Addison and her younger sister Lexa lived in Poughkeepsie until the night of the Spill. Addie was out of town when it happened, but Lexa was in the thick of it, just barely escaping along with a busload of other children—though it was never determined who could have driven the bus. While Lexa made it out alive, she hasn’t said a word since the incident that claimed the lives of their parents and most of the town. Three years later, Addie does what she can to protect Lexa from those who want to study her. To support herself and her sister, Addie secretly travels to the now abandoned town, taking illicit photographs which she sells to collectors. Access to the Zone is restricted for good reason—the spill created many unexplained horrors, and while Addie has rules about what she captures in photographs, it doesn’t prevent these sights from being etched into her brain. There are scenes of suspended animation, some of which the Zone seems to have created recently, some of which may have been frozen into place at the time of the incident: crows trapped in flight in elongated infinity symbols; swings in motion on the playground with no bodies in them; a twister of medical supplies and straitjackets rising dozens of feet into the air outside of the hospital, where their parents were the night of the incident. Addison soon learns that their spill wasn’t unique—a similar spill occurred in North Korea, and now some people are looking to find the connections between the incidents.

The Spill Zone is represented in pale neon colors, in contrast to the dark, moody color palette of the rest of the story. Every bit of it screams radioactive and “wrong,” a word that escapes in distorted growls from the mouths of stray cats and other creatures in the town. The colors bleed across lines in blocky fragments, transporting the reader to a landscape that seems eager to pull you in and prevent escape. The panels effectively frame the story in a way that quickly advances the action; close-ups heighten the tension, capturing Addie’s fear and anger. The writing is also well-paced; while it is a fast read, details are revealed in a way that steadily builds the story, raising more questions about the state of this world and the stakes at hand. Unlike many sci-fi stories, the world building centers around the characters; it is impossible to tell the story of Spill Zone without seeing the way it has impacted the town’s residents.

Spill Zone has elements reminiscent of Akira, which is not lost on the creators—an Akira movie poster adorns Lexa’s bedroom walls. Spill Zone is the perfect book for readers who like their sci-fi crossed with horror, and who don’t mind suspenseful endings. Not convinced it’s right for your collection? Lucky for you, you can read the entirety of book one for free online, though it won’t replace the feeling of the hardcover in your hands. It’s hefty for its size due to the weight of the ink, which somehow conveys the weight of the story. It’s solidly constructed, sure to survive the wear and tear of library use, and comes with a gorgeous dust jacket that you’ll want to protect. Before shelving this title, librarians should be aware of the following content warnings: swearing, underage drinking, and a bit of blood and gore. However, the horror is based more in atmospheric tension than in graphic violence.

Spill Zone, vol. 1
Written by Scott Westerfeld
Art by Alex Puvilland
ISBN: 9781596439368
First Second, 2017
Publisher Age Rating:

  • 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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