Snapdragon is a colorful, exuberant tale of witchcraft, love, and animal skeletons from a creator best known for her work on the beloved Lumberjanes series. This delightful middle grade story was tentatively titled Roadkill Witch, and I feel that’s important to share because it’s much more evocative of the creepy but playful tone of the book. And roadkill is the unlikely leitmotif that ties much of the story together.
Preteen Snapdragon meets elderly Jacks, who is rumored to be the town witch, when she bravely climbs to her porch in search of her lost dog, GB (short for Good Boy). It’s during one of the long afternoons alone when her mom is at school or working. Snap knows that the black-clad Jacks collects roadkill in her wagon, and is rumored to bring it home and eat it, so she suspects she might find GB there. GB is with Jacks, but instead of eating him, Jacks has patched him up after he almost became roadkill himself. Snap soon learns that Jacks buries the roadkill, then harvests their bones to make into articulated skeletons that she sells on the Internet. When Snap wonders why Jacks bothers to “mess around” with animal bones, Jacks replies, “I ain’t disrespectin’ these critters. Critters die all the time, but it ought to be for a reason. That’s what even the least of us deserve. But roadkill’s a lousy way to end up. Lotsa folks don’t even notice when they hit somethin’. So I notice ‘em.” Once she articulates their skeletons, “they become something new. And they’re remembered.” It’s this basic goodness and humanism that lights up this story.
After returning to Jacks with a box of baby possums she’s saved from their dead mother, Snap becomes an eager apprentice of animal anatomy and the curious kind of magic Jacks practices. This central plot is only one part of a wider story of growth and love of all kinds, as Snap learns that Jacks has a significant link to her family, and the mysterious “curse” that’s been following them since her grandmother was a young woman. We follow Snap and her friend Louis, who transitions over the course of the book into Lulu, as they watch scary movies and swap clothes, and Snap’s mom as she trains as a firefighter and tentatively steps into a new romance.
The characters in Snapdragon view queer identities as a normal part of life. Although discrimination is present, especially in flashback scenes to the 50s, even Lulu’s older brothers, who constantly tease her, accept her for who she is. They’re just as happy to bedevil a younger sister as a younger brother.
Ultimately, Snapdragon is a love story about two people finding each other after a lifetime apart, and about a girl finding her place in a world of magic, new friends, and fluid identities. The mood is joyful and mysterious, and the bright, humorous artwork takes a loving view of the characters. I’ve never seen an artist make a realistic illustration of a possum look cute, but Leyh does it.
I highly recommend Snapdragon, which will appeal to fans of Shannon Hale, Raina Telgemeier, Jennifer Holm, and Brenna Thummler’s Sheets.
By Kat Leyh
First Second Books, 2020
Publisher Age Rating: 10-14
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Traits: Black, Multiracial Lesbian, Queer Trans, Genderqueer