Bad Medicine is essentially fairly good medicine—a graphic novel celebrating oral storytelling, Cree folklore, friendship, with five creative teens around a campfire by the river, telling horrific tales. The stories are cautionary tales that become more and more spooky as the teens try to excel each other’s stories and telling skills evoking monsters such as impish little folk, ghosts, shapeshifters, and demons from local folklore.
The first tale is told about the vivid experiences of a man fishing in the river in close proximity to the campfire where they are sitting. Although one of the teens protests from the onset that the story is not true, the others are a willing audience to the tale of the man and his fatal adventures with the small trickster beings in the river. The teens are spooked but ready for the next story which “is true, at least.” This tale is also eerie, but the malevolent creature in it is much too human and the story much too familiar for many young Indigenous women on their own. The third story begins in the daylight but, once again, the tale takes a very dark turn with the audience left feeling uncomfortable and uneasy at its conclusion. The supernatural in this story is perhaps not as frightening as the other evil creatures in the previous tales, but perhaps that depends on your perspective. Before the next storyteller takes a turn, one of the teens leaves the campfire to go home, not because he wants to leave but, as the others explain, because he needs to protect his sisters. His story is told next, but not as something that happened in the past. The horror is, unfortunately, much too authentic, happening to him over and over again each evening when he finally is at home. After he leaves, the four remaining teens safely extinguish the fire and make their way home in the dark. They are feeling satisfied with the evening and plan to tell more stories around the fire at a later date.
Brief and natural conversations around the campfire between each of the tellings and among the teens put the stories in context and make the reader feel that perhaps they too are sitting around the fire with the storytellers. The illustrations have simple unadorned backdrops that, at the same time, establish the distinct setting for each tale. The illustrations accentuate the natural world surrounding the teens as well as real-life concerns that also envelop them as they make their way in the modern world. The rectangular panels are coloured with a mostly subdued palette with the exception of the first tale, which offers bright yellows that fade away to the darker hues of browns and black for the remaining episodes. I did have a little trouble telling characters apart at times.
Writer and illustrator Christopher Twin is from the Swan River First Nations reservation in northern Alberta, Canada. He is a freelance illustrator and comic book artist currently living in Edmonton. He focuses on telling stories, both in text and illustration, of social and cultural divides and life as a mixed-race individual.
This graphic novel is suitable for a teen audience who like horror, scary stories, and realistic fiction featuring Indigenous people. Highly recommended for First Nation collections, those interested in the art of storytelling, and local Alberta lore.
Bad Medicine Vol. By Christopher Twin Emanata, 2023 ISBN: 9781772620870
Publisher Age Rating: 14-18 NFNT Age Recommendation: Older Teen (16-18), Teen (13-16) Creator Representation: Canadian, Cree Character Representation: Canadian, Cree
The graphic novel Wildfire grapples with the experiences of Julianna, a middle schooler, and the traumatizing effects of wildfires when her family loses their home in Western Oregon. The wildfire, in this instance, was caused by human negligence when some of her classmates naïvely shoot firecrackers in the woods just beyond the farmyard. Everything physical Julianna knows and cares about is obliterated by this one foolish act that she witnessed. Her pet goats survive, but she can’t take them with her when she and her family relocate to an apartment in Portland.
Julianna decides to keep her personal involvement with the wildfire a secret from her new classmates. Her new friends in grade eight are politically engaged and all belong to an environmental club which she reluctantly joins. One of the other members of the club is also a recent incoming student and, to Julianna’s horror, she recognizes Carson as one of the boys she warned about lighting the firecrackers back home. He joined the club as a condition of his mandated community service and agrees that Julianna can keep her background secret to herself. However, the trauma, stress, and anger that Julianna reins inside builds and builds until she becomes overwhelmed.
Julianna is a sympathetic and realistic character who undergoes growth and self-knowledge throughout the story arc. While the story revolves around a harrowing instance, it is a character-driven tale that should resonate with young readers. The readers, along with Julianna, learn about climate change and collaborative positive action possibilities such as trash cleanup days, tree planting, and protests. Julianna also learns that listening to other people and trying to understand their motivations and experiences can aid in mediating her own anger and angst. The author embeds relationships, environmental knowledge, post-traumatic stress, mental health, and healing into a thoughtful and realistic narrative with her writing style and illustrations. At times the text is didactic when exploring the climate crisis, but the storyline absorbs these soapbox moments as a shared experience with the characters in the graphic novel.
The thick outlines and basic backgrounds, combined with intense hues of colour, add to the vibrant settings and animated faces and emotions of the characters who are illustrated with varying skin tones.
