The Never Weres by Fiona Smyth
Annick Press, 2011
Tradepaper, young adult graphic novel.
The Future Looks Dim. Late in the next century, the human race faces extinction. An incurable virus has left the world with no new births since the last generation. Doom is all but certain, yet three of the world’s last surviving teens are determined to carry on.
When the friends stumble upon the decades-old mystery of a missing girl, it leads them deep into a shocking secret buried long ago. It will take all their skills to uncover the truth that just might save the world. ~back cover.
Fiona Smyth’s graphic novel The Never Weres finds its place with the growing catalog of dystopic/post-apocalyptic future young adult novels popular this year. More Science Fiction than Fantasy, Smyth sets her world amidst a world of sophisticated technology and a controversial exploration of cloning; a bit Blade Runner, Children of Men, and Aeon Flux with an after-school special feel tossed in.
The alien figure in the above (& below) image, top left, is “Storybot Sasha” narrating the story. She changes forms depending on the mood/topic of the page, but it is her voice and image that laces throughout as the story shifts between the lives of the three friends. I am still out as to the success of this device. To keep a potentially complicated and lengthy story short, the storybot is useful; and the ending (my Aeon Flux reference) reveals the real audience. Is the narrator too auditory for it visual medium?-was the question with which I contend. It seemed at times as if the two were tripping over one another, coming dangerously close to redundancy.
While I like diverse characters, I find the combination improbable. 3 kids living in 3 different areas with 3 different pervasive interests. Mia has her Art, lives in a family unit of a mom-dad-brother. Xian is orphaned and her brother works off-planet leaving her to her own devices, which is computer and robotics. Jesse lives with his mother, parents divorced, and she’s too busy for him even though they both share a gift and interest in genetics and cloning. As a way of glimpsing into varied scenarios, the trio works. And it isn’t as if they all get along. Xian and Jesse are often in serious argument. Xian sees robots as the future heirs of the planet; Jesse isn’t ready to give up on the idea of human cloning. Mia just wants to pursue Art and humanity, making time to spend time with the elderly.
The mystery of the missing girl is the most intriguing part of the story, and once the setting is established, the story takes off. Who was this girl, why was she so important, and what could she mean to the future of humans and clones? Xian finds a lab, Mia is friends with a cryptic elderly woman, and Jesse’s mother knows something about the whole matter, enough to draw the attention of an Agent hunting down Xian and anyone else who might have information they shouldn’t.
And then the story takes an unexpected turn; which I usually find refreshing–but was it plausible?* Convenient, yes. And this was the point of the story–at the end–that confirmed what I was thinking all along: this book is better suited the younger audience.
The Never Weres is black/white throughout. Smyth provides a lot of fun details and creates a lot of energy in the composition of her pages. There is a lot of movement, and her way of juggling the 3 characters’ lives and development is wonderful; again she is compressing a potentially lengthy narrative into a highly accessible story–for Teens.
* The greatest shift was with the Agent and Jesse’s mom. Maybe they, too, were just misunderstood. And then including the teens in future developments?–well it is the future…