Sunday, February 24, 2013

Peanut by Ayun Halliday and Paul Hoppe

Teenagers are trying to invent themselves, more than anything else: to become who they want to be, just as soon as they can figure out what that is. And how better to do that then to just announce who and what you are? Sadie decided that's what she'd do, when she started her sophomore year at a new high school: she'd start off by telling all of her new classmates about her life-threatening peanut allergy.

There was just one catch: Sadie didn't really have a peanut allergy. It was just something to make her more interesting at the new school, a way to attract attention and new friends. But a peanut allergy doesn't go away, so she was stuck with living her lie -- as long as she could.

Peanut is a graphic novel for teens, written by indy cartoonist Ayun Halliday (East Village Inky) and drawn by illustrator/cartoonist Paul Hoppe -- and, although Halliday's previous comics work (and a lot of her other books) were autobiographical, this one is purely fiction, as far as I can tell. (So many comics aimed outside of the long-underwear ghetto are memoirs these days that I won't be the only one wondering about this.)

Hoppe uses a crisp, entirely realistic style to tell this story -- mostly thin blue lines, with a splash of red for Sadie -- and Halliday's first-person narration lets Sadie tell her story in a similarly clear, direct way. Sadie finds attention -- and a new boyfriend -- with her new peanut allergy, but of course she doesn't know if she'd have those friends, and that quirky boyfriend (he sends her notes in origami and refuses to use a cellphone) without the big fake revelation.

Peanut is a closely observed story of modern suburban teens, with nasty queen bees, friends as devoted as only fifteen-year-olds can be, and one very conflicted teen girl at the middle of it all. It's heavily narrated by Sadie, as focused through her point of view as a traditional first-person novel would be, so the reader stays in her head (and, presumably, on her side) the whole time. The stakes aren't particularly high here -- just Sadie's honesty and happiness, though that's not nothing -- unlike so much of the popular current teen fiction. It's a bit conventional -- it doesn't go in any of the interesting directions that a more fantastical book about a lying teen girl like Justine Larbalestier's Liar does -- but it has a good heart, it tells a good story, and it looks good along the way.

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