Sunday, December 29, 2019

Review - Mooncakes

by Suzanne Walker
illustrated by Wendy Xu
Date: 2019
Publisher: Lion Forge
Reading level: YA
Book type: graphic novel
Pages: 259
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Suzanne Walker's and Wendy Xu's graphic novel based on their webcomic Mooncakes, which follows long-lost childhood crushes Nova Huang and Tam Lang as they struggle through bills, family, and the supernatural in ways that only a witch and a werewolf can.

A story of love and demons, family and witchcraft.

Nova Huang knows more about magic than your average teen witch. She works at her grandmothers' bookshop, where she helps them loan out spell books and investigate any supernatural occurrences in their New England town.

One fateful night, she follows reports of a white wolf into the woods, and she comes across the unexpected: her childhood crush, Tam Lang, battling a horse demon in the woods. As a werewolf, Tam has been wandering from place to place for years, unable to call any town home.

Pursued by dark forces eager to claim the magic of wolves and out of options, Tam turns to Nova for help. Their latent feelings are rekindled against the backdrop of witchcraft, untested magic, occult rituals, and family ties both new and old in this enchanting tale of self-discovery.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

I was seeing lots of buzz for this graphic novel a few months ago. I started it, but kind of lost interest. I wanted to finish by the end of the year, so I plowed ahead and got through it. While it's not the worst graphic novel I've ever read, it's definitely not one of my favourites.

I didn't actually realize that this is based on a webcomic until I read the synopsis (after I'd already read most of the book). I think that was part of my problem: I'd never seen the webcomic, and so parts of the story felt forced, contrived, or very sudden. I'd seen readers squealing over the relationship between Nova and Tam, but when I finally read the book, I didn't see what they were seeing. Coming to the book without any sort of knowledge of their previous relationship, I thought it all seemed very insta-lovey to me. Tam shows back up in town after a prolonged absence, and within a few hours they and Nova are making out.

And let's talk about that for a moment. It was too much. At one point, when the villain tells Nova to run back to her little friend, Nova says: "I will! And I'm going to make out with them while I'm at it!" Now, I know teenagers can be wrapped up in their hormones, but when you're trying to save your friend from demonic possession, why are you thinking about making out?

Much seems to have been made about the fact that Tam is a non-binary character. I don't really care about that (well, except for the fact that every time I read "them" my brain immediately tried to figure out what group of people was being talked about; English really needs some standard, singular, gender-neutral pronouns). What I do care about is whether the character is a good character. I'm not going to give extra points just because the book is trying to be diverse. Tam has a potentially interesting backstory, but with the way this book starts, we're kind of dropped in way too late... which makes the reader reliant on flashbacks and overt telling to figure out what Tam's life was like before their reconnection with Nova. The rest of the characters are okay, too, with an interesting family dynamic: grandmothers, ghost parents, a cousin with a strange magical affliction... But, like I said, we're dropped into this story too late for it to make much sense to someone who hasn't read the webcomic.

I guess I might recommend this to fans of the webcomic, but I can't really recommend it to readers who aren't already familiar with Nova and Tam. The story isn't strong enough to stand on its own (which is unfortunate, given all the potential that's there) and the climax comes across as a little hackneyed and cliched.

Thank you to NetGalley and Lion Forge for providing a digital ARC.

Plot: 2/5
Characters: 2/5
Pace: 2/5
Writing & Editing: 2/5
Illustration: 3/5
Originality: 3/5

Enjoyment: 2/5

Overall Rating: 2.25 out of 5 ladybugs

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