Three years ago, Ash’s mom left home and never returned, leaving behind a husband and child and a shed full of mystical curiosities related to the all-girl fantasy world she’d created as a child—Koretris. One day Ash invites a new group of friends from Pride Club over, and they try one of the spells to enter Koretris. To their amazement, they’re all transported to a magical realm filled with human-sized talking animals who are fiercely protective of their world and are ready to fight to protect it. But if Koretris is real, why is Ash there? Everyone has always called Ash a boy—shouldn’t the spell have kept Ash out? And what does it mean if it let Ash in?
Girl Haven opens up in an institute’s little Pride Club, and soon after introducing our group of teenager protagonists, turns into a fairytale that catches the reader’s attention by Lilah Sturges’ carefully crafted fantasy world, where character’s emotions (and specially Ash’s one) get paralleled by in-world metaphor threats and conflicts. By the clashes, recognitions and some moments that can really arrive to your heart (more on that later), Girl Haven takes an imaginary story to convey feelings so common on trans kids, in what already feels like an essential graphic story for LGBT+ kids (and adults).
Meaghan Carter’s cartoonish style does a great job in conveying the emotions in this book and fusing them through the page, like joy or curiosity but also grief and sadness. It reminds me of artists like Steenz or Keezy Young, in the way it’s capable of showcasing both a lot of story information and the importance of visual elements and characters’ expressions with simple inking and close planes. It exudes emotion, and, to round it up, the coloring feels natural and lively in both characters and scenarios, and it adapts gracefully to the fantasy scenario when the story goes more into that area. The lettering by Joamette Gil is accessible and highlights important notes in the same vein of getting you enchanted into the story.
Now, I’m gonna get more personal and spoiler-y for a bit: this book really moved me to the point of crying from emotions sometimes difficult to convey, especially in concrete moments where it perfectly mirrors my own experience when I was a young trans girl. I took a few more years to come out than Ash, but I too felt the immense sadness and confusion that comes from the moment where children are generally socially segregated, I wasn’t deemed worthy of hanging around girls anymore and I felt so strangely lonely. And, in that way, it is pretty possible that this book accompanies other trans girls and makes them feel, like it made me feel, less lonely, as Lilah Sturges expresses some difficult feelings perfectly here and gives you in-story tools and resolutions. I certainly would have loved to read it as a child. It’s worth noting it also deals with a parent’s loss and grief in children in a way that, even if it’s not my concrete experience of grief, I feel it’s powerfully conveyed.
Coming back to the narrative of the book, it definitely guides you through it in a way that those intense truthful and intimate moments come with enough preparation that you’re used to the characters. However, it does have some narrative faults on it worth mentioning: it sometimes loses sight of its secondary characters, to the point they are way less defined than Ash, and the one that suffers more from it is Chloe, a black girl without a lot of background character work and sometimes described as “stronger than everyone else” and “grumpity”.
I also should notice that this book is not a “manual” (neither it intends to be one), so it should be way more useful to read for a trans or gender-nonconforming person (child or adult) coming to terms with their identity than for a parent of a trans child, an ally or otherwise a person looking to “learn about us”. This is a book primarily about the feelings of a certain character, and how those explain a story that is usually not even told, and that’s its main (and really important) strength.
A beautiful graphic story for trans kids to see themselves in and trans adult to deal with some of their memories, and a narrative that connects with fears, hopes and community with art that exudes emotion and invites the reader into the tale. Not a book for people to learn about trans issues, but a book designed for trans (and gender-questioning) people to let a tale into your heart.
Girl Haven: Genuine Story On Imaginary Lands
Writing - 9/109/10
Storyline - 9.5/109.5/10
Art - 9/109/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 8.5/108.5/10
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