Friends with Boys, by Faith Erin Hicks, 224 pages, RL 5

As I started reading Faith Erin Hick's excellent graphic novel Friends with Boys, which started as an online comic, Vera Brosgol's wonderful Anya's Ghost came to mind right away. Both books have dark haired, outsider protagonists with big black eyes who are haunted by ghosts. However, Anya's ghost is kind of the evil twin to the ghost that has haunted Maggie McKay since she was a little girl, making Friends with Boys the perfect compliment to Anya's Ghost. And, despite the fact that the main character of Friends with Boys is a high school freshman who is haunted by a ghost, I think that older readers of Raina Telgemeier's superb graphic novel Smile would enjoy this book.
Home schooled her whole life, Maggie finds herself forced to attend public high school with her three older brothers, Daniel and the twins Lloyd and Zander, when her mother leaves home. Alone and a little bit lost most of the time, Maggie is befriended by Lucy, clearly a fellow outsider in this cookie-cutter, small town high school. Lucy's older brother is Alistair and there is clearly some very thick tension between him and Matt, the captain of the volleyball team. There also seems to be tension between Daniel and Alistair as he warily watches his sister spending more and more time with the brother and sister outcast pair.
Despite this, Lucy and Maggie become fast friends and swap interests. Maggie convinces Lucy and Alistair to see her favorite movie, Alien, on Halloween and Lucy drags Maggie to the Maritime Museum for the final days of an exhibit on ghost ships. Trips to the museum and the graveyard, as well as Lucy's historical knowledge, shed light on Maggie's ghost and how she might help free this spirit from whatever binds her to this earth.

However, the thing that seems like the key to freeing Maggie's ghost could also tear apart her friendships and her family.

What I love most about Friends with Boys, and all the fantastic graphic novels I have reviewed here, are the underlying stories of connections and relationships and how important and sometimes fragile they are. Yes, Friends with Boys is a story about a girl adjusting to a new environment and life without her mom. Yes, Friends with Boys is also a ghost story. But at it's heart it really is a story about being friends with boys, Maggie with her brothers and how this has affected her life, and Lucy and her brother, who have a compelling backstory that makes their friendship, especially when contrasted with the one that Maggie has with her brothers, very interesting.  That's what is so continually amazing to me about graphic novels - they are these little illustrated books that you can read in 45 minutes or less and, when finished, feel like you've read a whole book or seen a movie. This smallish medium packs such a punch. 

And I haven't even talked about how great the art in this book is. Although it is done in black, white and shades of gray, Hicks is so skilled at the detail filled, intricate drawings that cover the pages that you don't even miss splashes of color. The choices she makes for how to pace the story, how to tell it over the course of the panels and when to zoom in and pull back from the action make for a story that flows seamlessly from start to finish. I can't wait to see what Hicks does next! Actually, after reading this interview I know what she is working on - a story called Voted Most Likely that she is adapting from an unpublished novel. It's about two very different "guys who get caught up in a cutthroat student body president election."

Check out BRAIN CAMP, written by Susan Kim, Laurence Klavan with illustrations by Faith Erin Hicks!

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