THIS WAS OUR PACT by Ryan Andrews is a fanciful graphic novel that starts out as a standard coming-of-age story of boys on bikes in the wilderness. It then suddenly veers into magical realism that is at once bizarre and familiar as well as touching and haunting. An odd story, with some deeply strange characters, This Was Our Pact will challenge readers. Some may end up putting the book down only to feel a siren call to return to the story. In the end, the book is a wonderful illustration of overcoming obstacles, perseverance, and discovering what loyalty and friendship truly are.
The story opens with a group of boys setting out on the bikes for an adventure that seems simple enough: to follow the path of lanterns as they float down a river. However, the farther they go, the fewer boys continue — despite their pact that no one turns for home and no one looks back. Ben, one of two main characters, and Nathaniel, a nerdy outcast who brings great snacks, end up as the only two boys who don’t break the pact. Their travels quickly become magical when they meet a talking bear and visit strange and fantastical people and places all while staying on the path to their original goal. The relationship between the boys is strained and uncomfortable at times, but it will also feel familiar all readers. In the end, they learn from each other and discover more about themselves.
The blue, black and grey tones reflect the eerie mood and goings-on throughout the graphic novel. Emotions like the uninhibited joy of the fisherbear and Nathaniel as they ride bicycles and travel in rowboats are drawn with clarity. And the odd events are made understandable via the clever, albeit simple, illustrations. Both I and my children flipped back and forth several times as we read to compare illustrations at different points in the graphic novel. There were so many details to discover!
This Was Our Pact isn’t for everyone. Readers who want a straightforward and realistic story may be frustrated by scenes that don’t make sense in our everyday and mundane reality. However, children and adults who are willing to suspend disbelief and go with the flow will be rewarded with a wonderful tale that realizes childlike wonder made tangible.
Recommended for ages 10-14, but appropriate for slightly younger and older.