Jessie is a middle-school-aged boy from Canada who travels with his parents to The Philippines to attend the funeral of his clairvoyant Lola (grandmother). While staying at the family’s ancestral home, he becomes reacquainted with his cousins, one of whom (Jon Jon) died tragically at some point prior to this visit. Jessie struggles to understand and appreciate his ability to see ghosts–a talent his living Filipino cousin Maritess has always longed to have inherited from their Lola. Maritess imparts all of her knowledge on the subject to Jessie in the hopes he will embrace his gifts, and stop hiding them.
Earnest Or’s smooth and minimal illustrations are sepia-toned from start to finish, giving the story a memory-like quality. The clean lines used for the sweet-faced characters and serene settings lie in stark contrast to the gory visions of decimated corpses that appear to Jessie (and Jessie alone). I especially appreciated how real the relationships felt. For example, the cousins must reestablish their bonds after a long absence, and do so. And in a spooky scene about Jessie and Maritess in the woods at night, his dad is in the background keeping his grief-stricken uncle company (and giving Jessie’s Aunt a much-needed break from her husband’s drinking).
The family’s bonds are tested again and again, not only by time and distance, but by a plethora of adversity like trauma, grief, substance abuse, and cultural clashes. Through it all, they are there for each other even when they part.