I thought that the graphic novel, Better Place by Duane Murray was about a kid who played hockey. Maybe he would have some problems in school, some bully or something, but nothing overly serious or we had not seen before. But then we find that the mature theme of death is put into play and the child, Dylan (of cover fame), is not your average hockey player. In fact, hockey is far from what he does. He and his grandfather are not just two peas in the pod, they are the whole deal. And after the grandfather is killed in an accident, Dylan takes the journey to find him, as he was told Grandad went to a “Better Place” and in his kid mine he sees (not there really) clues to where he would be. There is also the story of his mother and how she is a single parent of basically two kids. The grandfather is not “losing it” yet, he does not always think before he acts. However, there have been issues, and enough of them to warrant looking into a nursing home.
The realism of things is not really for kids. The fact the mother has a very realistic and understandably horrific reaction to things (the stress of raising a child basically alone, her father’s incidents, trying to work and be there for Dylan builds up into a very emotional explosion) might just make kids think “Mom is a big meanie” and not that moms’ grief of things we are not really privy to is so overwhelming she cannot process. But the other part of the story, Dylan’s antics and running away to find the Better Place kids will enjoy.
I was not always a fan of Dylan as he feels younger than his eight years would seemingly make him and I felt he would not have reacted the way he did to some of the things. Yet, he is an interesting and complex character. The artwork by Shawn Daley fits the story, and is mature, showing things we do not always hear mentioned or cleverly show things that are simultaneously happening without “splitting the screen/panel” keeping you in the moment.
In full disclosure there are a few themes and/or images that might go over some readers heads or be too much for sensitive readers. One character Dylan meets has severe dementia and forgets his wife has passed, there are a few scenes in the cemetery once Dylan finds himself there, and mention of parents death. Plus, we see the car accident and an exchange with the police officer that I found a bit chilling, but again, a kid might miss the implications of what was said. Most things are done in a way that many younger readers would “gloss over” but they were intense and emotional. It is a complicated, deep and not for everyone story. If you think a child might need it, I would recommend reading it first. But of course, one should read as an adult just because even though I might not read other things by this author, or even LOVED this, I did come away with a reading experience.