Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Book Review: Oyster War, by Ben Towle

Writing Quality: 4/5
Personal Enjoyment: 3/5
Wider Appeal: 3/5

I bought Oyster War for the children's graphic novel section of my library, but I think it's appropriate for teens and adults as well. I feel like that's pretty rare: a book that can be enjoyed equally by all ages, without the adults feeling like they're being talked down to.

I'm not really sure what genre to categorize this book in. Historical fantasy? Magical realism? Mythology and folklore? Based on the Oyster Wars in the Chesapeake Bay that took place from the mid 1800s to the mid 1900s, this story draws on superstition, real history, and local tall tales to create a fantastically fun book.

The characters are fun, if a little one-dimensional. The ending was fairly predictable, but I enjoyed the process of getting there, and there were a few surprises along the way.

Oyster War is a graphic novel, and it's one of those spectacular examples of the format that's written in such a way that the writing and the art cannot be divided without losing all the meaning. The art is beautiful and also super cool. :) I also loved that each character's face was so distinct! So many comics and graphic novels have characters whose facial features look so similar that they get confusing in busy panels, but take a look at the individuality of these characters:

While there is a good amount of text and dialogue, there are also quite a few wordless panels, and Ben Towle tells so much of the story so eloquently and without a single word.

At the end of the book, Towle writes about different aspects of Oyster War: what was true, what was made up, what was pulled from local folklore... I loved learning a little bit, while also being able to enjoy something that was so fantastical.

I would recommend Oyster War to any reader who seeks out unique graphic novels, and doesn't mind sacrificing depth of character for the sake of an interesting story. I'd also recommend it to anyone interested in the history and legends of the Chesapeake Bay and surrounding areas.

Recommended ages 10+. Portland: Oni Press, 2015. Print. 167 pages. ISBN: 9781620102626.

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