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Bookshelf Basics: “Delicates” by Brenna Thummler

By | June 17th, 2021
Posted in Columns | % Comments

All-ages graphic novels are hotter than ever. With so much great content out there and more arriving every week, sifting through it all can be a daunting task. Whether you’re a parent, caregiver, teacher, librarian or young reader, Multiversity’s Bookshelf Basics is here to help. By highlighting a combination of newly released and classic all-ages books, we’ll help you build your collection, even as your tastes and interests change. In today’s installment, we look at “Delicates” by Brenna Thummler, an exploration of what it means to be seen and accepted for who you are.

Trigger Warning: among other subjects, “Delicates” includes scenes of bullying and suicidal thoughts.

Cover by Brenna Thummler
Written and Illustrated by Brenna Thummler

Marjorie Glatt’s life hasn’t been the same ever since she discovered a group of ghosts hiding in her family’s laundromat. Wendell, who died young and now must wander Earth as a ghost with nothing more than a sheet for a body, soon became one of Marjorie’s only friends. But when Marjorie finally gets accepted by the popular kids at school, she begins to worry that if anyone learns about her secret ghost friends, she’ll be labeled as a freak who sees dead people. With Marjorie’s insistence on keeping Wendell’s ghost identity a secret from her new friends, Wendell begins to feel even more invisible than he already is.

Eliza Duncan feels invisible too. She’s an avid photographer, and her zealous interest in finding and photographing ghosts gets her labeled as “different” by all the other kids in school. Constantly feeling on the outside, Eliza begins to feel like a ghost herself. Marjorie must soon come to terms with the price she pays to be accepted by the popular kids. Is it worth losing her friend, Wendell? Is she partially to blame for the bullying Eliza endures?

Delicates tells a powerful story about what it means to fit in, and those left on the outside. It shows what it’s like to feel invisible, and the importance of feeling seen. Above all, it is a story of asking for help when all seems dark, and bringing help and light to those who need it most.

Okay, Let’s Start with the Basics

“Delicates” is written and illustrated by Brenna Thummler and published by Oni Press. Narratively, it follows the events of her critically acclaimed debut graphic novel, “Sheets,” while deftly introducing a new core character and continuing to raise the stakes. Yes, the book is a sequel, but don’t let turn you away. You can read and fully enjoy “Delicates” without any knowledge of “Sheets.” The story stands on its own. Ironically, Thummler has said she was never really into comics and graphic novels as a kid. Thankfully, after illustrating the graphic novel adaptation of “Anne of Green Gables” by Mariah Marsden, she was immediately hooked and now says she can never imagine working in any other medium.

What’s It All About?

“Delicates” centers Marjorie Glatt and her BFF Wendell, who just happens to be a friendly and very likable ghost. He inhabits the family’s laundromat business, which Marjorie pretty much runs on her own ever since her mother died. Clearly, the loss still stings, but things have been looking up. In fact, as the new school year starts, she’s even found herself hanging out with the popular kids, Tessi and Colton. For once, she feels accepted, even as she begins to push her friend Wendell aside.

Things aren’t great, but they’re stable. Of course, disruption and drama soon arrive in the form of Eliza, a brilliantly crafted new character who pretty much steals the show. As Marjorie continues to juggle her family relationships at home and her new friendships at school, the high school swim coach asks her to keep an eye on his daughter, Eliza, who has to repeat eighth grade. Eliza is obsessed with paranormal photography, a quirky passion that makes her the target of repeated bullying by Marjorie’s new friends.

What Makes It Essential?

Thummler is a natural storyteller with a slightly quirky, captivating visual style. Her scenes are also well structured and seem to organically transition at the perfect moment. There’s plenty of nuance and detail, but nothing superfluous. The pace can be methodic, but none of it feels indulgent or drags on too long, even when we’re deep inside a character’s innermost thoughts and emotions. With 300+ pages of story, there’s a beautiful rhythm to Thummler’s action sequences and quiet, contemplative scenes – with space for both to breathe.

Continued below

In a brief, but entrancing scene on Halloween, for example, Thummler demonstrates her natural ear for dialogue. Owen sits at home, too melancholy to go trick-or-treating, as her father mindlessly rakes leaves.

“Dad, Owen’s not trick-or-treating,” says Marjorie, pointing out the obvious. “Yeah, I know,” comes his terse reply. “And you’re just going to let him stay home?” Marjorie asks, frustrated with her father’s selfishness. “I got him a whole bag of candy. He’s set for weeks,” her father says, completely missing the point. “Way to give two percent effort, Dad,” Marjorie mutters as she turns and walks away, sadness and disappointment hanging thickly in the air.

Visually, Thummler’s illustrations feel loose, spontaneous and energetic. There’s an almost instinctive, “real time” edge to her compositions that give them a documentary quality – as though we’re watching the story unfold right before our eyes, rather watching it in hindsight. Thummler’s character designs are great and immediately recognizable without leaning on tropes or clichés. It’s a world we know very well, but it still feels fresh and alive.

Similarly, Thummler’s limited color palette – pink, purple and blue with occasional yellow and green accents – is both charming and appealing as it simultaneously sets and echoes the mood. There’s a wonderful literal and figurative contrast between scenes in the darkroom at school and the purplish-blue night scenes. Thummler’s colors are vibrant, but never oversaturated. They have a calm, soft quality even as the story confronts hard, difficult subjects.

Narratively, if it all sounds like doom and gloom, rest assured that it’s not. There’s a lot of subtle humor and a few fun Easter eggs. Even as Marjorie continues to wrestle with the difficult – and highly relatable – choice of fitting in with her new friends or standing up for Eliza, there are moments of tenderness and true human connection.

How Can You Read It?

“Delicates” was released this March, so it’s not quite recent enough to be on the New Releases wall of your local comic shop. So you may have to do some digging or ask them to order a copy. Of course, you can always buy a copy from your favorite online retailer, like Indie Bound, or directly from Simon & Schuster. It’s also available in digital format on your favorite ebook platform.

In Conclusion

“Delicates” tackles several highly charged adolescent problems with compassion and empathy, particularly what it feels like to be an outcast in a school’s real or perceived hierarchy. There are no true villains or ‘bad guys,’ just relatable, flawed characters who sometimes make hurtful, selfish decisions. Thummler’s visual style is immediately accessible and truly gorgeous at times. Her ear for dialogue is exceptional and her scenes intuitive. Despite clocking in at almost 320 pages, it’s an easy engaging read. The first time though, that is. “Delicates” is a book you’ll want to come back to again and again.


//TAGS | bookshelf basics

John Schaidler

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