A nonverbal boy and his sasquatch buddy are pursued by a sinister organization in Johnson’s (co-author: Original Fake, 2016, etc.) solo graphic novel debut.
Tsu, a boy who rides the “short bus” to school, may not speak but still communicates effectively with expressions and gestures. When his disability (never specified in the text) makes him a target for bullies in his rural town, he escapes to the woods and the company of a reclusive creature, marvelously depicted as being as gnarled and massive as the ancient trees he dwells among. Tsu’s own hidden powers attract the attention of an unscrupulous chimpanzeelike scientist and his sinuous, venomous chupacabralike sidekick who hunt “outliers” for mysterious purposes. The oddball premise is well-matched to the scratchy, ink-heavy art accented by monochrome color washes, reminiscent of 1950s horror comics. Unfortunately, important details of the narrative are muddled and inconsistent, the reasons for Tsu’s final choices are unclear, and the unspecified cause of his muteness makes the eventual cure potentially troubling. Nonetheless, Tsu’s loneliness and isolation, and the sweetness of the bond with his unlikely friend, are both poignant and potent. The open ending reads like the setup for a series. Tsu’s mother is named Hana, and their names, plus a passing reference by a bully to speaking gibberish, may be cues that they are Japanese.
Not a necessary purchase but may appeal to middle school readers looking for a different kind of superpowered adventure. (Graphic fantasy. 10-14)