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Adult Books 4 Teens
Inside Adult Books 4 Teens

Love, Devotion and a Ghost

from graphic novel guest blogger, Francisca Goldsmith:

Derek McCulloch (Stagger Lee, 2006) and Colleen Doran (Manga Man, 2011) bring some subtle and essential skills to this project: each knows how to work with a creative teammate; their points of departure are the male and female; and literary and visual tropes are available to them as good tools for creating a wholly new story.

The tripart nature of Gone to Amerikay echoes the musical form that serves as the plot’s launching pad: a thoroughly contemporary rich man pursues the genesis of a ballad that has long fascinated him. In turn, we meet the subject of that ballad, and the balladeer: three generations tangled in the song, each with its period piece distractions, dangers, and politics.

And the ghost? In spite of being a latecomer to what is essentially a ghost story, his arrival is compelling, perfectly placed, and as credible as many Irish-inspired supernatural memes have been for readers, music lovers, and artists across the generations.

But wait, there’s more!  Not only is this excellent fiction and beautifully rendered art, but the creators have included piles of factual information without making any of it seem more than essential to the story’s unfolding. We have the opportunity to see explicitly the class system of 1870’s immigrant New York City; the electoral buzz around JFK’s Presidential bid in 1960; and the difficulty of getting to be truly alone when one is a corporate big wig in 2010.  Sexual politics also find explicit but artistically necessary exposure, particularly in the 1870 (women facing the assumed dominance of men) and the 1960 portions (pre-Stonewall homosexuality as an offense).

To make the experience of this story complete, just introduce it with some Irish songs from across the years—but not “Danny Boy,” as a character here will explain.

MCCULLOCH, Derek. Gone to Amerikay. illus. by Colleen Doran and José Villarrubia. 144p. Vertigo. 2012. Tr $24.99. ISBN 978-1-4012-2351-9. LC number unavailable.  Gone to Amerikay

Adult/High School–Three intertwined stories reveal both individual and generational experiences by disparate immigrants to New York City from Ireland. In rich colors and fine visual detail, readers follow, in 1870, a mother, apparently abandoned by her husband who remained in Ireland, and her toddler; a gifted balladeer attached romantically and as a singing duo to a self promoter, as they try to find an American audience in 1960; and a billionaire whose wife, in 2010, shows him how she’s unraveled the mystery of the song that he’s loved since boyhood. McCulloch’s plotting allows each story to be told as thoroughly as readers need to understand the whole, as well as to become acquainted with the realities faced by 19th-century women without reliable male protection; mid-20th century homosexuals; and a man whose curiosity and interest reach well beyond his megamoney. Doran’s images are spread through variously sized panels as well as full-page scenes, providing views of tenement housing, thieves’ dens, an unsettled ghost, and modern jet-set trappings. In addition to the main characters, the supporting cast adds texture and depth through the roles played by Jews and other immigrants in New York’s working class economy, friendships that reach across race and age, and other friendships that fracture due to greed. The ghost story itself is satisfying and unexpected. McCulloch and Doran work as a team to create a unified vision and crescendo of revelations.–Francisca Goldsmith, Infopeople Project, CA

Angela Carstensen About Angela Carstensen

Angela Carstensen is Head Librarian and an Upper School Librarian at Convent of the Sacred Heart in New York City. Angela served on the Alex Awards committee for four years, chairing the 2008 committee, and chaired the first YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adult committee in 2009. Recently, she edited Outstanding Books for the College Bound: Titles and Programs for a New Generation (ALA Editions, 2011). Contact her via Twitter @AngeReads.


  1. […] School Library Journal (also picked Gone to Amerikay as one of the top three graphic novel picks so far for 2012. Not only is this excellent fiction and beautifully rendered art, but the creators have included piles of factual information without making any of it seem more than essential to the story’s unfolding. […]