First Second Books is slowly winning me over as my favorite publisher of original graphic novels. The range of stories, subject matter and creators is just amazing. Now some of you might be familiar with my complete and total biasness towards anything that Faith Erin Hicks does, but I assure you… this review will be fair and balanced. Hicks actually only serves as the artist on this story as Prudence Shen writes/plots the story of high school shenanigans that involves friendship, cliques and overcoming stereotypes while also dealing with your family.
Charlie stands outside of his high school waiting for his ride when he receives a text break up from his girlfriend Holly. Surprisingly, he handles it pretty well for a high school boy. His neighbor and childhood friend Nate picks him up and begins chewing him out because of his girlfriend. Charlie quickly informs him that they’re broken up and Nate goes on about typical high school stereotypes that include the head cheerleader and captain of the basketball team having to date. Charlie simply holds up his phone and shows Nate the text. Nate’s tone and attitude change into a caring friend as he asks if she at least gave him a reason. Nate moves back into his reasoning for hating Charlie’s now ex-girlfriend as she has asked for the reserve funds in the school’s club budget for new cheerleader uniforms. Nate had plans for this money to take the robotic clubs robot to national competition, but due to them fighting over it… the fate of the money has been turned over to the student council to decide who will receive it.
From there we move into the setup of the book, but also Charlie’s home life. After arriving late you’d expect one or both parents to greet him, but instead he finds a note from his father saying he’ll be out of town until Thursday and that he should call his mother. In Robotics Club, Nate tells the other members the problems with the cheerleaders and his plan to defeat them. It’s simply really; he’s running for student body president. The rest of the members are apprehensive since it’s essentially a popularity contest and Nate is… not popular. The great thing about Nate though, is that he’s already scouted his competition and knows that they’re less popular than he is.
The next day at school Charlie is walking down the halls when he spots the Nate posters. He freaks out because he knows Holly his ex is going to be mad. He confronts Nate about the flyers and such and Nate gives him the brush off. Charlie explains that Holly knows that they know each other and is going to think that he did this to get back at her. Nate is quick to dismiss Charlie’s fears, but with a sheer look of terror he tells Nate, “You have no idea” and runs away. Clearly the cheerleaders are not a force to be trifled with, which is something Nate, will soon learn the hard way.
The outcome of the student body shenanigans puts our two cliques on a crash course with each other as they’re both blocked from the funds and forced to work together to find another way for the two groups to get what they want/need. This comes in the form of a robot battle being held over Thanksgiving weekend and daddy’s credit card.
The robot battle and the two warring cliques serve as nothing more than distractions and the setting for the real story which is Charlie’s home life. He’s coming to an age where he’s no longer able to blindly accept his parent’s faults and has finally come to terms with their divorce and absolutely hates it. He’s upset with his mother for moving away and getting a boyfriend and his father for trying to avoid all of the tough subjects by camping. The other sublevel of the story is high school cliques and childhood friendships. Charlie and Nate have known each other for a long time, but both ignore the other due to their separate groups and interests. It’s strangely mutual, but they both know each other very well and Nate in particular is constantly doing Charlie’s dad favors.
I kept waiting for a real heartfelt moment, but the writing never took me there. The characters were very believable and each had their own separate personalities (except for the evil twins) and that was important due to the group factor. Sure they all love robots, but listening to five of them all talk the same about it would have been terrible. I enjoyed Charlie’s story and his interaction with Nate, but I don’t feel there was a deep enough resolution between him and his parents. There was a ton of buildup, but the outcome that could have been very emotional and moving was just kind of a lesson learned type of situation. Also if the cheerleader has dad’s credit card and is rich I never really understood why she couldn’t manipulate the money from her parents, but that’s probably just me.
I don’t actually need to talk about the art do I? Its Faith Erin Hicks… it’s fantastic. Actually, I found her style to be a bit different for this book as it had a lot of physical comedy and Anime inspired exaggerated facial expressions. It’s good to see that she can switch up aspects of her style to support the story, but without losing the integrity of her overall style. I liked the story, but I loved the art.
I had a fun time with this book and while I kept waiting for it to be emotionally deep and never quite getting there, I still had a fun time with the characters and the strange high school dynamics. It will definitely play off of your nostalgia towards high school, but less with the day to day experience and more with the friends and relationships built. I would say it’s perfect for young readers, but also anyone looking for friendly nostalgia of yester years.
Story by: Prudence Shen
Writer/Artist: Faith Erin Hicks
Publisher: First Second Books
Release Date: 5/7/13
Website: First Second Books
As Faith Erin Hicks pointed out to me on Twitter, she did not simply handle the art duties, but adapted the story from Prudence Shen's script. For more on that you can check out this link.