Writer: Brian K. Vaughan / Artist: Cliff Chiang / Image Comics
You know one of the most fun things about good YA fiction? The kids are smart. Not only smart, but 20% smarter than we were at their respective age. They’re 20% cleverer, 20% faster, 20% wiser than what we can reasonably give ourselves credit for, and in that way we look up to them with a type of weird, impossible aspiration for our younger selves. That’s something that separates good YA fiction from the eye-rolling that comes from lazier youth-focused writing that sells young people short as narrowly dim or irresponsible. It’s something Paper Girls captures well – these Erin, Tiffany, Mac, and KJ are all unique, and all making the best decisions they can with the limited life experience they have. And their decisions are 20% better than me and my friends might have made.
When we left the girls they were faced with a decision: trust a slick-talking kid-Erin from a distant future who promises to reunite them with their lost friend KJ, or trust adult-Erin, also from the future, who’s openly as confused as they are about all the craziness happening around them. And the girls choose… the wrong choice. That is, until kid-Erin gets impatient and shows her hand as the nefarious character to side with, and the girls pull a childhood classic move to save their skins, at least for now.
As the plot unfolds as slowly as ever, we barely know much more than we did, say, 5 issues ago. And the way it’s going, that’s not a bad thing at all. The mystery and adventure keep us reading and guessing, with just enough clues that lead us towards a fuller understanding of this crazy world, inch by inch, while the characters keep us wholly entertained instead of frustrated. Alongside the standard suspension of disbelief, fans of Paper Girls – and any story as imaginative as this one – are asked to be comfortable with unknowing. They have to trust the writer has a big picture that will come together, no matter how impossible the puzzle pieces look to us right now. Of course, if anyone’s earned that trust it’s writer Brian Vaughan. It helps that even minor scenes can be so damn fun, like here, for example, as the girls are on a helicopter having a pre-mission conversation like Navy SEALs.
The end of the second story arc does bring closure to one major plotline as the girls (highlight for spoiler) are reunited with KJ, and starts a whole new mystery at the same time. It’s common knowledge now: this book is amazing. If you’re not enthralled with Paper Girls you don’t have a pulse.
Reading Paper Girls? Catch up on previous reviews here