Review: Blackwater


Title: Blackwater
Creators: Jeannette Arroyo, Ren Graham
Genres: graphic novel, fantasy, paranormal
Pages: 304
Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
Review copy: Library
Availability: Available now!

Summary: Tony Price is a popular high school track star and occasional delinquent aching for his dad’s attention and approval. Eli Hirsch is a quiet boy with a chronic autoimmune disorder that has ravaged his health and social life. What happens when these two become unlikely friends (and a whole lot more . . .) in the spooky town of Blackwater, Maine? Werewolf curses, unsavory interactions with the quarterback of the football team, a ghostly fisherman haunting the harbor, and tons of high school drama.

Co-illustrated by Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham, who alternate drawing chapters in their own unique and dynamic styles, Blackwater combines the spookiness of Anya’s Ghost with the irreverent humor of Nimona.

Review: When I walked down the street in my neighborhood back in October, I was constantly reminded that it was spooky season — countless houses were decked out with cobwebs and funny skeletons and pumpkins. So many pumpkins. It was a fun way to get in the spirit, and reading Blackwater, a spooky graphic novel with an appropriately spooky cover, felt perfect for autumn.

To be honest, I’m surprised that Blackwater flew under my radar for as long as it did. Clearly I need to pay better attention! Because what Blackwater is all about is exactly my jam — it’s a queer graphic novel featuring monsters that lurk in the forest, high school drama, and of course a sweet romance. The story features Tony, a Puerto Rican track star who kicks it with school quarterback, who connects with Eli, a quiet trans student with a chronic autoimmune disorder that makes balancing school and life difficult.

The romance and family dynamics were my favorite part of Blackwater’s story. The emotionally tense interactions, and the way Eli and Tony gradually grow closer and closer together, lent dimension to the characters and propelled the story forward. The haunting tone, along with the emotionally fraught relationships, were perfectly paired with the black-and-white illustrations, which leapt off the page.

The supernatural side of the story, while intriguing, felt somewhat thin at times. I was left with more questions than answers by the end, and the way the characters dealt with what they were experiencing and witnessing occasionally felt lacking in impact. For that reason alone, I’m hesitant to fully and unreservedly recommend Blackwater.

That said, it was overall a compelling and gorgeous read. If you’re looking for a spooky, queer graphic novel, you won’t go wrong with borrowing Blackwater from the library.

Recommendation: Borrow it someday if you’re looking for a paranormal graphic novel read!