MMGM and #IMWAYR (2/1/2021): Snapdragon by Kat Leyh

Welcome to February! This month, I'm doing something a bit unconventional with my reviews: I am reviewing four graphic novels (that's not the unconventional part, obviously) that all feature witches/supposed witches/other related spookiness. I noticed I had a ridiculous volume of books like this on my to-be-read shelves, and since there's no time to review spooky books like February*, I'm getting started on this unusual adventure with a delightfully bizarre graphic novel: Snapdragon by Kat Leyh.

*Actually, there is a much better time to review books like this, but it wouldn't be the first time my Halloween reading occurred during not-Halloween.

          I've seen many bloggers enjoying this graphic novel over the past few months, and since I love graphic novels, I decided to finally pick up a copy and see what all of the fuss was about. Snapdragon's protagonist, Snapdragon Bloom (or Snap for short), lives with her single mother in a trailer park right near the home of a rumored witch. Snap is bullied at school and considered weird, so she mostly avoids her classmates and does her own thing. After her beloved dog Good Boy disappears, Snap goes to the witch's house and confronts her only to find that she is just a harmless if grouchy old woman named Jacks, who makes a living selling the skeletons of roadkill online (yes, you read that right). Snap is appropriately weirded out by this fact, but she also becomes intrigued by Jacks's work and starts helping her with it, forming a bond with her in the process. But as Snap gets closer to Jacks (while also navigating another middle-school friendship), she discovers that Jacks is surprisingly intertwined with her family history—and that she might have magic after all.

          If you are looking for a totally feel-good read to escape this totally-not-feel-good time we live in, you should definitely consider Snapdragon! Snapdragon's vibe as a story is one of delight and whimsy. Snapdragon never takes itself too seriously, and if it has to choose between realism and fun, it chooses fun, whether in skipping clichéd if "realistic" scenes or in having characters say hilarious lines even if people might not actually say those in the moment. Because Snapdragon doesn't take itself too seriously, you won't either, and you'll allow yourself (as I did) to enjoy this delightful story without dissecting the confusing or flawed moments (I mean, besides the whole dissection that I attempt in the second-to-last paragraph of this post). And yet, Snapdragon nevertheless manages to cram in some valuable topics and ideas, making this a far more memorable and important story than it might seem from the description. The vibe of this book is assisted by author/illustrator Kat Leyh's fantastic art style—her drawings and colors (she acts as the colorist) are super-energetic and full of life, with constantly changing color schemes setting different scenes and sections apart well. The facial expressions of characters like Snap and Jacks are both vivid and hilarious, further helping to put readers right in the midst of this unique story.

          One of the best parts of Snapdragon is Snap herself. "Content" is a word that describes Snap well. Rather than attempting to transform herself into someone else or clamoring for friends, Snap is perfectly happy with her unique interests and exasperated-yet-excitable demeanor. Snap isn't just confident, she's pretty much fearless—I mean, she barges into a supposed witch's house to save her dog! Snap essentially forces herself into readers' hearts—it is pretty much impossible not to like her! Snap makes two friends throughout the story, the aforementioned Jacks as well as Lulu, who accept her for who she is and allow her to accept them for who they are. I want to give Lulu the spotlight for a moment as well, because she and her friendship with Snap (which includes horror movies, spooky stories, and dancing) are utterly delightful! Lulu is particularly exciting because she is transgender, and Snap actually meets her before she transitions but continues to accept her and help her out once she does. It's awesome that this book models for kids that a friend or loved one coming out as transgender is perfectly OK and does not change who they are. (Also, I'm glad that Snap makes a friend her own age—I love the child-befriends-old-person stories as much as anyone else, but they aren't super-realistic.)

          OK, now we need to talk about Jacks. Jacks is so great! Jacks is sort of like a cactus—she has a spiny outside (which, let's be real, she enjoys having) but a soft inside. (I think cacti have soft insides. Right?) Just as Snap enjoys hearing Jacks's crazy life stories and helping her reassemble the skeletons, Jacks enjoys the attention and help and grows to love Snap as well. The reason author/illustrator Kat Leyh came up with for why Jacks collects roadkill skeletons to sell is, bizarrely, utterly heartwarming! Jacks always manages to be not quite the character you expect, which makes her that much more fascinating! Jacks has a complicated past, as she is not straight and has dated women, and I felt that her past received sensitive treatment but was also just plain delightful to dig into as a reader—you will totally ship her past relationship as much as Snap does! And then we get to part 2 of the story, which is even more exciting as utterly amazing things happen to Jacks and Snap. I will not spoil anything (except that it's very exciting!!!), but I will say that Jacks and Snap's relationship develops even further into utter fabulousness. All in all, Jacks gets a thumbs-up from me!

