Rainbow Rowell has made me cry. Yet again. I’ve read enough of her work for this to be expected, but everything about Pumpkinheads — her first graphic novel with the inimitable Faith Erin Hicks — sounded to me like it was just going to be a cute, fun romp.
And it was, you know? Pumpkinheads is the story of Josiah and Deja, two high school seniors who’ve spent the last couple of years working at their local pumpkin patch every Fall. Theirs is a seasonal friendship, but the bond they develop is strong and they consider themselves best friends. This is their last season working together, and once it wraps up they will both, for the last time, go their separate ways, towards college and new lives. So Deja is determined to have their last day (their last Hallowe’en together) be an adventure. “Friends,” she says at one point, “don’t let friends live small lives.”
Pumpkinheads is charming and adorable and the most fun, gentle read. As are most of Rowell’s stories. And like most of Rowell’s stories, it isn’t just any of those things. There’s always more. And there’s a lot of heart and soul in this graphic novel. A lot of true things about friendship and relationships and what it means to leave people and places behind. And quite a lot of Autumn. This is probably the most Fall book I’ve ever read. I could feel it wrapped around me like a light sweater, could practically smell the crisp October air. Quite the feat considering I live in Puerto Rico, and have never actually come across a proper, Midwestern Fall.
All of this is beautifully conveyed by Faith Erin Hicks’s beautiful, beautiful artwork. She’s drawn up a gorgeous and warm, welcoming world into which I desperately want to jump.
Hicks deserves a lot of recognition in terms of the story, too. The book’s back matter includes a conversation between the authors which makes note of the fact that the script Hicks received from Rowell was more screenplay-like in nature, lacking a lot of the beat-by-beat description that is usually found in most comic book scripts, and it was up to her to break down the panels and figure out the pacing of the story. A job she did marvelously — this is a fulfilling but very brisk read. (“There is a lot of skill,” Hicks says, “behind a ‘quick read.'”)
Hicks ends the same conversation with the following: “In the beginning, you’re trying to get to know them, who they are and how best to draw them so their personalities come through, visually. And by the time you’ve drawn the last page in their graphic novel, these characters are your best friends.” This is, of course, in reference to the drawing process, but it also perfectly encapsulates the experience of reading the story of these characters. You pretty much like Josie and Deja from the get-go, but you love them by the end. And then you understand, quite perfectly, just why they are so loathe to say good bye to their pumpkin patch.
I loved this book.