Blackwater by Jeannette Arroyo and Ren Graham
Henry Holt and Co. BYR Paperbacks (July 19, 2022)
304 pages; $24.99 hardcover; $17.99 paperback
Reviewed by Joshua Gage
Jeannette Arroyo was born and raised in New Mexico but recently relocated to the rainier Seattle area. She has done freelance in animation and children’s book illustrations. A huge fan of the horror genre, Jeannette likes to mix in some lighthearted spooky elements in her work.
Ren Graham is a fiction writer and illustrator currently residing in the rainy Pacific Northwest. They have B.A. in Art History and a graduate studies certificate in Science Illustration, so biology, world mythology, and natural elements tend to influence and reappear in their work. Ren is interested in spooky stories, chilly hikes in the woods, and the ways in which art and science intersect. Co-created, Blackwater is their debut graphic novel. It’s a fabulous horror story geared towards a teen audience.
Tony is a high school jock. He’s a track star, friends with the starting quarterback, and dating the edgy and attractive Marcia. He’s also attracted to Eli, a quiet nerdy boy who we discover has an autoimmune disease that keeps him home a lot. When Tony tries to make his move and invites Eli to the track fundraiser, Eli betrays his trust, further complicating things. Also, the town is currently haunted by some weird bear with mange that’s slaughtering the wildlife. Everything seems to center around Tony, and it’s up to Eli and Marcia to figure things out.
Blackwater is a solid teen horror story. The characters, while a bit one-dimensional on occasion, have enough variety and depth to keep a teen audience interested. They very much read like average teenagers, dealing with hormones and secrets and private lives while trying to survive high school with all its rejection, awkwardness, fear, anxiety, and posturing. The fact that there are characters with diverse ethnic backgrounds, LGBTQ+ characters, and characters with chronic illness represented makes this not only a more believable book, but also a more representative book, which is important in expanding and developing future horror readers.
The art in Blackwater is appropriate for the story and the audience. It’s not too juvenile or cartoony, but it’s also not too artistic or realistic as to scare off readers just getting started with graphic novels and horror. The panels are not formulaic, either, and make for a really solid narrative, propelling the story forward while also engaging the readers.
Overall, Blackwater is a very strong teen-focused graphic novel that adult readers will probably enjoy as well. Many horror readers will probably be able to identify with the awkward and nerdy teens struggling to find their place in the world, and the horror aspects of the story play out well to keep even mature readers engaged. This is a solid debut and one that horror readers of all ages will most likely enjoy.