Book Title: Mercury
Author: Hope Larson
Style: Graphic Novel
Target Audience: YA
Genres: Fiction, Fantasy
Page Count: 240
Format: Hardcover (library)
Reading time: 1 hour
Date Finished: 1/29/17
Click here to find it on Amazon (New window)
My impressions: It’s so weird how the books I’ve read this month have had odd points of intersection. I’ve had books that have mentioned the Children’s Crusade in different ways, or which have referenced Robert Browning, or which have had similar themes about hollow people observed by an almost invisible tagalong narrator. In the case of Hope Laron’s Mercury, I’ve read yet another graphic novel aimed at teenagers which uses the themes of the spiritual world and magical realism to help make sense of a character’s coming of age. And to make matters weirder, this is the second book I’ve read today based in the relatively small Canadian coastal province of Nova Scotia (the first being Friends With Boys).
Mercury is a little bit different because it actually tells two stories in the same place, but different periods of time. The first concerns a modern-day girl named Tara who is trying to find her place in a high school following a fire burning down her family’s home. The second story is about one of Tara’s ancestors, Josey, who is enchanted by a young con artist from Australia who uses a magical medallion to locate gold on her father’s property, and who tries to convince her to marry him so he can establish himself as a man of standing in 19th century society. Both stories intertwine at the end, and while the two characters never meet, they are connected in a number of ways that allow Tara to bring a happy ending to Josey’s tragic chapter.
The artwork is flat and cartoonish, with heavy inks and exaggerated characters. I liked the attention to detail in the world created and the initial panels that showed how one stretch of road evolved over the centuries. While I think Hope Larson is a talented storyteller and I’ve liked all of her work that I’ve seen, I will say that I struggled a bit to understand her characters’ expressions; they didn’t always sell the emotion the story was otherwise communicating, and Tara in particular felt a bit too smug and self-aware at times where she should have been frightened, confused or annoyed. The con man Asa was also illustrated in a manner that telegraphed his bad intentions from the start, making the drama of the story a bit muted since it was so clear he was a rogue.
On the other hand, I have to give Larson credit for employing local culture and legends derived from Scottish lore into the story. She clearly wrote this for an American audience since she takes time to explain references to local chains like the King of Dunair or casual mentions of “Tim’s” (Tim Hortons), but she doesn’t shy away from having characters with names that have unusual spellings (due to their Gaelic origins) or from introducing spirits with motives and purposes that aren’t easily recognizable to the audience.
All in all, I found it a enjoyable read, and it was interesting to contrast it with the similarly-themed Friends with Boys to see the differences in style and storytelling. I should also note that I absolutely love how many strong female visual storytellers there are producing comics today that show a distinctive style and personality; while many of them (including Hope Larson) appear to be heavily influenced by manga, they aren’t trying to emulate the Japanese comic book style and conventions so much as work them into their own manner of telling a story. Considering that 15-20 years ago, there were very few women creating comics outside of the underground scene (with a handful of creators like Trina Robbins, Lynda Barry, Melinda Gebbie, Colleen Doran, Marjane Satrapi, Alison Bechdel, Wendy Pini and Aline Kominsky-Crumb forming a very small, but talented, circle). Now, there are quite a few, many of whom are seeing their work picked up by major publishers and distributed through established bookstore channels and libraries rather than the closed-off world of comic book shops.