Mooncakes is a fluffy light read, but it could have been so much more. Like a lot of the graphic novels I tend to pick up, this one features a fairly YA story about 2 queer characters probably in their late teens who have something supernatural about them, and they must face some sort of supernatural problem while dealing with their mutual attraction to each other. Nova is a witch in training, and Tam is her werewolf childhood friend/possibly something more who moved away but is now back in town. Something somewhat unknown is after Tam, and there’s also something maybe related going on in the woods near Nova’s house. Eventually they confront the bad things, defeat them, and then have to straighten out how they want to deal with each other. The plot is bland and I totally saw the main villain reveal coming, but those things don’t really seem the point.
This is not so much a story of plot; it’s really about the characters. Besides Tam and Nova, the other 2 who really stand out are the grandmas. Nova has 2 grandmothers, Qiuli and Nechama, who are pretty kick-butt old ladies who are also generally pretty cool to hang out with. They get involved in some of the action, but also do the standard grandma advice-giving thing too. Both Nova and Tam have things about themselves that make them really self-conscious in some ways, Tam being a non-binary werewolf and Nova being a queer, hearing impaired witch. Some of the personal drama comes from some of Nova’s family wanting her to do the traditional witch apprenticeship away from home, but other family members, including Nova, want her to stay and learn at home, and the reason is obviously largely her disability. Magic in this world requires speaking and words, although one of the weaknesses that bugged me was how little world-building there was, and that could have covered explaining how magic worked. Even if it is as generic and traditional as it seems, it would have made Nova’s hearing impairment more meaningful if it were more directly dealt with, at least in connection with her learning magic.
Making the werewolf non-binary could also have been more meaningful if more directly considered. Tam struggles with the werewolf part of themself pretty openly, and virtually not at all with gender identity, and there could have been such a connection about the double not-quite-one-or-the-other-ness. On the one hand, it’s warm and fuzzy seeing such open acceptance of the two young people, but that also takes away some of potential for deeper meaning. The other thing that I almost missed if I hadn’t noticed it in a review when I went to update my Goodreads is that Nova is Chinese-American. It makes sense given that her mother’s mother is named Qiuli and the mooncakes of the title are a Chinese thing. Again, it’s kind of a split. On the one hand, not pointing it out directly makes that aspect of Nova seem more natural but also means it could be totally missed, and in a story with such an obvious effort at being inclusive, it feels a little like a missed opportunity.
Overall, it’s a really cute sweet story, but it could have been more. Especially in hind sight, I kinda wish for the more.