Rachael Ball – Wolf (3 stars)

Rachael Ball – Wolf

Moving tale about dealing with grief, childhood, and the power of imagination

The award-winning artist behind The Inflatable Woman returns with a poignant tale about childhood, grief and the irrepressible power of imagination. Wolf introduces us to Eric, a small and imaginative boy whose father is killed in a tragic accident. The story is set in the 70s and Rachael Ball's illustrations capture the era beautifully, while a satisfying and entirely relatable blurring of reality makes the tale all the more touching.

Following his father's death, Eric's family is uprooted and moved to a new neighbourhood. Our hero and his siblings quickly find new friends and projects to entertain themselves while they get on with the difficult process of grieving. Their efforts are undercut with a sense of unease, thanks to rumours of the Wolf Man who lives next door. Despite being the youngest (and most susceptible to flights of fancy), Eric is the one driven to confront the stories head on.

Inspired by a family viewing of The Time Machine, Eric becomes enraptured with the idea of building his own contraption. His siblings and new friends blithely join in; never realising that the young boy truly believes that time travel is within reach. He hopes that if he can get their machine working it will return him to a place where he can have the thing he wants most. It's his determination to succeed that throws Eric into the Wolf Man's domain and begins their unlikely relationship.

As in Jhonen Vasquez's Johnny the Homicial Maniac, our young hero quickly finds himself caught up in his neighbour's fantasies. Ball's characters, unlike Vasquez's, have a clear shot at redemption. At its heart, Wolf rips right into the kind of confusion, anger and resentment that afflicts the bereaved. Soft pencils and charming characterisations lull the reader into a sense of nostalgia that helps evoke the mystical and sometimes terrifying world of childhood perfectly.

Out now (SelfMadeHero).

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