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posted February 27, 2013
Cecil Castellucci, Sara Varon
First Second Books, hardcover, 2013, $15.99.
There are a bunch of factors going on with comics aimed at kids that make them a more difficult review, depending on your priorities in approach that particular task. Comics for kids frequently overlap with illustrated prose in terms of content choices, in a way that renders a lot of them formulaic and uninteresting to an adult reader. "Adult reader" is the key, of course, because kids don't bring those same standards to their reading. I know I've had severe reactions to work that my friends tell me their children love. It could be that younger readers work out of a fresher viewpoint just by virtue of their being new to a lot of different kinds of stories, and it could be that readers of a certain age react to story elements that completely elude older, tired eyes.
I liked this Odd Duck
book. The story is now great shakes. Mismatched neighbors move near to one another and through our primary viewpoint character we get the story of the strange person in her immediate vicinity, how her appreciation of those qualities progresses, and how it eventually teaches her to step outside of herself and see her own offbeat qualities in a more human way. I would have to imagine that this is a lesson a lot of kids could use, told in a way where it's at a far enough remove not to come off as a junior-league ethics lecture. The strength, however, is in the details. Some of that is Castellucci. For instance, I think the number of quirks through which we rifle as reader is pretty perfectly pitched so as to establish that endearing, odd quality the character in question evinces without drowning a younger reader in detail.
Much of what's noteworthy about the work comes from Sara Varon, however. Her figures are idealized without communicating perfection in form. They seem hunched, even crumpled. Varon also find a nice rhythm switching between panel progressions and tableau, and has no problem changing our perspective by noodling with the size of the figures in the tableaux represented by specific pages or segments of same. If nothing else, it may be worth noting that I took this book off of the shelf to give it a review because I wanted to see it again.