Books for Babes provides info on the sort of comics that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike. This week we recommend ‘The Altered History of Willow Sparks’, an all-new original graphic novel out March 6 from Oni Press.
By Stefania Rudd. It’s a familiar tale: High school girl is deemed uncool and nerdy by the popular crowd, high school girl at least has close pals to help her through it, high school girl falls down the steps of her library basement only to discover a magical book that she can write in to change the course of her life.
Okay, okay so maybe it isn’t that familiar. However, this is the precise tale the protagonist of Tara O’Connor’s graphic novel, The Altered History of Willow Sparks, is living through.
Willow “Willy” Sparks is your average teen trying to make it through high school. She’s concerned about her looks (her hair is too short and won’t grow and also there’s some acne), she doesn’t have a ton of money, and she solidifies her perceived nerdiness by spending too much time at the library. Sure, she also works there, but she spends her free time there, as well.
Her two best pals, Georgia and Gary, are also going through the same teen tribulations, though the three of them are quite loyal and supportive of one another. However, a strange turn of events allows Willy to see what life could be like as one of the popular kids. Naturally, it comes at a cost.
Being one of those good, trustworthy teens means the head librarian, Mr. Ages, trusts Willy to close up on her own. As she prepares to lock up one night, Willy finds the popular trio of Jenny, Jill, and Perry loitering and things get physical. Jill shoves Willy and she tumbles down the stairs, landing in a spot of the library she has never seen before.
Surrounded by books with people’s names along their spines, Willy, to her surprise, finds one with her name on it. The pages are filled with the story of her life, leading to this exact moment in time. She also finds a pen inside that reads “for emergencies only.”
Willy decides to test this book by writing some of her wishes in it. As I’m sure you can guess, she wakes up in the morning to find that her acne has cleared, her hair has a glowing sheen, and she just feels good about herself. When she gets to school she starts turning heads, especially Georgia’s. As the story progresses, Willy becomes enthralled with the changes she can make for herself, and as much as she tries to hold on to what she was, she finds that she is turning into someone she doesn’t recognize. Not only is she hanging out with the cool kids, going to parties, and dressing in trendy clothes, she is also physically changing in unappealing ways with each entry into her book. It’s only when she realizes how far she has gone that she reaches out for help.
O’Connor does a wonderful job of creating a recognizable world of high school haves and have-nots. The characters are pretty standard in this trope, though O’Connor puts her own spin on it by bringing in supernatural elements to play out alongside the ups and downs of being a teen.
As much as I enjoyed the quick-moving pace of the story, I felt it became rushed at times; places where characters could have developed further were only touched on with a few panels before the story moved on. I know that this book could have ended up twice as long, but really, I don’t think anyone would have minded the added focus considering how enjoyable this story turned out to be.
What’s fascinating is the ways O’Connor goes about rendering her world. As the book’s illustrator, she uses blueish grays, blacks, and whites as her color palette, giving the book a timeless appeal. Her characters are fleshed out in ways that define both their personalities and status. The popular kids are tall, slender, angular, and dressed ostensibly the same. Willy, Georgia, and Gary, on the other hand, each have defining features, clothing, and accessories that provide them more personality and life. They’re individuals, and O’Connor pays them the proper respect.
For tweens, teens, and those who have since moved on from the byzantine hallways of high school, The Altered History of Willow Sparks is a relatable and gorgeously realized tale of identity and responsibility. As Willy learns, through perhaps the most fantastic way possible, to truly accept yourself you must first learn to love who you are. That’s an important message, provided to us by an exciting talent.
Written and illustrated by Tara O’Connor.
This book contains bullying, alcohol at parties, and teen situations.
Age range 12-15; 16 and up
The collected edition of ‘The Altered History of Willow Sparks’ hits stores March 6.
That’s it for this week! Has Books For Babes helped you out at all? We want to know! Feel free to send feedback our way in the comments section below.