ARC Review: The Sprite and the Gardener by Rii Abrego and Joe Whitt

I’ve been reading at breakneck speed for the past few weeks, and though I’ve discovered a lot of new favorites, it can get pretty depressing to always read books on heavy topics like colonialism and abuse. Even if I’m not exactly in a reading slump, I definitely need a palate cleanser from all the dark stuff that I encounter in both fiction books I read ~for fun~ and news articles that are way stranger than fiction.

Graphic novels help break the monotony of facing great walls of text, and I’m so happy to find just the perfect read for this season!

About the Book

“A delightful flower-scented tale of community and harmony with nature.” — Katie O’Neill, creator of the Tea Dragon Society series

Long, long ago, sprites were the caretakers of gardens. Every flower was grown by their hand. But when humans appeared and began growing their own gardens, the sprites’ magical talents soon became a thing of the past. When Wisteria, an ambitious, kind-hearted sprite, starts to ask questions about the way things used to be, she’ll begin to unearth her long-lost talent of gardening. But her newly honed skills might not be the welcome surprise she intends them to be.

The Sprite and the Gardener, the debut graphic novel by Joe Whitt and Rii Abrego, is bursting with whimsical art and vibrant characters. Join our neighborhood of sprites in this beautiful, gentle fantasy where both gardens and friendships begin to blossom.

Goodreads || StoryGraph || Amazon

Publication information:

  • Publication Date: 4 May 2021
  • Publisher: Oni Press
  • Length: 88 pages
  • Age category: Young Adult
  • Genre: Comics/Graphic Novel, Fantasy, Magical Realism (extraordinary as ordinary)

Review

Disclaimer: I received an Advanced Reader’s Copy (ARC) from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Quoted excerpts and images may differ from the final version. Thoughts and opinions are my own.

This short and sweet graphic novel got me out of my reading slump, and I highly recommend it for days when you’re down in the dumps and faced with a garden that refuses to grow.

Since the humans arrived and took over the responsibility of caring for nature, the sprites are listless and their days feel empty. Many of these are spent laying on the grass, trading barbs about good and bad examples of gardening. Wisteria, our main sprite, wants to do more and lands herself in a new garden to help.

The novel turns the usual messianic figure/magical friend trope on its head by making this a story of friendship, purpose, and community. Woven in between Wisteria’s attempts to do everything by herself are Elena’s and the other sprites’ frustration: Why can’t they help? Are they not good enough that she has to do everything alone?

Wisteria, Elena, and the sprites all have their own internal struggles, and I can relate with everybody. Wisteria wants to do the job on her own. The sprites feel useless without their main purpose. Elena is devastated that her whole work is invalidated. I love how the authors treated each arc with care and love, and none of the characters’ experiences are deemed less important than the narrative. To have them all achieve fulfillment in the space of less than a hundred pages is a great feat, and I love every frame of this emotional journey. After closing this book, I feel nothing but deep joy. I look at my own “garden” of toxic tweets and dead leaves, and maybe, with enough magic and effort and smiles from everyone, I can make it a brighter place.

I have so much to say about the art style because it’s so beautiful that it makes me want to cry. I love the color palette used here! I don’t have enough of art vocabulary to describe the bright pastels and shades, but I do know that these are the kinds of colors that would make me stop doomscrolling through my Twitter feed and that I would automatically retweet. The greens, red-pinks, and purples are all so fresh and vibrant, giving me a glimpse of a colorful and magical world beyond the four walls of quarantine. Here are some pages from the book:

The character design is also so well-done! All the sprites have distinct personalities, and it’s easy to see how much love and care go into developing every member of the gardening party. They all feel so alive to me, and I find myself mirroring every expression on Wisteria’s face. Elena and the other humans are not considered villains here, either, and it was a refreshing change from other stories that pit two groups against each other.

My only wish is that this would be a collection of short stories about their gardening adventures. I would have loved reading more about Wisteria and her crew’s attempts to maintain Meadowgreen and revive other dying gardens. Or maybe their ups and downs of discovering which duty or skill they are good at? Or maybe I just want to live in this bright and soft and hopeful world a little bit longer.

Overall, I have nothing but good words for The Sprite and the Gardener. If you want to read a story that is hopeful and sweet, then this is a great book for you. It is best read under a warm patch of sunshine or under soft, fluffy blankets. This is the kind of book that I will read over and over again whenever I need a warm hug and a happy cry, and I highly recommend that it be added to your list of comfort reads.

If you can’t wait to read this, you can download it on Netgalley! It’s currently on “Read Now” status before it gets archived on April 14. If you would like to wait for the release date instead, don’t forget to mark your calendars for May 4!

***

Let’s chat:

  1. What do you do when you’re in a reading slump?
  2. What kind of books do you read when you feel down and blue?
  3. Do you like comics and graphic novels? Any suggestions for a short and sweet one like The Sprite and the Gardener?

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