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Brooms coverBrooms is a heartfelt graphic novel that has an earnest narrative and highly polished art. The comic’s writer, Jasmine Walls, states in her creator’s notes that she wanted to “balance historical accuracy and fantastical magic through the lens of people on the margins” (p. 232). This vision is brought to life by Teo DuVall’s art and Bex Glendining’s colours, and altogether these three authors create a book that is sweet and elegant, a real marvel of design and simplicity. It’s a joy for both young and old readers.

The story takes place in a world much like our own but where magic exists, in a place similar to the early-to-mid-1900s American South. Luella is a young woman with Choctaw and Mexican heritage. As a child, she was taken from her family and forced to attend a residential school. After Luella used magic to strike back at a teacher, government officials sealed her magic away. Now Luella’s younger half-sisters, Mattie and Emma, are getting more adept at using magic, and the whole family is worried about the two girls being taken away by the authorities. The solution, as it often is in an unjust world, is money: if the family can raise funds for exception permits, then the girls can avoid Luella’s fate. And what’s the best way for a couple of young fugitive magic-users to make a quick buck? Illegal broom racing, of course.

Though Luella can’t use magic anymore, she knows people who can, such as her girlfriend Billie Mae. Billie Mae is the leader of the Night Storms, a broom-racing team consisting of herself and two teammates. Billie Mae explains to Emma and Mattie how each member of the team has a specific role, and, as I was reading the explanation of this sport’s mechanics, my reaction was identical to Emma and Mattie’s: “That’s so cool!”

Despite the fact that the different racing positions are detailed so clearly, it doesn’t really pan out that way during the actual race sequences. While Billie Mae talks of there being an “offense racer to keep competitors on their toes” and a “defense racer to keep the team from getting knocked off their brooms,” in the race sequences themselves the strategy and manoeuvring lies with the leader, the other two racers stepping up with spells as needed. The racing sequences are exciting and well done, but part of me was hoping for a sports manga level of detail when it came to each of the racers and their roles. Instead, the book zeroes in on Billie Mae for the majority of each race.

The broom racing is in the book not just for fun action sequences, but also to show a community of people who are shut out of mainstream society, either because they are queer, or people of colour, or physically handicapped, or some combination of all of the above. Amidst both the main cast and background characters, a whole variety of human experiences are on display. Sometimes the book delves into a character’s identities and what they mean for that individual. Other times, the book uses its visuals to tell the story and leaves it at that: my favourite example of this is how broom racer Loretta walks with a leg brace and rides a broom with a hook attached to hold her leg in place. It’s that kind of adaptative worldbuilding that really makes both the setting and the characters believable.

There were times, though, when I wished the book was a little clearer about things the characters deal with. For example, in the author’s notes at the end of the book, it’s mentioned that Billie Mae suffers from chronic pain. Spells and curses are especially tough on Billie Mae and her aches and pains, which is dangerous since broom racers routinely cast spells at one another. As someone who has been dealing with a low-level pain for a while now, I identify with Billie’s situation hit home with me: it’s hard enough having pain that makes it hard to do the thing you love; what’s even harder is when the thing you love is the thing causing the pain. But I don’t know if I would have understood that this is what Billie Mae was dealing with if not for the author’s note at the end of the book.

Often I felt like the comic was skimming the surface rather than diving deep. There were several times when I wished the book could have developed its cast of characters more, for instance. Luella and Billie Mae get the most depth, but I can’t tell you too much about Mattie or Emma; they feel more like one character split into two bodies. I can’t help but wonder what the book could have been like if the main cast had been whittled down so we could delve deeper into, say, three people, instead of getting an overview of everyone.

While the narrative might have to be skimpy on details at times, Teo DuVall’s art is great for giving the reader a feel for the large cast. Each character’s body language and expressions are unique to them, making them individualistic and expressive without being over the top. DuVall’s art especially shines in crowd scenes, or when depicting eccentric minor characters like the hustlers who run the broom racers or the rival racing teams. In fact, DuVall’s character designs are so good that they made me feel a little cheated by the main narrative: there were times when I was desperate to know more about some minor character just because of how strong their vibe was.

Likewise, fleshing out the other racers would have also helped to give the races some more tension. Not to get into spoiler territory, but the Night Storms never seem like they are going to lose any of the races they are in. To be fair, the conflict comes from bigger issues than just the races: Will the police bust up this race? Will everyone be arrested, their magic sealed away? Can the racers and spectators protect this space against a world that is hostile to them? But because we spend so much time with the Night Storms and never get any real insight into the other teams, it feels like a foregone conclusion who will clinch the win.

Still, the scenes where the characters just relax with each other have an almost Ghibli-like quality, making for lovely little slice-of-life sequences. While there is nevertheless danger in this world for the characters, there’s also a lot of joy and peaceful, quiet moments. The layouts, with their large panels and solid colours, help the story breathe. A big credit needs to go to the book’s colourist, Bex Glendining, for picking colours that help ground both the physical setting and the emotional tenor of each scene. When backgrounds are drawn, they are serviceable, but once the setting is established, the focus is rightfully shifted to the characters.

A make-or-break moment for the Night Storms comes in the form of a big race. The Witch’s Cackle is a broom race that requires five flyers and has an especially large purse at stake. The race itself is exciting, especially when leader Billie Mae is taken out by the book’s villains, the upper-class, all-male, all-white team known as The Pedigrees. When Billie Mae is knocked to the ground and her broom broken, we see her dig deep to call upon her magic and rally herself. It’s a well-done sequence, but it doesn’t feel like the culmination of a character arc. Throughout the book, we’ve seen Billie Mae be cool and competent; while it is a nice bit of complexity to see her doubt herself here, there is no doubt in the reader’s mind that Billie Mae will bounce back.

A moment that works a little better, narratively speaking, comes postrace, when the police have descended upon the racers and revelers, and Luella must hurry to save her friends. Luella has been a driving force in the narrative even though her lack of magic means she isn’t able to race. Despite the fact that her powers are sealed away, she still manages to save the day. She also gets her magic back through the intercession of her ancestors, a really beautiful moment that encapsulates the comic’s goal of righting past wrongs. This plot point comes off as miraculous but also earned, since we’ve seen Luella have her moments of doubt and inadequacy but rise above them. Luella gets an interiority that the other characters don’t, which is why this triumphant moment hits home. While it’s inspiring to see the other characters overcome the external obstacles they must deal with, like systematic racism and ableism, it would have been nice to see more of them work through things internally.

Brooms features a queer, nonwhite cast living under a system that would deny them their magic, joy, and even bonds with each other. And the cast doesn’t give up. Not only that, their daring acts—whether they be a risky broom manoeuvres or coming out to their parents—are rewarded by the narrative. While I personally would have preferred a deeper look at a smaller number of characters, the large cast allows the creators to present a multitude of different experiences and represent people who don’t often get to be front and center. Brooms is a great graphic novel not just for its young audience, but for adults who might need to be reminded of this: even when the world is against you, trust in your friends, be brave, and things just might turn out all right.

Shannon Fay is a manga editor by day, fiction writer by night. Her debut novel, Innate Magic, was published in December 2021. Its sequel, External Forces, was published in 2022.
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