Peculiar Woods: The Ancient Underwater City by Andrés J. Colmenares

Oh gosh, I immediately fell in love with the beautiful colors of this whimsical comic book even before I began to enjoy the fun story it tells. The art feels very cartoony in a modern way — I wish I was more cognizant of current trends in animation so I could explain it better, but the art here feels very on trend with today’s pop culture.

The story itself follows young Iggie as he moves away from the parents who raised him to live with the woman who gave him to them to raise. Jill is his birth mother but was unable to care for him after his birth, asking instead that her sister and brother-in-law take over until she was ready to do so herself. That time has come, and Iggie, understandably, doesn’t know how to feel. It’s not just that he has to learn to live with this woman he’s always privately thought of as Aunt Jill. He also has to navigate life in a new town and school where he has no friends.

A misadventure on his very first night has him running into weird objects that should be inanimate but disconcertingly come to life and talk to him. An acquaintance he makes at school the next day informs him that their town, Peculiar Woods, is known for its poltergeists. Is that what he keeps encountering as he tries to figure out his new home?

Befriending a baby blanket and a curmudgeonly chair soon prove wise, as he’s drawn into a royal adventure that has him exploring a part of town he’s been even more expressly forbidden from than anything else so far (Jill is not the most experienced parent, and doesn’t do the best job of weighing her words when trying to tell him what he can and can’t do.) Will Iggie’s investigations uncover more about this strange place he’s found himself in? Will they also put him in the crosshairs of a sinister force with a grudge against people like himself?

The story is incredibly charming, with delightful, often thoughtful metaphors for the many trials of growing up, particularly under unusual circumstances and in new places. Iggie and the friends he makes along the way are so much fun to spend time with, and I’m burning to discover the truth behind the mystery of the book and the villainous Lazarus. “Ancient” is rather a misnomer for the underwater city, tho I suppose anything older than their own lifespans must feel positively derelict to youngsters. This is a great start to a Middle Grade series that I absolutely want to pass on to my kids as an accessible and diverse adventure-mystery.

Peculiar Woods: The Ancient Underwater City by Andrés J. Colmenares was published today May 23 2023 by Andrews McMeel Publishing and is available from all good booksellers, including

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