Friends With Boys
by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second, 2012)

Tomboyish Maggie McKay has a pretty full plate. She's a homeschooled teenager who's about to enter public high school for the very first time, with no friends other than her three older brothers. Her mother left the family a few months before and, on top of all that, the melancholy, mysterious ghost of a sea captain's widow is following her around.

It's a wonder how she ever figured out where to eat lunch, let alone how to survive in a place that initially overwhelms her. But being cute and sweet helps a lot. Of course, she immediately runs into the central issue facing all highschoolers: bullying, the social pecking order and how to make choices that don't force you to compromise yourself.

Right away, Maggie befriends two other social outcasts, the pierced and mohawked team of Lucy and her older brother, Alistair, who help her figure out the mystery of the ghost, who, as it turns out, died of a broken heart after losing her husband and three children in a storm.

There are several other mysteries to be solved, as well, such as why outcast Alistair, who used to be one of the popular mean kids, is no longer popular nor a mean kid, and why Maggie's mother left.

There's a lot of story in this short novel, and though it isn't tied up in a neat bundle at the end, there are indeed answers. The plot moves well and the panels are packed. Hicks made excellent use of her narrative space, both physically and textually. The art is very expressive, clean and well-designed. The bold lines are a perfect visual match for the strong and likeable characters, making for a fast and fun read with a strong emotional core that resonates with messages about family, friends, gender, fitting in and being yourself.

The touch of paranormal isn't indulgent so much as it is a metaphor for the things that haunt us on a daily basis. It's interesting how Maggie tries, with all of the problems she has, to find a way to bring the ghost peace, only to discover that the ghost must find what her missing pieces are on her own (much like Maggie's missing mother).

The characters are lovable, the art is top drawer, the humor is spot on and the offbeat but heartfelt story makes for a very engaging read. If you liked Anya's Ghost you'll love Friends with Boys.

review by
Mary Harvey

9 March 2013

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