Updated: Feb 8, 2021
In this amazing sequel to 'Sheets', Marjorie learns a valuable lesson about being a good friend. Ages 9+.
In her graphic novel, 'Sheets', Brenna Thummler introduced us to Marjorie, a young girl who had recently lost her mother and was trying to keep her family laundrette running, while caring for her younger brother and struggling with bullies at school. Marjorie discovered that a young ghost, Wendell, had been using her laundrette as a playground at night and inadvertently causing her trouble. Slowly, the two became friends and supported each other to come to terms with what happened to them. This beautiful story explored loneliness and grief in such a unique way and I found it a moving and delightful. I actually bought the first book without knowing anything about the story because the cover art was so beautiful and I was immediately engrossed in Marjorie and Wendell's world. The sequel, Delicates, is just as special.
We discover that life has changed quite a bit for Marjorie and her family. She has spent the summer hanging out with Tessi and the popular kids from school who had previously ignored her or teased her. Now that she has a group of friends and no longer feels lonely, she is moving further away from Wendell, who is beginning to feel ignored and rejected by Marjorie. Having spent so much time alone, Marjorie is desperate to fit in, so when Tessi begins to bully another girl, Marjorie doesn't speak out.
Eliza Duncan is the daughter of Marjorie's teacher, seen in the previous book. She has been kept back in eigth grade and her father is keen for the other children to make friends with his lonely daughter. However, Eliza is blunt and speaks her mind, which other children find awkward and she is socially isolated, as Marjorie had been previously.
Obsessed with ghosts, Eliza is determined to catch one on film and spends her free time taking photographs of places she knows there have been deaths. Early one morning, she overhears Marjorie talking to Wendell near the lake where he drowned, but when confronted, Marjorie claims to be talking to herself. Eliza begins to wonder if Marjorie might know more than she is letting on and, with her father's encouragement, attempts to befriend Marjorie. However, when Tessi begins to call Eliza a freak who sees dead people, Marjorie is determined that she won't be associated with her.
Wendell is also becoming increasingly upset by Marjorie's rejections as she begins to prioritise her new friends over him. On Halloween, Wendell embarasses her by tagging along, knowing that it is the perfect night for him to fit in. Leaving both Wendell and Eliza behind to be with her other friends, the two outcasts bond over their shared frustrations with Marjorie and feelings of invisibility and loneliness, with Eliza having no idea that she has finally met a ghost!
The bullying of Eliza eventually escalates to a frightening degree and Marjorie must decide whether her new popularity is more important than speaking out.
It was so interesting to see how Marjorie reacted to another lonely child being picked on and shunned now that she was no longer in that same position. I could feel Marjorie's shame and guilt as she rejected both Wendell and Eliza and succumbed to peer pressure. Brenna Thummler has perfectly captured that stage of childhood where we will do anything to fit in and not be rejected by our peer group, particularly those feelings of guilt and shame we experience if we don't speak out about teasing or bullying. Thummler also highlights the very real pain that social isolation and harrassment causes and, at one point, Eliza tells Marjorie that not speaking out is as bad as joining in. A lesson for us all.
Marjorie is also still trying to be a parent to her younger brother, as her father has entered a new stage of grief and still cannot manage to be emotionally available for either of his children. While I felt upset on their behalf, I was pleased that Thummler didn't portray a 'happy ever after' where dad was immediately 'fixed' at the end of the last book. Grief doesn't work like that in real life and I felt this portrayal to be much more authentic, frustrating as it was to see a father's continued neglect of his children's own struggles.
Thummler's illustrations are engrossing, particularly her landscapes and scenes. The colour palette is visually appealing and I find myself, once again, in awe of her artwork. She has produced a striking graphic novel which touches on emotions that we have all experienced. Her use of the ghost as a metaphor for how invisible we can feel when we are ignored by others is touching and poignant. This is a very special series and one I will revisit often.
Get the books:
Delicates by Brenna Thummler (Published 16th of March 2021. Available for pre-order.)
I would like to thank NetGalley for an advanced reading copy in exchange for my honest review.