Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges, Meaghan Carter and Joamette Gil

I love that there are more and more children’s graphic novels being published with LGBTQ+ characters and themes. It’s important for our kids to be able to see themselves in books, no matter what their identity. These graphic novels don’t just appeal to kids who are trans or queer though. One of my favourite graphic novels is The Prince and the Dressmaker and it is one of the most popular graphic novels with the older children at my school. The themes of discovering your identity and being the person you truly feel you are, resounds with all readers. Girl Haven is a fantastic new graphic novel from Oni Press, which deals with gender identity and sexuality in a way that older children can relate to.

Three years ago, Ash’s mom, Kristin, left home and never came back. Now, Ash lives in the house where Kristin grew up. All of her things are there. Her old room, her old clothes, and the shed where she spent her childhood creating a fantasy world called Koretris. Ash knows all about Koretris: how it’s a haven for girls, with no men or boys allowed, and filled with fanciful landscapes and creatures. When Ash’s friends decide to try going to Koretris using one of Kristin’s spell books, Ash doesn’t think anything will happen. But the spell works, and Ash discovers that the world Kristin created is actually a real place with real inhabitants and very real danger. But if Koretris is real, why is Ash there? Everyone has always called Ash a boy. Ash uses he/him pronouns. Shouldn’t the spell have kept Ash out? And what does it mean if it let Ash in?

Girl Haven is such a cool story! It is an inspiring story about being the person you want to be, wrapped up in a fantasy adventure. The story is full of fun and adventure, but Lilah and Meaghan also make you think about gender identity and how society makes you fit in to one box or another. The characters are diverse, representing cisgender, transgender and nonbinary people, and different sexual orientations. I think this is an important book that will help children who are confused about their identity. It will help them to see that they are not alone, and that it is important to have people around you who understand and support you.

The story mainly focuses on Ash’s journey to acceptance. Ash didn’t realise that the place his mum talked about and wrote about was actually a real place. He knows that Koretris is a haven for girls, so it is confusing when he is able to get in, along with his friends who are all girls. Ash has always felt like he was supposed to be a girl and has wished that something would happen to turn him into a girl. Coming to Koretris gives Ash the chance to become the person he’s always wanted to be. Junebug, Eleanor and Chloe are all great friends to Ash, and I love that they all identify differently. Anybody reading this graphic novel will be able to find someone to relate to. Something that really resonated with me was the idea of every person being a story and that ‘a boy is one kind of story, a girl another kind. And they are but two of many stories.’

Meaghan Carter’s illustrations bring the world of Koretris to life, from the Rabbits of the Reeds to the candy people of Sugar Valley, and the dreaded Scourge. Meaghan has drawn Ash in such a way that he looks androgynous, but as his friends say, he ‘looks really cute in that dress.’ Meaghan’s illustration style is similar to Molly Ostertag and Gale Galligan, so anyone who likes their style would like Girl Haven.

Girl Haven is one of my favourite children’s graphic novels this year and I will be recommending it to kids and adults alike. It is a must-have graphic novel for intermediate and high school libraries, and I know it will be incredibly popular. If you have loved The Prince and the Dressmaker, Witch Boy, Dungeon Critters or Snapdragon, you’ll love Girl Haven.