Book Review: Chiggers
Publication Date: June 17, 2008
Publisher: Ginee Seo Books
· Hope Larson
by R.J. Carter
Published: June 21, 2008
Hope Larson's graphic novel, Chiggers, is, in this reviewer's opinion, targeted at girls who have embraced their inner geek. The plot doesn't so much meander as it 'strolls' -- taking its time, stopping here and there to smell a rose or stare at a crack in the sidewalk. A typical summer walk in the park, so to speak.
The setting is summer camp, and the central protagonist is Abby, who is the first to arrive. She's looking forward to spending time again with her friend Rose, who is three years older than her. But Rose is a cabin assistant this year, and her time is at a premium. Likewise, Abby's friend Beth arrives at camp with piercings and a rock-band attitude, leaving Abby feeling outclassed and outcast.
Then Shasta enters the picture: Shasta, the girl who survived being struck by lightning, who claims to be part Cherokee, who is supposed to regularly take her medications (but doesn't), who doesn't participate in any camp activities by way of lame excuses -- and who is not liked by any of the girls at camp except Abby.
That's not the central plot of the book; for that matter, Chiggers is one of those books that doesn't really have a central plot. There's not really any major conflict set up that requires a resolution. Summarily, it could be described as "Abby went to camp; stuff happened."
In that way, the story is almost biographical in nature, with some magical realism thrown in. We see scenes where Shasta is chased by will-o-the-wisps, but we never truly understand what that has to do with her previously having been struck by lightning (nor are we told what her medications were for, for that matter). Abby begins picturing herself as a half-elf when Teal (a boy at the camp) takes a fancy to her and reveals his fondness for Dungeons & Dragons, which Abby finds interesting since she's played a little herself. But if I were asked to tell you what, in toto, the story was about, there's no real summation sentence I could devise.
Larson's artwork is an interesting study in comic innovation, far different from what is seen in standard graphic novels. Even the word balloons are part of the artwork used to convey the final thought -- not with just the text itself, but with shapes and lettering. The images are starkly black and white, heavily inked, with no shades of gray, which tends to make faces look a bit flat in places but overall works very nicely. The cover, also by Larson, is in full color (for sales appeal), and really makes the characters appear more distinct, particularly when you suddenly realize some of the characters you've just spent an hour with are redheads! It really makes me wish I could have read a colorized version of the book. However, as it is, I still recommend the story for tween girls who will appreciate the frankness of dialogue and Judy Blume-like approach.