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!