Happy-making and delicious, and also inventive and FUN as all get out
Reviewed in the United States on November 19, 2020
My favorite thing (well, ONE of my favorite things) is when I see a recommendation online for a book that sounds like it's 110% my cup of tea, but I hadn't heard of it yet. YAY for the internet and friends (I consider you all friends, is that weird??!) knowing exactly what I'd like and pointing to it with flashing lights and saying "READ THIS, no really, trust me!!" I don't know who exactly said that about Aliza Layne's middle grade graphic novel Beetle & the Hollowbones, because my brain is made of Swiss cheese, but just know that I love you! Beetle's story is just THE MOST gosh darn adorable thing I've read in a long, long time. It made my heart so happy!
Beetle is a young goblin growing up with (and apprenticed to) her grandmother, the Town Witch, in 'Allows, a town full of uncanny creatures. She's slowly learning lowly goblin magic, and of course she loves her grandmother... but she does wish that she could learn sorcery, like her the heroines in her favorite shows and stories. Instead, she's struggling through potion-making and trying to master broom riding, in between visits to her friend Blob Ghost (B.G. for short), who haunts the local mall. But when her former best friend Kat moves back to town to apprentice with her Aunt Hollowbone, everything starts to speed up: evil plans, learning magic, and rescuing dear friends from certain destruction!
Beetle and her grandmother are just... delightful?? I want them to adopt me and teach me magic in their adorable, snug little house. They accept all comers too – not just goblins! It could happen!! Ha. But seriously, Layne's writing and art introduces you to these characters, and makes you fall in love with them in a matter of pages. That is its own kind of magic! Beetle herself is thoughtful, distractible, mischievous, and self-conscious in that early-adolescent way... basically, a normal twelve-year-old. She wishes she could go off to sorcery school, but knows her gran couldn't afford it, so she tries to make her dreams fit the circumstances she lives in. Meanwhile, she's a good friend to B.G., a shape-shifting ghost who is just... too cute for words. It's an ideal-ish world until it isn't, but Beetle never compromises herself, and that's a fantastic lesson for readers young and old alike.
Ummm... what to gush about next? Oh, I know... THE ART. Yes, I am yelling about it because it is fantastic. And I mean that as in it is of otherworldly quality, and also in that it features many and assorted supernatural and/or undead creatures. Just. UGH. I don't have the words, but I'll try. First, it is layered: Layne had help from colorists Natalie Riess and Kristen Acampora, and I think you can totally tell that there were multiple hands involved, because how else you could the art be so detailed and tightly-woven – the shades and magic of it all!! And that brings me to part 2: the colors. The palette is very vibrant, but most scenes are either in shades of purple or orange. Pair that with Beetle and her grandmother's skin tone (a light green), and the effect is very Halloween-y, which matches the cast of eccentric characters (cat skeletons? giant grub/bug janitor? shape-shifting ghosts? pumpkin-head shop assistants?). The loving care and detail in every single character is just... *kisses fingers.* I did not expect to love this book and the world in it so much when I picked it up, but I really, really did/do.
Let's see, other things to mention: this title has really sweet LGBTQ+ representation, both in the media that Beetle consumes (she likes manga shows about sorcery and writes fanfiction!) and in her life – mostly consisting of declarations (and one other thing, which I won't spoil here). Beetle and her grandmother also have a healthy relationship: one of honesty and mutual respect. There's one character who espouses the idea that girls aren't meant to be friends, that they always compete with one another in the end, and that person is soundly beaten and shown to be untrustworthy and abusive. Good messages throughout, accompanied by great art, make for a sweet and wholesome upper middle grade graphic novel! I do think that YA readers on the younger end (12-15) will love this too – it definitely bridges that early tween-teen divide.
Beetle & the Hollowbones is happy-making and delicious, and also inventive and FUN as all get out. I want to read it again immediately.
Recommended for: young fans of middle grade fantasy, magic, and graphic novels, and anyone who is up for a fantastic adventure, beautifully illustrated!
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