Laundry is, “too real.” The problem with ghosts is, “they’re not.”
When introducing the main character for a middle grade graphic novel, you don’t usually start with talking about what they hate, but it is an approach that immediately tells you where Marjorie Glatt is coming from. Since her mom passed away last Spring, Marjorie’s been in charge of the family laundromat while her dad’s taken to staying in his room most of the time. Her little brother’s in kindergarten, Marjorie goes to middle school, and she’s trying to keep the store running as smoothly as she can but every time she turns around, Mr. Saubertuck’s there. A local businessman who thinks that if he hounds her long enough she’ll give him the property, he’s as despicable as they come, completely unphased, and capable of doing anything.
Enter Wendell, a ghost and compulsive liar who doesn’t feel like he fits in at his support group, Dead Youth Empathetics. After taking a forbidden train ride back to the land of the living, Wendell finds his way over to Marjorie’s laundromat, where Marjorie learns ghosts exist once and for all, but not the way that she was hoping.
While it’s always nice when magic and fairy godmothers come through in fiction, there’s sometimes that sense of what about when this happens in real life? What stands out about Brenna Thummler‘s Sheets is that while there’s a purpose to Wendell being a ghost for this story, the role he plays in helping Marjorie (and her him) is that of being her friend. You don’t have to be a ghost to be that and it makes what happens in this story replicable in real life.
Yes, the ghost and human worlds are interacting in ways they probably shouldn’t (even by the ghost laws of this story) but Thrummler isn’t worried about whether they’re breaking rules or setting off paradoxes (or whatever the ghost equivalent of paradoxes is). Sheets is a book where emotions take the lead and explaining how any of this is possible isn’t the best use of its time.
The afterlife, as envisioned by Thrummler, is both beautiful but not fabricated to sound better than it is for loved ones. An explanation gets provided for why ghosts wear sheets and Thrummler shows an aptitude for taking subjects that are heartbreaking (Wendell was 11 years old when he died) and making them possible to talk about. From motifs, like water, where characters don’t have to say anything but through repetition their significance grows, to Wendell, the ghost, telling a ghost story to express how he’s feeling, Thrummler always finds the right means for her characters to speak their truths (the ghost story is done in a wood cut style and it gives Wendell enough distance from the material, that his life can be disguised as a fairy tale).
The honesty of Sheets can’t be oversold, and every detail is beautifully executed, from Thrummler’s soothing pastels to the store fronts of Finster Bay, a small town with lake view charm. With Ghost Town, on the other hand, it’s like all the colors have been drained away and what’s left are purple inks and desaturated blues.
School is allowed to be unremarkable. We see Marjorie go through a day, with time stamps, and nothing gets dressed up for the sake of the story. This includes Marjorie’s interior dialogue. An honest interior monologue doesn’t censor itself, so if some of her narration is harsh, that’s because it’s truthful. It doesn’t mean she would say these things aloud or even believes them, but because Marjorie isn’t one to confront people, it’s through listening to what she does say that we learn more about her relationship with her father and how she’s coping.
Wendell and Marjorie start off on the wrong foot because of a misunderstanding and that’s what’s lost when people die – the ability to communicate. Ghosts become something to fear instead of the humans we want to see again, and more than anything, Sheets is a book about healing and finding a path towards recovery.
As stores start to put up their Halloween displays you’re going to see a lot more books about ghosts on the market. I’m willing to bet none can promise the comfort and security of Brenna Thrummler’s Sheets.
Sheets goes on sale August 15th from Lion Forge.