The Phantom of the Opera – Cavan Scott (Adapter)

Illustrations – José María Beroy

This graphic novel is an adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, itself based on Gaston Leroux’s novel. While I would have loved to have been able to indulge in a scene by scene replication of the entire musical, that would have been a much larger volume. The scenes that were adapted still clearly told the story that I know so well, and I sang along (in my head, of course, so I didn’t frighten the neighbours) with all of the song excerpts. 

The illustrations were gorgeous, evoking the feel of the scenes, from the bright, colourful masquerade to the leaching of colour when the Phantom appears in Christine’s mirror. 

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I spent much of the 90’s obsessed with this musical, having travelled to Melbourne for the best school excursion ever. I’d never imagined that a musical could be so immersive; we gasped and pointed each time we saw the Phantom appear off stage and I’m not embarrassed to admit that I really thought that chandelier was going to hurt someone. 

It was even more exhilarating the second time I witnessed the chandelier fall, in Sydney many years later, as our seats were directly beneath its arc. I also got to watch the conductor do their thing and all of the musicians warming up prior to the performance. It was like being able to sneak a peek behind the scenes and it was breathtaking.

My Nan and I listened to the double cassette tape (back in the 90’s here) so many times I’m surprised we didn’t destroy it; we’d get up and dance, with much abandon but little rhythm, around the room each time a new song began. We became so familiar with the entire musical that we’d recite it to each other as it was playing.

While not many of my childhood belongings followed me into adulthood, I still have two Phantom keyrings, the coffee mug where the Phantom’s face glows when you add hot water (it still works!) and the program I bought in Melbourne in the 90’s. I also have all of the piano sheet music and yes, I do intend to finally get around to mastering at least one of the songs one day.

I’m always going to be biased where the Phantom is concerned but I absolutely adored this adaptation. It made me wish I could walk out the door and straight into a performance of the musical. Since that’s not currently possible, I’m going to do the next best thing … reread this graphic novel and indulge in some nostalgia.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Titan Comics for the opportunity to fall in love with this graphic novel.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

From the original libretto of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s world-famous, multi-award-winning musical that has been playing continuously around the world for over 33 years comes this fully authorised graphic novel adaptation.

In 1881 the cast and crew of a new production, Hannibal, are terrorised by the Phantom of the Opera, a mysterious, hideously disfigured man who lives beneath the Paris Opera House. Hopelessly in love and obsessed with one of the chorus singers, the Phantom will stop at nothing to make her the star of the show, even if that means murder.

The Secret Garden Part One – Maud Begon (Adapter)

Translators – Joseph Laredo & Maud Begon

I can’t help myself. You produce an adaptation of The Secret Garden, one of my favourite childhood books and movies, and I’ll be there for it. Even though this is only Part One, I had to read this graphic novel.

Mostly staying true to the story I know and love but also taking a bit of license here and there, this is the adaptation where cholera isn’t the distant concern it was to me as a child. No, this cholera is personified and sending out some creepy vibes.

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Mistress Mary, quite contrary gave me an unintended giggle when she sconed herself on a table. [For those of you who don’t live in Australia, to scone yourself is to hit your head. I don’t know if people still say this but it was a phrase from my childhood and as you can probably guess, having the opportunity to relive a childhood favourite has had the effect of regressing me just a tad.] I remember running under my Nan’s dining room table, not realising I’d grown since the last time I’d done it and sconed myself. Good times.

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I loved Mary’s death stare but didn’t love her saying to Mrs Medlock, “I have no interest in your old crap”. We’re still in 1910 here and no matter how surly Mary is, I’m certain that word is not part of her vocabulary.

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The colour palette changes with the seasons and, of course, Mary’s mood. Mary gets pretty chipper a lot earlier in the story than I remember and her loneliness and isolation are less pointed here. 

