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DeadEndia: The Watcher's Test (Book 1)

Review

DeadEndia: The Watcher's Test (Book 1)

In the Pollywood Amusement Park, visitors will find themed rides and attractions including the world’s third largest log flume ride, animal attractions and an interactive laser experience. If they enter the Dead End Haunted House for a guided tour, they may also find the portal to hell. Twenty-year-old Barney Guttman, homeless and estranged from his family, has been given a job as a janitor at Dead End by his best friend, Norma Khan. Little does Norma know, Barney and his canine companion, Pugsley, are sleeping at Dead End because they have nowhere else to go. This is the premise --- scary, sad and strange --- of Hamish Steele’s new graphic novel, DEADENDIA: The Watcher’s Test.

"Steele populates the book with people of color and LGBTQ figures with a refreshing ease....Steele balances the real with the unbelievable and manages to create a complex, sensitive, romantic, weird and fun graphic novel."

On his first night at Dead End, Barney meets Courtney Cahatel (pronouns: they/them), a 912-year-old demon and Ambassador of Plane 7, who has brought their monstrous friends and the Demon King Temeluchus through the portal. While Barney stands up to Temeluchus’s plan to possess him or Norma, Norma offers Pugsley instead. With the Demon King “piloting” a pug, he plans to take over the world and purge it of human filth! The race to stop Temeluchus brings Barney face to face with demons and ghosts and angels alike. Barney and Norma, joined by Courtney and another friend, Badyah “Deathslide” Hassan, must learn all about the 13 planes, demonology and angelic echoes in order to save the world from evil. Action, adventure and even time travel abound in this surreal, even wacky, brightly colored book.

At times DEADENDIA is confusing and meandering, however it is worth a second reading to clarify the plot. The strength here is the characters. Steele has created a diverse and interesting set of young adults (and supernaturals) the likes of which are still all-too-rare in young adult and children’s literature. Barney is Trans, a fact revealed later in the book, after his crush on the log ride operator Logan Nguyen, is made plain. Barney is also Jewish, something Steele illustrates by the Chanukah sweater he wears to a Christmas party. Norma is of East Indian descent and Badyah is a Muslima who wears a hijab. Logan is also both Asian and homosexual. Steele populates the book with people of color and LGBTQ figures with a refreshing ease. Their identities are not what drives the plot, but who these characters are is still integral to the story.

Steele’s illustrations are saturated, sharp and cartoon-like. His characters are rendered with some visual silliness and the story is obviously fantastical. Nevertheless, there is a serious undercurrent here and some of the content is a bit older than the visuals would lead one to believe on quick perusal. Saving the world is just one challenge in front of Barney, he must also maintain his friendship with Norma, address his feelings for his family and begin a relationship with Logan. In this way, Steele balances the real with the unbelievable and manages to create a complex, sensitive, romantic, weird and fun graphic novel.

Reviewed by Sarah Rachel Egelman on August 14, 2018

DeadEndia: The Watcher's Test (Book 1)
by Hamish Steele