Page 45 Review by Stephen
"We only have so much of our youth left. We're going to make sure it's misspent."
Haha! That's dear Lyla, an early-teen force of nature and Greg's best friend who isn't featured on the cover but will instead punch her way to your hearts with her no-nonsense, forthright directness. Her Dad's a retired boxer, and she likes hitting things. Even shadows - even Greg's shadow. Only, Greg doesn't have a shadow - he was born without one.
Sorry...? Greg most definitely has a shadow. He just can't see it yet.
A haunted (and in places haunting) Young Adult graphic novel, this is highly recommended to those who love Andi Watson for his brilliant, broad-brush and highly expressive cartooning (see YA / Young Readers' GLISTER etc.) or to any of us who need reminding that self-involved anger can be blind, careless and have consequences for others who so very often do not deserve it.
It doesn't look like that sort of a book, does it?
In many ways it isn't: it's fun, funny and ever so clever when it comes to the ghostly goings-on; and if you are a wee bit puzzled by the dual narrators' curiously disruptive role over the first dozen pages (seeming to add little but confusion), a second reading - once you realise who they actually are and remembering what you've seen transpire over the course of the adventure - will have you grinning your heads off at its new fluidity and sense-making. Clue: one of the argumentative duo speaks in dialogue boxes coloured a luminous grey, the other's contains white writing on black.
So, wherever were we?
Greg grew up in a town called Lancaster in the US of A. Everyone could see he cast no shadow, but no one minded at all except for deliriously vacuous school mate Jake. Jake decided that Greg was a vampire and tried every trick in the book (and under the blatantly blazing hot sun) to expose him.
"Garlic. You name it, he used it.
"All I got was wet and smelly.
The last panel there is a delicious piece of un-signposted, visual slapstick comedy relying on your knowledge of vampiric folklore and fear of opening strategically stacked school lockers.
That was too much for Layla who sprang angrily and forcefully to Greg's defence:
"He. Is. A. Beautiful. And. Unique."
You recall she likes hitting things, right? Poor Jake!
"They both got detention. He got a broken nose. And a concussion, apparently, because after that he wanted to be best buds."
And Jake does want to be best buddies: he genuinely does. Over and again throughout this graphic novel the otherwise self-regarding, self-aggrandizing, flirtatious, proud and preening (but, to be honest, exceptionally pretty so you can't really blame him) Jake makes space in his otherwise massive ego to praise, promote and coddle up to Greg, but Greg bears too much of a grudge to forgive and forget.
He's angry at Jake, so he's angry at Jake's Dad who has risen to Lancaster's mayor, so he's angry at all the imported gimmicks which Jake's Dad has so successfully promoted the town with: The World's Largest Ketchup Bottle, The World's Largest Wardrobe, The World's Largest Paper Clip and now The World's Largest Hairball which is gargantuan and going on improbably coughed-up display right now! He's even annoyed at Miss Star and her Psychic Sing-Along, even though she's a veteran resident.
"Do you hear singing? I don't hear singing."
Obviously this sweet little old lady is a fraud. Obviously.
No, Greg is immune to Jake's undoubted charms. But Layla is not. So there's his best friend now going out with his perceived worst enemy and getting in the way of their friendship, even though both of them invite him in to share their time together. Greg is furious.
Except that it's Greg who is getting in the way of friendship.
Did I mention that his mother had died? She had a heart attack three years ago, and Greg misses her terribly. His Dad doesn't appear to: his Dad has fallen in love with local restoration artist and historian Ruth, and she's about to move in. Ruth is a lovely. She is thoughtful, spirited, easy-going, understanding and solicitous. But Greg is furious.
He's mean-spirited and furious.
But then Layla takes Greg to a massive old mansion, dilapidated and beyond the outskirts of town. It is said that, eighty or so years ago, its Old Man Turner lost the plot and murdered his wife and child before killing himself. Certainly it is haunted, for those who have sought to steal things from it have found a lingering spirit shaking the whole house from its very foundations.
Instead it is full of its original prized joys like gramophones, music boxes, vases and very best chairs. They're a bit the worse for wear, but it's almost as if someone still lives there.
Someone does: the ghost of a young girl called Eleanor. She is bright and beautiful, kind and considerate, but only Jake can see her. Only Jake can hear her. Jake is overjoyed and smitten by a young puppy-love, but Eleanor is trapped in the house and can never leave.
What do you think this all means?
Not one word I have typed is random or extraneous. And that is the joy of this exceptionally clever comic for Young Adults upwards.
Yes, ever-upwards, I hope.