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It was frustrating finishing this story partway through and, given this graphic novel was less than 100 pages, I wondered why it had to be split in two in the first place. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the garden looks like in full bloom so will be continuing this blast from my past.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Europe Comics for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When Mary’s parents die, she moves to England, where she is sent to a strange mansion in the middle of the Yorkshire moors, belonging to her uncle. It is here that she discovers the comfort of friendship … and a wonderful secret that she soon shares with her new companions: a garden forgotten by everyone, whose key, as if by magic, also opens the doors to broken hearts. This is a two-part graphic adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s 1912 classic of children’s literature.

Murder Book – Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell

I’ve spent so much time watching, reading and listening to all things true crime and I’ve wondered at times if my interest is too weird, too morbid or too much. I love that Hilary shares my obsession.

In this graphic memoir, Hilary traces her true crime obsession, from members of her family whose obsessions sparked her own to the movies, books, TV shows and podcasts that kept the flame burning.

David Fincher’s Zodiac had a huge impact on Hilary, in part because she lived so close to some of the crime scenes. True crime even got her back into reading as an adult, first with Robert Graysmith’s Zodiac and then anything by Ann Rule.

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Hilary considers why the majority of people who watch, read and otherwise devour true crime are women. She also tracks how the types of true crime that have been written about have changed throughout the decades.

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Although this is a memoir, Hilary also explores some crimes that hold special significance to her, including the murder of Anne Marie Fahey and the murders committed by Ted Bundy. I never expected to see true crime explored in a graphic novel, but it worked.

The victims of crime are often practically invisible in their own stories but there was a focus on them here. I especially appreciated learning what their interests were. For example, Betty Lou Jensen liked art, school, studying and fashion.

I know I like to joke, but in all seriousness, a large part of the reason I love true crime is the hope of justice for the victims.

Of course, all of this talk about what started Hilary’s obsession got me thinking about my own. I think I can blame my Nan for planting the seed. Her father was the superintendent of ambulances in our state when she was growing up and he had plenty of medical books showing graphic injuries in the home. My Nan grew up reading these gruesome accounts. I grew up listening in awe as Nan regaled me with the stories in those books, always describing the accompanying pictures in detail.

When I was sixteen, the older sister of one of my childhood friends was murdered. She grew up around the corner from me and I had sleepovers at their house when I was a kid. The police officer who lived down the road from me told me more about the crime and subsequent investigation than they probably should have. Obviously I followed the case as it went to trial and the media appearances by her family over the years.

My obsession really took off at university, though. My favourite assessment was when my psychology class was given a murder scenario. Our task was to profile the murderer. I loved trying to get inside the mind of the perpetrator.

This assessment led me to John Douglas books, which only fuelled my obsession. I wanted to be a criminal profiler years before Criminal Minds premiered. Naturally, I was obsessed with that show (especially with Reid).

It’s only been recently that I’ve come across someone who shares my love of true crime and I personally blame them for my latest true crime obsession: Crime Junkie.

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Within a few short months, I’ve devoured dozens of episodes. I always knew but now I’ve had it drilled into me that it’s never a mannequin. I now answer “And I’m Brit” at the beginning of each episode. “Be weird. Be rude. Stay alive.” has become a new mantra.

If you’re a true crime junkie, you will find a kindred spirit in Hilary. If you know someone who loves true crime but you just don’t get the fascination, this graphic novel may help you understand what it’s all about.

There’s a lot more text in this graphic novel than most I have previously read. I had difficulty figuring out which order I should be reading panels on some pages but the majority of them were easy to follow. I enjoyed the artwork.

There’s humour, like this all too accurate description of movies that are ‘based on true stories’.

It’s the DRAMATIC, SEXY version of a REALLY HORRIBLE situation that you would never find sexy if it happened to YOU!

It’s relatable. Hilary’s ability to love true crime, Disney, horror movies and Peanuts simultaneously mirrors my own strangely contradictory loves.

It’s a graphic novel I definitely want to reread.

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Thank you so much to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

A humorous graphic investigation of the author’s obsession with true crime, the murders that have most captivated her throughout her life, and a love letter to her fellow true-crime fanatics.

