Title: Will-O-the-Wisp: An Aurora Grimeon Story
Authors: Tom Hammock and Megan Hutchinson
Star Rating: * * *
Genre: Graphic Novel, Mystery, Paranormal
NOTE: Review copy obtained via NetGalley.
After her parents died from accidentally ingesting poisonous mushrooms, Aurora is sent to live with her estranged grandfather deep in the southern swamps. Not only must she contend with this cantankerous old man, but she must figure out how to fit in with the diverse residents of Ossuary Isle. When strange occurrences begin to happen, she starts to explore the realm of Hoodoo magic alongside a priestess from the swamp in order to protect her new community from a vengeful spirit.
Will-o-the-Wisp is an eerie story for middle school age youth about magic, ghosts, and community. Aurora is a sad, but quietly strong and adaptable character that strives to create a new life for herself in a strange and challenging situation.
What really stood out for me in Will-o-the-Wisp were the character and environment designs. I am a total sucker for pale girls in stripy stockings, and I really enjoyed the sharpness of the illustrations. The art also makes the volume feel dark and moody which is very fitting for this type of story.
Finally, I also appreciated the fact that there were consequences in this story, and that people died. It can be easy to shy away from difficult subjects in a book for the middle school crowd, but I thought the authors managed a good balance of horror for a younger audience.
Several of the transition scenes in Will-o-the-Wisp were awkward. The story does not always flow naturally, and the cuts between scenes can be abrupt and confusing, or simply incomplete. However, as the story progressed, this problem lessened as the authors seemed to become more comfortable in their world, and the narrative became smoother and more organic.
Additionally, while I really enjoyed the art design, the art itself is inconsistent. There are times when the illustrations make it difficult to understand what is going on in the story, and the pages are muddy and undetailed.
As someone who is interested in diversity in literature, particularly in literature aimed at youth, I was disappointed that Will-o-the-Wisp did not have a racialised protagonist. The story is set in the deep south in a community filled with Black people, and much of the plot centres on Hoo Doo, a traditionally Black religion. Having the protagonist be a spunky white girl who saves the community is problematic because she operates as a white saviour. There was no reason that Aurora had to be white, and making her Black would allowed the authors to avoid some of the unfortunate implications of their current work, as well as to add another racialised main character to a body of literature that is sorely lacking in diversity.
One thing to note when picking up this book is that HooDoo plays a rather significant role in Will-o-the-Wisp. While it is never portrayed in a negative light, I have no idea whether the story dealt with this subject in a realistic and fully respectful manner. It is used as a mystical and supernatural tool that can be used by anyone who wishes to learn, including the white protagonist (which invokes many conversations about cultural appropriation, but I’ll leave that discussion for readers that are much more informed about the topic than I am).
Will-o-the-Wisp is a neat little graphic novel that is probably quite appealing to teens. While the story sometimes stumbles, it’s a fun read overall that I would recommend for those looking for a dark, but uplifting story for middle schoolers. I certainly hope that it becomes a series!