Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review -- "The War at Ellsmere" by Faith Erin Hicks


Publishing Information:
2008. SLG Publishing, San Jose.  156 pages.

Recommended Reading Age: 12-16

Story:
Juniper (Jun), our teenage protagonist, wants nothing more than to realize her full academic potential at Ellsmere Academy, a prestigious boarding school for girls.  A self-acknowledged 'dork' from a less-than-affluent family, Jun and her roommate Cassie clash with the cruel Emily and her entitled cronies, who want nothing more than to make life at Ellsmere difficult for the school's new scholarship charity case.  Drama at Ellsmere is not relegated to matters of popularity, however; the legend of the Ellsmere brothers and a mysterious white horse provide a fantastical backdrop to this otherwise realistic tale.

Characterization:
Female students (especially those that feel like outcasts themselves) should identify immediately with Jun.  Though she is smart, cute, and witty, she is also vulnerable, concealing a painful loss in her life for much of the story.  She may be better read than the most junior high school girls (there are witty allusions to Dickens, Shakespeare, and Tolkien), but her plight is universal enough; trying to fit in while maintaining a sense of independence.  Jun's roommate Cassie provides comic relief, struggling in self-confidence and academic prowess until Jun inspires her to be more than she has been.  Emily, Jun's nemesis, is the standard 'queen bee', loathsome in her snobbishness and dedication to undermining Jun's efforts to fit in.

Artwork:
A fan of manga and anime herself, Hicks's style is definitely reminiscent of Chiggers' Hope Larson (who wrote the introduction to Ellsemere) and Scott Pilgrim's Bryan Lee O'Malley.  Despite the large eyes (typical of manga) and exaggerated expressions, for the most part the characters are drawn realistically -- these actually look like teenage girls, both in their dress and their body types.  They actually seem to wear the clothes they're in -- wrinkles are drawn where they belong.  Panel layouts are very easy for even a novice comics reader to follow, and Hicks is able to use splash pages to illustrate particularly important moments in the lives of these girls.

Recommendation:
Though The War at Ellsmere isn't particularly 'teachable' (apart from the aforementioned allusions to other literature), it would make a great addition to any middle school or high school library.  The combination of witty banter between characters, the touch of fantasy, as well one of the most relatable, strong female protagonists portrayed in the comics medium make this a great read.

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