Matt Phelan’s upcoming graphic novel, The Storm in the Barn, is really something. It is a thrilling and moving piece of historical fiction set in 1937 Kansas, with beautiful muted illustrations that practically make you taste the dust.
Jack Clark hasn’t had an easy childhood. It hasn’t rained for years and the tension in his small town couldn’t get much worse. At home, his father and mother have shrunk into themselves, barely able to hang onto the dreams they once had, and the farm life they used to know. One of his sisters is sick, with “dust pneumonia,” and the doctor hints that Jack’s increasingly strange and withdrawn behaviors might be “dust dementia.” He gets bullied by a group of local kids and his father never gives him the chance to prove his worth. One night, Jack ventures into the abandoned Talbot barn and what he finds there could change everything, if he’s brave enough to go back and face what’s inside.
It’s pretty clear that Matt Phelan is a tremendously gifted illustrator. The emotion that he can convey with the most understated colors and simple lines is remarkable. There is a sequence with a jackrabbit drive that will make you ache, every bit as gut-wrenching as how it could be portrayed on film. I loved the way the color shifts throughout, mirroring the changing tone of the narrative.
Also, as a complete aside, what is it with being eleven? I’ve read so many books with 11-year old protagonists lately. It ain’t easy to be 11, that’s for sure.
The Storm in the Barn will take your breath away. I cannot wait to read the rest of the graphic novels floating around in Matt’s head. Absolutely stunning.
Now, it won’t feel quite so much like just a sneaky grab if I post the aweomse book trailer at the end of my review. Try and wait until September:
Here are a few other rave reviews:
The Storm in the Barn is published by Candlewick in September 2009.