Page 45 Review by Stephen
A cautionary tale for Young Adults about the delicate balance in friendships - of loyalty, listening and shared experiences - this has evolved considerably during its 8 years in construction as O'Connor generously displays in the process pieces that follow.
It has an element of the fantastical, but it's not as extensive as you might as first think.
Willow Sparks and Georgia Pratt make kind and natural best friends, propping each other up when the going gets tough; the going gets rough almost immediately, because that's what their life at High School is like.
It's bad enough for Willow that her acne's flared up just when a new haircut - more severe than she is comfortable with - fails to fall over any of it. She's been invited to cover for Mr. Ages at the local library the next night and close up at 8pm on the dot, and that's very of cool because Mr. Ages is all kinds of quirky. He's rocking the bald, beard and ponytail look, which is brave.
However, before then Willow must endure the day, and what a day!
The school bully, Jenny, has already got it in for her, backed up by Jill and Perry. And if zits weren't enough of an embarrassment, she's rubbish at dodgeball (which seems to me to be a particularly punitive and overtly aggressive sport), fails to dodge said ball which is subsequently slammed right in her face, and develops a whopper of a big purple bruise which makes her pimples all the more livid. Oh, and then there's the sanitary-towel-in-the-classroom debacle. Awkward.
Can this day grow any more humiliating and debilitating?
Yes. The bullies are there when Willow attempts to close up the library, and they refuse, point-blank, to leave. Willow persists, but they get right in her face, and there's an accident. It is actually an accident, but it's - ouch! pretty serious - so they scarper. It won't tell you how, but it's then that Willow discovers a hidden inner library of books and one of them bears her name.
"This must be a joke..."
Within it, what she reads is astonishing: the minutiae of her life which led directly up to that point, followed by dozens of blank pages. Tied into the tome is a nib pen with the warning words "for emergencies only".
Now, I don't know about you, but when I was a teenager, volcanic acne clearly classified as an "emergency", so Willow begins to write and in the morning, the bruise and the pimples are gone.
Willow can re-write her life. Tempting, no?
At a first, superficial glance this looks very much like Bryan Lee O'Malley's SECONDS illustrated by Hope Larson circa CHIGGERS. But, as I suggested, the elements of magic realism are actually surprisingly minimal. It's far more about what the subsequent secrecy and balance of power does to Willow and Georgia's friendship. There's nothing that Willow writes in the book with its pen that is at all destructive or really, in any way, out of order. It's what she does or does not do with her best friend Georgia - who is undergoing considerable upheavals of her own - that causes the schism, and there's an exceptionally well written scene, born of complete comprehension, about the impact a "free pass" for one, but not for the other, does to what was once equally shared experiences.
The art has loads to recommend it, as you'd expect from any comparison to Hope Larson. O'Connor's use of a light blue hue is perfect for mid-tone light and for shadows which ripple and break towards their edges. Her eyes are inky black pools. Hair waves, the forms are so soft, and I love what she does with the lettering when it comes to a final sigh before falling asleep.
It's on top form too during the wince-inducing, heart-stopping fall. There the jagged, unyielding, cold concrete steps are contrasted both in stark white against black, and with Willow's painfully vulnerable back for which a pullover can prove no adequate protection. There's a cracking dream sequence too, once Willow has discovered the life-changing book, as she is chased buffeted about by its pen.
For there is one added complication that I have so far failed to allude to: what Willow doesn't know is that before she took possession of her own "journal", another similarly singularly titled tome was returned to Mr. Ages in profound contrition by a young man called Samuel.
And Samuel was not looking well.