Will & Whit by Laura Lee Gulledge. Amulet Books, 2013.
Age Level & Genre: Young Adult realistic fiction graphic novel
Face Value: It’s a pretty cover that showcases Gulledge’s graphic talents. But it’s kind of misleading! Based on the title and the silhouette of two snuggling people, I went into this book thinking that it would be a romance. It’s definitely not. There is plenty of affection and warmth woven into the story, but it isn’t a love story. I bet some people have been drawn to this book because of the cover expecting one kind of story and getting another. That’s ok – if it got them to read Gulledge’s excellent work, then that is a good thing.
Does it break the slate? It’s not really slatebreaking, but it is a great book featuring male and female characters who challenge stereotypes with their everyday behaviors. Will, the delightful protagonist, faces some shadows from her past and proves herself to be a gifted artist. Her family and friends are all forward-thinking and dynamic characters. There’s not a single flat character in this story. Everyone surprised me in some way.
Who would we give it to? This is an end-of-summer story, so I would hand this book to a young reader who is trying to savor the last few days of summer before school starts up again.
Review: Wilhelmina, better known as “Will” by her friends, is excited for the summer to end. Although she loves the warm days, she hates being alone with her thoughts. When Will is back in school she will have enough distractions to help her avoid the shadows from her past.
Will helps her aunt run an antique shop, and one of her favorite things to do is to create beautiful lamps using found materials. Will’s creations play with unusual material to cast light and shadow. Will runs with a creative crowd: her friend Autumn is a puppeteer, and her friend Noel is a masterful chef. They support each other in their creative endeavors, and encourage each other to share their talents. There’s a little bit of drama in the friend group, but they manage to work through it respectfully.
A stormy atmosphere sets the scene for some interesting metaphors to play out. The “Whit” of the title is the storm Whitney, which rips through the area and causes widespread power outages. The literal darkness of the town forces Will to find the light in her life. Gulledge skillfully uses light and shadow in her images to show the emotional transitions of the characters. The light and the darkness correlates to Will’s own “blackout” – sense her parents died suddenly a year ago, she has blocked her own grief. Flipping through the pages, you can see the stark transition from Will’s blackout to the time when she can finally open up because of the light and dark borders on the pages. Some graphic novelists struggle to use text, but Gulledge balances the two well. The dialogue feels natural coming from these teen characters.
I first read Laura Lee Gulledge’s work when I reviewed her book Page by Paige. That was a strong book, and Will & Whit is even better. The dialogue is stronger and the characters feel more connected to the real world. The author’s bio says that Gulledge is working on adapting Will & Whit for the stage. With it’s intricate exploration of light and shadow, I think this piece is perfect for the theatre – I hope that young audiences will be able to see it come to life soon!
Reviewed from library copy.