Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer by Gillian Goerz, 224 pp, RL 4
Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
I LOVE! LOVE! LOVE! this book! I may be too excited and enthusiastic about Shirley & Jamila Save Their Summer to do it justice here, but I'm going to try. In her debut graphic novel, Goerz creates a vivid, complete world filled with engaging, authentic characters. And, while an intriguing mystery drives the story, the complexities of friendship and the opportunities for learning and growth that they present are the true heart of this novel, which Goerz dedicates to, "the friendships that changed me for the better."
Shirley Bones is a problem solver and, when she encounters Jamila Waheed, new to her Toronto neighborhood, she senses a problem that, if solved, could save their summer. Both Jamila and Shirley are headed to day camps neither wants to be at. Much to Jamila's dismay, a meeting of the mothers results in the two ten-year-olds being allowed to spend their days together, without parental supervision, as long as they follow the RULES. Jamila, little sister to Farooq and Naveed, is thrilled to get to spend her days shooting hoops at a real basketball court at the park down the street. Other than avoiding dance camp, Jamila is not sure what Shirley, who has already exhibited her keen observational skills and understanding of human nature, has to gain. Then she sees the constant stream of kids approaching Shirley at the bench where increasingly curious things turn up in her satchel (the contents of her mother's makeup drawer, twenty-four secondhand Barbies, a clay pigeon, fifteen different smelly erasers, quick-dry cement).
After many questions and no answers, along with making a list of all the things she knows about Shirley Bones, Jamila finally gets her answer when Oliver refuses to take "no" for an answer. Shirley is a detective and kids come to her for all kinds of solutions. Oliver and his older sister Vee have been spending their days at the community pool, bringing backpacks filled with toys and other things to entertain them when they aren't swimming or bickering. But, their belongings have been going missing, and when Oliver's backpack with his leopard gecko inside disappears, he turns to Shirley.
Goerz sets her story in a richly diverse, active community where the (limited) freedom Shirley and Jamila have been given allows them to authentically interact with a range of kids in a variety of settings, from the teenage lifeguards to an observant six-year-old at a daycare center who trades information for gummy whales. She also brings an impressive level of depth and development to each character, especially the quiet, tall for her age Kumi. In the midst of this, Jamila struggles with Shirley's unpredictable communication style, ultimately walking out on her and jeopardizing their summer arrangement. Goerz provides flashbacks that give readers a deeper understanding of Shirley, while a talk with her mother allows Jamila (and readers) another perspective when Mrs. Waheed shares Mrs. Bones' explanation that Shirley's "perceptiveness impedes her ability to socialize" and make friends. Adult readers will recognize the Sherlockian qualities Shirley exhibits, while others might place her somewhere on the Autism spectrum. Being the first book in a series, Goerz is sure to delve more into Shirley's character and hopefully expand on Jamila's.
Goerz's illustrations are as rich, diverse and completely engaging as the characters and stories she creates. What stands out most for me is the community Goerz creates. I can't remember reading reading a graphic novel that was so jam-packed with people! Admittedly, there is a big cast of characters, but there are almost as many "extras" on the page, so to speak, from people in the park to pedestrians on the street to the many seen in flashbacks. All of this comes together to create a true stand out and the start of what I hope is a long running series!
Shirley is white and Jamila is brown skinned and Muslim. I learned from reading Sheela Chari's review in the New York Times that Urdu is the language Jamila's family speaks. Siblings Vee and Oliver are Black. Kumi and Sara are POC and Angie is white.