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A bird, a ghost, and a girl travel together among falling leaves.

Magical Grieving

This column is a reprint from Unwinnable Monthly #140. If you like what you see, grab the magazine for less than ten dollars, or subscribe and get all future magazines for half price.


Your next favorite comic.


I’ve noticed that a lot of my recent favorite things have a lot to do with life, death, loss, mortality, grief, spirits and the afterlife. I tend not to talk much about these topics in real life, but I do subconsciously seek them out in other ways.

As much as we avoid it, mortality is foundational to our experience as human beings. We spend a lot of time as a species thinking about what happens after death, and the effects of death on ourselves and those around us. It’s something we all think about, every now and then. (Unless you’re me, then you think about it all the time. Womp womp.) Whether through self-exploration, religion, therapy, stories, careers or something else, we try to find a way of coping with death, and living to the fullest regardless.

I find most of my answers in books. One place I was not expecting to find much on the topic was middle-grade graphic novels. But for one reason or another, stories for younger readers often explore life and death, and everything that comes with that.

Two great, and different, examples are the graphic novels Séance Tea Party and Aquicorn Cove.

Séance Tea Party

Creatures, a ghost, and a girl travel together among falling leaves.

Unless we are talking about horror (which, in case you haven’t noticed by now, is not my cup of tea) ghost stories are often targeted towards kids. A good ghost story tends to be a bit fantastical, fun, adventurous, mysterious and wrapped in mortality. Separate from any fantasy witches, wizards or realms beyond, ghost stories are often about the living and the dead.

Séance Tea Party is author Reimena Yee’s debut middle-grade graphic novel, her other works either in the YA, adult, single issue or vamp category. It’s a ghost story, and, as Yee herself puts it, a good ghost story means, “It’s gotta be spooky; it’s got to be sad; and it needs to have a touch of humanity.” Séance Tea Party is all of that, plus a lot of coming of age. Hell, the dedication reads, “to every child – and young adult – who is afraid of growing up.”

The story centers on Lora Xi, a young girl attending Oaksfield middle school. Lora is afraid of growing up. All of her friends have drifted away from her, with new “adult” interests like social media, relationships, celebrities and sports. Lora, on the other hand, likes to play pretend, talking to her stuffed animals, exploring in the woods, pretending she is a pirate ship captain whenever she rides her bike and, most of all, obsessing over all things spooky. It’s during one of her séances that she connects (or rather, reconnects) with the ghost Alexa, and the two best friends spend all their time together. Without spoiling too much, the story turns from a buddy-buddy romp about friendship to a heartfelt story about what it means to grow up, and what it means to say goodbye.

My favorite part of the story is how Yee explores the difference between “adulthood” and childhood. For Yee, adulthood is more about being yourself than any forced “adult-like” traits you need to suddenly adopt, or “child-like” traits you must shunt before passing into the realm of “adulthood.”

Yee also does a great job handling loss and grief. The main thing that surprised me was, considering this is a story about ghosts and playing pretend, Yee does a fantastic job putting real loss and real emotional weight into the story. Sure, there’s plenty of fun goofs and sprinkles of magic, but the harder parts of the story mix that magic with reality. Loss hurts, and there’s no magical cure-all to make everyone “okay” again. But the lessons Lora learns, and the lessons Yee teaches, are real and kind for readers of any age.

Pair all this with Yee’s amazing non-verbal storytelling, and you’re left with a superb novel. The most powerful scenes in the story (and there are some tear-jerkers) have no dialogue at all, and hit harder because of the focus on illustration.


Harry Recommends: Séance Tea Party. By Reimena Yee.

Genre: Coming of Age, Supernatural

Rating: Middle Grade (mild peril, loss)

Info: Published by Random House Graphic. 272pp.

Available at: BookShop, IndieBound, Your Local Comics Store

We earn an affiliate commission from purchases made through Bookshop. Anything earned goes back to our writers.


Aquicorn Cove

A girl stands on a beach looking out at the sea thinking "I came here so many times with my mom...she wanted to make sure I loved the sea."

If Séance Tea Party is an exploration of growing up, life and death in the present, Aquicorn Cove is much more concerned with grief, time and what it means to be a guardian. For our protagonist Lana, the loss of her mother has already happened, seemingly years ago. When Lana and her father travel to visit Lana’s aunt Mae, the loss of her mother hits her more acutely as she explores her familiar, and familial, hometown. Walking on the beach reminds Lana of walking the same beach with her mom. Grief and place intertwine in a very real, grounded way.

While grief plays a central role in the story, Aquicorn Cove is mostly about environmentalism. Lana’s mother’s hometown is a fishing village, her aunt a fisherwoman, and the nearby ocean dying due to human activity. This decay extends to real ocean life (like fish, coral, and reefs), and fantastical ocean life (the titular Aquicorns, and a very sentient fish-person/mermaid named Aure).

What author Katie O’Neill explores well in this novel is the idea of guardianship: what it means to take care of someone (or something), what that relationship can mean (and teach), what it means when you lose a guardian and the relationship between guardian and guarded. When the stakes are inevitably amped up, it’s up to Lana to take center stage and decide what, and how, she is going to be a guardian too.

The art is a beautiful pastel dream: like the most peaceful beach town you can imagine put through a manga or Studio Ghibli filter. O’Neill is a veteran middle-grade cartoonist, and their illustrations of beautiful vistas and strong, diverse people are top-notch.

It also has a bunch of really strong women (strong in lots of different ways) and a non-binary fish person. So, y’know, that’s awesome.


Harry Recommends: Aquicorn Cove. By Katie O’Neill.

Genre: Coming of Age, Adventure, Fantasy

Rating: Middle Grade (loss, grief, mild peril)

Info: Published by Oni Press. 96pp.

Available at: BookShop, IndieBound, Your Local Comics Store

We earn an affiliate commission from purchases made through Bookshop. Anything earned goes back to our writers.


Harry Rabinowitz is a writer and editor focused on technology and entertainment. You can find him on Twitter, probably talking about Dungeons & Dragons, @harryrabinowitz.

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