From this description, it’s going to sound like Image Comics is letting Jeff Lemire do whatever the heck he wants, but hear me out.

In Family Tree, Meg, a young girl, is slowly transforming into a tree. Her single mother, Loretta, is trying desperately to figure out what’s wrong with her, while also dealing with Meg’s brother acting up again. When they decide to take Meg to the doctor, they are met by a group of violent people who want to kill them. Luckily, grandpa Judd comes to rescue them, slinging shotguns and bowling people over like an action-movie star. They get to a doctor in Manhattan and Judd reveals a little more about what happened to Loretta’s husband—Judd’s son—who she thought had abandoned the family.

I have come to have an appreciation for Lemire this year over titles like Royal City and Descender/Ascender, so I’m willing to go along with him on this Groot journey. Judd is a really interesting character, and I feel Loretta’s frustration as she’s just trying to keep her family together.

Volume 1 collects only the first four issues of this story, so there’s not as much time to really get into the details of what’s happening. Nevertheless, I am intrigued and want to know why this family keeps sprouting into trees, and how this may spiral into other events. Overall, the story is gritty and interesting. The illustration team has done a great job creating a world whimsical enough to support tree-people, but gritty enough to ground characters like Judd. There is an emphasis on earth tones to connect the storyline to what is happening with Meg, but almost every page has one pop of color to create balance and draw attention.

This title might appeal to fans of Jeff Lemire from his independent titles, though not necessarily from his DC and Marvel writings. Give to fans of Royal City, Gideon Falls, or Joe Hill’s Locke & Key. Image rates this as Teen+. There is a lot of language, some drug use and discussion, and violence—not super gory, but enough to keep it out of junior high libraries.

Family Tree, Vol. 1: Sapling
By Jeff Lemire
Art by Eric Gapstur, Phil Hester, and Ryan Cody
ISBN: 9781534316492
Image Comics, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: Teen Plus
Series Reading Order: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/49050410-family-tree-vol-1?ac=1&from_search=true&qid=rlY332knKL&rank=1 (Wikipedia or Goodreads)

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NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Adult (18+)
Character Traits:

  • Sara

    | She/Her Teacher Librarian

    Sara is the Teacher Librarian at a high school in a small, rural town in California. Previously, she taught for 6 years in the English department at the same school. Her passion for manga began early in life when a friend introduced her to Sailor Moon. She jumped on the comics bandwagon with the popularity of comic-inspired movies, and she has recently come to enjoy publishers outside of the superhero genre. Graphic novels are a big hit at Sara's school, so she has carefully collected thousands of volumes that frequently fly off the shelves and into students' hands.

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