Grief is a heavy burden for anyone to bear, but for children, it can be especially overwhelming. In their new graphic novel, Missing You, Brazilian creators Phellip Willian and Melissa Garabeli explore the complex emotions of grief and loss through the eyes of two bereaved children and their father.
In the aftermath of their mother’s death, Lara, Thomas, and their father welcome an injured baby deer into their home and name him Lion. But when their maternal grandmother comes to stay with the family, she has other ideas about how things should be done, including Lion’s caretaking.
One of the things that makes Missing You so special is its nuanced portrayal of grief. Willian and Garabeli convey the children’s emotions with great sensitivity and raw honesty. In one scene, Thomas asks Lara if she misses their mom, and though Lara never answers, we see her carrying on what might have once been her mother’s role: making sure Thomas is clean, fed, and comforted when he is scared or sad. Scenes of the children and Lion playing pretend together are particularly heartwarming, providing a welcome respite from the heavier aspects of the story.
Lion offers the family a sense of comfort and companionship, and he helps them to learn how to trust again. It is through their woodland friend that the family begins to come back together and heal. A soft, watercolor palette of browns and greens captures the warmth of the story. Realistic dialogue includes believable sibling interactions and a late-night conversation between Lara and Thomas’s visiting grandmother and their distraught father.
The story is short and much of the action unfolds slowly, conveyed through facial expressions and the silence between words. It’s an easy read; although it deals with heavy topics like grief, loss, and learning to communicate big feelings, it does so in a gentle and ultimately comforting way.
The publisher’s age range of 8-12 years old feels accurate, although a curious and mature 7-year-old could probably also grasp and enjoy the material easily. Fans of animal stories like Pax or The Fox and The Hound will find this story engrossing. Among graphic novels I have read about similar topics, the closest read-alike was Mai K. Nguyen’s Pilu of the Woods. Missing You could become a go-to for grieving children as well as adults who might seek something to help their children cope with loss.
Missing You Vol.
By Phellip Willian
Art by Melissa Garabeli
Oni Press, 2023
Publisher Age Rating: 8-12
NFNT Age Recommendation: Easy Readers (5-9), Middle Grade (7-11)