The story opens dramatically with a teenager and android robot in a high-stakes race in the desert. Why are they there and what are they doing? Well, it’s a long story…

The teenager turns out to be one Clem (Clementine) Hetherington and the robot is her android sibling Dig (Digory). As Clem talks to Dig and old friends—and enemies—we learn that she’s fourteen and was sent to an orphanage after her archaeologist parents’ mysterious deaths. But Clem needs answers, archaeology, and independence and she’s determined to get all three. When an ambiguous figure from the past reappears with an offer for the two siblings to participate in a dangerous and illegal combination race and dig, Clem at first refuses, not wanting to damage her mother’s legacy by getting involved in the illegal antiquities trade. But she runs out of options when Digory is severely damaged, and she’s forced to accept the offer. Once out in the desert, Clem discovers things are even more complicated than she thought. It’s not just a race and dig—it’s a fight for survival that goes against everything her parents taught her. She’s up against teams that don’t just play dirty, they sport weapons and will stop at nothing to win. She also discovers some shocking secrets about her past. Will she return to the orphanage and the safe, acceptable world of archaeology that her mother left her or will she be forced to compromise her beliefs and strike out on her own? Even more importantly, will she and Digory survive the race long enough to make the tough decisions?

I reviewed this title from an unfinished galley, so I saw several pages of finished, full-color art, while the rest of the book was in black and white sketches in various stages of completion. Clem is a dark-skinned, sharp-faced girl with a mop of messy dark hair and an expression of fierce determination. Despite Digory’s metallic exterior, I still got an impression of a range of emotions, from tenderness to fear. He is anthropomorphized to the extent of having a gender and clearly considers himself a son of the Hetheringtons, just as Clem considers him her brother and is willing to make sacrifices and compromise to keep him safe. The book’s setting is in an alternate world where robots talk and strange creatures are just part of the everyday landscape. Some of Clem’s competitors are a group of a big, mean crocodilians and another a group of elf-like humanoids. There are also non-sentient creatures that look something like dinosaurs, as well as familiar animals like armadillos. There are a lot of earth tones, suitable for the desert, but I couldn’t get a full picture of the marketplace and other crowd scenes without seeing how the colors came out.

Scholastic is recommending this title for Amulet fans, but I got less of a fantasy feel from it. I would say that while it probably will appeal to fantasy-adventure fans, I’d give it more to the science fiction crowd—those who enjoy Star Wars, Zita the Spacegirl, and Missile Mouse, to name a few. I think it will also appeal to fans of Miyazaki’s films as well. The moral and ethical questions make this a good choice for classroom and book club discussion as well as for pleasure reading, and the dark-skinned, female lead character is a welcome addition to the world of middle grade graphic novels. With a fast-paced and exciting plot, layered characters, and cinematic art, this is sure to be the next big thing in graphic novel series in your school or public library.

Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race vol. 1
by Jen Breach
Art by Douglas Holgate
ISBN: 9780545814454
Scholastic Graphix, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12

  • Jennifer

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, Matheson Memorial Library


    Jennifer Wharton is the Youth Services Librarian at Matheson Memorial Library in Elkhorn, Wisconsin where she maintains the juvenile and young adult graphic novel collections and was responsible for creating the library’s adult graphic novel collection. She is constantly looking for great new comics for kids and teens and new ways to incorporate graphic storytelling in programming. Jennifer blogs for preschool through middle grade at JeanLittleLibrary and has an MLS from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

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