Katie O’Neill has a way of luring you in with her colorful, soft illustrations and then surreptitiously hitting your emotions with a touching, poignant story.
In Aquicorn Cove, Lana has come to visit her Aunt Mae to help rebuild after her community has been hit by a storm. The island where Mae lives is the same place Lana lived as a child, but when her mother died at sea, her dad moved her to the city. Naturally, there are still a lot of unresolved emotions for Lana tied to this place and her late mother.
Being back is special for Lana. She loves it on the island. Soon, she starts interacting with the mythical creatures who live in the ocean. They call themselves aquicorns and are deceptively cute unicorn/dragon-esque creatures. While these fantasy animals are central to the story it does not take away from the very real and relatable feelings Lana is dealing with. In many ways, the fantasy elements inspire Lana to confront her grief and better her relationship with her family.
Lana develops a special relationship with the aquicorns and soon they are bringing items to Lana they find in the ocean and allow her to visit their underwater city. Through these lost items, Lana soon discovers her own aunt’s special connection with them and the event that caused a rift between them. It’s alluded to that Mae and one of the aquicorns may have been more than friends at one point as well.
Without giving too much away, this is a story about grief, family, environmentalism, and community. It’s a short, quick read, but it really packs a lot in and explores all of these themes fully.
O’Neill excels at storytelling and her art is beautiful and appealing. I think this will be a big hit with middle grade readers. Readers who enjoy poignant stories masked by cute, pastel illustrations like the Hilda graphic novels and The Prince and the Dressmaker will love this.
by Katie O’Neill
Oni Press, 2018
Publisher Age Rating: 7-11