Book review: Stage Dreams, by Melanie Gillman

Gillman, Melanie. Stage Dreams. Graphic Universe. 2019. 103 p. Library Edition. $29.32. ISBN 9781512440003.

The year is 1861, and the opening scene of this Western graphic novel is set inside a stagecoach in the Territory of New Mexico. Our focus is on a quiet lady, who is traveling with a bonnet covering her face and refusing to speak to her fellow travelers. Around her the others are gossiping about the Confederate Army’s recent victories in Arizona and their expected plans to start incursions into New Mexico, before talk shifts to the notorious outlaw and bandit, the Ghost Hawk. Almost as if summoned by the mention, Ghost Hawk appears and robs the stagecoach, and kidnaps the quiet lady to ransom her.

Ghost Hawk is also known as Flor, a Latinx woman who is trying to make enough money to give up the bandit life. Soon enough Flor discovers the lady she kidnapped was not a demure rich woman, but a trans runaway from Georgia named Grace who is trying to escape conscription into the Confederate Army. Although disappointed that she won’t be able to ransom Grace, Flor has another plan for one last heist that could give them both the opportunity to start new their lives. And luckily Grace has the acting skills and insider knowledge needed to pull it off.

Melanie Gillman, whose As the Crow Flies won a Stonewall Honor in 2018, has crafted a charming and delightful adventure romance for a young adult audience. Flor and Grace are dynamic and memorable characters that I hope Gillman will revisit in the future. The romantic aspect of the story is understated, taking a backseat to the plot, but it is enjoyable to watch as they go from an adversarial relationship to something more once they’ve started to trust each other.

Gillman’s colored pencil illustrations have distinct cartoon-style outlines. The color palette of mostly tans with teal, purple, and red is reminiscent of a desert sunset and also of sepia toned photographs, helping to immerse the reader in the historical setting. A particular strength of Gillman is that their characters are very expressive, with a lot of the characterization coming across from facial expressions. When we meet Grace’s father, we get to see an entire emotional journey from shock to joyful relief to protective determination happen in just 6 panels.

Stage Dreams will have broad appeal to readers who enjoy graphic novels or those looking for sweet queer romances. It is highly recommended for all libraries.

Kacy Helwick

Youth Collection Development Librarian

New Orleans Public Library

 

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