When I agreed to review this Holly Black-Ted Naifeh collaboration, I didn’t notice that it was a graphic novel. When it arrived in the mail I was a bit taken aback. I’m not a huge fan of graphic novels and rarely read them, so theoretically I wouldn’t have been the best audience for this work. As usual, however, Holly Black goes above and beyond my expectations with a really beautiful effort.
In this first volume of The Good Neighbors series, Rue Silver is a troubled girl. Her mother has disappeared, she’s started seeing strange faerie-like people that nobody else can see, one of her father’s students has been found dead, and her father has been arrested. Now the police suspect that her father has killed her missing mother as well. Rue doesn’t believe that her mother is dead, and she sets about investigating her father and the dead girl. Eventually she discovers amazing and frightening things about her family heritage.
Slightly darker than her Spiderwick series yet not as dark as the Tithe novels, Kin is very much a Holly Black story – her view of Faerie is always complicated, generally creepy, and never likely to mesh with, say, Cicely Mary Barker’s Flower Fairy art. Holly’s fey are not pink and they do not sparkle. Ted Naifeh, perhaps best known for his Courtney Crumrin and the Night Things, is a superb choice to interpret Holly Black’s storytelling in art. His fey are deliciously disturbing, exotic and unsettling and yet still mostly beautiful. His “mundane world” characters, such as Rue and her teenage friends, are nice to look at without being impossibly perfect.
As written and as portrayed in the character art, Rue is not your typical Mary Sue – she’s not utterly lovely beyond measure, neither is she a wisecracking super-heroine. She has a delightfully pouty lip thing going on and sometimes her expressions make her look almost ugly. Her friends come off for the most part as typical teenagers, her father is well-drawn as the wacky college professor that he is. Naifeh’s drawings are nearly perfectly balanced on detail – one reason I’ve never liked graphic novels is the tendency for the art to be overly detailed in such a small space, which distracts me from the story. Black and Naifeh combined story and art extremely well here, with enough detail in the artwork to be interesting without actually taking away from the story itself. The drawings are a little Goth, a little punk, and really lovely to explore while following the storyline.
The story is very well done. One of Holly Black’s greatest strengths is that she does not underestimate the sophistication of her young adult audience. She’s writing for the intelligent, well-read, philosophizing and often sexually active teens that many young adult authors would prefer to forget exist. Her teenage characters have relationships, jobs, and independent thoughts just as real teens do these days. Her dialogue is realistic and her stories, especially this one, are interesting to adults as well as to the target audience.
My only complaint about Kin is that the murder mystery is a little too quickly solved, as is the mystery of the identity of Rue Silver’s maternal family line. On the other hand, the plot is advanced enough in this volume that future volumes, coming in 2009 and 2010, have a wide field of available adventures. As Holly Black doesn’t necessarily go where one would expect her to go in her storytelling, I’m looking forward to finding out more about Rue’s family and what else she learns about her very odd mother and her own possible abilities. The authors have definitely left us hanging and tantalized, and The Good Neighbors promises to be as addictive as Black’s other series.
It even has me looking into other graphic novels, and that’s an accomplishment.