Suee and The Shadow is an original graphic novel by Ginger Ly with illustrations by Molly Park. This is a thick book whose 237 pages are some of the best slow-burn all ages graphic novel reading that you’ll discover this year if your down with a spooky vibe. It’s a pulp noir detective for the elementary school set that manages to build up genuine intrigue and mystery for readers aged 8 and up.
The story starts out generations ago, with a father and soul-less looking girl walking in the woods. She doesn’t have any pupils, is dressed on older, traditional Korean garb and obviously loves her father, but something isn’t quite right. That prologue is brief, but look at it again after you’ve read all of Suee and the Shadow and you’ll observe some key details that make up the backbone of the story.
It’s Suee’s first day in a new school. She’s not too tall, dresses a little differently, is receiving counseling from her home room teacher and is a bit of a misanthrope. Her dark sense of humor flies over the heads of her peers who are too busy filling the roles of bully, Queen B, jerk and dim-bulb. She doesn’t fit into any of those groups because she’s smarter than them, but hasn’t found her niche yet.
Very early in the book her shadow takes on a life of its own. It starts talking to her, but does it in a surly, rude tone. At the same time many kids are starting to be reassigned to the Zero Class. These students have blank pupils, are referred to as ‘Zeroes’ by other kids in school and are avoided by the rest of the other kids. The ‘Zeroes’ mysteriously also do not have shadows and the adults in community can’t tell which student is-or isn’t a Zero.
What’s really impressive about Suee and The Shadow is how well the book is paced and how it manages to maintain the surprises. This is a thick graphic novel and readers have the general plot points 15% into the story. The fact that it holds most of its central twists until the final 10% is amazing and makes the book a much more fun read than it otherwise would’ve been.
Some parent friends of mine begrudge graphic novels as books because in their words, “it’s not really reading”. I can understand their perspective. And to that crowd I would let them know that, if they were to solely look at the illustrations in Suee and the Shadow they would be completely lost. The illustrations by Molly Park are distinctive, fun and integral to the story. However, without the story by Ginger Ly it could’ve easily been an all ages graphic novel with a pulp noir twist.
Instead, what’s happened is that the sum is greater than the whole of its parts. They’ve created a new world, with lots of blacks, grays, whites, purple and a red backpack that is ready to be inhabited by more books. Second graders, who are good readers will enjoy the book, but its pacing and story might be too much for them to follow. Fourth grade students will easily be able to grasp the nuances that happen, as well as, immerse themselves into age appropriate darkness and mystery.