Girl Haven, by Lilah Sturges, Meaghan Carter and Joamette Gil, is a fantasy comic mostly focused on the topic of gender. It explores how complicated the idea of gender can be when coming of age. The story begins in a more everyday setting, Marsha P. Johnson Middle School (the name is a shout out to LGBT+ history). The reader is introduced to the protagonists and members of the Pride society at school – Eleanor, Junebug, Chloe and prospective member Ash – when they are chatting during a lunch break, Eleanor painting nails when Ash joins. This slowly leads to the foursome becoming closer. The story picks up pace pretty quickly, allowing it to cover a wide range of time and locations and giving a thorough introduction to ‘Koretris’, the world in which the fantasy elements of Girl Haven take place.
It is revealed fairly early on that Ash’s mother is no longer a part of the household, although the reason for this is unknown to Ash, as it causes a father-child rift. When the friends go through things Ash’s mother owned, they discover a way to get into Koretris, the world Ash’s mother invented. The characters’ excitement and fear upon discovering Koretris is really fun. Junebug’s reaction is one many readers would relate to – unbridled innocent joy at the development. Each character’s personality is brought to the fore from the very beginning, but they become amplified upon entering Koretris – for example, Chloe’s cautiousness.
The book often focuses on self-discovery and how understanding yourself alongside the pressures and expectations of society can be difficult. Koretris itself is a microcosm of the fears of Ash’s mother, including the all important ‘no boys allowed’ rule. Carter’s art style is lively and cartoonish, expressing the intensity of emotions when you’re young. The colours are mostly bright and fun, with some exceptions to fit scenes which are darker in tone. The work of Sturges, Carter and Gil combines to create a similar stylistic atmosphere throughout. For example, when recounting their mother’s stories from the past of Koretris, the art style and lettering change to fit the fact that this is a story from the world’s history, lending it a kind of mythological, folkloric feel.
Overall, Girl Haven tells an intriguing story combining fantasy and self-discovery, utilising characters’ inner conflicts to inform the worldbuilding concerning its fantasy elements. The characters are fun, enthusiastic, slightly anxious, and sometimes a little naive – making them feel like they belong to their depicted age group. Girl Haven provides enough mystery to keep you on your toes until the very end, and proves to be a very gratifying and intriguing read.
Lilah Sturges (W), Meaghan Carter (A), Joamette Gil (L), Sonja Synak (D) • Oni Press, $14.99
Review by Holly Raidl