The Dire Days of Willowweep Manor by Shaenon K. Garrity, illustrated by Christopher Baldwin. Margaret K. McElderry Books, Simon & Schuster, 2021. 9781534460867
Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 5
Format: Paperback, graphic novel
Genre: Fantasy, adventure
What did you like about the book? Haley obsesses over gothic novels, so much so that her long-suffering teacher threatens her with low grades if she writes ONE MORE book report on Wuthering Heights. On a dark and stormy night (naturally) she dives into the river to rescue a drowning man, only to wake up the next morning in Willowweep Manor, a bizarre country house filled with all the stock characters and sets from her favorite literature: three brothers (one gruff, one the romantic lead, and one a charming ne’er-do well), a slightly sinister housekeeper, a ghost, and eventually, a hermitage and even winding, baleful catacombs. Garrity then proceeds to turn our assumptions upside down. Willowweep is actually a stop gap measure, keeping our world of coffee shops, pandas and barbeque safe from the evil alien Bile, but its protective measures are failing. Haley and her new-found allies will have to break out of their predetermined genre roles and face down a possessed monk, psycho forest animals, and hordes of gothic villains to save the planet. There’s lots of tongue-in cheek humor, both in the text and in the brightly colored artwork. Baldwin lines up his graphics with the action and it’s just the right balance between talk and visuals. Haley appears as a Black teen with long braids; the other characters cue as White, although Willowweep’s former caretaker is depicted as Asian and there’s even a queer romance brewing between her and Wilhelmina, the grumpy but capable housekeeper.
Anything you didn’t like about it? No. Some familiarity with the tropes of Gothic romance will be helpful, but those new to the genre may feel tempted to dip in a toe, so all to the good!
To whom would you recommend this book? Anyone age 12 to adult who loves graphic novels that meld adventure and a wry sense of humor. Epically silly. This would be a good read alike for fans of Nimona (2015) by Noelle Stevenson.
Who should buy this book? Middle, high school and public libraries
Where would you shelve it? Graphic novels
Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? For graphic novel humor fans, yes!
Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA
Date of review: August 20, 2021