Twelve-year-old Aurora Grimeon’s life was turned upside down when her parents died suddenly after accidentally using death’s head mushrooms in a pasta sauce. She only survived the poisoning because a mysterious benefactor treated her with thistle milk, an herbal option not allowed in the US. Now, the young girl is being transported to her grandfather’s home on the remote Ossuary Isle, a tiny locale in the southern swamps created as a burial ground. The locals live to care for the graves, and outsiders are eyed with suspicion. Aurora must learn to accept local hoodoo traditions and find her place in this strange new society. It’s slow going for the metropolitan child, but when a supernatural threat from the distant past threatens everyone on the island, Miss Grimeon may be the only one with the strength to take it down.
The hardcover release of Will o’ the Wisp combines all six chapters of Aurora’s arrival in Ossuary Isle and her subsequent acceptance into the community. It also leaves things open ended enough that the youngster could have further adventures in the swamps. Nothing extra appears to have been added, but it is a lovely edition, and I enjoyed being able to read the full story in one book.
Although I haven’t been twelve for longer than I’d like to admit, I’m the perfect audience for Aurora Grimeon’s story. Orphaned, little, fey girl? Check. Creepy setting in a Louisiana-type swamp? Check. Supernatural elements blended with local hoodoo rituals? Check. Cute, yet useful, pet raccoon? Check. I was so there! It made me think of a more paranormal version of The Secret Garden set in the bayou where Uncle Archibald turned out to really be a creepy fellow rather than just a recluse hiding his son in one wing of the house.
The entire cast of Will o’ the Wisp is charming with their various mannerisms, beliefs, and ability to band together against all threats. It’s clear that Tom Hammock, the writer and source for most of the hoodoo rituals used by Aurora and Mama Nonnie, learned about and loved many of these types of people from the stories his father and grandmother would share as he was growing up.
I didn’t fall in love with the artwork as quickly as the story, but by the end of Aurora’s tale I realized that Megan Hutchinson’s delicate, slightly cartoony style helped shape the spooky, ethereal atmosphere of the work. By the end of the volume, I couldn’t imagine Aurora as anything other than the waifish, gothy little girl with flowing pale hair and amazing striped stockings and nifty boots. (I covet those boots.) The soft colors also helped to build a sense that Ossuary Isle lay at the crossroads between life and death in a place that time forgot.
Overall, Will o’ the Wisp won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but it’s a sweetly eerie story about family, community, and revenge from beyond the grave. If you love stories about brave young people finding themselves and their place in a world that doesn’t necessarily welcome them, I highly recommend it!
5 Hoodoo Bags out of 5
Will o’ the Wisp will be available on December 3, 2013, wherever graphic novels are sold.