In the year 1850 in Nova Scotia, a teen named Josey lives with her family on a farm. When Asa Curry, a mysterious young man from Australia, shows up on their doorstep, at first they think he is an itinerant salesman. Instead, he says he has found gold on their land, and he offers a mining proposition to her father. Josey's mother is immediately distrustful of Asa, but Josey finds him very attractive. Her father takes him up on the offer, and soon, to Josey's delight, Asa is spending a lot of time with her family.
In 2009, in the same location in Nova Scotia, a teen named Tara is trying to put her life back together. Her house has burned down; her mother had to move to a different town to find work; Tara is staying with her aunt, uncle and cousin and is just about to start attending a school she went to a few years earlier. She is humiliated when one of the kids at school mistakes her for one of the boys in their class (they do look remarkably similar, particularly from behind) - but in the end, she and her "twin" become friends. The potential for romance between the two of them develops. and Tara starts to make a new place for herself. But their financial situation is so shaky that it seems even this new life of hers is about to go up in flames.
The narrative shifts back and forth from past to present, and the reader becomes aware that Josey and Tara are connected by something more than geographical location. Could there be a connection from the past that might help Tara through this difficult time in her life?
This is a powerful story that, while targeted at teens, holds appeal for older readers as well. The time shifts are handled so well - black borders surround the 19th-century story, as an added tip-off - and the artwork is energetic and full of sensory details. I particularly loved the skillful way that Larson depicted the physical similarity between Tara and Ben, as well as their developing relationship. I also enjoyed the way in which the story made the past so relevant to the present, which can be something of a revelation for younger readers.
The more I read graphic novels, the more I come to appreciate them as a unique vehicle for storytelling. This story could certainly have been told through text alone, but so much would be missing from it! The subtext created by the artwork fills in gaps that add intriguing depth to the tale. For those of you still wavering on the brink of taking the plunge with graphic novels, this would be a great one to try.
And here are some interesting items I picked up when I was putting this review together: Hope Larson is married to Bryan Lee O'Malley of the Scott Pilgrim books. And she is going to be creating a graphic novelization of Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time. I'll be very excited to read that when it's complete!
Mercury by Hope Larson (Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2010)
Also reviewed at:
BSC Kids: "Even though the story flops back and forth between the two time periods, it doesn’t get confusing, and it’s still very engaging as the reader tries to figure out just exactly how the stories of Tara Fraser and Josey Fraser are going to intertwine."
Laughing Ogre Comics: "Larson's fluid lines are beautiful and easy for the eye to read. Also fun is her creative use of symbols to reinforce subtle moments, like a potato covered with human eyes, or the word "swelter" rising from the ground like a shimmering wave of heat."
Reading Rants!: "Combining fantasy, history, first love and revenge, Mercury is a one-of-a-kind story that you can’t afford to miss."