Willow Zimmerman wants to make a difference. She wants to make a difference in her neighborhood—Down River, a rundown region of Gotham City. She wants to make a difference for the stray dogs she works with at the animal shelter. And perhaps most important of all, she wants to make a difference in her home life—Willow and her mother are barely making ends meet with her mom's cancer treatments and lack of health insurance.
Sadly, it seems like the odds are stacked against her until fate intervenes and leads her on a path where the difference seems to make itself. But it's not quite clear to Willow whether the path is one of heroism...or villainy.
I really like the simplicity of this cover, with Willow and Lebowitz (the stray Great Dane who Willow would adopt in a hot second if she'd fit in their small apartment) looking out on what one can assume is the Gotham City skyline. It feels pensive, thanks to the looks on their faces, which fits nicely with the feel of the story within. One thing it doesn't do, however, is say "this is a superhero story." That's slightly misleading given that it is, but it also isn't completely necessary because Willow's story is about more than just her costumed heroism.
Tell Me a Story:
Willow loves her neighborhood in all its run-down glory. She loves the people, the delicatessens, the stray dogs. She wants people to love it as much as she does, but it seems more and more that her neighbors would rather leave than put in the effort. When an estranged friend of her mother's comes back into their lives, Willow finds herself with a new job that seems too good to be true. She's good at it and the money she makes goes a long way toward making them much more comfortable. But Willow—as smart as she is—soon realizes that it is too good to be true and struggles with the fact that she's become part of the problem.
Then everything changes when a run-in with Killer Croc leaves her and Lebowitz with superpowers. The new Willow has to figure out where she fits, what to use her powers for, and what kind of person she ultimately wants to be.
Let’s Talk Art:
This is the second DC YA graphic novel that Preitano's illustrated, the first being his collaboration with Marieke Nijkamp on The Oracle Code, and he continues to capture the young women of Gotham with grace and honesty. Willow is lovely and nuanced, with a variety of expressions that makes her seem much more than a character on a two-dimensional page. I love the detail he brings to the background of panels, too. None of them are overly complicated, but they make each page feel alive. As a dog lover, though, I have to say that Preitano's pièce de résistance is the myriad of dogs he included in the illustrations. (He had to have had a lot of fun looking at references for the pups!)
In the YA world, Lockhart is known for her twisty, unexpected prose, and she brings that to Whistle in a fabulous way. There isn't a huge reveal at the end of the book that will blow your mind, but Willow is wonderfully well-spoken and her inner turmoil at the situation she finds herself in feels oh-so-real. (Semi-spoiler alert, but Lebowitz's "voice" is also awesome and exactly the way I'd expect/hope my dogs would "speak" were we to have a run-in with Killer Croc that resulted in us getting superpowers, too.)
Perfect Food Pairing:
There are a lot of different foods mentioned in Whistle, but I'd go a little outside of the box if I were planning a party around the book. I'd lean on the color scheme of the book's villains and go with a completely green food presentation, erring on the side of veganism. Lots of fresh veggies and green drinks and maybe even little cookies shaped like question marks iced with green icing.
Most Crushworthy Character:
I suppose this is cheating a bit, given that she's the main character, but Willow is absolutely the bee's knees. I envy her passion and drive, and her confidence is super swoony. Sure, she gets herself mixed up with sketchy people and into something that might not exactly be legal (it's not), which isn't exactly in my list of pros in an object of affection, but the girl can really pull off a sequined blazer and ankle booties.
Voted Most Likely:
Honestly, even without her superpowers, it would be pretty unbelievable if Willow Zimmerman didn't grow up to change not only Gotham but the entire world. So, I would 100% expect her to be voted Most Likely to Change the World (For the Better) in her senior yearbook. And she'd actually be one of the few to follow that through!
When Mandy Curtis isn’t reading books by Leigh Bardugo or Sarah J. Maas, she’s dreaming of busting bad guys with Wonder Woman—if Steve Trevor’s there, too, she won’t complain—and writing about YA fiction and pop culture at Forever Young Adult. Follow her on Twitter at @mandyannecurtis.
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