommend it for adults and kids alike who are fans of Roald Dahl, Tim Burton, Neil Gaiman, Jill Thompson’s Scary Godmother, or Rob Reger’s Emily the Strange.

It’s hard to find weaknesses in such a thoughtfully produced book. The text may be difficult to read at times, but that is because it is as much a part of the illustrations as it is a conduit for telling the story. Perhaps readers will feel lost amidst the plethora of fictional horrors mentioned without further description, but that will merely increase their sympathy for York’s fumbling travels through the swamp. That being said, it’s a world which begs for other books in the same vein to be written.

A fantastic publishing debut for Merritt—I will be adding Kory Merritt to my list of authors to watch for.


The Dreadful Fate of Jonathan York: A Yarn for the Strange at Heart
by Kory Merritt
ISBN: 9781449471002
Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2015
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

  • Maria Aghazarian

    Past Reviewer

    Maria Aghazarian is a librarian at Swarthmore College and the Lower Merion library system, in the stretch of southeastern Pennsylvania otherwise known as the “greater Philadelphia area.” Her love of graphic novels started with manga in middle school, but exploded after graduating college when she learned that superheroes aren’t the be-all and end-all of comics. She aims to support small and independent presses, and manufacturers of sturdy bookcases.

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