There are not enough superlative adjectives to describe Nightlights by Columbian-born Lorena Alvarez. And, compliments must be paid to publisher Nobrow Press for giving this magnificent graphic novel the beautiful attention to design it deserves. Nightlights is picture book size, large for a graphic novel, with a cloth spine binding and raised, glossy accents on the front and back covers. Just holding this book in your hands, you know you have something special.
I thought that Disney movies had ruined girls with big round eyes for me forever, but Alvarez's wide-eyed protagonist Sandy is downright irresistible. Sandy loves to draw, and the creations that fill the pages of her sketchbook are a charming mix of the natural world and mythical creatures. At night in bed, Sandy's imagination takes flight even further. Alvarez's illustrations of these flights, two-page spreads, are stunning. I wanted to dive into the pages. At her strict Catholic school where she is taught by nuns, Sandy's artistic and imaginative talents don't always serve her well, until she meets a new girl. Lavender-haired Morfie loves Sandy's drawings and wants to see more.
But, after meeting Morfie, Sandy's imaginary expeditions become dark and sinister as a sprite-like creature resembling Morfie appears, talking to Sandy, praising, taunting and eventually threatening her. By the time Sandy realizes that this creature is Morfie, she is telling her that, "once you realize you need me to tell you... how brilliant you are... nothing will keep us apart!" Nightlights can be read on more than one level. For me, Morfie became that critical voice we all have inside us that propels us and hobbles us. However, Sandy finds a very real world way to break free of her.
While I would have been happy living in Sandy's imagination for the whole of Nightlights, Alvarez does a fine job alternating between the technicolor bursts of Sandy's creativity and the monotone greys of school. Punished for doodling in class instead of learning the properties of π, the drabness of school meets the vivid world of Sandy's imagination when she is sent to sit in an unused classroom and Morfie joins her. This is also an important moment leading up to the satisfying climax where Sandy learns how to free herself from Morfie.
Everything about Nightlights is spectacular and I can't wait to see what Lorean Alvarez does next. I will be poring over this book again and again, and following what I hope is a long career for this talented artist and author! And look! Lorena Alvarez sews, also!