Why is it so much fun to read about death and dismemberment? In Murder Book, lifelong true-crime obsessive and New Yorker cartoonist Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell tries to puzzle out the answer. An unconventional graphic exploration of a lifetime of Ann Rule super-fandom, amateur armchair sleuthing, and a deep dive into the high-profile murders that have fascinated the author for decades, this is a funny, thoughtful, and highly personal blend of memoir, cultural criticism, and true crime with a focus on the often-overlooked victims of notorious killers.

MonsterMind – Alfonso Casas

Translator – Andrea Rosenberg

“This isn’t the triumphant tale of a hero who defeated his monsters … it’s just the story of somebody who’s learning to live with them.”

Most readers will already be well acquainted with at least some of the monsters in this book. Featured monsters include doubt, fear, social anxiety, past trauma and sadness.

The author uses personal examples to introduce readers to his monsters and explore how they interact with him day and night, from doubts that keep him awake to anxiety about the future.

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I could readily identify some of the monsters, like the cute little sowers of doubt, but others weren’t as easy to name. It would have helped me if the monster mugshots had introduced the story instead of being hidden at the end.

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While I had originally hoped the illustrations would be in colour, it felt more and more appropriate for them to be in grayscale. While there is some hope towards the end of the story, I felt like I was walking through molasses sometimes.

I haven’t found the humour yet. Despite that, I really liked the illustrations and found many of the stories very relatable.

Thank you so much to NetGalley, Ablaze and Diamond Book Distributors for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Alfonso Casas’s MonsterMind is a very personal account of the inner monsters that live inside his head. But, who doesn’t have a monster inside them? Who has never heard that voice inside their head undermining everything they do? You’re not good enough… You just got really lucky… There are people far better and more qualified than you… In a very honest exercise, Alfonso Casas identifies and introduces his own monsters to his readers: Mr. Past Traumas, Mr. Fear, Mr. Social Anxiety, Mr. Impostor Syndrome, Mr. Sadness, Mr. Doubt… The pessimistic, the insecure, the self-demanding, the monster that keeps you from sleeping while you think of what you could have said back in that conversation two years ago, or that keeps you looking over the punctuation of every text message to figure out the tone lurking beneath the surface. All those monsters make up the bestiary of contemporary society. But the anxiety generation is expert in more things: in looking inside themselves and their lives, and – why not? – in laughing at their own neuroses as best they can. In the end, if the monsters won’t leave us, we might as well get to know them and laugh at them! Anxiety is another pandemic, but the monsters dwelling inside us are funny, too (especially as drawn by Alfonso Casas).

Phoebe and Her Unicorn #14: Unicorn Playlist – Dana Simpson

With the adult world intruding on her, Phoebe is having a sad day. We all need a unicorn best friend right now and fortunately for Phoebe, she has Marigold Heavenly Nostrils. Marigold regales Phoebe with stories of the time when unicorns ruled the Earth, how The Pointy Express preceded horn wi-fi and her time at Sparkle Academy.

Phoebe and Marigold discover they have different tastes in music, which causes no conflict at all.

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Eventually they find a song that they both like.

The Goblin Queen challenges Dakota to a popularity contest. Phoebe explains the Magical Christmas Loophole to Marigold, after getting over her Christmas anticipointment. Phoebe teaches Marigold about distraction.

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Max and Phoebe exchange Valentines. Phoebe has lunch with Dakota and her friends.

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Marigold makes a Formal Declaration of Resolution to learn more about her family. We meet one of her cousins, Infernus, the Unicorn of Death. They’re not as scary as they sound. I’m looking forward to attending Marigold’s family reunion with her and Phoebe in a future collection.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Best friends Phoebe Howell and Marigold Heavenly Nostrils march to their own beat, but life isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. With so many problems in the world and drama at school, Phoebe wonders why unicorns aren’t in charge instead of humans. With Marigold, each day is full of magic, from introducing Phoebe to unicorn music to crashing a goblin popularity contest, and even tracking down long-lost family members like Infernus, the Unicorn of Death (who ends up being surprisingly adorable). In Unicorn Playlist, Phoebe and Marigold play all the hits.

