By Maureen Tai, 31 March 2020
“In our town, for as long as anyone can remember, when a kid turns 14 years old, they must leave by boat to one of the hundreds of islands around the town and survive alone, for a year. When they return, they officially step into adulthood. It’s what we call ‘kulku.’ ” – Tilde
I adore graphic novels published by Nobrow for their large formats, rustic, unfinished paper and striking colours – in addition to their unique and captivating stories of course (see our reviews of other Nobrow publications, Hilda and The Troll and Akissi, Tales of Mischief ). Stig & Tilde lives up to this tradition, distinguishing itself as an exciting coming-of-age adventure story about, and for, young teens.
In keeping with local customs, Tilde and Stig leave home and head off in a small, wooden motorboat to a nearby island for their ‘kulku’ experience. The twins are like any other pair of siblings: they largely don’t mind being together, but there are moments when they bicker and chafe at the sibling bond. The day starts out with clear blue skies and hearty spirits, but before long, the sky clouds over and it begins to pour. Tilde hands the steering wheel over to Stig, seeking shelter from the lashing rain in the boat’s hold. Stig follows suit, having ingeniously jammed the steering wheel in the direction of their destination. Tilde, whom we quickly sense is the more sensible, albeit bossy, of the two, facepalms at her brother’s recklessness. She orders Stig back outside, but the door refuses to open. Stuck on a runaway boat, the twins face their predicament with teenage cool and calm until their boat crashes on some rocks, forcing them onto an unknown island. So far, so not to plan.
At the heart of this survival story is the resilience and resourcefulness of the siblings. Contrary to the usual stereotype of teenagers being sullen and rebellious, Tilde and Stig come across as level-headed, competent and extremely likeable. It doesn’t really feel like a life or death situation with these two because there isn’t any moaning, wailing or belly-aching. They just get on with it. This can-do attitude is something we could all use during this time when we are all stranded on our own desert islands in quarantine, lockdown or voluntary self-isolation.
Working independently but always towards a common goal, the twins rescue their belongings and critical equipment from their capsized vessel, which Stig manages to tow to shore using his knowledge of physics. In the meantime, Tilde, armed with an axe, explores their seemingly deserted island in the search for food and clues to their location. Among the dense trees, she discovers carved wooden masks and oddly shaped sculptures and is further shocked by the sudden appearance of a figure in the bushes. Friend or foe?
To say any more would be to spoil this engrossing page-turner. It is enough to know that Stig & Tilde is an enjoyable and compelling read (in spite of the first kiss scene, which Ben found gross, but then again, he is nine years old and all romantic kissing is gross to him), and you won’t be able to wait for what surprises lie in wait for the twins as they continue on their adventures. Thankfully, Book 2: Leader of the Pack is available at all good bookstores, online and near you. So, what are you waiting for?
For ages 10 and up.