Be Wary of the Silent Woods

Yen. (Weirn Books: Bk. 1). Jun. 2020. 240p. Tr $24. ISBN 9781975311216; pap. $13. ISBN 9781975311223.
Gr 4-8–Ailis Thornton and her cousin Na’ya live in the small New England town of Laitham, home to night things like vampires, werewolves, and weirns (witches born with an astral, a lifelong bound demon guardian). A mysterious new being starts appearing near the old all-weirn school whose students went missing 70 years ago. When the mysterious creature shows up more often, sometimes getting uncomfortably close to others, and a mean classmate acts uncharacteristically kind, Ailis and Na’ya know that trouble lies ahead. Chmakova returns to the supernatural Nightschool world, first seen in her 2008–10 high school manga series, in this first of a related but standalone new middle grade series. Although centered on nonhuman characters, the story focuses on typical adolescent experiences: having a crush, growing apart from friends, and wanting to fit in. The children are empowered and join forces to fight for themselves, but are never left without the support of their loved ones. Background characters vary by supernatural species but of the human-passing, there is some diverse representation—Na’ya is multiracial, and main antagonist Patricia Chong presents as Asian. Chmakova maintains her signature anime-influenced style, as seen in the “Berrybrook Middle School” series, and adds a touch of whimsy through visual worldbuilding around the eerie, desolate woods. The purples, blues, and grays hint at a perpetual dusk, while the characters embrace cheery colors and strong emotions.
VERDICT Relationships take center stage in this sweet, not-too-scary coming-of-age story that feels like a young read-alike to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

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