Pre-teen Jack feels useless. It’s 1937, and it hasn’t substantially rained on his family’s Kansas farm in over four years. Most folks are starting to wonder if they’ll ever see storm clouds again. The only clouds that come by these days are the deadly black dust clouds that choke the breath out of every living thing, including Jack’s pneumonia-stricken older sister, Dorothy. Jack longs to do more than just wander around town and look after his sisters, but there is very little work to be done on the failing farm. With no way to show his father his worth, Jack is stuck between childhood and manhood, his burgeoning adolescence literally stifled by the dust. Until he sees the pulsing light that sporadically emanates late at night from the Talbots’ abandoned barn. When Jack investigates, he discovers a secret that could save his family and his town if he is brave enough to open a mysterious satchel and believe in the unseen. This is a great graphic read for all ages, with something for everyone within Phelan’s soft edged, sweeping panels. There’s an homage to The Wizard of Oz (and not just the one you know, but the whole amazing series by L. Frank Baum), suggestions of superheroes to come and shadows of former folk heroes who still live in story and song. There’s adventure and mystery, epic battles and small personal triumphs. There’s a sequence concerning a “rabbit drive” that broke my heart, and then a tender exchange between Jack and Dorothy that mended it. All evocatively illustrated by Matt Phelan in muted pencil, ink and watercolor, where smudged clouds hold hints of both promise and menace, and a boy’s expression changes from fearful to determined with just the subtlest change in the direction of the pencil line. Ironically, I started reading this wonderfully atmospheric GN set in the Dust Bowl after enduring one of the rainiest Junes on record. And then couldn’t wait to tell you about it, as this quietly powerful stunner is simply not to be missed.
The Storm in the Barn by Matt Phelan