          I do want to take a second to acknowledge something regarding Snapdragon. Snapdragon and her family in this book are Black, but this book is not an #ownvoices book; the author, Kat Leyh, is White. I'm still struggling to compose my thoughts regarding this (I had an entire paragraph written that I opted to completely throw out), and I think it's because, as a White person myself, my thoughts are largely irrelevant and uninformed, so I'd rather just give you a few key pieces of information to think about yourself. First of all, I think there is an illusion that the graphic novel world is diverse, due in large part to the almost-astounding amount of LGBT+ representation present here. However, when it comes to racial diversity, there are just tumbleweeds rolling around; the vast, vast majority of MG/YA graphic novelists are White. Next, although I'm sure we can all think of White authors who throw in some non-White characters, Leyh has taken the unique route of (a) making a non-White character her protagonist and (b) attempting to at least somewhat flesh out the characters' identities as Black people (as opposed to the usual token non-White characters that are literally only different in skin color and can come off as assimilationist). Obviously, this route is difficult to pull off, but I did feel like Leyh did a pretty good job overall with it. Snap and her family do occasionally speak in ways reminiscent of what I've heard referred to as African-American Vernacular English, but I felt like there was just enough of this to accept this way of speaking as just as good as any other without exaggerating it to the point of offense. I also felt like Leyh illustrated some of the effects of systemic racism and how hard Black people have to work to overcome them—Snap and her mother live in a trailer park, and Snap's mom works constant late shifts as a firefighter while also working toward a degree to support herself and her daughter. Finally, I appreciated that this book was just as open to Black characters spending time with Black characters as to Black and White characters spending time together—I feel like White authors often ignore that, for better or worse (or both), Black people have had to form their own, mostly isolated community that deserves to be valued as much as any other. I will say that there are two moments that could come off as stereotypical—one when a Black character is walking off to play basketball, and another when Snap and her mother are eating fried chicken. Overall, though, I felt like Leyh's depiction of her Black characters was surprisingly nuanced and informed. But again, that is my opinion as a White person—I really have no idea how this book will come across to the very readers it aims to represent. I will say, I do not think it would have been an improvement for Leyh to include Black characters that just "acted White," nor do I think it would have been an improvement not to attempt to represent anyone at all and instead to just do the usual "pay-lip-service-to-diverse-books-on-Twitter" thing that other authors do (as if that is somehow equivalent). I went to a discussion regarding antiracism this week in which the speaker said that we need to not just be allies, but "co-conspirators," and it definitely feels like Leyh's work here is more "co-conspirator" than "ally." But again, I am absolutely confident that you could argue that it would have been better for authors to work to bring more Black graphic novelists into the fold than to attempt to tell their stories for them. (Do you see why I am having such a hard time coming up with conclusive thoughts here?) I think my overall verdict here is that it would definitely be of value for teachers/parents/other adults to use this book as a jumping-off point for larger discussions surrounding race and diversity, but Leyh also deserves a bit of credit for putting in the effort and taking the risk to at least attempt to do a better job of representation than most authors even bother with (and certainly a better job than certain other books).

         Keeping all of the above in mind, I do recommend this book. Snapdragon has delightful characters, beautiful art, an almost-ridiculously-unique storyline, and a feel-good vibe. For readers who know that no one book should be used as one's entire foundation for understanding the world, Snapdragon's infectious enthusiasm is not something to be missed out on. If you're feeling pretty checked out on depressing books, I think picking up a copy of this escapist book would be an excellent idea!

          With that, we will call our first week of Four Weeks of Witches (yes, there's a name now) to a close! Next week's review will feature less ranting in that review, luckily, but a similar-if-not-higher amount of giddy excitement (seriously, next week's book is amazing), so make sure to stop by in a week!

My rating is: Really good!




Update (2/5/2021): My rating for the graphic novel-averse is: 2!