The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea #2: Squeals on Wheels – Renée Treml

This is almost unheard of for me. I loved the sequel even more than the first book in this series.

Ollie, the owl who needs to wear glasses, and Bea, the bunny with the kangaroo sized feet, return. They’re joined by the friends they met in the first book: CeeCee the otter, Pedro the chameleon, Sera the deer and Simon the squirrel.

Having already figured out what all of their superpowers are, the friends are ready to have some fun. On the agenda for today is rollerskating. Except one of the friends keeps making excuses. The thought of skating is making Bea anxious. She’s worried she’ll look silly.

Thankfully her friends come up with the perfect solution, one that makes Bea feel comfortable skating so she can have fun too.

Puns abound in this book as well. My favourite was Ollie’s “Owl be back!” I know I’m not the only one to read that in Arnold Schwarzenegger’s voice.

The colourful illustrations, which I appreciated in the first book, really make the details come alive in this one. Be on the lookout for Sera the deer; her outfit is brilliant!

I love the focus on supportive friendships in this series. They highlight how integral friendships can be in building self confidence and overcoming obstacles.

This book deserves all of the carrots! 🥕🥕🥕🥕🥕

I can’t wait to see what other adventures are in store for Ollie, Bea and their friends. I’m already dreaming up a crossover where Ollie and Bea visit the State Natural History Museum and team up with Sherlock Bones and Watts to solve a mystery.

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Best friends Ollie and Bea continue to delight young readers in Book 2 of this super sweet and funny full-colour graphic novel series that celebrates friendship and the differences that make us special.

Q. What’s the hardest part of learning to skate?
A. THE GROUND!

Ollie is having a HOOT on his rollerskates, but Bea is full of excuses for why she can’t join in. Will she realise that sometimes it’s okay to look silly, and that real friends don’t CARROT all if you have very big feet?

Ollie and Bea continue to charm in this super-cute series about the joys of friends and fun and lots of puns. The perfect book for young readers who love to laugh.

The Super Adventures of Ollie and Bea #1: It’s Owl Good – Renée Treml

I absolutely adore Renée Treml’s Sherlock Bones books so I was keen to get my hands on the first two books in her new series. I was not disappointed. The engaging characters, the gorgeous illustrations, the accidental learning and the humour I loved in Sherlock Bones were all here, just for a younger audience.

We’re introduced to Ollie the owl and Bea the bunny. They’re destined to become best friends. We also meet CeeCee the otter, Pedro the chameleon, Sera the deer and Simon the squirrel, who each have their own superpower.

I adored Ollie and Bea straight away, mostly because they’re both struggling with insecurities. Ollie, unlike other owls, has poor eyesight and needs to wear glasses. Bea’s feet, which are so long they should probably come with a trip hazard warning, make her feel self conscious.

Together, our new friends try to find a way to turn what they perceive as their weaknesses into superpowers.

My favourite piece of accidental learning in this book was “an owl can hear ten times better than a human”.

Some of the humour in this book comes from the puns. When Bea gets angry, she’s a “hot cross bunny”.

The illustrations are “otter-ly awesome!” Bonus points from me because they’re in colour.

The target audience are kidlets aged from 4 to 7 years. It’s the kind of book I’d be happy to read aloud repeatedly. Emerging bookworms should manage this book well as there aren’t many words on each page. There are a couple of Spanish words towards the end of the book but readers don’t need to know Spanish as the meanings are explained in English.

I’m looking forward to the next book, Squeal on Wheels, which features rollerskating animals. What’s not to love?!

Thank you so much to Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read this book.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Ollie and Bea will delight young readers in Book 1 of this super sweet and funny full-colour graphic novel series that celebrates friendship and the differences that make us special.

