Jesse is reluctant to travel from Canada to his relative’s home in the Philippines for his Lola’s (grandmother’s) funeral and it’s not because of his annoying cousin. It’s because the cousin who still annoys him has already been dead for several years. Jesse has obviously inherited Lola’s ability to see monsters, dead people, and visions. He doesn’t want to tell his family, but events on this trip may force his hand.
Lola: a Ghost Story
Written by J. Torres; illustrated by Elbert Or
Age Rating: Middle School and up
Oni Press, October 2009, ISBN: 978-1-934964-33-0
106 pages, $14.95
Torres and Or’s tale is the sort of quiet horror story that moves along simply, lulling you into false security, before twisting quickly in another direction right at the end. The details of Jesse’s powers are doled out slowly, not just thrown right at you, and so it’s easy to think that his reluctance to travel is due to being uncomfortable in a different country, being annoyed by his relatives, or just being a young teen. It’s not until we begin to see his visions during Lola’s funeral that we realize just why Jesse is as nervous as he is. Then, as his cousin Maritess begins to try to help him deal with his powers, we think that he might just be alright. Maybe he’ll learn to handle the visions, maybe his parents will be okay with his abilities as they were accepting of Lola’s, maybe things will work out. It’s a comforting thought that makes the final twist work even more effectively.
Or’s art is as quiet as Jesse is. The characters’ rounded faces seem gentle, so when Jesse’s visions of death and decay begin, they are as jarring as a rotting corpse in a flower bed. But even though Or’s art can be shocking, this is still horror that is appropriate for most middle school audiences. The blood and guts are kept to a minimum, used sparingly for effect, with only three pages having zombie-style (meaning: guts falling out) illustrations. The horror is built more from the looks on Jesse’s face. He is tortured by what he sees, pained by the knowledge that the world isn’t the safe, easy place that many people believe it to be. Maritess’ respect for Jesse’s abilities and her slight jealousy of his inheritance of Lola’s powers is evident on her face, but that look soon begins to fade as she realizes what his visions have cost him.
Though readers are left unsure of Jesse’s fate at the end of this volume–and though there is no guarantee of a second volume–that ending works perfectly for the type of horror this story is. Jesse’s world is not safe, even if his story has a folkloric, almost old-fashioned quality to parts of it. The ending reminds us that he has issues beyond our ken to deal with at a very young age and we can’t help but be sympathetic to them, even as we shudder at what he sees. Though the oversized format and the bright cover might not catch the eye of horror readers, with some booktalking this title is sure to find an audience.
This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © Oni Press.