“Lupe, I don’t have to touch this creature to know it’s not dangerous… It’s a child. It needs love and trust.”
“But how do you know you know we can trust it?”
“We don’t. That’s what trust is.”
– from Hotel Dare, writtey by Terry Blas and illustrated by Claudia Aguirre
I’m generally not the graphic novel person in the treehouse, because I’m not the artist, but it has slowly occurred to me that I really do like the graphic novel form. There’s so much going on – chaotic and strange, in bright colors, and it’s easy to sit and gulp down a whole graphic novel in one sitting… and then turn around the next day and read it again, studying each panel for some nuance of artwork I might have missed. This is very definitely middle grade in concept; cartoon-y violence, but nothing that cannot be fixed in time; lots of minor conflict, and Charlotte’s struggle to feel accepted in her own skin is a very common middle grade theme, and replays in various ways with various characters throughout the novel. Also – full disclosure – I won this fun graphic from BOOM! Studios, and while my review opinions are always my own, I’m admittedly pretty chuffed about an unexpected freebie. Thanks, publicists!
The “Choose Your Own Adventure” thing has returned in so many fun ways since the 80’s. This novel is a wonderful mashup of cartoon and video game with so many little levels and ways to succeed – as long as you depend on others, use your skills, and stick with your people and do right by them. I love that.
Olive and her adopted siblings, Darwin and Charlotte, together with Darwin’s pet rat, have been sent to Mexico because scrappy Charlotte started some mess at school. (Granted, Charlotte thought she was doing right; someone called Olive queer and inferred that Charlotte looked nothing like her siblings, so she reacted, but Olive’s whole attitude is, “But I AM queer, so?” and Darwin’s like, “We don’t look alike, hon, we’re adopted,” so Charlotte is fairly grumpy.) It’s a “good time to get away,” according to their parents, so the trio is exiled to Mexico and Mama Lupe’s rundown hotel. Mama Lupe is… weird, and all the kids are doing is cleaning and cleaning and cleaning. And eating good Mexican food, of course, but still: cleaning a hotel where no one ever checks in. All three kids are wondering what the point is, and Charlotte is getting more and more prickly, since she feels Mama Lupe hasn’t warmed up to her, and she’s not at all sure about belonging to this family. The elder siblings, however, are “all for one, and one for all” and remind her that being part of the Dare clan means sticking together… mostly. Olive still wonders why Papa is so cool on the subject of Mama Lupe – and makes it her personal goal to figure out why that part of the family never gets together. Cautious, tenderhearted Darwin is just concerned that the more Olive meddles, the madder everyone – especially Mama Lupe – will be. But, when Charlotte dares the others to join her in breaking into the one room Mama Lupe said was off-limits, obviously, it’s too good an opportunity to discover something to resist. And Mama Lupe’s office is intense! It’s a room thoroughly unlike all the others – fully swank and tech-heavy, and it has precious stones and masks inside. Charlotte fiddles with a mask thingy she oughtn’t, and it… opens doors in all the hotel rooms… doors which open into Elsewhere.
Hijinks, of course, ensue.
I would open any door which led me to a new universe during a boring cleaning-heavy vacation in a hot minute, wouldn’t you? And of course, the sibs go into different universes, conscious all the while that Mama Lupe is going to come home, at some point, and they will be in SO much trouble. But there are more Dares to dare – and more jams to get out of than they could have suspected!
This is fun for fans of Steven Universe, Over the Garden Wall and, of course, Adventure Time. This quick-paced tour of the other worlds ends with a Happy (& Safe) For Now, and a tiny tendril of story which opens the door to the next episode. Tons of fun, recommended.
Until the next book,