Come with Ollie and Bea on a HARE-raising adventure with a HOPPY ending!

Ollie is an owl who wears glasses. And Bea is a bunny with very big feet. They don’t know it yet, but they are about to be best friends. Can they help each other to find their OTTER-LY awesome inner superhero?

Join Ollie and Bea in this charming, funny, cute story about the joys of making friends and having fun. The perfect book for young readers who love to laugh.

The Secret Garden: A Graphic Novel – Mariah Marsden (Adapter)

Illustrations – Hanna Luechtefeld

The Secret Garden was one of my childhood favourites. I read my treasured copy until the front cover began to separate from the rest of the book and watched the 1993 movie so many times I could recite entire scenes to you. It’s now been several years since I last read the book; a friend borrowed my copy and never returned it and I haven’t been able to bring myself to read a copy that’s not my well loved, decades old one.

I absolutely adored Mariah Marsden’s adaptation of Anne of Green Gables and was looking forward to her next adaptation. Needless to say, I was delighted to learn that she was bringing me the story of contrary Mary Lennox, sweet animal whisperer Dickon and sickly Colin.

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This graphic novel adaptation stays true to the spirit of the novel but glosses over some of the details found in the original story. In particular, Mary’s life before she arrives at Misselthwaite Manor is barely touched on (the reasons for this are explained at the end). If you didn’t already know her background, the changes in her throughout the story wouldn’t be as meaningful. This story also ends before you find out what becomes of the three children.

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Although I had hoped Brenna Thummler, who illustrated the Anne of Green Gables adaptation, would return for any future adaptations, I did enjoy Hanna Luechtefeld’s style. I especially loved the way the colours fit Mary’s mood. When she first arrives at Misselthwaite Manor the colours are muted. The flashbacks to her life in India take on an orange hue. As the story progresses and life returns to Mary, Colin and the garden, the colours become richer.

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Following the story you’ll find information about Frances Hodgson Burnett’s life, details of the various locations found in the story and a glossary.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Green-growing secrets and magic await you at Misselthwaite Manor, now reimagined in this graphic novel adaptation of Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tale.

Ten-year-old Mary Lennox arrives at a secluded estate on the Yorkshire moors with a scowl and a chip on her shoulder. First, there’s Martha Sowerby: the too-cheery maid with bothersome questions who seems out of place in the dreary manor. Then there’s the elusive Uncle Craven, Mary’s only remaining family – whom she’s not permitted to see. And finally, there are the mysteries that seem to haunt the run-down place: rumours of a lost garden with a tragic past, and a midnight wail that echoes across the moors at night. 

As Mary begins to explore this new world alongside her ragtag companions – a cocky robin redbreast, a sour-faced gardener, and a boy who can talk to animals – she learns that even the loneliest of hearts can grow roots in rocky soil. 

Phoebe and Her Unicorn #13: Unicorn Famous – Dana Simpson

After having a best friend who’s a unicorn for quite a while now, Phoebe discovers that unicorns have become popular and she’s not sure whether she’s okay with that or not. I, too, was into unicorns before they were cool so I understand where Phoebe is coming from.

Marigold employs her skills as a tooth fairy negotiator. Like all parents do, whether they want to admit it or not, Phoebe’s dad attempts to customise her. Phoebe and Marigold enjoy a day out at the water park.

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Dakota receives a Blarty Award but she’s not entirely sure what the award is for since she doesn’t speak goblin. Marigold proves she has great taste in movies.

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Dakota and Phoebe settle on being kind of friends. Phoebe makes her own Halloween costume without any magical unicorn assistance.

And my personal favourite, Claustrophoebea and Pointyhead make another long overdue appearance.

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I can’t believe I still love this series so much! This is the thirteenth time I’ve been allowed to see what lies beneath the Shield of Boringness and I’d hang out with Marigold and her human, Phoebe, again tomorrow if Marigold was inclined to magic up the fourteenth graphic novel by then.

