A spooky tale about a trans girl and an autistic girl who are their town’s last hope. A gentle tale about a fox-girl trying to prove herself worthy of an important role in her nocturnal village. Two new graphic novels offer readers two very different tones, but similar themes of found family and community.
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The Ojja-Wojja, by Magdalene Visaggio, illustrated by Jenn St-Onge (Balzer + Bray), is a spooky, fun tale starring, eighth graders Val and Lanie, best friends and fellow “weirdos” in the small town of Bolingbroke. Val is White and autistic; Lanie is Asian and transgender, but they have bonded over a love of all things geeky (like space opera and anime), and over their mutual outsider status. Then Val’s school project about their town’s most famous ghost story leads to an accidental summoning of the Ojja-Wojja, a mysterious spirit connected to the ill-fated agreement behind the town’s tragic history. Things go awry, of course, and it’s up to Val and Lanie, with a small group of fellow outsiders, to save the day.
Val and Lanie are a delightful duo with great chemistry. The story’s many asides sometimes break the fourth wall to address readers or flesh out some of the many references to various geeky shows and genres. It’s tremendous fun, even as we also see a deeper theme about the perils of conformity.
Offering a mellower pace, K. O’Neill’s The Moth Keeper (Random House Graphic) will delight existing fans of their charming Tea Dragon Society series and Princess, Princess Ever After and will likely earn them new ones. The story is set in a village of nocturnal folk with animal-like ears and tails, where a girl named Anya has just become a Moth Keeper, protecting the enchanted moon-moths. These moths pollinate the tree that gives her village special gifts and blessings. Her mentor and partner are a queer couple. (One uses male pronouns; the other’s pronouns are never mentioned, but has a scruffy beard and appears masculine.)
Anya is eager to prove herself, but during the long, lonely nights of caring for the moths (where we sense she is pushing herself too hard), finds she retains a fear of the dark. And then, one night, she encounters a ghostly presence and everything she’s worked to protect is suddenly at risk. O’Neill manages to weave in enough suspense to keep the story moving, while maintaining its soft, gentle pacing. It’s a delicate balance, masterfully handled. Themes of found family, community, moving through past trauma, and connection to the natural world are expressed both through dialog and through O’Neill’s beautiful, warm illustrations—there are many parts of the story told through images alone. Thoughtful worldbuilding and characters, along with O’Neill’s gorgeous images, make this a recommended read.