Connie Bennett, Director of the Eugene Public Library, reviews "Bad Houses,” a graphic novel written by Sara Ryan and illustrated by Carla Speed McNeil.
Despite the way the genre has blossomed in recent years, I’m not much of a graphic novel reader. I’ve tried only a handful of these popular illustrated stories, although I avidly read issues of Superman, Archie, and the Illustrated Classics as a kid. But I’ve been a friend and fan of award-winning Portland author Sara Ryan since meeting her on a librarian’s tour of Cuba over a decade ago, so I explored “Bad Houses,” her first full-length graphic novel, with an open mind. It was released last month by Darkhorse.
I was pleasantly surprised by the complexity of the story, which is set in Failin, Oregon, a formerly thriving timber town, filled with abandoned things, and secret pasts. Lewis and his mother run a business to organize estate sales. Anne lives in an increasingly claustrophobic “bad” house with her mother, a hoarder. While the older residents have become bitter and cynical, teenagers Anne and Lewis excavate through the relics to uncover the interconnecting secrets of their hometown and their own families. And, of course, they fall in love.
The well-crafted writing is enhanced by illustrator McNeil’s visual elements – possessions, old photographs, the abandoned brewery – and by the nicely flowing layout. I was charmed by the recurring detail, such as the messages in a church sign or the use of a paperclip.
With its themes of relationships between parents and children, family secrets, and the tyranny of possessions, “Bad Houses” is perfect reading for the holiday season.