In 2013, comic publisher Boom! Studios started an imprint called Boom! Box – a space for experimental, creator-driven work by writers and artists from outside the mainstream industry. Their second title, Lumberjanes (2014), was a supernatural take on the Girl Guides that was meant to run for eight issues. It recently hit issue No. 40. It’s won multiple Eisner and GLAAD Media Awards; a live-action movie is in the works; and the next run of comics will be penned by Roxane Gay. Lumberjanes is a full-blown franchise and, thankfully, not ending any time soon.
To add to the pile of awesomeness, Amulet Books has made Lumberjanes into a series of middle-grade novels, by Toronto-born artist and writer Mariko Tamaki (This One Summer, Saving Montgomery Sole). The first instalment, like its comic predecessors, is smart, adventurous, confident, and deeply feminist. It’s doubtful the series will end after the planned four books.
Unicorn Power! is set at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady Types. We follow the five scouts of the Roanoke cabin – Jo, April, Molly, Mal, and Ripley – over the course of three days. While all the characters get moments to shine, the story is mainly focused on April. She is an overachiever with her sights set on earning the Extraordinary Explorers badge. But April unwittingly leads the troop into imminent danger that involves farting unicorns and surfer-dude cloud people. It’s The Baby-Sitters Club meets Buffy the Vampire Slayer set in Adventure Time’s Land of Ooo.
Lumberjanes’ fans (a.k.a. Lumber Jumbies) will be excited about the deeper character exploration and backstory the novel provides, but a reader doesn’t have to be familiar with the comics to fully appreciate the novel’s greatness. Unicorn Power!’s charms are self-evident, as the book bounces with relentless cheering, dancing, gasping, running, and falling. Endearingly, names of famous women (Ursula K. Le Guin, Yayoi Kusama, Gerlinde Kaltenbrunner) are used as adjectives and interjections. Although the characters are flawed and have their fair share of problems, the tone is always optimistic. In fact, the only depressing thing about Lumberjanes is how unusual it feels – assertive adventure books starring girls are woefully rare.