- One Year at Ellsmere by Faith Erin Hicks
Hicks, Faith Erin One Year at Ellsmere; written and illus. by Faith Erin Hicks. First Second, 2020 [176p] Trade ed. ISBN 9781250219091 $22.99 Paper ed. ISBN 9781250219107 $14.99 Reviewed from galleys R Gr. 5-8
In this graphic novel, thirteen-year-old Juniper is understandably nervous about becoming the first scholarship student at elite boarding school Ellsmere Academy. She immediately runs afoul of snarky mean girl Helen and her minions, but she also finds genuine friendship with roommate and fellow outsider Cassie, and soon the pair are helping each other succeed in classes, defending against Helen's machinations, and ultimately finding confidence to be themselves. Meanwhile, adding a splash of the fantastic to this otherwise familiar tale of girl drama is a mysterious creature (ultimately revealed to be a unicorn), who haunts the woods beyond the school, only to make an appearance at the final showdown between the girls and their nemesis and help set everything right. Brief vignette-like chapters, conveyed in full color with muted tones, follow Jun and Cassie through their titular year, with drawings that focus predominantly on faces to bring readers into the girls' emotional lives. This is a reprint of a small-release title from 2008, with color added, and its technological and demographic sensibilities (the cast is almost entirely white) don't seem entirely contemporary, but the core story is universally recognizable. The ultimately happy resolution, meanwhile, leaves the door open for sequels, while post-narrative pages offer insights into the illustrator's process.