Boetema and her younger brother Intou are forced to follow their mother and father, who move the family from town to town in pursuit of their own dreams. One day, Boetema discovers that she has the ability to project herself astrally, and she begins to visit worlds in her dreams. When her experimentation causes someone else to get hurt, Boetema is determined to set things right. However, Boetema and her brother soon have other problems. After their parents abandon them to make money as salt shepherds, Intou sees something he should not and the siblings are forced to flee. As Boetema struggles to master her new ability, the siblings must work together to find a place for themselves and right Boetema’s wrong.
Afar’s story is a charming coming of age story that explores self-discovery in a fresh way. Leila Del Duca effectively writes a balanced story that mixes adventure with quieter, more intimate moments. Boetema and Intou are relatable characters, and Kit Seaton’s designs effectively convey their personalities. The lush color illustrations attract the reader and effectively pull them into both the alien worlds Boetema visits and Boetema and Intou’s desert home world. The designs for the background humans and creatures contribute to an immersive world that the reader will want to lose themselves in. Although the challenges the characters face have serious implications, the seriousness is balanced with plenty of self-inflicted awkward moments, particularly from the younger Intou. There is an adorable monkey who becomes Intou’s companion, and the creature—expertly conveyed by Kit Seaton—offers plenty of humorous and heartwarming moments.
Boetema and Intou’s close relationship and their growth together are key strengths of this story. Their personalities complement one another, and their loyalty to one another is unshakable. The story frequently features characters showing they trust one another, even when one of them makes a mistake. Although the story focuses on Boetema’s struggle with her new powers, the fact that Intou acts as a narrator—who frequently ruminates on his own struggles through journal entries to his friend—allows both characters to grow. While both characters’ arcs feel unfinished, the conclusion suggests the potential for future stories.
It should be noted that the main characters and the other human characters are people of color, and the lack of racism and the happy conclusion make Afar a breath of fresh air. Boetema struggles with feeling different because of her abilities, and Intou works to find his strengths—challenges that are common to individuals across groups. While it is important to consider the realities many people of color face, it is also refreshing to see people of color in a story where threats that stem from racism are not a factor.
Afar is an engaging graphic novel that will leave readers feeling content. Teen and adult readers looking for a science fiction graphic novel with strong relationships and a non-European cast will gravitate toward Afar. Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender who appreciated the strong character relationships and adventure that the series offers will find much to enjoy here.
by Leila Del Duca
Art by Kit Seaton