12-year-old Alison Dare is much like any other child her age - aside from the fact that her mother is a world-renowned archeologist, her father a librarian with a secret superhero identity, and her dashing uncle an international spy (and master of disguise). Is it any wonder that she finds herself in one exciting (and occasionally death-defying) situation after another? Despite the fact that her parents send her to a strict boarding school - and, when she is with them, they try to keep a sharp eye on her - Alison finds adventure wherever she goes. Even if she has to manufacture it herself.
In the first volume of her adventures, Alison is away on summer vacation. She is in Egypt with her mother, who is caught up in an archeological dig and leaves Alison all alone in the tent with a bunch of very interesting artifacts. Alison, bored to tears in the hot desert with nothing to do, immediately noses around in the artifacts and comes up with an item that bears a suspicious resemblance to Aladdin's lamp. She recites an incantation, and sure enough, a genie appears, and Alison is off and running with her first wish - for him to bring her two best friends to the desert to join her. The first shows up in a bathing suit, all posed for a dive into a swimming pool that is no longer there - and the adventure continues...
The second book focuses more on Alison's life at her boarding school, and even there she finds mysteries to solve and treasures to hunt. We also learn more about her parents. I particularly loved one story that focuses on Alison's relationship with her father; it was so sweet and funny.
Each book contains several stories, and with each the readers takes a step further into Alison's world, getting to know Alison a little better, as well as her friends and schoolmates, parents, teachers, and other people in her life. Some stories deal with Alison and her penchant for nosing into things, sometimes out of boredom and curiosity, and sometimes in order to set things right. Other stories deal with the past - one of my favorites details how her parents met each other. I love the fact that her father is a librarian - I admit to having a weak spot for librarian superheros (and I'm secretly waiting to get zapped by gamma rays and get my own superpowers, cape and tights so I can be one, too. Well, maybe not the tights. I'm sure Edna Mode could whip something up for me. But then I wouldn't be able to have a cape. Drat!).
There are many things to love about these books. First and foremost, Alison is a strong protagonist - who may be a bit self-involved at times, but what 12-year-old isn't? She may have a lot to learn, but she has a good heart and a generous spirit. Her buddies are strong girls, too, and make good sidekicks, as they have abilities that complement Alison's - and they are not shy about telling her when she's taking things too far. Not that she listens much. The stories are more than good vs. evil, superheroes vs. villains - there is actual characterization going on , which is not always a strong suit of graphic novels for elementary-age readers - and I really love the humor, some of which (in a good-spirited way) is at Alison's expense. I found myself laughing a lot as I read these, particularly the second book, which just tickled me.
I also love all the elements of superhero and adventure stories that combine in these stories - there is often an intriguing mystery to solve, in a setting that evokes Indiana Jones, the Arabian Nights, Lara Croft, Sherlock Holmes, and a wide range of superhero fiction. The artwork is bold and energetic, perfectly suited for the subject matter. It came as no surprise to me when I leaned that Alison Dare was nominated for the Eisner Award in the Best Title for Younger Audience category.
There is some cartoon-action violence, but not much, which makes these titles eminently suitable for young readers. At my public library, most of the graphic novels are in the YA section, and when the kids have run though the few graphic novels we have that are specifically written for their age group, they head on over to the teen section, where the books are not necessarily as appropriate.
Books like Alison Dare make an excellent addition to a middle grade collection - they are sure to fly of the shelf. Believe me, I could barely pry these away from my own kids (9 and 11 years old) in order to read them - they are just as captivated by them as I am. The books are sure to appeal to girls, but I'd venture to say there is enough action and adventure to keep boys happy as well - and it's always a good thing for them to read about girls who are strong, capable and adventurous.
Alison Dare: Little Miss Adventures (#1 in the Alison Dare graphic novel series) by J. Torres and J. Bone (Tundra Books, 2010)
Alison Dare: The Heart of the Maiden (#2 in the Alison Dare graphic novel series) by J. Torres and J. Bone (Tundra Books, 2010)
Books received as review copies from Tundra Books.