Despite all of the hand-wringing about the state of the American comics industry, it’s impossible to ignore the strength and stability of the young adult and middle grade markets. While monthly issues of even well-known superheroes don’t always sell well, books for readers between eight and eighteen years old have increasingly formed the backbone of American comics. Stories written with an eye for relationships, character growth, and adventure paired with enchanting and colorful art are a staple of YA and middle grade books. In such a talent-rich environment, it can be hard to stand out, but Snapdragon is more than up to the task.
The book stars titular Snapdragon Bloom, a young girl who seeks out a friendship with her new town’s rumored witch and uncovers secrets both personal and universal. Snap, as she’s affectionately called by family and friend alike, lives with her mother and a three-legged dog named Good Boy. The pup was injured in an accident and saved by Jacks, a mysterious old woman who lives out in the woods. Both Jacks and Snap’s new best friend Lu are queer, but it’s depicted with such straightforward matter-of-factness that it would be impossible to treat it as anything other than a single facet of two fully realized and very different characters. Being LGBTQ+ is part of who Jacks and Lu are, but it’s not the only part of them, let alone central to the story.
After discovering that Jacks has a particular way with animals, Snap talks her way into an apprenticeship. She learns all about anatomy and respecting nature, but most importantly, Snap discovers her own potential. Over the course of the book, Snap confronts bullies, her mother’s terrible ex-boyfriend, and insecurities about her own worthiness—a classic hero’s journey. Though the arc of the story is familiar, writer and artist Kat Leyh keeps the story fresh and engrossing by adding elements long absent from these types of stories. Snap’s relationship with her mother and the rest of her family is a positive one, a strong foundation on which to start her adventure, while her friendship with Lu is clearly important to her emotional health and growth. Snap is the sort of protagonist who relies on ingenuity and willpower to overcome obstacles, but leans on the other women in her life for help (especially the older women), and that’s extremely refreshing.
Leyh’s name is likely most familiar to fans of Lumberjanes, and Snapdragon retains a lot of that book’s sense of wonder and deep affection while being something wholly new. Leyh’s art is expressive and kinetic in a very appealing way, especially for readers who love shows like She-Ra and Steven Universe. The colors shift from bright to melancholy and help guide the mood of the story, elevating already excellent character designs. Though it’s easy to miss in favor of focusing on dramatic facial expressions and wonderful comedic beats, Leyh has dedicated a lot of attention to the background details, leveraging beautiful washes and things like wallpaper patterns to deepen the world that she’s created and lend it a sense of realism that can stand up to the magic Jacks and Snap create together. Snapdragon is a must-read book in a field of very strong contenders, hilarious and generous at the same time.