November 12, 2013

Review: Bad Houses

Bad Houses By Sara Ryan
Art by Carla Speed McNeil
Available now from Dark Horse
Review copies

The two main characters of BAD HOUSES are Anne and Lewis, who both appear on the cover.  But there are a number of other important characters, many of whom have bits and pieces of their stories told, all living in Fallin, Ohio.

Lewis helps his somewhat overbearing mother out with her estate sale business, selling people's possessions after their deaths.  It is at one of those sales that he meets Anne, who longs to escape her mother's hoarding, which encroaches on her space after her mother meets a new man.  Their issues with their mothers and possessions are very different, but they drive both characters.  I liked the romance between Lewis and Anne, which is low key and helps both of them grow.

I also love how many stories are entwined throughout BAD HOUSES.  Often, the stories play out through possessions left behind.  We imbue the things we own with meaning.  There are bits about the history of the town, bits about Lewis's father (who he's never met), bits about the man who haggles for treasures at the estate sales and sells them for more in his shop.  It's all very easy to follow along, and if it ties together a bit too neatly, well, that makes for a better story.

YA readers might be familiar with Sara Ryan from her perennially popular book THE EMPRESS OF THE WORLD, one of the lesbian novels.  BAD HOUSES is her first graphic novel, but she's written shorter comics before and seems to understand the medium well.  Webcomics readers might be familiar with Carla Speed McNeil through the aboriginal SF graphic novel FINDER.  McNeil's art is a good fit for the book, managing the transitions between point of view well.  I like her clear, strong style, which reminds me of last year's Cybils winner Faith Erin Hicks.

BAD HOUSES is short but powerful.  It's a wonderful story about life, relationships, and stories left behind.  I think it's a particularly good choice for older teens who are working out their own relationships with their parents and what they'll do when they move out and make their own home.

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