It’s 1953 and anti-Communist propaganda is overtaking the United States, especially Peggy Monroe’s small town. Liam Francis Walsh’s Red Scare: A Graphic Novel takes the historical event of the same name and turns it into a science fiction tale about what happens when an unknown power gets into the hands of someone looking for her own way out.
Peggy is a loner. Since contracting polio, her life hasn’t been the same. The doctor tells her she needs to try harder to get better, but it’s not her fault. Her twin brother, Skip, is struggling too. Since their dad returned home from serving in the Korean War, home’s been especially stressful. Their mom is distant, trying to raise the kids and keep the house running, while working her own job at a local motel. Everything in Peggy’s life just seems so unfair.
While Skip gets to stay home, Peggy helps her mom out at the motel. She’s supposed to be dusting one of the rooms but gets wrapped up in her latest sci-fi book from the library and ends up falling asleep under the bed. Before she knows it, there’s a man in the room with a briefcase with a mysterious red glow! Peggy barely gets out in time but leaves one of her crutches outside the room. When she goes back to grab it, she makes a horrific discovery — the man is dead with a red handprint left behind!
The dead man is discovered by the authorities to be a Soviet spy, right there in their own backyard. But Peggy’s life must get on as normal, except now the kids at school think she caught some Commie cooties from the spy. The next day, she meets her new neighbor, Jess, whose family moved to the town with secrets of their own. Jess is outgoing and outspoken, everything Peggy isn’t, and keeps encouraging her new friend to have a little gumption.
Then something happens. Peggy can fly. That mysterious glow she saw in the hotel room? It’s now in a rod hidden in her once left behind crutch. She and Jess fly all over town! She can do hopscotch again! The FBI won’t leave her family alone though, so she has to keep her new discovery extra secret to protect them.
It’s at this point that Red Scare turns up the pace, with almost non-stop action and reveals. With its retro comics inspired style, readers who love adventure will not be able to put it down. Nothing in Peggy’s town is what it seems, everyone is suspicious, and the damage and danger of witch hunts permeates the story. Even with its frequent fight scenes and sci-fi inspired action, this book still tells the story of a young girl, her family, and what standing up for the right thing means. Plus, a twist ending!
Walsh’s art is perfectly appropriate for the time era Red Scare is set in. The background details are era appropriate as well, without overwhelming the story. The use of color, particularly various shades of red in some of the final panels, adds to the plot and tension of the story.
One of the highlights of this book is the author’s notes at the end. Walsh puts Peggy’s story in a historical context, with information about the Atomic Age, Red Scare, and polio for his readers. He also includes sketches of his work over the years, giving readers a look at the long process of creating a detailed, historical graphic novel.
Readers who love history, science fiction, and action will enjoy Red Scare. This graphic novel will pair well alongside the history of 1950s America in any classroom setting and will create a conversation amongst its readers while taking them on a fast paced story of one girl and a glowing red rod.
Red Scare: A Graphic Novel Vol.
By Liam Francis Walsh
Scholastic GRAPHIX, 2022
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11), Teen (13-16), Tween (10-13)
Character Representation: Mobility Impairment,