Book Review: LumberJanes

lumberjanes cover

Stevenson, Noelle, Shannon Watters, Brooke A. Allen, Maarta Laiho, and Aubrey Aiese. LumberJanes. Beware The Kitten Holy ed. Vol. 1. Los Angeles, CA: BOOM! Box, a division of Boom Entertainment, Inc., 2016. Print.

In my world, authors are rock stars.

I’ve been lucky enough to meet several of my favorites in person: John Green, Rainbow Rowell, and MT Anderson among others. Each time I encounter an author, I am energized not only as a voracious reader but as an aspiring author.

Recently, I had a unique opportunity to see such an author on stage. He wasn’t conducting a book signing or a meet-and-greet; instead, he was holding a charity Q&A session at my alma mater. Though it pains me to say this, I am not as familiar with his series of graphic novels as I am the subsequent television show adaptation.

The author was Robert Kirkman, and the show is The Walking Dead.

During the session, Kirkman said the key to writing a successful comic book—or creating any type of successful art—is to find a niche, something unique that is not currently out there. The novelty of your creation will likely lead to its success.

And, if this is the key to graphic novel success, then LumberJanes certainly has this formula down pat.

Assembled by a team of talented illustrators, LumberJanes Vol. 1: Beware the Kitten Holy introduces us to a motley crew of young female campers. The five girls attend Miss Quinzella Thiskwin Penniququl Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Girls (or hard-core lady types, as the vandalized sign now says). The camp is a mixture between Girl Scouts and 4-H and the girls are expected to participate—and sometimes earn badges—in the standard activities: camping, canoeing, archery, etc.

But the camp is not a tranquil nature retreat. Throughout the course of the first issue, the girls encounter three-eyed foxes, “hipster” yetis, talking statues, and a boy’s camp where something feels a bit off. Most alarming of all, the girls uncover a foreboding message: they must beware the “kitten holy”. Will they ever decipher the meaning of this message? Will their misadventures get them kicked out of camp altogether?

Hearkening back to Kirkman’s wise words, LumberJanes is different from anything I’ve ever read, and not just because of my unfamiliarity with graphic novels. The girls—Mal, Molly, Jo, April, and Ripley—have unique, stereotype-shattering personalities. April, for instance, is the tiniest and most daintily dressed of the crew, yet she is physically stronger and more daring than the other girls. Barney, a member of the boy’s camp, eschews traditionally male activities and prefers baking cookies. The feminist in me cheered throughout the duration of my read.

LumberJanes is interspersed with excerpts from The LumberJanes Field Manual, and these usually give readers a bit of tongue-in-cheek foreshadowing. The grammar errors in these excerpts, however, gave me pause as I read. There were many comma issues and incorrectly used words—a snippet from the chapter on earning a naval gauging badge, for example, says “be she will learn how to explore with a seeing and vigilant eye” when it intends to read as “but she will learn how to explore with a seeing and vigilant eye”. Some readers will skip these sections altogether, but careful readers might be bothered by these editing issues.

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this first edition of LumberJanes and I believe my students would be just as enthusiastic. Educators who are teaching a unit on gender might find it especially fitting. The colorful illustrations and the moments of humor will be attractive to the most reluctant of readers. The battle cry of the LumberJanes—Friendship to the Max!—reminds us to look after and protect one another. This is a good reminder to our students that petty disagreements will fade with time, but supporting your friends in times of crisis is of paramount importance.