The book concludes with a note from the author about the incentive for writing this book and information and resources for young people to become involved with climate justice and action. Recommended for middle schools, especially with those who have more than a passing experience with wildfires themselves.
Wildfire By Breena Bard Little, Brown, 2023 ISBN: 9780316277655
Publisher Age Rating: 8-14 NFNT Age Recommendation: Middle Grade (7-11)
Character Representation: Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Translated from French by Aleshia Jensen, Camille Jourdy’s novel follows Juliette’s trip home from Paris to visit her more provincial family. She is also on a journey to revisit her roots and to handle her own growing, crippling anxiety and fears. While her family is delighted to see her, they do not actually pay any attention to her and her increasing vulnerability because they are busy with their own lives, issues, and family ties. Her family is complicated and entirely relatable and authentic to readers of this gentle slice-of-life graphic novel.
While the graphic novel is filled with people of all sizes and backgrounds the main characters are members of Juliette’s immediate family. Juliette’s older sister Marylou, a married mother of two children, has a lover, a man who works in a costume shop and visits her dressed as a bear, a wolf, a white rabbit, and as a ghost. They have lustful and joyful sex on Thursdays in the greenhouse in her backyard.
Marylou is happy with having an illicit affair, but nameless Lover Boy wants more of a permanent relationship. The sisters’ parents have been divorced for a long time but still torment each other each time they meet. Their mother dresses and behaves as a free spirit, taking on a series of younger lovers as well as painting large abstracts that are displayed in a local gallery. Their father, who Juliette is staying with during her visit, is the opposite, he is filled with self-doubts and convinced that he is developing dementia. Juliette’s grandmother no longer recognizes family members or has a reliable memory except when she reveals a long-kept family secret to Juliette.
The only non-family main character is Georges, the current tenant of the apartment where Juliette and Marylou lived as children. He is also a lost soul and someone seeking restoration and love in the local bar. His encounters with Juliette offer the possibility of a romantic closure for the two of them and the duckling they adopted but, sorry for the spoiler, this is not the direction the author takes the reader.
This is a novel of close encounters and careful observation of the setting, the people, and their relationships. It is done without judgment and the reader glides along with Juliette as she maneuvers through emotional and timeless passages of disappointment, mortality, and fading dreams to a place Juliette and Georges refer to, the “tragic dimension.” At the same time, it is also a novel filled with wonder, humor, and enjoyment for the reader.
Jensen’s translation from the original French presents, with sharpness and amusement, a natural cadence of family discussions. We can see, hear, and feel each of the individual characters in the town and they look and sound like members of a close-knit community anywhere. The point of view often shifts without warning from small encounters to larger ones but the shifts do not feel disjointed as the details in each of the panels slow the reader into a meditative state where moving from one situation to another seems natural and organic. This is a novel to be savored and not rushed in the least.
First published in French in 2016, Juliette is Jourdy’s eighth book, and her expertise is immediately recognizable as she is effective in control of the pacing, the panels, the color, the storyline, and her characters. Her illustrations are precise and filled with minute details of family and small-town life. These details are even more pronounced because of the simplicity of the background and the shortage of borders. Most pages are filled with simple vignettes, snapshots of the characters, their relationships, and environment. These busy pages are interspersed with full page drawings that are filled with deeper color tones that often indicate a change of tone or staging. A caveat for public library collections: there are numerous pages filled with Marylou and Lover Boy’s sexual encounters in the garden. These are tastefully done but I think some North American communities may not be as open as the French may be in their depictions of humanity in all their encounters.
The subtitle, ‘or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring’ is evocative and revealing by the end of the novel. It may refer to the rather humorous adventures of the ‘ghost’ hiding from disclosure or, more possibly, the ghosts of memory, family relationships, and our own selves.
Juliette or, the Ghosts Return in the Spring By Camille Jourdy Drawn & Quarterly, 2023 ISBN: 9781770466647
Publisher Age Rating: adult
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+) Creator Representation: French, Character Representation: French, Anxiety, Depression
As I Enfold You in Petals begins with several pages of wordless panels and near wordless panels depicting people in a huge line waiting to enter, one family at a time, the home of Benny the Bank, a notorious bootlegger first met in the first volume. The people are waiting to impress Benny on his birthday with promises and gifts. The winner will receive a substantial amount of cash, but it is an almost impossible task.
Curtis joins the line. He has just returned to Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, after fighting forest fires and six weeks in rehab for alcoholism. His gift is definitely a surprise for Benny: his lost watch, found when Curtis was fighting fires. Curtis does not want the cash; he wants title to his grandfather’s home which is now owned by Benny. Curtis is interested in helping others in Fort Smith in the struggle with alcoholism and wishes to connect with Louis, his grandfather. Louis’ legacy is as a healer who received his gifts from the Little People and Spirit Helpers.
