Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Sheer Shadows and Mischievous Mystery

A typical graphic novel is told in pictures and in words, but what if the story was actually two stories: one through words and one through images? Brian Selznick did it with surprising grace, and now Kiersten White and Jim DiBartolo have done it with In The Shadows, and the result is pretty awesome. 

Cora and Minnie's mother runs a boarding house where they all live together. Minnie has an insatiable desire for adventure (bordering on the side of reckless), while Cora prefers to play it safe, except when Minnie calls her out on her stuffiness and she has to live up to her little sister's expectations. But after Minnie convinced Cora to climb a tree and peer into the witch's window and she got caught, she has never been the same. Her father died the very next day, and Cora knows it was a curse the witch put on her. Arthur was brought to live with them over a year ago after his father disappeared, but the girls suspect there is more to the reason Arthur is with their family. When Charles and Thomas arrive for the summer, the group bands together, all for different reasons, but all for the hope of some fun (at Minnie's direction). Especially when Charles' illness and imminent death is a weight holding Thom down. 

When they visit the witch's house all together this time, Cora is more than just a little nervous. In fact, she is terrified, but the others convince her it will be fine. When they see the witch, Mary, they aren't prepare for what they witness- she hangs herself right in front of them. When they report it, however, something scary happens- her body isn't there anymore. When they see her again in town, she is with the scary man from the boarding house... and a woman Thom is convinced he heard speaking to his father right before he was sent to the boarding house. Something very mysterious is happening in this sleepy little tourist town, and Minnie and the others are going to get to the bottom of, regardless of the risks.

Half this story is the one I have just described. It is written in short chapters like any other typical story. The other half of the story is written in illustrations and follows an entirely different set of characters. I haven't described the illustrated story because it isn't easy to describe it without giving away too many important details needed for the end of the story when everything comes together. But they do, and when they do, it is pretty gosh darned awesome. My biggest issue with this book throughout the entire story was that I had absolutely no idea what was happening in the illustrated story- until the very very end. Now, in hindsight, I can see it was designed that way and that is what made it such a cool story, so I should have just had faith in the authors. 

Another thing I struggled with was the ages of the kids. One moment they struck me as definite middle schoolers. Precocious, adventurous, and usually reckless abandonment regarding concern for consequences. But then the next moment they felt a little older, like young adults. It made them difficult to understand completely. While Minnie was the fun, impish, mischievous one, Cora and Arthur were the ones I really liked. Unfortunately, the story is really brief, so you don't get to spend a lot of time getting to know any of the characters very well. The important thing to know, though, is that this is one serious mystery! It was really a nail biter right to the end, and I did not see it coming. I really liked this story, and I hope White and DiBartolo give this format another shot!

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