the War at Ellsmere - Faith Erin Hicks (SLG, $12.95)
I think it is important that before you read anything else here, that you watch this.
You kind of adore Faith Erin Hicks now, don't you? If you say no, I won't really believe you, but I promise that if you go read 'the War at Ellsmere' (and 'Zombies Calling') you will. If you didn't just click on the link to her site and find this yourself, here is an 11 page preview from the author's site that absolutely captures the awesomeness of the book.
Now that I have that out of the way, Here's my actual review:
The War at Ellsmere centers on Juniper, a new scholarship student at the ultra-prestigious boarding school Ellsmere Academy. Juniper is well aware of her intelligence without being vain. She decided to pursue an education at the school because she is certain that it will give her the best education, and will best prepare her for her college and career aspirations. Her intelligence and drive are not things she lords over others, though. She is down to earth and a good person at heart. That being said, she is not above challenging the status quo, or pointing out wrongs when she sees them.
Juniper is paired with her roommate Cassie who is the poster girl for meek and friendly optimism. After a mildly bumpy first meeting, the two quickly become the closest of friends and allies. They are able to each contribute greatly to one another, filling in where the other may be weak.
If you read the preview that I linked to above, you will see the first meeting between Juniper and Emily. Emily is the Evil Genius of Ellsmere, complete with her own henchgirls to help execute her evil plans. Juniper is not just a threat by daring to defy Emily and directly confront her about her cruelty and underlying weakness, she is competition. Emily is very comfortable in her position as a top student. She respects Juniper's intelligence and sees her as a sort of sporting competition. This all sets the tone for the book. There is a lot more to it, with themes of friendship and elements of fantasy that work naturally into and through the plot of boarding school student from the wrong side of the economy versus the overly privileged and powerful.
There is a great deal of charm to this book. It is beautifully drawn, and perfectly written. I have nothing negative to say regarding any aspect of it. It is fun and funny, as well as touching and compelling. There is a lot to it. It is a very familiar theme in a fairly familiar setting. The author mentions as much in the video above. It is influenced by the books she read as a girl, and it shows. This is a great book for girls (although I think it is a great book for everyone, really). I will pass this along to my 14 year old now. She enjoyed Zombies Calling, and I am certain she will enjoy this every bit as much.
The book opens with a very nice introduction by Hope Larson, and ends with an illustrated overview of the 'artistic process' drawn by Hicks. I love the extra stuff she includes in her works. This is only one page, printed on the back cover, but it is extremely funny and contains the single cutest panel I have ever seen. It's worth picking up just to read the back cover, but I think you should probably read the actual graphic novel while you are at it. I am seriously looking forward to whatever her next project may be.