Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Bluffton by Matt Phelan

Bluffton: My Summers with Buster Keaton by Matt Phelan is a juvenile graphic novel with a soft-focus, nostalgic feel.

In the early 1900s, summers are quiet in Muskegon, Michigan -- until the year a troupe of vaudeville performers come to spend a summer by the lake. Henry, a boy from Muskegon, quickly befriends Buster Keaton, a child star right around his own age. The boys bond over baseball, fishing, and just goofing off, and Henry soon finds himself envying Buster's glamorous life on stage. Will Henry be stuck in Muskegon forever?

This graphic novel is a treat to read -- Phelan's illustrations are lovely, and the text works with the images to convey Henry's longing for the big time . . . as well as certain things Buster might long for, but never expresses to his friend. I also admire how Phelan shifts near the end of the book from focusing on what happens during the summer and sliding through the winter with a series of wordless frames, to focusing on what happens in the winter, as Henry starts to see the potential in his own life. I enjoyed this book very much, though I'm not sure how much kid appeal it has -- quiet, thoughtful graphic novels don't leap off the shelf at my library, but I'm hoping it finds other readers who, like me, will appreciate its many fine qualities.

(Reviewed from a copy borrowed through my library system.)

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