By Dustin Cabeal
Once upon a time seems like a good place to start. That is who Cici’s Journal begins, and I have admittedly been staring at the screen trying to find an opening for this review. Usually, when I start a review I know the tone, be it positive or negative, I know where I stand. The only time this is a struggle is when there are numerous pluses and minuses of the work being reviewed. It leaves you trying to find a starting point because once the review gets started you trust that you’ll figure it all out. At least, that’s how I review, but I’m probably a terrible example.
Cici, the star of the story, is a young girl that loves mysteries and won’t stop chasing a lead. It's strange that she’s billed as a writer and not a journalist because her passion seems more in line with the latter. Given that this is a journal there is a lengthy opening journal entry from Cici, and it runs down the characters and gives some background for Cici and the world we’re about to dive into. It is a bit of a cheat and at times feels unnecessary for the overall story, but some readers like the journal entry style to stories.
Cici covers two mysteries in this volume. The first is wonderful, but also not very believable. It’s quaint in a kid’s story kind of way. In fact, the second story has a bit of unbelievability to it as well, which is something that unites both tales. In the first, we learn that Cici lies to her mom a lot. It’s not clear why she feels the need to, or maybe I didn’t absorb the information from the journal, but it seems as if her mother is overly worried about Cici. Cici’s friends are forced to lie for her and start to get uncomfortable about lying all the time. This causes a riff as Cici gets more absorbed in her mystery than developing her relationships.
Which is why I go back and forth on the quality of this story. If it had been kept simple, a young girl chasing a good story and getting wrapped up in the mystery, but then solving it and doing something wonderful at the end. That would be a hell of a story on its own. But that’s not all there is to the story. Especially during the second mystery in which Cici loses her friends, uses her adult friend that happens to be her writing idol and worries her mother even more. Granted the arc has some great development for Cici as a character, but it has the negative effect on the supporting characters that were affected. Particularly her childhood friends that practically say the same two lines every time they show up in the story. It’s the equivalent of “She doesn’t care, she’s wrapped up in her mystery” and “That’s our Cici!” Even their makeup scene felt a bit hollow and self-serving for Cici.
Then there are the wonderful mysteries, which aren’t particularly mysterious, just that Cici is curious about these people. The first is a man walking off into the woods with cans of paint. His story is heartfelt and a bit sad. It’s a look back at an era that has past, and while Cici and the man are able to bring some of that magic back, there’s the harsh reality that it’ll likely fade again, and that’s not me adding my thoughts, that’s from the story. The second story is about a woman that checks out the same book every week. She returns it and checks it back out every week for years and years. Her story is also heartfelt and a look back at a bygone time.
As I continue to go back and forth with this story the one big plus that it has, is that it made me think about the story for a long while. Not just the time spent in front of a blank screen, but after reading it as well. Parts of the story that I liked and disliked would pop into my head. To writer Joris Chamblain’s credit, that is a rare feat to accomplish with me. Especially after I review something, I’m usually done thinking about a story, but even know as I write this review the other part of my head is reviewing the story over and over. Asking questions and wondering about the next volume.
What also makes this a strange hybrid of maturity and childlike mystery is the art from Aurélie Neyret which tows the same line. At times, it’s wonderful and could just be a vibrant, fun-loving story. At other times, there’s so much angst and emotion. Cici’s mother constantly looks sad when dealing with her daughters lies. The two people Cici helps have heavy hearts that are worn on their faces. Neyret could have kept it simple, but like Chamblain’s writing, it’s complex and filled with layers. The only part that didn’t excel was the journal entries that continue to feel out of place in the story. The linework is very clean, but because of how wonderful the coloring is you can hardly see the lines. It’s very vibrant and alive. There’s a motion to the panels and energy coming from the page. The artwork looks more like an animation than still images due to the powerful artwork from Neyret.
Ultimately, this is a hell of a story. That’s the conclusion I came to while reviewing and reflecting on the story. There are some bumps in the road, the underdeveloped supporting characters feel more like checkboxes than strong supporting characters. The journal entries spoil what could be some great character development and end up filling like filler. On the plus side, this story tells so much of itself through the artwork and what it doesn’t cover comes from wonderful mysteries and a little girl that talks and acts like a little girl, for the most part. Even now, there are little elements I’m teetering between, but that just says it all does it not? If it weren’t a good story, if it weren’t a good book, I wouldn’t give it nearly as much thought.
Cici’s Journal: The Adventures of a Writer-in-Training
First Second Books