“I wanted it so much, I made it real.”
Hope Larson (@hopelarson)
Rebecca Mock (@rebeccamock)
Review by Chris Ceary
Content warning/Trigger warning: Elder abuse, PTSD
Growing up is hard. It is harder still when your imagination makes you feel too big for the world you inhabit. Salt Magic is the story of a young girl, Vonceil, growing up on a farm in the early 1900s. As the youngest child in the family, everyone is growing up without her, especially her older brother who returns from the war with more secrets than scars. When those secrets come to the farm in the form of a mysterious woman, Vonceil is launched on a magical journey. Salt Magic weaves together fairytale elements with a grounded historical coming of age story. Fans of Hope Larson’s Compass South will not be disappointed by this new work.
Salt Magic manages a balance of whimsical and emotionally devastating writing that is reminiscent of stories like Howl’s Moving Castle. There is plenty of fun about the tale, such as a magic system based on different tastes like salt and sweet. However, equally strong is the emotion throughout. There is the existential ennui of growing up and recognizing that things change. Vonceil’s brother is forced to become an adult by the war, and the magic he brings home with him may affect Vonceil’s journey to adulthood as well. It is a story full of nostalgia and longing for childhood, that also celebrates life at all stages. Salt Magic brought me to tears multiple times. Even days later, thinking of the story fills my chest with emotion. Like the magic system itself, this graphic novel is a bittersweet recipe.
Vonceil is a delightful protagonist. She is of the brand of difficult girls that I love to see. She is messy, bold, and sometimes rude. She is full of imagination and heart. She is the kind of little girl hero comics need more of because she feels real and not easily reducible to any archetype.
Carrying on the bittersweet theme, the art conveys the aching pain, the mundane, and the fantastic with equal talent. Whether it is the water hole where Vonceil swims or the hut of the sugar witch, the images linger with the reader.
GET IT NOW. Salt Magic joins Larson’s Compass South among the list of graphic novels I will be recommending to anyone who will listen. It is an incredible story that I read in one sitting because I had to know what would happen next. Wonderful for all ages. Pick it up and grab Compass South while you are at it.