Review of the Day: The Silver Six by AJ Lieberman
Ambition. It’s not a term I usually associate with children’s graphic novels. Your average everyday children’s comic is not particularly ambitious. There are so few of them out there that you can’t make any grand sweeping statements about them, except maybe to stress that the difference between a GN for adults and a GN for kids is scope. While an actual prose novel for the kiddos can set its sights rather high (see: The Golden Compass, Hokey Pokey, The Book of Everything, etc.) children’s graphic novels have more of a tendency to limit themselves. They might encompass sprawling narratives over the course of several books (see: the Bone series, the Amulet series, etc.) but in a single book? Usually there’s not a lot you can say (unless you’re Shaun Tan, of course). So I would have thought prior to picking up Lieberman and Rawlings’ The Silver Six. What looks on the outside to simply be yet another tame adventure tale for the kiddos turns quickly into a story so packed with excitement that in any other author’s hand this could easily have been split into a trilogy (at the very least). With a large diverse cast, a relatable heroine, and a good old-fashioned evil corporation, Lieberman and Rawlings dare to dream big and it pays off. Like I say . . . ambitious!
Phoebe Hemingway’s been doing okay. Sure, her parents died in a mysterious crash about a year ago and ever since she’s been faking it with her robot Oliver, living on their own. But when child welfare services track her down and send her to the ultimate nasty futuristic orphanage she discovers she may be in grave dangerd. Fortunately she meets up with five other kids that share some shocking similarities to Phoebe. Like the fact that their parents all died in the same crash. Or that they all willed to their children the same moon registration forms. Now the team is on an epic quest to escape the orphanage, travel off the planet, dodge the bad guys, and find out the true conspiracy behind their parents’ deaths.
They say that people relate to action movies/books/comics etc. because immediate peril is instantly understandable and accessible to an audience. That said, you can write all the action thrillers in the world but unless you’ve a little additional heart it’s not going to have a lot of emotional impact. What makes “The Silver Six” a little different from the other books out there is that it isn’t afraid to go for the emotional heart more than once. So you’ve six orphans, and that’s fairly heartrending on paper. And you’ve one of the villains dealing with his own tragic past as well. But the moment that makes all the difference in the world comes when Phoebe must willingly give up the one last family member she has for the greater good. When you sacrifice the comic relief to stop the baddies, that’s tough enough. When you actually LIKE said comic relief? Pull out those hankies and blow.
And I love the way the book rewards rereadings. As you read through and pick apart the conspiracies, the first page is going to make a lot more sense. Throwaway moments, like when a character sees the initials S.O.S. scrawled on a wall, are explained at length later. Then there are the little in-jokes. My personal favorite was the tech geek who worries that he didn’t feed his fish that morning, with a glance later at the fish he’s since raised in their absence. Trust me, it makes sense in the book.
The art itself wasn’t a lure at first. Darren Rawlings hails from the world of animation and motion graphics, so there’s going to be a certain level of slickness to any enterprise he stands behind right from the start. I’ve no idea if Mr. Rawlings did his own inking and coloring (no one else is credited) but it’s a good job. Still, the first thing you’ll notice is how much the man has had to cram onto each and every page. I’m not just talking words but number of panels and even images that appear on those panels. You get the distinct impression over the course of this book that Rawlings would do best if the pages were long and extended as you might find in a Tintin or Little Nemo collection. Yet for all that, I never had the feeling that the pages felt cramped. The art packs a punch but at the same time it has a way of carrying you along. I wouldn’t give it to a novice GN reader, but for those kids with some experience it’s going to be enormously satisfying.
If there’s a problem with the book, and there are surprisingly few, I suppose it’s the ending. The big showdown with the baddie happens and then everything looks lost. Then we get a LOT of exposition and badda bing, badda boom, end of story. In a book of false climaxes and honestly awesome moments where the action rises and falls, this letdown of an ending momentarily sours an otherwise skillful outing. I won’t deny that there’s a sweet justice in the way the villain personally brings about his own destruction, but it’s odd watching your heroes stand idly by while the world comes around to their way of thinking.
Many is the parent who decides to buy their kids some comics for vacation only to find that within the first 20 minutes of the car trip their children have read every single one. If you want something with a little more meat that’s going to keep their attention for AT LEAST an hour, The Silver Six is your friend. Also recommended for fans of epic adventures, bored kids, comic lovers, boys, girls, anyone who likes snarky robots, and people who has to read these kiddos bedtime stories. A quick and exciting little package (the book literally begins with an explosion) with a surprising amount of depth. Nicely done.
On shelves now.
Source: Galley sent from publisher for review.
Like This? Then Try:
- Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke
- The Stonekeeper by Kazu Kibuishi
- The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis
Other Blog Reviews:
Videos: And here’s the book trailer –
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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