“We don’t let boys hurt us. We hurt boys. Only boys.”
Maggie Tokuda-Hall (@emteehall)
Lisa Sterle (@lisa_sterle)
Review by Chris Ceary
Content warning/trigger warning: Graphic novel contains attempted sexual assault, sexual harassment, gendered violence, and major character death
Have you ever said to yourself: I wish someone would write Teen Wolf by way of Jennifer’s Body? I would love a graphic novel that is Mean Girls if Mean Girls was revenge horror? What if Pretty Little Liars had werewolves but also true feminism? If any of those questions resonate with you, may I direct you to your nearest comic store to pick up Squad.
Squad is the familiar story of a high school girl moving to a new town and trying to make it with the popular kids. There is just one important detail: the popular girls are werewolves who feed on boys every full moon. The rules are simple. Eat the bad boys, don’t eat close to home, and the squad sticks together. The problem with rules is, they have a way of falling apart.
Squad joins the ranks of stories (like Jennifer’s Body) that use cannibalism as a metaphor for reclaiming power in a world that robs young women of agency. The girls experience hunger that is sated when they devour the teenage boys who seek to harm them. As the new girl main character realizes, hunger can be pretty close to anger. As teenage girls growing up in a world of sexual violence, discrimination, and judgment, there is a lot of anger to go around. Tokuda-Hall’s choice to use hunger as a stand-in for anger is a brilliant touch because both having an appetite and expressing anger are things women are punished for in society. These girls are hungry. These girls are angry. They do not apologize for either.
Squad is unapologetically focused on girls. Every major character is a woman. Casual jokes about menstruation and female masturbation are a refreshing breath of fresh air. The central romance of the story is also women loving women. In a story this focused on girls’ sexual desire and gaze, having the romance be Sapphic is the perfect bow on this gift.
The art further highlights the focus on the female gaze. While the girls are frequently naked–as is common in werewolf stories–the art style remains respectful, showing nakedness without sexualizing it. The focus is always on their power, not their beauty. The art also manages to be graphic without being gratuitous, which lets the violence be stark but avoids the problems of feeling exploitative. It is a careful balance that Lisa Sterle succeeds at masterfully.
GET IT NOW. Squad is one of the best graphic novels I have read in a long time. The minute I picked it up, I could not put it down. If you love queer, feminist stories and the spooky side of genre fiction, you will be in graphic novel heaven. It is perfect for Halloween or any time of year.