Random House Graphic has come onto the YA reader scene and has so far produced nothing but high quality, highly entertaining graphic novels. Runaway Princess and Kerry and the Knight of the Forest are two visually stunning examples of the quality of books they’ve put out and out this month is yet another called Séance Tea Party. It’s a story about 12-year-old Lora Zi who’s reluctant to let go of childhood, and it’s a good book for kids of a similar age. Her favorite holiday is Halloween, making this a perfect pickup for a niece or nephew during the spooky season.
This is the perfect coming-of-age read for a kiddo who is holding onto the things they’ve loved growing up but are about to embark on middle-grade age. The book is written and illustrated by Reimena Yee, who is quite good at capturing the verve of life at a very young age. It opens on Lora’s wild imagination going on a pirate adventure, which we soon find out is taking place while she rides her bike. We’re then whisked off on a montage of her fun and happy life of hanging out with friends and going to school. She’s perfectly normal and fancy-free, but soon she realizes her friends might be growing up. She’s left alone on her birthday and it hurts her feelings. Soon, though, she befriends a ghost named Alexa and embarks on a new life of hanging out more or less on her own save for her new friend.
The beauty of this narrative is how it slowly unveils how Lora is content playing with Alexa for a spell, but soon discovers the joys of things older kids are into. Things start to shift when Lora and Alexa go to a Halloween party. It’s weird and different, but Alexa gives her the confidence to talk to these older kids and have some fun. As the story progresses we see Lora grow up a bit while Alexa is left behind. There’s a duality to this inability to grow up or a fear of growing up, but in the case of Alexa she can’t ever grow up.
From here, the story goes in magical and surprising directions. Ultimately, it’s about growing up and finding your identity; not about rejecting the things you loved as a kid, but holding onto those things and being confident enough in yourself to carry on. It’s about loving yourself for who you are. I did find the story a bit slow at times, but I think younger readers will positively love the idea of a ghost friend. How Yee carries this story forward is incredibly unique and it’s fun to see Alexa became a big part of what this story is about. The comics medium is perfect for this story because of how it’s able to take its time.
The visuals are beautifully done with a mix of standard layouts and more creative elements. Yee ends the book with a nice breakdown of how she makes comics, which adds helpful context to the style.
Something that adds a lot of life to the book is the presence of little creatures that hang around in the gutters between the panels, seemingly suggesting that the imaginative nature of Lora is bleeding out of the panels and into the gutters. The character design is quite unique too, like nothing you’ve seen before.
Séance Tea Party is a delightful book middle-grade readers will adore, especially those having trouble letting go of the things they loved as little kids. There’s a message here for young readers to latch onto and learn from. Most importantly, Séance Tea Party is a story about not fearing getting older, but embracing it.
For more on Random House Graphic check out their fall and 2021 preview.