Atheneum Books, 2010
Written and illustrated by Hope Larson
The spiritual successor to Hope Larson’s pleasant teen drama Chiggers, which earned her Eisner Award acclaim, Mercury is a more ambitious tale of two coming-of-age tales tied by blood but separated by time.
In present day Nova Scotia, Tara Fraser is living separate from her mother after their house, which has been in the Fraser family for generations, has recently been destroyed in a fire. When Tara discovers a pendant with mysterious dowsing properties, her life begins to draw parallels with that of her ancestor Josey Fraser, whose family was torn apart by conniving prospector Asa Curry some150 years ago in the very same home.
Tara and Josey are near identical but for their different lengths of hair, and Larson does a great job of blurring the two timelines as history repeats itself in each girl’s teenage desires for adventure and romance. As with Lise Myhre’s Nemi, Hope Larson gets a brilliant array of facial expression from her simple character designs. Occasionally her work even drifts towards Daniel Clowes territory as characters are caricatured to revolting proportions, imbuing the nineteenth century scenes in particular with a sinister and ethereal ambiance.
As part of Atheneum’s “books for young readers” range Mercury sits in an uncomfortable place. Readers of any age or gender will identify with boyish pariah Tara and the rest of the female cast, yet Larson so neatly ties her past and present plotlines into a polite, convenient end that a more aged and cynical bookworm is likely to feel a little short-changed. Elements of magical realism, such as a crow with Curry’s face, also work their way into the plot, and feel incongruous to what is an otherwise grounded tale.
But Hope Larson’s subtle characterisation and charming art are enough to make Mercury a pleasurable, breezy read that teenage girls will surely lap up (and that is by no means a criticism), and open-minded adults will also find themselves sucked into.