Genre: Comedy, Drama, Mystery, Psychological, Slice of Life, Supernatural
Published Date: 03/20/2018
By Duna Haller
After losing her job at the library, Celeste Walden starts working at the haunting Logan Museum as an archivist. There, she meets a bunch of new people whom she find herself deeply connected in the strangest ways. She finds herself confronting her mental health, her relationships, and before long, her grasp on reality as she begins to dream of a young woman she's never met, but feels strangely drawn to.
From the very first moment, we know this is gonna be a story about mental health. These first pages, with Celeste describing her mental illness like a sea that comes back no matter what felt too real and close to my own experience with depression and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. What also gets set up in the first chapters is that this is a story about ghosts. What we don’t know but silently starts unfolding is that this is a story about connection. The marvelous connection that happens between these characters, but also the connection between Celeste and Celine, the ghost of a psychiatric negligence survivor.
Mental illness, and the (un)ethics of psychiatric history, is a really harsh topic to choose for a book. A deeply interesting one too, especially when you have the experience of looking at it from the inside. And one that Ivy Noelle Wair knows too well, from both her studies and her own experience. But, let me be honest here, I approached this book doubting if I was or not emotionally able to read a graphic novel on that matter. It was Steenz!’s art and these characters that made me not only get deep into it, but actually enjoy it, laugh, smile.
These characters exude joy and relatability, with beautiful moments of understanding and jokes. They get dressed in different ways, they suddenly fell asleep, or get anxious about responsibilities, they’re too real to be cartoons in the best ways, the ones that relate us to them. They also grow incredibly with the story; Abayomi unfolds from a very strict boss to a place of great vulnerability; Holly is this cheerful and down to earth character that ends up supporting Celeste even in the moments the narrative makes her (and you, the reader) doubt herself. The cutesy drawings, expressive cartoonish scenes, and overall very joyful, just plain beautiful, design of our main characters is one that enriches this book’s main mystery story.
To add more to it, the relationship between Holly and Gina gets explored, their dynamics showed, but it’s normalized, they don’t suffer other characters’ bigotry. These two amazing bisexual creators show us a story that includes LGBT characters of color, but they’re not here to suffer cause of it, or doubt their identities, or be questioned, they’re here to solve the mystery and accompany us in the main harsh story to unfold.
One of the most powerful things of this book for me is that it involves themes that disproportionately affect people like its main characters (queer people of color), but it doesn’t play into trauma narratives for these characters. For a lot of queer people like myself, 20s and 30s psychiatry sounds too much like conversion therapy. Similarly, there’s a history of psychiatric institutions affecting disproportionately people of color (like this book shows in the psychiatric setting pages). And LGBT+ people of color had always been at the center of stories of emancipation, including those of mental illness de-stigmatization and liberation (which this book ultimately is an analogy for). The decision of Steenz! to put LGBT+ people of color front center in this story is one that showcases their importance in the themes treated.
What’s powerful of this story is they’re there as agents of this adventure and they laugh, smile, and learn to care for each other while they throw down (sometimes literally) the institutions that hurt people like them. The combination of Ivy brilliant narrative and Steenz! artistic decisions and designs results in this great tension, in which a story gets to explore a theme that is important for its characters and authors, but not at the expense of retraumatizing the reader or the characters.
This book is the perfect example of writing and art complementing each other to make the result grow. A harsh story is wrapped in a vessel for relatable, humane, joyful art and that feeds the story itself and its funny innuendos. Ultimately, the art gives back also the most difficult panels with drama placed right where it needs to, like in that cover that perfectly represents that this book is gonna tell you a ghost story and a confessional story, and so much more.
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I'm a writer, musician, collagist, and more generally a very nerd grrrl. Some of my favorite comics are New Mutants, Jem and the Holograms, Snotgirl and Monstress. I have also been published in different poetry books, anthologies and zines, and with a short story in '99% Chance of Magic: Stories of Strength and Hope for Transgender Kids'. You can follow and contact me at @dunahaller on Instagram and Facebook.