Joe worries the whole way to his first party, clutching the gift to his chest, furrowing his brow, and asking his mother, again and again, “What if…?”
They’ve lost the invitation with Tom’s address, setting them off on already-shaky ground. Trudging down his friend’s dark street, the two squint, trying to make out which door to approach. Joe’s anxious questions and his mother’s placating, mild responses appear in speech bubbles accompanying square panels that show their faces head-on. In delivering these snippets of intimacy, drawn flat and distilled in frames under the blue hues of twilight, Browne’s brilliance glows. As Joe and his mom work to bring each house’s interior into focus, readers both feel Joe’s anxiety heighten and see his fears take surreal shape on the page. Middle-class cottages with perfectly ordinary facades hold disturbing scenes and queer congregations, executed with marked specificity and unnerving clarity and color. Are those alien horns on that older bourgeois gent? Joe’s anxiety is sky-high by the time they finally find Tom’s door, leaving Mom to worry for the next two hours. At pickup time, Joe smiles, lit up inside and out, beaming golden yellow beyond the page borders, flooded with fun from a great party, one missed entirely by both Mom and readers.
An amazingly astute, artful unfurling of tightly coiled childhood social anxieties. (Picture book. 4-8)