Monday, January 27, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #27: Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong by Shen and Hicks

This is a fun graphic novel, but the story of how it came to be is possibly more interesting than the book itself: Prudence Shen wrote a YA novel called Voted Most Likely, which she'd submitted to an arm of the Macmillan publishing octopus. Somehow -- I don't know if I've seen the details on that anywhere -- an editor thought Voted Most Likely had a good story, but wanted to turn it into a graphic novel instead. And so that editor brought in Faith Erin Hicks, since First Second (the graphic novel line at Macmillan) had recently published Hicks's Friends With Boys.

(This story could feed into the paranoid writer's idea that "they're going to steal my ideas," except that Shen had to approve the whole thing and was happy about it the whole way.)

Anyway, along the development path the title turned into Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong. And the entire graphic novel was posted for free on the Internet -- that link is to the first page, which also includes a long blog post from Hicks about how the collaboration came to be; Hicks has also written about that process a couple of other places. So you've got an unexpected collaboration, a freemium model for outreach, and a first-time novelist working with an established cartoonist, just to begin with. (And that's not even getting into the oddball take this book has on the great jocks-versus-nerds divide in high school.)

You can still read the whole book for free at that first link above, if you want, so it might be easier to just do that than to read what I have to say. But, if not: Go Wrong is the story of a school election that spirals out of control, driven by the competing financial desires of the robotics club (to go to a major competition) and the cheerleading squad (to get new uniforms).

So, immediately, the jocks are cheerleaders -- but no less scary because of it. And the central character is torn between the two groups: Charlie, captain of the basketball team, best friend of the head of the robotics club, and ex-boyfriend of the cheerleading captain. The story starts out as expected -- old friends competing for the presidency of the school and the budgetary control that goes with it, an escalating set of pranks against the other group -- but then begins a series of swerves, because Shen and Hicks aren't interested in telling a story you've seen a dozen times before.

The high concept here might be jocks vs. nerds, but it gets muddier than that on the very first page, and turns into a story about how we all have to live in a world with many different people -- some of them jerks, some of them scary, some of them blocking things we want -- and how we can all do that together. Charlie and his friends don't always make the right decisions -- do any of us, whatever our ages? -- but they do pretty well, and they work it out in the end. I'm hoping my own teenagers read Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong; I'm going to leave it out casually and see what happens....

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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