Curtis’s invitation to the Little People is through a song which is witnessed by Benny and Crow, a mysterious female friend of Benny’s. Benny tells her “As I Enfold You in Petals,” a poetic phrase borrowed from letters he read from Curtis’s father to his wife. The reader also discovers Benny’s secret wishes and his illness in his conversations with his sons. All is dependent on Curtis regaining the trust and support of the Little People.
Written byRichard Van Camp (he/him/his) a proud member of the Tlicho Nation from Fort Smith, Northwest Territories, illustrated by Scott B. Henderson, Donovan Yaciuk and Nickolej Villiger. The first volume, originally published in black and white, has been completely revised by the four creators to provide a fresh and colorful rendition of the story. The newly released volume (2022) includes a precise essay regarding the background of this story as well as an essay on the interactions between the Japanese and the Dene.
It is a delight to have such a positive depiction of Dene spirituality and the people in this superb story of hope, strength of spirit, and redemption. The story celebrates family connections, memories, and stories through the text and the stunningly illustrated and colored illustrations. The pacing created by the panels, along with the rich and diverse coloring scheme, enfold readers into this story of cultural awakening and knowledge, leaving them satiated and complete. The characters and setting are vivid and authentically brought to life while the revisiting of memories is clearly delineated by sepia tones providing an accessible and seamless reading experience. Materials in the back provide information and cultural context about traditional Inuit tattoos that appear in the graphic novel.
The Spirit of Denendeh: As I Enfold You in Petals Vol. 2 By Richard van Camp Art by Scott B. Henderson, Donovan Vaciuk, Nickolej Villiger, Highwater Press, 2023 ISBN: 9781774920411
Publisher Age Rating: 15+
NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18) Creator Representation: Indian American, Dogrib Dene, Character Representation: Indian American, Dene, First Nations or Indigenous, Addiction
Shuna’s Journey is inspired by an ancient Tibetan folk tale about a young prince on a quest for barley in time of famine that fascinated creator Hayao Miyazaki. In Miyazaki’s hands the tale grew wings to tell the story of Shuna who, after hearing about the coveted golden grain seeds confined by the god-men in a land to the west where the moon resides, journesy to that land.
The original reworking was published in 1983 and was adapted into an hour-long radio drama broadcast in Japan in 1987. This is the first English translation. While the pages read right-to-left manga style, the layout largely resembles an illustrated picture book with limited dialogue and the text in non-bordered narration boxes abundantly sprinkled throughout the delicately rendered and coloured illustrations. Clothing styles, artifacts, and landscapes offer clues to the story’s cultural origins while also illuminating the fantastic. The result is an eerie, magical, and thoughtful tale reminiscent of an orally told tale. It is told simply with short sentences and not excess descriptions. The language is evocative and precise.
Shuna travels with his mount Yakul, an elk-like creature who was the source of inspiration and the namesake of Ashitaka’s mount in Princess Mononoke. Their adventures over the bleak and dangerous landscapes bring them into contact with female cannibals, slavers, and the young slave Thea and her young sister. After rescuing the two girls, Shuna reaches the western edge of the land. He leaves Yakul with them and crosses the wide water to the land of the god-men. There he witnesses the role of the moon in the creation of the giants and the planting and miraculous growth of the barley. He manages to take some of the golden grain, causing a great deal of pain to himself. He escapes and returns to the land to the east, but at intense cost.
In the short afterward, Miyazaki discusses his fascination with the folktale, “The Prince Who Turned into a Dog”. In the much longer following essay, translator Alex Dudok de Wit discusses his journey with the adaptations, Miyazaki to his origin tale, and its publication history beginning in 1983. De Wit explains that this format is a emonogatari—illustrated with exquisite and detailed watercolours—rather than a manga. De Wit also contrasts this novel to Miyazaki’s later animated works considering this work as a prototype for Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind and Princess Mononoke. Like these later works, this story addresses questions of morality and greed, especially relevant today. The story also delineates the transition into maturity for the main characters.
Shuna’s Journey is both a fascinating look at the creator’s earliest work and a dramatic but quietly reflective narrative that I highly recommend for readers, especially for those over the age of 12. The adventures are often blood curdling but, at the same time, understated. The main characters look rather young throughout the book, but are definitely mature enough to weather the hardships and challenges continuously thrown at them.
Shuna’s Journey By Hayao Miyazaki Macmillan First Second, 2022 ISBN: 9781250846525
Publisher Age Rating: 12+ NFNT Age Recommendation: Adult (18+), Older Teen (16-18)
Creator Representation: Japanese Character Representation: Tibetan