Series: Unfamiliar #1
Age Category: Middle Grade/YA
Kitchen witch Planchette buys a new house, only to discover that the discounted price must have been because it is haunted! Unfortunately, Planchette’s powers are mostly good for cooking and not for exorcisms, so she heads to town to make new friends and find a little help to reclaim her home.
Unfamiliar is a fun graphic novel that I am sure will appeal particular to tween and teen readers with its quirky art style and somewhat random storytelling arc. For my own part, I find it rather obvious that the book began as a webcomic. The plot is all over the place and makes no significant headway before the book abruptly ends–no closure here, just a hope that readers will return for the next installment! But I do know many younger readers who will enjoy the characters and the premise, without worrying about the overall structure. So, pick this one up if you enjoy webcomics, I guess!
I am sure many types of webcomics exist. My own limited experience, however, is that often these stories kind of meander along with no real place to go–at least not in a hurry–because the creators want readers to keep returning. Oftentimes, the focus is more on the characters than the plot. This seems to be the case with Unfamiliar. The book sets up the initial premise–that kitchen witch Planchette has a haunted house and needs help removing the ghosts–but then diverts immediately into introducing the new characters, Planchette’s found family: a siren who does not like attention, a not-powerful witch from a very powerful family, and a girl under a curse. Backstories are given and friendships formed. Aw! No need to worry about the actual problem here. The ghosts can wait while readers go on little “side quests” with all the new characters.
This sort of storytelling may be unfocused, but undoubtedly has its fans. Personally, I would have preferred for book one to have, at least, a discernible sort of arc so I could feel closure at the end, and then an invitation to keep reading with book two. I was surprised that Planchette made almost no progress on her house issue, and that the book seems to end practically mid-scene. This will, I think, frustrate some readers, even if they enjoy the story. Most readers do not want to be hanging like this. It’s not a well-crafted cliffhanger or anything like that. It just…stops. Presumably because the story was conceived of as one continuous work, and not meant to be broken up here at all.
The artwork is also a bit too quirky for my taste. I like the “cutesy” nature of the illustrations and can see it appealing to readers. I do not like the way the eyes are drawn with actual objects in them instead of pupils. (And not the usual dollar signs or hearts. More like, if the protagonist sees a pony she likes, her eyes both have ponies inside.) It looks weird and creepy, yes, but also seems like a strange shorthand. Instead of drawing characters with actual emotions, the artist can just put pictures in their eyes to show what they are thinking. I would prefer more emotive characters instead of the pupil replacement strategy.
Unfamiliar has an intriguing premise and introduces some characters I would like to see more of. It is not for me, however, a must-read series. I can see myself forgetting about it and losing interest by the time a book two is released.
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