I received Newsprints for my birthday and I was immediately drawn to the cute art style and was excited to read it. Written and illustrated by Ru Xu, this comic tackles themes of war, freedom and equality, all while telling a fun adventure story that features a spunky protagonist, her adorable canary and a mysterious boy who just wants to live in peace.
With her father away fighting in the war, Blue was left completely alone when her mother passed away. In order to get by, she began masquerading as a boy so that she could get a job selling newspapers and stay at the Mayor’s home for orphaned boys. While running away from a rival group of newsboys she attempts to hide in what she thinks is an abandoned building and runs into Jack, an eccentric scientist and inventor. He hires her as his apprentice and helps her to continue her education while she assists him with his experiments. While accompanying him to a meeting at the naval base, Blue gets lost and stumbles upon Crow, a strange boy who loves birds and seems to be afraid of being seen by adults. Blue befriends him and tries to get him to come home with her when she discovers that he doesn’t have any parents, but while Crow is happy to hang out with Blue and her fellow Newsboys, he stubbornly refuses to go to her house. Meanwhile, Blue’s friend Hector starts to get suspicious of Jack, who might be withholding information from Blue about his identity and his true reasons for coming to their city.
Newsprints takes place in the country of Goswing, which resembles the UK from around the time of the First World War, with the fashion and technology level roughly corresponding with that era, with a few differences and instances of more advanced technology. We don’t learn a lot about the cause of the war or Grimmaea, the country Goswing is fighting, in this volume but I get the impression that they are meant to be analogous to Germany. We also don’t see any actual fighting in this volume but the war’s presence still hangs over everything, like a spectre, and the characters constantly make reference to it or to the changes that it has wrought on their way of life. We get the sense that the war has been going on for some time and that daily life in Goswing is becoming increasingly strained as it drags on, with the economy suffering and the death toll constantly rising. The war might be something that’s happening in the background of the story but the references to attacks on the Capital and the draft, which will eventually effect Blue’s friends if the war doesn’t end before they come of age, establishes a darker tone to the narrative early on, even with the whimsical characters and Ru Xu’s bright art style.
Equality and the freedom to choose your own path are major themes in Newsprints. Blue wants to be a Newsboy, but this is a job that is traditionally filled by boys and she is aware that people would be resistant to seeing a girl in the role. She hopes to prove herself and then reveal her true identity later on, hopefully convincing everyone that girls are just as capable as boys in the process, but she is worried over whether or not her friends will accept her for who she truly is. The war has necessitated a lot of changes in Goswing; with most of the men away fighting in the war, women have had to fill many jobs that would have been held by men in the past. As she sees more and more women competently preforming jobs that they would have been excluded from under different circumstances, Blue is starting to chafe against her society’s rigid rules for what she should be able to do. The mysterious Crow is in a very similar boat. There are things that he’s expected to do that he doesn’t want any part in, but the adults in his life won’t accept that he can be anything other then what they envision for him. Their shared frustration at having their choices taken away helps to forge a bond between Blue and Crow, and Blue resolves to help her friend. By the end of the book many of Blue’s initial dreams could be said to have come true; She reveals that she is a girl and is accepted by her fellow newsboys for who she is and she is also in a position where she would likely be able to live her life as she sees fit going forward. Total gender equality might not have been achieved, but she would have had the freedom to pursue the path that she wanted. Despite this, she chooses to leave behind her job and home because Crow isn’t free and she recognizes that she needs to fight for him. I loved that Newsprints took this more complex approach to tackling the topic of equal rights, rather than just telling the simpler story of a girl proving that she could sell newspapers just as well as a boy. That story would have been fine, but Ru Xu uses it as a starting point and then builds upon it in order to make the bigger statement that the fight for equality can’t just be for oneself, it needs to be for everyone in order for it to mean anything. If one group’s rights are being infringed upon, then all of our rights are being infringed upon and we need to take action, even if we aren’t personally effected.
Newsprints ends on something of a cliff hanger, with the story continuing in the second volume, Endgames. I really enjoyed this first volume, it featured cute and fun characters and an exciting plot with darker undercurrents. Newsprints deftly handles it’s more serious themes and I personally found the message conveyed by this story to be very powerful. I’m looking forward to reading the conclusion to Blue and Crow’s story in the second volume.
Final Score: 7.5 out of 10
For more information on this series, check out Scholastic’s website: https://www.scholastic.com/teachers/books/newsprints-by-ru-xu/
What did you think about this comic? Who was your favourite character? Let me know in the comments.
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