#CBR7 Review #159: Lumberjanes (Vol. 1): Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, and Brooke A. Allen

This review fills me with the sads, you guys. When I first heard about this book, I was so.very.excited. Girls kicking ass and taking names at summer camp? Yes. Girls who are unconventional in appearance and a team with no cattiness? Yes. Girls who are empowered and unashamed of their very beings? Yes. And yet. And yet…

The first volume finds us at Miss Qiunzilla Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for hard-core-lady-types, where counselor Jen’s cabin solemnly swears they are up to no good at all times. Jo, April, Mal, Molly, and Ripley, in trying to get their badges and honors, find three-eyed foxes, and secret caves, and a mysterious lighthouse that means the camp is not all at seems. There’s a secret gem. And a next-door camp that turns boys into monsters. What could possibly be happening?

Storywise, the content is fine. The plot and mystery are interesting enough and filled with capers enough to satisfy readers of all ages. So my problem is much more complicated to unpack.

Let me just say, as I did on Goodreads, that I bet others who read this story LOVED it. I was not that person. My first major issue comes from my belief that there was a huge disconnect between the target audience (as implied by the childish art) and implied audience (as implied by the numerous 90s references that only someone born before 1989 would understand), which disconcerted me greatly. If you make a badass, girls-kicking-butt comics for teenaged women in 2015, you must make jokes they will understand. Period. Saying things like “to the max” and “What the Joan Jett?” and “What’s the story, Wishbone?” and “I could teach you. But I’d have to charge” are not easily accessible to young women, unless their parents or much older siblings immersed them in a bath of 1995. I mean, my youngest sister is 11.5 years younger than me, and I was born in 1984. She understands certain cultural references beyond her peers’ generation. But when even she has to look up Missy Elliott after this year’s Super Bowl, young women today are probably not going to chuckle over that Kelis reference from 2003 (which was the year I graduated high school). People my age and older are far more likely to get the 90s jokes than “kids these days.” That’s not a slam on anyone. But the college freshmen coming into my class this year were born in 1996 or 1997. They were between 4-5 when 9/11 happened. Unless they’re major cultural aficionados from the 1980s and 1990s, they’re not likely going to understand the nature of the punchlines. If Stevenson and Ellis are being honest, they probably should be writing this comic for Gen-Xers and older Millennials, such as myself. Children’s-books-for-adults are very popular. I would suggest making the art less childish and reworking the advertising and marketing to an older target audience.

Another complaint, but one that might be addressed in future issues/volumes, is that the characters are not fleshed out well. The girls feel like one-note Hermione Grangers with Harry Potter bravado. They have no defects, flaws, or complexities that make me feel like I can relate to them, and so I just don’t understand their motivations as characters. There’s also a potential love story or coming-out arc that really intrigued me and just did.not.get.addressed. Perhaps that will be a feature in the next volume? One can only hope.

In the end, I also just didn’t connect with the protagonists at all, but I suspect that may be a personal taste issue. In middle school and high school, I was not the brash, counter-cultural teen who listened to Bob Dylan and thought rules were made to be broken. I was mousy and bookish. I had mainstream taste. So the too-cool-for-school-and-rules and oooh-look-at-us-making-countercultural-references-our-parents-would-have-made kids don’t really do it for me. And there were many moments where I felt the girls were waiting to make puns and punchlines, like on Seasons 5 and 6 of Sex and the City. So, it is with great disappointment that I will not be continuing this series. I really do hope that young women who read it find it empowering and enjoyable.


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