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Review: Birdhouse

An elderly king removed from the world of commoners. A palace cook roped into playing assassin. A princess confined to her rooms. A royal fiancé trapped between his duty to his king and that which he owes to his future bride. All of these collide in a story that is part fairy-tale, part contemporary dysfunctional family.

Vernon White
Age Rating: Young Adult
SLG Publishing, February 2010, ISBN: 978-1-59362-185-8
136 pages, $10.95

White’s debut graphic novel is quiet and methodical, but almost too much so at times. He does an excellent job of setting up a feeling of claustrophobia, though. All of his characters are trapped in some way, locked into lives they don’t like and can’t seem to change. In one scene, the king makes his future son-in-law Wilson promise to never leave him, "Promise you’ll stay here and protect me forever." Readers can see the reluctance on Wilson’s face and understand that he feels as though he has no other option but to stay and serve, his own personal interests shoved to the side. But Wilson is the easiest character to read. Others are harder to identify with, especially the princess. We’re told that she wants to leave the palace and see other places, but it is never clear why she can’t leave. If she’s done so in the past, then why is she prevented from travel now? The lack of understanding makes her seem petty, especially considering the fates of those who do struggle to make changes, both for good and ill.

Simple black-and-white art sets the story comfortably both in the realm of fantasy and in the everyday. The princess, with old-fashioned blush spots on her cheeks, and the king never remove their crowns, even in bed, but once the action leaves the castle people travel in cars, smoke cigarettes, and live in suburbs. The blend of the two realities is not jarring. It simply makes the story seem more allegorical. Unfortunately some characters are too close in design to easily tell apart, especially the two young men who try to help the princess escape. They are so similar that scenes can be hard to place in time and readers will be confused. Several bloody deaths, which are harsh, but not gory, and a character who is a constant pot smoker, as well as the complex emotions of the story make the story for older teen readers. Luckily, they are exactly the right audience to empathize with the characters. White’s first work isn’t a perfect start, but he’s definitely one to watch.

This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher. All images copyright © SLG Publishing.

Snow Wildsmith About Snow Wildsmith

Snow Wildsmith is a writer and former teen librarian. She has served on several committees for the American Library Association/Young Adult Library Services Association, including the 2010 Michael L. Printz Award Committee. She reviews graphic novels for Booklist, ICv2's Guide, No Flying No Tights, and Good Comics for Kids and also writes booktalks and creates recommended reading lists for Ebsco's NoveList database. Currently she is working on her first books, a nonfiction series for teens.

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