Kin (The Good Neighbors Book 1), by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh

Kin (The Good Neighbors, Book 1), a graphic novel by Holly Black and Ted Naifeh (Graphix 2008, p 117, YA).

Here's a graphic novel that combines urban fairies, a suspenseful mystery, and dark family secrets with dark and brooding drawings. It was a finalist for the Cybils Awards in the YA Graphic Novel category, recommendation enough to tempt even a non-graphic novel reader such as myself (so what follows is reaction rather than review).

Rue's life has imploded. Her mother has been gone for three weeks, and now her father is in jail, a suspect in both the mother's disappearance and in the murder of one of his college students. On top of that, she has begun to see things--strange things. Fairy things, but, this being Holly Black of Tithe fame, these are not Flower Fairies at the bottom of the garden. Quite the opposite. And one of the most un-Flower-Fairy-like of these creatures is claiming to be her missing mother's father, and is challenging Rue to embrace the non-human side of her own nature. The human/fairy city that Rue now inhabits is dissolving into chaos too, with impossible vines engulfing its buildings. Rue is faced with the mother (pun intended) of all identity crises. In her own words: "A lot of kids have this fantasy that secretly they're really the princess of a foreign country. Turns out that pretty much sucks" (p. 79).

The graphic novel formal works well for Rue's story. Sharing Rue's visual field, the reader begins to see the strange fantastic others without knowing who they are and what they mean, coming face to face with strange and scary things along with her. And because the story is broken up into frames (it is, after all, a graphic novel), which feels like a very jumpy way of story-telling to me, I felt that I shared Rue's confusion and lack of a coherent reality in a very immediate, empathetically engaged way. This is not by any means a suggestion that Black is not telling a coherent story--she is, and I thought it was an interesting one, although not wildly original. However, I think my confusion was in large part my own problem rather than an extension of Rue's, perhaps because I have too a hard time taking my eyes off the words to read any graphic novel easily. But it was a feeling that seemed to suit the story.

Just out of curiosity--do any other really fast readers out there have terrible trouble reading slowly enough to look at the pictures in graphic novels? I get so caught up in reading the story that I forget that the pictures are telling the story too. So I end up confused. I am also uncertain about what makes the illustrations of a graphic novel Good, because, like I said, I have trouble stopping to look at them. In this case, they are pretty dark, literally, so it required even more work to see what the heck was happening than is necessary for, say, Jellaby, the one graphic novel that I truly love*. I am never going to raise my hand to be on the Cybils graphic novel panel.

My conclusion--I didn't mind reading it at all, and it is easy to imagine lots of urban-fairy-book-loving people who will love it. I'll probably read the second book, but I'm not panting to. Maybe I should practice first. Perhaps one graphic novel a month, building up to one a week...

Writer Zack Smith has a great interview with Holly Black where they chat about how this book came to be, and at Tor there's a fascinating look at the 19th-century murder of a suspected changeling that inspired Black.

Other reviews and comments can be found at:

The Excelsior File

Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Mrs. Hill's Book Blog
Gail Gauthier's Original Content
Read About Comics

and many more places. It's a fascinatingly mixed bag...

ps: here's something I hate that seems to be prevalent in the graphic novel genre. It is really hard to tell what is the title of the book and what is the title of the series. I think the book title should be bigger than the series title. I could have sworn I was reading a book called The Good Neighbors, first in a series called Kin. Hmph. But is that pathetically last year/decade/century of me?

*and speaking of Jellaby (which was also a Cybils finalist), Jellaby: Monster in the City is coming out April 21st...


  1. "I get so caught up in reading the story that I forget that the pictures are telling the story too."

    I have the same problem! I normally read graphic novels twice. Once to read the words and another time to see what I missed by looking at the pictures. I can't get used to reading both the words and the pictures, I guess.

  2. Yes yes yes about the reading fast/graphic novels! And wordless books, especially complex ones like Flotsam, totally throw me for a loop.

  3. Flotsam I could cope with, but The Arrival and I just don't click.

    There are, however, a few wordless ones I love-the Owly books, which are mostly wordless, the 2 Polo books, and Tuesday...

  4. I've been eying this one for awhile. I think I have the opposite problem as you though. I look at the pictures and sometimes forget to read the words! Maybe that's just cause I don't read that many graphic novels and haven't trained myself properly. :)

  5. I enjoyed this one, too - and I empathize with your pictures/words issue. It used to be worse for me, if that's any consolation - I'm finding that the more graphic novels I read, the easier it has become for me to fall into a natural, picture/text rhythm. But even so, I often find myself having to backtrack to make sure I didn't miss anything important. :-)


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