The Return of the Honey Buzzard, by Aimée de Jongh; Self-Made Hero, $22.95, 160 pages, ages 14 and up.
We may have entered the holiday season, but some people find this time of year downright depressing, and children (especially teenagers) can be as vulnerable as adults to downshifts in mood. To soothe wayward souls, Aimée de Jongh’s debut graphic novel poignantly deals with bullying, death, grief, and finding hope in the aftermath of trauma.
Simon is a third-generation bookstore owner forced to sell his shop during an economic downturn, and driving home one day he witnesses a suicide. While processing his emotions, memories from Simon’s childhood come surging forth, and through conversations with a mysterious girl named Regina, Simon’s long-repressed guilt over a friend’s death takes over all his thoughts. Did he ever process his friend’s untimely demise? Why does Simon blame himself for what happened to his friend? Why can’t he let these feelings go? de Jongh’s stark pen and ink illustrations are appropriate counterpoints to the difficult topics she explores. A deceptively quick read, some teenage readers may get tripped up by the author’s discussion of magic realism, but the illustrations do a good job of merging the protagonist’s daily life with allegorical elements.
Return of the Honey-Buzzard explores gun violence and suicide, and includes some strong language, but is a sensitive and powerful selection for teenage readers who themselves may be in crisis. It is also a reminder that actions have consequences–for better and for worse. But we have to face our choices, no matter how painful, in order to make progress. As Simon says in the text, “Sometimes you have to make a fresh start to survive.”
Images copyright 2016 Aimee de Jongh. Reproduced with permission from Self Made Hero.