Hicotea: A Nightlights Story

Nobrow. (Nightlights). Mar. 2019. 64p. Tr $18.95. ISBN 9781910620342.
Gr 2-5–Alvarez’s second installment in the series finds her inquisitive protagonist exploring the wetlands with her science class. Sandy’s conflict with controlling classmate Tata is established in the opening lab scenes. Later, it becomes the motivation for the wide-eyed, brown-skinned girl with hair styled in two puffs to stomp off from Sister Epifania’s field trip. In anger, she kicks a turtle shell, but remorse—and imagination—lead her inside the shell’s now topsy-turvy realm. She wanders through a museum filled with parodies of famous paintings, scientific illustrations, and natural objects, eventually meeting the titular turtle herself. The girl learns that each piece “represents a question that someone asked, and their journey to find an answer.” Alvarez has a marvelous gift for creating original and enticing flora and fauna in unexpected color combinations; these are worlds readers will wish to enter. Varied design keeps the narrative interesting: there may be 10 panels per page (it’s sometimes challenging to know who’s talking) or single spread compositions. When Sandy’s curiosity leads her through a portal into a barren landscape, she meets a helper and confronts an enemy, an overpowering birdlike creature that either replicates itself or is everywhere at once—the phenomenon that had driven Hicotea into her shell. Sandy observes how fear paralyzes: “the world becomes smaller.” Moments of dreaming, ambiguous transitions, and characters that appear in real and surreal portions will have readers turning back and forth to grapple with meaning.
VERDICT An entertaining and immersive excursion, especially for fans of the first volume

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