Page 45 Review by Stephen
I don't want to be here."
I knew I'd be hooked from the very first page: the early morning light creeping up in the sky and so sweeping down through Maggie's low bedroom window, over her duvet and assorted objects scattered across the floor. You wait until you get outside, though: the leafy, late-summer cemetery dappled in shadow, its listing gravestones stretching as far as the eye can see. The home front itself is very Bryan Lee O'Malley, while both the wistful and exuberant expressions put me immediately in mind of Tim Fish. I also suspected a Ross Campbell influence in the eyes, but wasn't sure until I saw the preparatory sketchwork in the back where the body form and facial proportions of young punk Lucy (bottom centre, if you already have the book) positively scream of WET MOON's Cleo.
It's all quite beautiful, while the humour is gentle and charming, flushed with the occasional comedy cartoon flourish, delightfully choreographed and underplayed, as when older brother Daniel "separates" his twin brothers fighting at the bottom of the stairs, dragging them, limp, and cross-eyed into breakfast.
It's teenage Maggie's first day at school - her very first day: up until now she's been tutored at home by her mum. So were her brothers until high school loomed, then Daniel, Zander and Lloyd each left to learn how to learn socially: to mix and mingle. Now it's Maggie's turn but, never having made friends outside the close family unit before, she's feel more than a little trepidatious. Who wouldn't? Also, receiving any new timetable is daunting enough, but it's worse when you don't know a school's layout. They should give you a map! Is that a thing they do now? They don't give Maggie a map but, ever resourceful, she makes one of her own, noting potential pitfalls like "Makeout Stairwell. AVOID!!"
Punk-haired Alistair and younger sister Lucy don't seem to have any friends, either, and there's an undercurrent of animosity between Alistair and the blonde volley-ball jock called Matt. Stranger still, Daniel, whom Maggie doesn't just love but admires, actively warns her against Alistair, even though Alistair and Lucy could neither have been kinder nor more welcoming. If anything, you'd have thought the decidedly unsporty thespian Daniel would have sided with them against Matt. What on earth has been happening at school while Maggie's been sheltered at home?
There's so much that Faith Erin Hicks has packed in to this sympathetic and emotionally complex scenario. Maggie has only ever known Daniel in a family context, so is pleased but disconcerted to find him so popular - it's slightly
alienating. She doesn't understand her other two brothers' resentment about how others expect them to behave as twins as if it's their defining characteristic. And, of course, Mom has left home and Maggie doesn't understand why, but harbours a nasty suspicion that it is all her fault, based on several uncomfortable memories.
I loved seeing Maggie and Lucy bonding over the passions they introduce to each other: Alien and Patti Smith.
I'm sorry, but who's Patti Smith
"Oh my God! Okay, you're coming over to my house this weekend, and we are doing some serious music swappage."
It's not like Maggie has been remotely emotionally stunted through home schooling - she's far from shy - but it's wonderful to see her blossom and discover for the first time the joys of having her first female friend. Meanwhile Alistair, as I say, does nothing but embrace and nurture his younger sister's new friendship with Maggie, even smoothing it out after Lucy initially puts her foot in it - several times! So what is Daniel even on about?
I find this utterly faultless and recommend it not just to young teen readers - both to boys and to girls - but to anyone who cares about them and loves a creator who evidently does so too.
I haven't even mentioned the ghost, have I?