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It’s painful and confusing to be a young teenage girl. Your friends are growing up faster than you are. You feel alienated from the people you once knew. No matter what you do, you don’t feel cool enough.
Hope Larson’s Chiggers captures this transitional period beautifully, quietly. There’s no profound life-lessons here. The book at both matter-of-fact and magical as it follows Abby through a summer at camp and her friendship with a strange girl named Shasta, who says she was struck by lightning.
Larson understands why Abby would still talk to Beth after she overheard Beth talking about her and why Abby would remain loyal to Shasta after they fought over a boy they both liked. She understands his is just the way girls are. (And I liked how Abby and her friends were initially catty toward Deni – none of the girls here are presented as being better than the others.)
Larson’s art is loose and animated. The thick outlines give an immediacy to the story that reflects the subject matter. Everything for teenage girls is right now. Her expressive faces are fun and can almost tell the story in themselves – characters’ eyes cut off to the side, or widen in surprise. I love Abby’s look of confusion and sorrow when someone points out there’s a leaf in Shasta’s hair after she’s run off with Abby’s crush Teal. We’re never told what happened there, but Abby’s heartbreak is apparent, wordless.
I also love that through the slightly older Rose, Larson shows that there is something beyond the turmoil of young adolescence. While some women never grow out of gossiping and betrayal, Rose represents that girls do move beyond this period. Abby gives Rose – and readers – hope that things won’t be like this forever.
Abby is also, delightfully, a geek. She’s a girl who likes Dungeons and Dragons and books called things like Outlaw Queen of the Minas (which, sadly, seems to be something Larson made up). It’s easy for me to relate to her and why she’d feel attached to Shasta, who seems to attract electric forces. That’s the kind of teenage girl I was. (And there’s something so wonderful when Teal gives Abby a 20-sided die.)
I want to know why the Minx books aren’t like this. I love it now but I would’ve loved it as a teenager. I can only hope that this book will bring Hope Larson the wider attention she deserves.