First Second (September 14, 2010)
Koko Be Good is a classic coming of age tale for two different character, our titular character Koko and a young man named Jon. When the tale begins we meet Jon who is listening to a tape from his girlfriend discussing their plans, fears, and apprehensions of heading off together to Peru. Jon is giving up on dreams and hopes of his own to be with his girlfriend in a place that he doesn’t know, a language he doesn’t speak, and unsure of what he’ll do once he’s there. While out one night Jon meets Koko, a young woman still trying to figure out her place in the world who holds various questionable jobs and lives in an attic above a friend’s place. Their lives intersect, accidentally as is so often the case, and lead each other down new paths. They reconnect with old dreams and discover new ones that lead them towards an unknown future.
The artwork in this novel is fantastic. Jen Wang is a talented artist that brings a simple style and limited color palette to the table and creates an evocative mood throughout the storyline. Many of the characters are simply drawn, yet they have a richness and fullness to the lives they live on the pages. Jen captures the spontaneity of life and the free movement of the human body that we often see in the real world in just a few lines. The simple color palette still manages to capture a richness and depth to the world the characters inhabit.
Where the work falters for me is the flow of the storyline. Its rough in some transitions and a couple of the characters are introduced but never really have their places defined. Faron for example, is an interesting character trying to define who he is and dealing with a chaotic home life. However, it often feels as if his storyline is tacked on, just barely intersecting Koko’s and never really Jon’s. It feels like his story deserves its own book so that we can get to know who he is better and how his world is changing instead of having the far too brief glimpses of his world that we see. Also confusing to me is the end. Jon is on a plane…it appears that he’s given up on going after his girlfriend, but is he going to play with the band as indicated in the previous chapter?
Overall though this is a strong work first work for a new published author (her first solo piece.) I look forward to seeing what she creates next and enjoying her art for many years to come.