Newsprints by Ru Xu, 208pp, RL 4
Newsprints is the first in a new graphic novel series by Ru Xu and it is entrancing! A fast moving story with mysteries and suspense, this first book sets the table and leaves you hungry for more. And, while the setting and characters are very much fictional, there are aspects to the story that Xu tells that feel almost ominously contemporary.
Set in the port town of Nautilene, Newsprints has a 1920s feel, with newsboys on every corner hawking the Nautiline Bugle and the Grumby Gazette with a territorial ferocity. Heading up the Bugle boys is Blue, an orphan, among several, being raised by Mayor Aric Nancy and his wife, both of whom run the Nautiline Bugle, the only newspaper that tells the truth. The great nation of Goswing has been at war with their neighbor Grimmaea for ten years, leaving many orphans and a struggling city, making sacrifices and living on rations.
Running from Grumby Gazette thugs, Blue stumbles upon the workshop of a strange inventor named Jack Jingle, and accepts the job of apprentice. While visiting the Nautiline Naval Base with Jack, Blue meets Crow, a boy with no fear and an affinity for birds. As these three characters, all with their own secrets, cross paths, the story climaxes with a spectacular that ends with betrayals, lies and a new quest for Blue.
Layered into Xu's exciting story that unfolds over the course of Newsprints is the story of a girl pretending to be a boy in order to do the thing she loves and find meaning in her life, as well as the story of a government that twists and tortures the truth to their own ends. When Blue discovers this, she is determined to fight the fake news as well as gender bias. This is me, as an adult, teasing these ideas out of Newsprints. Most young readers will be tearing through this exciting story, reading for plot and not greater meaning, and that is just fine. Newsprints is completely engaging. Xu's style of illustration, the pace and the scope of her panels, reminds me a bit of the animated show, The Legend of Korra, as do her energetic characters. The palette Xu uses in Newprints is pale and washed out, intensifying the strain of living in wartime for a decade. Xu also scatters moments of detail throughout her panels, with excerpts from newspapers, maps, notebooks and intricate inventions that you will want to go back and look at more closely. I can't wait for the next installment of Newsprints and the adventures of Lavender Blue.