Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee, 272 pp, RL 5
Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee
Published by RHGraphics
Purchased from Barnes & Noble
Using her imagination, with stuffed animals and the occasional prop or costume to set the scene, Lora Xi is happiest when she is at play, which is how Yee begins Séance Tea Party. At the helm of a pirate ship, her crew on deck, a page turn shows Lora furiously pedaling her bike, a toy cat and bat in her basket, as she heads to school where it seems that her classmates are more interested in their phones, new earrings, gaming and gossiping. Increasingly alone, Lora celebrates her October birthday with her parents (and a trip to the bookstore and a ghost-shaped cake!) and a séance tea party in the attic for herself and her stuffed animals. To her immense surprise - and happiness - the ghost of a girl arrives. Alexa, once Lora's imaginary friend, wants to rekindle their friendship. Together, the two help each other navigate the challenges of growing up and support each other's growth.
Lora shares with Alexa that she is scared to join in, worried about falling behind because she doesn't share their language of "celebs and memes." Alexa encourages Lora to try sharing her interests, and to her surprise she finds friends who are also interested in the supernatural and "weird stuff" that made her feel like an outsider. As Lora navigates an old friendship with Bobby and a new one with Sunni, a high schooler who turns Lora on to spooky podcasts and black lipstick, Alexa acquaints herself the wonders of the 21st century, using Lora's tablet to watch old cartoons from when she was alive. Alexa also begins to remember details from her life, boosting these memories with internet research. When she reveals herself to one of her childhood friends, now a grandmother, Alexa finally learns about her life, realizing that she has used her afterlife to relive her lost childhood through the living children she connects with. In the final climactic scene, Alexa tells Lora it is time for her to leave. She also helps Lora see that the magic she has in her life, magic that brings her so much joy, doesn't come from Alexa, it comes from Lora. Lora has "learned to live magically" all by herself. She created this magic as a kid and she will continue to do it as an adult. Alexa tells Lora that the world is "full of people who keep the magic in their lives. When you see them - and you will - they will recognize you. Young or old. And they will love you."
Yee has written a brilliant graphic novel that not only assures readers that the magic of their imagination is a source of joy that they don't have to abandon for all that comes with becoming a teenager, but shows readers how to navigate their changing world, how to hang on to the parts of themselves they love and integrate the new things, at their own pace. The richness of magic on the page, especially in Yee's richly detailed illustrations, many of which include border art that enhances the story, whether it's frolicking, adorable magical creatures, usually accompanied by sparkles, blowing fall leaves or spiders in their webs. Yee adds to this with a warm fall palette, accentuated with deep greens, all of which lend the cool blues of the ghostly Alexa a strong presence on the page. Yee does a masterful job with bringing Lora to the page, drawing her as happy and confident, even when experiencing difficult emotions. Lora is truly a tween and her Yee's skill at showing her growth on the page - the subtle changes she makes as she incorporates more teenage/adult things into her life - is masterful.
Séance Tea Party is a perfect example of why I love graphic novels - this kind of visual story telling captures and enhances the emotional experience of an event, especially one as mercurial, symbolic and fraught as the transition out of childhood.
***Yee's back matter is generous and enlightening! I especially loved the pages where she shared the "collaborative process [with cover designer Patrick Crotty] with lots of talking and drawing involved" that resulted in the final cover. I have always wondered how the cover design happens and to what degere the artist is involved...