This review was first published in Resource Links Magazine, “Canada’s national journal devoted to the review and evaluation of Canadian English and French resources for children and young adults.” It appears in volume 21.1.
I really enjoyed Norah McClintock’s In Too Deep (2009), and in her second graphic novel, Tru Detective, she repeats her success in creating a fast-paced narrative of teen characters involved in mystery. In this instance, Truman Tucker and his best friend “Sticky” (Woodrow Stickman) are trying to solve Tru’s girlfriend’s murder while avoiding the police, who suspect Tru. As the story unravels, Tru and “Sticky” begin to learn that Natalia’s life was not as simple as they thought. Their investigations rake them into the world of human trafficking and illegal immigration, real-life issues that provide a heightened feeling of urgency to Tru’s situation. Still, I wonder about the trope of independence in many teen mysteries, and McClintock’s is no exception. In situations of real threat—people are shooting at Tru, the people who try to help him are murdered—even the most anti-adult of teens would not likely take on the world by himself. Despite Sticky’s strong (and effectively written) remonstrance, Tru does not go to the police with evidence to clear himself. It creates tension and provides plot opportunities, but it doesn’t ring true; the story is gripping, and the narrative tight, but Tru’s actions are somewhat unconvincing.
The writing is simple, as befits the graphic novel format, in which illustrations provide much of the emotion and action. In this, though, the illustration in Tru Detective falls short. The block shading and limited tones of grey make it difficult to determine action in the panels, and a number of effective comic techniques to present motion are missing. Background objects—trees, smoke, buildings—are given as much weight as important foreground items. Characters’ emotions are difficult to parse, or even detect, and body language is often not powerful enough. Overall, the graphic part of the novel does not do its job in the creation of narrative meaning. It’s a shame, too, because McClintock’s story could make a great high-interest, low-reading level novel for teens. Its panel format might be an attempt to reach that audience, but with action and emotion impossible to wrest from the panels, it does not reach this goal.