Forever Home is a sweet middle grade graphic novel debut that gives a ghostly take on what it means to find home and family.
Willow is sick of moving every two years with her Army parents, always saying goodbye to friends and not having a hometown. Her parents promise the historic Hadleigh House will be their final move. The ghostly residents have other plans; including a constantly bereft lady in white, a World War I solider, and the original Hadleigh sisters themselves. Having successfully scared off all previous interlopers, the sisters are frustrated to find that brave Willow can see them and is perfectly happy to share her new home. As they become friends, the obstacle becomes WIllow’s parents who have started to wonder if the cold drafts, strange noises, and bleeding walls might mean the house is more of a fixer-upper than they bargained for.
The messages of friendship and perseverance will resonate with kids who like realistic graphic novels, despite the supernatural angle. Grappling with moving around presented well, with the added element of what life is like for a military kid. The plot is simple and laid out well, interweaving stories about the lives of the Hadleigh sisters and the soldier. The jovial ghost sisters are well contrasted by their classic haunted house antics shown in spooky red lettering and cryptic phrases. The art is bouncy and cartoonish, and Jenna Ayoub’s Adventure Time, Regular Show, and The Amazing World of Gumball illustration experience comes through as much in the visuals as they do the heartfelt story and relationships. Muted browns, purples and greens match the old house and its gauzy residents, while Willow’s bright clothes bring a pop of life to the pages.
Forever Home has some welcome representation as Willow and her mother are both Black, but their race does not impact the plot or their characterizations in any way. All of the ghosts are white, and the house is labeled as being built during the antebellum part of the 19th century. There’s distinct subtext to a house full of white people trying to run an interracial family off, but it’s never addressed head on.
While Willow seems like a kid who never has trouble finding an adventure, there’s no indication of this being volume one of a series. Give this to kids who love Raina Telgemeier’s Ghosts and Brenna Thummler’s Sheets. With far more humor than scares, readers as young as second grade would enjoy it. The only hint of a questionable topic is the recurring gag of questioning the fate of the lady in white’s many husbands and suitors. Willow’s courage and strength and the delightful way her family merges with the ghosts make this a fun, heartwarming tale.
By Jenna Ayoub
Publisher Age Rating: 9-12
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NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Traits: Black