I had the exciting opportunity to meet and see a presentation by the author Jay Asher recently (Thanks to my local Westerville Public Library for hosting!). Although he is very nice, funny, and everyone should go see him if they get a chance-I left really excited because of his next book that was being released: Piper.
Piper is a graphic novel collaboratively written by authors Jay Asher and Jessica Freeburg and illustrated by Jeff Stokely. It is a retelling of the Pied Piper and the twist is that his music does not affect one person: Maggie. Maggie is a deaf girl, hence why his music does not endanger her. Maggie’s hearing was lost due to an act of violent bullying and the injustice only stems from there as villagers continue to bully her relentlessly. Yet she continues to make the best of it by telling funny stories to her caretaker, Agathe.
The Pied Piper heroically comes to save the village from the rat infestation that has wiped out the population with starvation and/or disease. But this rescue comes at a price. A price that the village decides not to pay once the deed is done. But if they refuse to pay in cash, they will have to pay at a different price-revenge.
Graphic Novels are something that I have only recently begun to develop an interest in, my first being Brian K. Vaughn’s Saga series. I simply must find more graphic novels that have been illustrated by Jeff Stokely as the artwork is marvelous. The expressions of the characters, the movement of the wind, and the playful innocence portrayed in a single panel where the Pied Piper is eating an apple under a tree in front of a peacock, for example. I was just so moved by the illustrations and they greatly improved the storyline.
Personally, I was hoping for more out of the character of Maggie. I was initially so excited about this graphic novel because it centered around a deaf character. Both of my parents are deaf and so I expected great things from this character but I was a little disappointed. I had to take a star away because it seemed like being deaf only came into play when someone walked up behind her and scared her, when she was incorrectly pronouncing words when Agathe wrote down her stories, or when she was being bullied. I just wish a little more research would have gone into her character because although lip-reading is a way to communicate, there was not any sign language at all. Granted, I was not expecting American Sign Language in a story based in the medieval times, some home signs between Agathe and Maggie would have been redeeming. Furthermore, going back to the sneaking up behind her example, when I try to sneak up on my parents, they can feel the vibrations from my walking behind them and it doesn’t always work. What is failed to be mentioned is that when you lose one sense, the other senses get stronger.
Although I had to take one (slightly biased) star away, the story itself is minimalist yet powerful. The elements of greed and the despicable villagers are well-balanced by the purity and optimism of Maggie and Agathe despite their tragic situation. Another well-balanced aspect in this story is how both of their backgrounds are isolated, tragic, and yet they find hope in one another. Furthermore, when they go in different directions, they still protect one another making their love story even more emotional.
I also enjoyed that this was a retelling of the Pied Piper as I thought that was unique. So many fairy tale retellings have centered around the princesses and Red Riding Hood lately that this one stands out. And since I heard about it, Eminem’s song “Lose Yourself” has been stuck in my head:
I was playing in the beginning, the mood all changed
I’ve been chewed up and spit out and booed off stage
But I kept rhymin’ and stepped right in the next cypher
Best believe somebody’s paying the Pied Piper
In conclusion, I would recommend Piper for readers who enjoy retellings, tragic love stories, unexpected heroes, and graphic novels.
I would not recommend Piper for those who may be offended on how Maggie’s deafness is portrayed, or those who may be offended or triggered by bullying, violence, kidnapping, and revenge.