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Avril Lavigne's Make 5 Wishes Volume 1

Written by Joshua Dysart and illustrated by Camilla d'Errico
Del Rey Manga
160 pages, $12.95
ISBN: 9780345500588

 

Hana and Avril against the world; world wins. Sequence from Avril Lavigne's Make 5 Wishes Volume 1, ©2006-2007 House of Parlance Media, Inc.

 

I'm probably not the first critic to note that the most amazing thing about this book is the fact that it doesn't suck, and I most certainly won't be the last. The threshold of expectations for celebrity tie-ins is extraordinarily low; we expect them to be quickly tossed-together attempts to cash in on someone's brief moment of fame, and when they go beyond this level of dubious quality, it's almost like discovering a mermaid in your bathtub.

Goodness knows, Avril Lavigne's Make 5 Wishes isn't high art, and anyone over the age of twenty who hasn't read at least one variation of this story before is illiterate. Our heroine, little Hana, is an introverted teenager whose home life is a bit rocky, and who doesn't really have much in common with her classmates, but her real problem is just that she's withdrawn from the world about as far as one can be without actually being autistic. When she isn't pretending to be other people in Internet chatrooms, she's pretending to be the best friend of pop star Avril Lavigne and singing into hairbrushes in her bedroom. Her entire life is make-believe.

 

Awww, ain't it cute? Sequence from Avril Lavigne's Make 5 Wishes Volume 1, ©2006-2007 House of Parlance Media, Inc.

 

Hana's self-constructed life slowly begins to fall apart when she discovers a website, Make5wishes.com, from which she orders what turns out to be a small demon capable of granting her five wishes. Anyone who's ever read W.W. Jacobs' short story "The Monkey's Paw" can tell you what will happen next, and by the time the first volume closes out, we already know that the demon is going to give Hana several harsh lessons in unintended consequences — but it's going to do more than that. As the story progresses, it also begins destroying Hana's fantasy world, as well, going out of its way to tear apart the various personas that Hana has cultivated online, and even set dominoes to tumbling that may wreck her parents' marriage.

Dysart and d'Errico's story works because they have a fairly keen understanding both of the adult world's various complications and the inability of most teenagers to comprehend them. Characters are well-composed, complex enough to seem like real people and flawed in ways that make heartbreak inevitable without their being the sort who necessarily deserve it. In Make 5 Wishes, bad things happen not because people are bad, but because they sometimes do dumb things, and often seem incapable of imagining beyond their immediate circumstances without falling into fantasy — Hana, of course, being the poster-girl for this phenomenon.

 

The demon sets to work tearing down Hana's house of cards — no wish required. Sequence from Avril Lavigne's Make 5 Wishes Volume 1, ©2006-2007 House of Parlance Media, Inc.

 

Camilla d'Errico's art, a style somewhere between manga standard and Sam Kieth's bittersweet cartoon linework, amplifies this effect, creating a world that looks eerily like Margaret Keane characters trapped in an Ingmar Bergman film. The color scheme is especially important in creating the book's atmosphere; d'Errico is sparing to the point of miserly with warm colors, save for the demon itself, a deep-red creature ornate enough to be an Aztec fetish object, utterly alien yet fascinating to look at. You can see why someone would want to escape from Hana's dull world, and why the demon might look like the only available ticket out.

By making Avril Lavigne a fantasy character, Dysart and d'Errico avoid the traps into which other cult-of-personality fan products routinely fall — Lavigne's character in Make 5 Wishes is a prop that could've been played by anyone from Louise Brooks to Josie and the Pussycats. It's a simple strategy, but one that allows them to tell an actual story rather than a celebrity haliography, and they make the most of it. This story will likely have middling charms at best for more sophisticated, adult readers, but for young teenagers it's a cleverly constructed series of riffs on storytelling clichés that will prove entertaining, even gripping, to kids encountering them here for the first time. It's far more than you'd expect from an Avril Lavigne manga tie-in, which is an accomplishment all by itself, but as an accomplished and well-constructed story, Avril Lavigne's Make 5 Wishes may well be the most attractive silk purse woven from a sow's ear in 2007.

 

This essay appeared on the then-website of The Comics Journal sometime between 2006 and 2008.

 

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