Written and Illustrated by Keezy Young
Published by Lion Forge
‘Rama Rating: 10 out of 10
Keezy Young’s Taproot, out this week from Lion Forge’s ROAR young adult imprint, declares itself upfront: it’s “a story about a gardener and a ghost.” But Young’s debut graphic novel is so much more than its charmingly straightforward premise. Taproot explores the stages of grief and the struggles of unrequited love in a captivating and beautifully illustrated tale that will tug at your heartstrings from the opening pages.
Based on a webcomic of the same name, Taproot tells the story of a young gardener named Hamal who seems to have a magic touch with plants, and certainly has a magical connection with the world around him: he, and only he, can see the ghosts that haunt his bustling town. Young draws Hamal’s ghostly buddies - impetuous Blue, sweet young Joey, and mischievous April - in subdued blues and greens that perfectly capture their uneasy connection to the mortal world. They stand out sharply against the earthy colors of Hamal’s greenhouse but seem to blend into the shadows at times, not transparent but still not quite physically present.
Young’s colors make Blue and his unearthly friends distinctly not alive but keeps them inviting and friendly. In Taproot, ghosts aren’t necessarily scary, just stuck, unable to move on to the afterlife and haunted themselves by their inability to connect with the living. For the spirits of Taproot, Hamal is their one connection to the lives they’ve left behind, but Hamal’s unusual skill has its own consequences that form the conflict at the heart of the novel. Young creates a supernatural world that isn’t frightening, but deeply unsettling; when Hamal discovers why the spirits of the town have been disappearing, there’s no monster to defeat but Hamal’s reluctance to accept the consequences of his inadvertent actions.
Taproot doesn’t waste time being melancholy or tragic for the sake of it, a rarity for a title featuring LGBT characters or anchored by an LGB romance. There are genuinely heartbreaking moments throughout, and the graphic novel’s climax may bring a few tears to your eyes, but Keezy Young offers a truly emotional story that resolves itself in a heartwarming way and explores complicated life experiences right up until the final panel.
Through the gentle romance of Blue and Hamal, Young touches on the value of communication and how vital our emotional health is to positive experiences in the mortal world or the afterlife. Faced with potential endless lifetimes of loneliness, Blue flirts and fumbles around Hamal in equal measure, craving an emotional connection he’s certain he can’t have and overcompensating by pushing Hamal towards relationships he isn’t interested in. It’s their bond, and the resolution of their complicated feelings that resolve the grim mystery plaguing the town’s living and spiritual residents.
From start to finish, Taproot is a stunning graphic novel and a refreshing and rare sight in the comics landscape - a sweet and affectionate YA-friendly romance with queer leads of color, a stocky male lead who gets to be tender and gentle without being infantilized. Young embraces body diversity across almost the full spectrum, building a world that truly reflects the world around us with an emphasis on the supernatural (a refreshing twist, if you aren’t supernatural yourself, or a delightful take that centers the supernatural without assuming that horror elements must also run parallel to them). Keezy Young is an incredible talent with a valuable voice to share, and Taproot is an absolutely impeccable graphic novel debut.