Excellent Middle-Grade Adventure: ‘HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth’

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Hilo Cover

I’m dating myself here a bit, but I was in college when MTV’s The Real World made its debut. The show was popular and the first season’s cast were a memorable mix. In that group was Judd Winick–it took me a quick Google search to put the name to the right face, but yep… I remember him. Judd’s now a dad and an award-winning cartoonist, and is currently head writer for The Awesomes (Hulu network).

The reason I bring up Judd Winick is because my 8-year-old and I just finished reading his latest middle-grade graphic novel, HiLo: The Boy Who Crashed to Earth, and I cannot stop smiling. Any fan of Calvin and Hobbes will immediately be drawn to both the artwork and one of the main characters, HiLo–scenes almost move off the page when Hilo is in action. There’s a sense of energy and movement that is reminiscent of Spaceman Spiff, but in no way am I implying HiLo is a Calvin knock-off. HiLo stands on his own, as I’ll explain.

Hilo 1

Winick obviously knows how to draw in a young reader–when the book opens, HiLo and another main character, DJ, are being chased by this giant robot-like boulder monster called a Rant. No background… no explanation of how they got here… they’re just running and screaming. And when DJ falters and the Rant moves in for the strike, the reader learns there’s more to HiLo than meets the eye.

The cliffhanger was enough to make my son and me want to keep reading. The story jumps back to how DJ and HiLo met (the secret being in the book’s title), and then moves forward as HiLo begins to remember more and more about his origins. Along the way, DJ’s friend, Gina, moves back to town after a few years away, and the two of them attempt to regrow their friendship while dealing with HiLo’s strange behaviors, DJ’s family of super-geniuses, and Gina’s controlling family that consists of older twin sister cheerleaders who drive her crazy.

Hilo 2

The nature of the three characters’ origin stories, combined with the graphic novel elements, makes the book a fast read. There’s a Big Bad Guy tossed into the mix, and my son kept saying “one more page… one more page…” as HiLo’s mystery began to reveal itself. Even better, Winick delivers one mega-cliffhanger at book’s end, ensuring my son’s going to be on the lookout for book two.

My son has been struggling with reading. It’s not that he can’t read… it’s that he doesn’t WANT to read. My wife and I have been trying to find ways to expand his vocabulary and just get him away from TV and electronics to spend some time with a book. I’m fine with a graphic novel, too… anything to get him reading and discovering new words and excited about a storyline. HiLo nails all three of those.

This is just an amazing little book–the colors and artwork are outstanding, the three characters each have their strengths and weaknesses, and the mystery evolves at just the right pacing. I loved it. Just loved it. Even if my son wasn’t interested, I’d be hunting down book two to see how it resolves… thankfully, however, he’s just as hooked as I am.

HILO: The Boy Who Crashed To Earth will be available on September 1, 2015.

Note: An unsolicited copy of HiLo was sent to me by Random House Books for Young Readers. I like surprises, and this was a good one.

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