Friends with Boys begins with Maggie, our protagonist, facing not only her first day at high school, but her first day of school ever. Maggie and her three older brothers have been home-schooled by their mother until they were old enough for the public high school. Their mother has recently, and inexplicably, left the family and their father, the newly appointed police chief. The siblings must deal with their confusion and sadness in their own ways. Loosely based on Hicks’ own experiences of entering the school system after being home-schooled, the story illuminates the confusion and angst of Maggie as she enters this new world.
We discover early on that Maggie has long been haunted by a ghost in the graveyard that she passes on the way to and from school. This is not a frightening ghost for either Maggie or readers, but it is one of the catalysts for the story action that centers around Maggie, her brothers, and her new found school friends, Alistair and Lucy. This is not really a ghost story; it is a story, often humorous, about friendships, family relationships, and loyalties.
Hicks’ complex teen characters are well-rounded, believable, relatable and ultimately recognizable. Their thoughts run the gamut of emotions and ideas often found in school hallways: confusion, loneliness, rejection, infatuation, belonging, diversity, and acceptance. The frequently wordless black-and-white panels reinforce these emotions and fluctuating states of being with mobile facial expressions and communicative body language. The realistic illustrations and layout are dramatic, making both the characters and the setting (inspired by Halifax, Nova Scotia) vivacious with the effective use of pure blacks and shades of grey. Buildings and local history are identifiable for those familiar with Halifax, but do not cloud the understanding of the tale to those who have never been to there. There is, in fact, a historic graveyard, the Old Burying Ground, that is filled with 1200 gravestones and 12,000 bodies located near downtown Halifax.
Friends with Boys began as a webcomic before being published in a print edition. The publisher had purchased the comic, but Hicks asked to publish it online with commentary about her creative process as promotion for the final product. Once the book was published in print form the images were no longer available online, but the commentary remains on the website.
An interesting aside about naming characters: in an interview published by Wired magazine, Hicks was asked about the naming of the twins, Lloyd and Zander. She explains that Zander, short for Alexander, and Lloyd are an homage to Lloyd Alexander, one of her favourite authors when she was a young child. His books were the first that she had read with “a very self-possessed female lead” and that resonated with her as a sibling with only brothers and as a future writer.
I highly recommend this graphic novel and have included it in my graphic novel course reading list since its publication for its realistic portrayal of teens, it’s well developed location, and because I like to throw a little supernatural into the mix.
Friends with Boys
by Faith Erin Hicks
First Second, 2012
Publisher Age Rating: 12-18