Koko Be Good

Jen Wang, Author . Roaring Brook/First Second $18.99 (299p) ISBN 978-1-59643-555-1

When readers dive into Wang's first graphic novel, they may at first believe they have another slacker coming-of-age story on their hands. And to some extent, that is true, although it travels in unexpected directions. Wang follows three characters as they struggle to define their places in the world. Jon is a recent college graduate planning to follow his older girlfriend to Peru to work for an orphanage, and his story, which opens the book, feels the most familiar. In the midst of his existential crisis, he meets Koko, an eccentric, sometimes almost feral young woman who ricochets from encounter to encounter, often leaving a trail of chaos in her wake. The relatively slim plot follows them, as well as Faron, a slight teenage boy, as they wrestle with what it means to be good and how goodness can be combined with happiness. Wang's strength is her art work. The watercolor panels, with an ochre template, are stunning and emotionally evocative, and the book is at its best when she tells the story through images. At times the dialogue sounds too much like a late-night college bull session, especially when it turns to philosophy. But Wang's delicate images, and her ability to capture the earnest emotions of her characters, should pull in all but the most hard-hearted reader. (Sept.)

Reviewed on: 04/19/2010
Release date: 09/01/2010
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