There’s a great blend of comics that explore things we already know in a new way, like Marigold’s obsession with her reflection, and entirely new, very important unicorn related information.

Unicorn sneers will make 62% of your freckles fall off.

We also discover what’s to blame for us not being able to get negative comments out of our heads. It was peanut butter all along. Who would have suspected something that’s seemingly innocuous was capable of something so dastardly?!

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for the opportunity to fall in love with this graphic novel early.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

When your best friend is a unicorn, every day is a stroll down the red carpet. Phoebe Howell’s unicorn BFF, Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, is happy to provide the celebrity treatment – teaching Phoebe fancy new spells, giving her a ride to school so she doesn’t have to ride the bus, and even negotiating with the tooth fairy on her behalf.

But when Phoebe starts noticing that unicorns have become a trendy fashion statement, she doesn’t feel quite so unique. Fortunately, she’s distracted by adventures including a visit to the unicorn community and a trip to the woods to see her friend Dakota receive an unusual honour at the goblin award ceremony. Unicorn Famous is filled with amusing examples of the extraordinary lengths friends will go to make each other feel special. 

Sheets #2: Delicates – Brenna Thummler

You never know what’s going on inside someone else’s head – how they’re hurting – even if you put the hurt there yourself.

Marjorie, who felt like a ghost in Sheets, has recently started the eighth grade. In order to fit in, she hides who she really is from her new friends. Marjorie and her family are, each in their own ways, grieving the death of her mother.

Eliza is an outcast who is repeating the eighth grade.

“Sometimes I feel like a ghost, but maybe a ghost in the wrong place, you know?”

Eliza spends her time trying to capture ghosts on Lorraine, her camera (named after Lorraine Warren), for her paranormal portfolio. Being herself has resulted in Marjorie’s new friends bullying her, while Marjorie stands by, visibly uncomfortable but not intervening.

Marjorie spending time with her new friends means she doesn’t have as much time to spend with Wendell, her favourite ghost.

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He’s missing his friend and feeling left out. He is trying his best to deal with both his life and life after death.

I loved Eliza. Anyone who dresses up as a Ghostbuster for Halloween and wears different coloured socks is my kind of person. I ached for her as I watched her cross back and forth between being too visible and invisible.

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I always look for fun background details in graphic novels. My favourite find in Delicates was the names of the movies playing at The Rubin – The Ghost Wears Prada and What a Girl Haunts.

As I’ve come to expect from Brenna Thummler, the artwork was absolutely gorgeous. The characters’ expressions often speak louder than their words and, although it’s been a long time since I last read Sheets, the colour palette immediately drew me back into its world.

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“You should never have to hide who you are.”

Content warnings include bullying, depression, grief, racism and suicidal ideation.

Thank you very much to NetGalley and Oni Press for the opportunity to read this graphic novel.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Once Upon a Blurb

Marjorie Glatt’s life hasn’t been the same ever since she discovered a group of ghosts hiding in her family’s laundromat. Wendell, who died young and now must wander Earth as a ghost with nothing more than a sheet for a body, soon became one of Marjorie’s only friends. But when Marjorie finally gets accepted by the popular kids at school, she begins to worry that if anyone learns about her secret ghost friends, she’ll be labeled as a freak who sees dead people. With Marjorie’s insistence on keeping Wendell’s ghost identity a secret from her new friends, Wendell begins to feel even more invisible than he already is.

Eliza Duncan feels invisible too. She’s an avid photographer, and her zealous interest in finding and photographing ghosts gets her labeled as “different” by all the other kids in school. Constantly feeling on the outside, Eliza begins to feel like a ghost herself. Marjorie must soon come to terms with the price she pays to be accepted by the popular kids. Is it worth losing her friend, Wendell? Is she partially to blame for the bullying Eliza endures?

Delicates tells a powerful story about what it means to fit in, and those left on the outside. It shows what it’s like to feel invisible, and the importance of feeling seen. Above all, it is a story of asking for help when all seems dark, and bringing help and light to those who need it most.