This is not Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong’s first rodeo. Sarah Wright reviewed the original black and white edition back in 2013, calling it “one of [her] favorites for the year.” It recieved a starred review from Booklist and was one of YALSA’s Top Ten Great Graphic Novels For Teens for its year. The pedigree is proven! What has changed in this new edition of the comic adaptation of Prudence Shen’s novel?

For starters, illustrator Faith Erin Hicks has been on a hot streak that started before this book originally came out and has been perpetually running ever since, including the Nameless City trilogy, Avatar The Last Airbender books, Pumpkinheads, Buffy The Vampire Slayer, and Last Year At Ellsmere, to name a few projects. Her breakout comic, Adventures of Superhero Girl, has since also received a colorized edition. Speaking of colorizing, the star of this rerelease is Alison Acton’s colors, which add distinction to the characters, settings, wardrobes, and action of each scene. Watching a character run over a stream in a forest or a battle robot being field tested in a backyard is all the more charming and detailed thanks to Acton’s work. Shades of brown also help visually identify characters of color, whether among the main cast or in crowds (of mostly white people). Similarly, redheaded Joanna stands out more with her ginger locks and freckles.

Of all the other books she’s worked on, I think Pumpkinheads has the most Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong DNA in it. The jockish protagonist, Charlie Nolan, gets along with his nerdy neighbor Nate and takes orders from his ex-girlfriend cheerleading captain Holly while throwing his spare time into captaining the high school basketball team. Charlie is a benevolent presence in any group, always ready to lend a hand, partly because doing so allows him to continue avoiding his divorced parents. They separated when he was a child, with his mom moving to California and his father routinely disappearing for business trips. Neither parent visits him when he receives an on-court injury.

The catalyst in all of this is a lack of public school funding. Nate and his nerdy science club friends (including the previously mentioned Joanna) want to use school funds to attend a national robotics competition. Holly and her squad want new cheerleading uniforms. The school can only afford one of these two line items, which leads to a student body presidential rivalry for the fate of the extracurricular budget. Animosity and pranks turn into team-ups and begrudging respect when both sides combine to compete in a BattleBots-like tournament for a major cash prize that would help everyone.

Shen’s story and Hicks’s cartooning are no less winning than eight years ago. Jokes are given beat-by-beat panel structures that let the punchlines breathe, including several wordless sequences where sharp stares and manic expressions do all the talking. Hijinks and punchlines are underscored by the emotional realities of Nolan’s home life, one that his peers sometimes witness in silence as he hangs up on a parent and insists everything is fine. One particularly effective scene involves the whole gang embarking on their secret road trip to the tournament, dealing with their parents discovering the plot, each in their own communication style. It’s a scene that describes each character by their actions and elegantly raises the stakes for the third act. Whatever happens at the tournament, there will be fallout to come.

There’s enough mature content to place this graphic novel on the Young Adult shelves as opposed to children’s: consider the consumption of alcohol, a middle finger, “asses” and “dicks” in the dialog, and a couple of jokes about ogling girls’ bodies. Holly and Joanna are strong female characters, taken seriously and underestimated at others’ peril. Charlie and Nate are an odd couple friendship, sometimes chasing each other down for a brief argument or fight but always close nonetheless. This is a humorous but grounded read, one that deserves revisiting and adding to YA readers’ checkout piles along with Pumpkinheads, This One Summer, and Snapdragon.

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong
By Prudence Shen
Art by Faith Erin Hicks
First Second, 2021
ISBN: 9781250779618
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18

NFNT Age Recommendation: Teen (13-16)

  • Thomas

    | He/Him Teen Services Librarian, Richland Library

    Features Writer

    Thomas is a teen services librarian at Richland Library in Columbia, South Carolina. While studying for his MLIS at the University of South Carolina, he won an award from Thomas Cooper Library for his curation of the works of “God of Manga” Osamu Tezuka. He has spoken about manga, graphic novels, teen programming, and podcasting at NashiCon, DragonCon, ColaCon, New York Comic Con, and American Library Association conferences. He has been on on YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels For Teens selection committee, written articles for Public Libraries, The Hub, Book Riot, and Library Trends, and reviews for School Library Journal and Kirkus.

Liked it? Take a second to support us on Patreon!
Become a patron at Patreon!