A graphic novel offered serially online and in print by Faith Erin Hicks, a wonderfully talented Canadian cartoonist.
This book is completely outside my wheelhouse: I’m not a reader of manga, young adult or any combination therein. What sold me on the material was the ability to read along online. Hicks had a deal with First Second books to publish the story in a softcover graphic novel, but she could also post the entire story online as a serialized web comic. So from August to February five pages a week went online until the book hit the shelves; since then the first twenty pages are still available as a preview.
What I learned is that this isn’t manga per se but a Northern American version, and the story isn’t young adult only but for everyone that went to high school. Friends With Boys is Maggie’s teenage lurch into the social environment of high school, with all its highs and lows. To add to her troubles she’s been home schooled until now by her mother who recently left the family. Ouch.
Ultimately Friends With Boys is about relationships. Maggie has a strong bond with her three brothers that carries her through. She picks friends by their character and not by their veneer or outer presence. It’s a strong and positive message that can aid the targeted age group.
And then there’s the ghost that follows Maggie throughout the story. I’m not sure what to make of it, as the ghost never speaks but inspires Maggie into her reckless act towards the end. I can’t see how a ghost fits into the story; why add this odd supernatural element? Does it represent her mother and the unanswered question of why she left? Do we all have to learn to deal with the ghosts of our past? Is she there to see how much we’ll read into it?
The artwork won me over to Hicks and her light style. It conveyed the mood and atmosphere well, enlivened the characters and presented a wonderfully developed story.
This is a fun read, filled with special moments as we experience teen life through Maggie’s eyes. I read the story through the web comic but did get a chance to thumb the printed volume at my local comic shop. The paper choice was a grey pulp stock that gave the work an off-white look; for a work with this much grey already the whites lost punch. But that’s a very minor quibble against this highly recommended work.