An Aurora Grimeon Story: Will O’ the Wisp is a comic with a strong female protagonist that I almost didn’t read. That would have been a mistake!
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Here’s what happened. When I saw the book in Previews (the comics’ industry’s catalog), I thought it looked too much like another book I’m already reading. Then the illustrator, Megan Hutchison, contacted me about a possible review. She provided a digital review copy, which made it easy to take a peek and left no excuses for skipping it. What I found is that Will O’ The Wisp is definitely its own thing. My official apologies to Hutchison and to author Tom Hammock for my pre-conceptions!
Here’s the plot in a nutshell. Teenager Aurora Grimeon is sent to live with her grandfather after her parents’ deaths. He lives in a remote, swampy area on a cemetery island. He’s not much into the local Hoodoo, but the rest of the residents are, so he encourages Aurora to go along to get along. She really takes to it, though, in large part due to a growing friendship with local wise woman Mama Nonnie. It’s a little sad at times as Aurora wonders if she’ll ever feel at home, or win her grandfather’s approval. When something evil starts attacking the community, though, such concerns are left aside as everyone has to pull together to stop it.
I really liked Aurora! She’s a realistic mix of unsure, scared, self-reliant, and brave. She finds her place during the course of the book and I enjoyed watching that process. She’s out of her element, but she doesn’t throw temper tantrums even when she has a hard time. Instead she perseveres. Aurora is a strong female character, by which I mean resilient, fully developed in the story, and not stereotyped. I always love to see that in comics. The relationship between her and her grandfather isn’t plotted quite as well as the main storyline of the evil in the swamp, but I gave it a little slack because both characters are well developed and I was rooting for them to get it sorted out.
The art is very expressive with characters’ emotions. It’s often as if they’re drawn how they feel, more than how they look. And Hutchison’s illustrations and Adam Guzowski’s colors make it easy to see what’s happening even in low-light situations. That’s a blessing in a “spooky” book where a lot of the action takes place at night.
Here’s the book trailer on YouTube so you can get a taste:
I especially appreciated that the residents of this diverse Southern rural community, most of whom would probably be classified as living in poverty, are treated with respect by the story and the art. They aren’t freaky aliens with strange ways that Aurora has to learn to put up with. They’re human beings with their own culture and customs, that her immigrant self needs to learn more about, and she behaves accordingly. Mama Nonnie’s character edges up to the Magical Negro trope, but I think it avoids that trap. She’s more than a springboard for Aurora’s action. She’s a human being who has relationships, not just a plot device. The community works together to stop the evil that’s threatening the island, and Aurora’s key role is more about earning her way into the community than being a chosen one / savior empowered by Mama Nonnie’s character.
Curiosity piqued? There’s a website for the book, Ossuary Isle, which you can explore. Will O’ The Wisp comes out in hardback on January 28th. It was first published digitally on Comixology, so you can get it there too if you’re more into digital. The Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA) nominated the book in the category Great Graphic Novels for Teens (2014) so it’s definitely worth a look.
Thanks to Megan Hutchison for reaching out! I might have missed this book otherwise, and that would have been a shame.