Comments

  1. I have heard a lot of good things about this novel. The plot and setting and characters are really amazing. I was at first confused by the cover of the book -- Is Snap standing with the bike? I thought I was looking at a moose -- and then the deer in the background. That threw me off, as I began to realize Snap was human. There is a lot to love about the story, but I understand what your points about needing more Black graphic novelists writing their stories. After reading "The Black Friend" by Frederick Joseph, it made me think a little more deeply. Will have to read Snapdragon to see what I think! Thanks for sharing today!

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    1. The cover threw me for a loop until I started the book as well. I should definitely take a look at The Black Friend, and I really do wish the MG graphic novel world could get its diversity issues together—it's shocking how much more behind it is than the rest of the MG world (which isn't awesome either, but still, it's way ahead). Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  2. Witches in February. I see how ya are... ;) Seriously though, I keep seeing Snapdragon pop up, too! Thanks for sharing more about it. I'll have to see if we have a local copy. Our public library is kinda slow about graphic novels, but maybe I can ILL it. Have a wonderful reading week!

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    1. Witches in February definitely exemplifies how behind I am on my reading! (Also, I'm still perplexed at why I bought so many witch books when fantasy books are not usually my thing. Good thing it's fun to try new things!) I hope you can get a hold of this book, and thanks so much for stopping by!

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  3. Thanks for this interesting analysis. Sounds like a book worth reading!

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    1. It definitely is, and I'm glad the review was interesting! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  4. Hopefully the author had some sensitivity readers for ensuring she nailed the character's emotions and situations. I'm not for requiring authors to only write about characters of their own race. It limits the plot. I've had this book on my pile to read soon, and your review inspired me to slide it up to the top. Thanks for featuring on Marvelous Middle Grade Monday.

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    1. I definitely hope there were sensitivity readers as well—I can't remember if they were mentioned at the end of the book, for some reason. I hope you enjoy the book, and thanks so much for stopping by!

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  5. I don't usually dive into graphic novels, but now you've made me want to read it. Also - what could be scarier than a month during which a rodent determines whether spring comes?

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    1. Ha! At the rate we're moving to destroy our planet, spring will be out of the rodents' hands soon enough. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  6. I LOVE your reviews, you always provide so much extra introspection and relate the content of the story to the real world while also providing a thorough summary of the quality of the story itself! Amazing! I love books that normalize different sexualities and not being cis! I'm really glad this book is out there to do that. About white people writing about BIPOC, Read With Cindy on Youtube recently posted a video where she talked about it. She brought up some super interesting, solid points, and if you're interested I'd recommend checking it out!

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    1. Thank you so much!!! I'll definitely have to check out that video, since I always feel completely clueless writing about this stuff and just start listing out various conflicting facts and half-formed thoughts. I appreciate you stopping by and commenting!

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  7. Your review makes me wonder what an #ownvoices group would think about this book? I enjoy the idea of the plot, will note it, but I have so many books in the stack! Thanks very much for a thorough analysis.

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    1. I definitely agree. Also, my to-be-read shelf is full to bursting as well! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  8. I could use a good book to escape in and feel good about. And I love witches. I'll definitely try to find time to read this one.

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    1. It definitely sounds like you will enjoy this book, then! Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  9. This sounds like a great read and I love that it is a book that will help us escape. I am a big fan of graphic novels. :)
    ~Jess

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    1. I'm definitely a big fan of graphic novels as well! I'm glad Snapdragon sounds good to you, and thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  10. Wow. What an interesting review. Very thoughtful and thorough. I am digging my way through a graphic novel (MG) right now that is just awful, so I'm not feeling inclined toward graphic novels at the moment, but you make this one sound like it's worth the time. Thanks for the post.

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    1. Thank you so much! I'm curious which graphic novel you're reading right now—I can definitely think of a select few that are absolutely abysmal (to the point where I have ripped them to shreds in previous posts). Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting!

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  11. So glad you enjoyed Snapdragon! I did, too - I read it last year and included it as one of my favorite middle-grade books and graphic novels read in 2020. It had far more depth than I first expected (I expected pure fantasy).

    Can't wait to see your other 3 witch book reviews!

    Sue

    Book By Book

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    1. I'm so glad you enjoyed Snapdragon as well—it definitely has quite a bit of depth to it. I think you'll enjoy the other books I have in store for the month as well! Thanks so much for stopping by!

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