By: Chloë Williams, Columnist
Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
Séance Tea Party by Reimena Yee: 7/10.
“Séance Tea Party” is a coming-of-age and fantasy graphic novel written and illustrated by Reimena Yee. It chronicles the life of Lora, a girl scared to confront what it means to “grow up” and become a teenager. Although Lora’s story is about the emergence from childhood, it appeals to the child inside of every reader as she tries to find a way to keep the magical parts of her life alive while moving into maturity. The tale itself is gripping and heartfelt, but the bright and detailed illustrations realize the magic world that lives inside its pages.
What keeps the reader hooked in the story is the dual struggle between the emotional childhood and adulthood matched with the fantastical versus the real world. Lora’s circle of friends has begun to shrink because she feels she cannot relate to their new interests of parties, romantic partners, and gossip magazines. She wants to make up play-pretend scenarios and spend her time inside reading. The story begins with her stuck firmly in her childhood alone, but she soon befriends the ghost in her house, Alexa, who quite literally is a child forever.
Alexa has had many human friends about the age of Lora or younger throughout her time as a ghost. However, each one has grown up and left her. Tired of doing the same thing again and again, she begins a search to find out how she can finally move on in the spirit world. This quest comes to a head when she finds a childhood friend who has grown old and lived a full life after Alexa’s death.
Intrigued if this friend will still remember her, Alexa is determined to find a way to communicate with her and find peace with her own early death. However, she then struggles with the ever-present desire to move on from her ghostly existence and wanting to be a supportive friend to Lora as she navigates puberty and her young teenage years.
Although Alexa has her own private conflict, she also accompanies Lora on many adventures. Together they go to a small Halloween party, which Lora is extremely hesitant to attend on the pretense of feeling as though she will not fit in. However, she eventually leaves the party feeling as though she may have more in common with other girls her age than she had once assumed.
This newfound confidence inspires her to reach out to old friends that she had let grow apart from her. Alexa helps Lora feel seen and encourages her to try things outside of her comfort zone. She pushes Lora to experiment with the new interests of her peers, while still being able to hold onto what makes her her. Of course, with every bit of encouragement, Lora proves that she needs Alexa’s help less and less.
Of course, Lora is the main character of this book, and therein lies my biggest criticism. Alexa is such an intriguing character, that I was endlessly interested in hearing more about her story rather than Lora’s. With Lora, there is the classic story of growing up, losing friends and needing to find one’s way in unfamiliar territory. However, Alexa brings to the table a story about someone in the body of a little girl, with the mind and grief of someone who would have been in their elderly years.
She has watched all her peers move on and continues to watch all of the children she befriends move on as well. She is stagnant, stuck and always left behind. She is a truly tragic figure, yet still manages to bring joy and encouragement to Lora. At many times, it felt as though this should have been her story instead, with Lora acting as her catalyst for change. After the story ended, there was still so much I wanted to know about her character.
Any review of this book would be remiss without referencing the incredibly unique drawings that accompany the tale. Yee covers every inch of her pages with brightly-colored cells, doodles, and accents. She brings little creatures from Lora’s imagination to life outside of the cells that dictate her reality. This visualizes for the reader what the world looks like inside of her head.
Not only does she see the physical world as vivid and full of life, but her internal reality is bursting with whimsy and wonder. Yee adds immaculate details from the witch statues and pumpkin purses in Lora’s room to the plethora of tiny mushrooms growing in the forest. The artwork in “Séance Tea Party” uses lots of oranges, purples and greens to set Lora and Alexa in a cute, Halloween-town environment.
It is more than evident that the “Séance Tea Party” was a passion project for Yee. Every piece of this story is stylized, with a very clear aesthetic vision guiding the reader through. Both Lora and Alexa go through their own personal struggles, that butt heads and merge with each other, making them compelling and relatable.
Readers going through the same experiences as Lora will surely find comfort in her journey, and older readers will be able to identify with her plight and eventual acceptance of life’s changes. This is a great pick for those new to the graphic novel genre, as there is a focus on the text to move the story along. Though it is a light read, “Séance Tea Party” is sure to make an impression by tugging on the heartstrings of the inner child alive inside us all.