Cover Image: Girl Haven

Girl Haven

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date:

Member Reviews

This book has major Lumberjanes x Adventure Time vibes, and I love it!  I loved the way this book talks about gender identity.  Ash, our main character, is a trans girl learning her identity while navigating a world her mother made.  Koretris was a fantasy world created by a child, and I love how it showed the dreams and fears of kids minds.  Ash's development was done so well, and I loved how she opened up and became a hero after realizing she is a girl and being who she truly was.

I did have one issue with this book and that was the treatment of boys in this very binary fantasy world.  The big enemy in this book is masculinity, and while I hate toxic masculinity, I don't like how boys as a whole were the enemy in this book.  I think this book had a great opportunity to talk about toxic masculinity and show boys that are gay, trans, and gender nonconforming.  I'm a lil disappointed in how that was handled

As for the art, I loved the style! The lines and colors fit the story perfectly!  And I love how the world and setting was depicted art wise
Was this review helpful?
(I received an ARC from Oni Press, via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review! Thanks to both for trusting me with 'Girl Haven')

Trans Remembrance Day having been just yesterday, I thought that it was the perfect moment to read and review 'Girl Haven'. In this graphic novel we follow Ash, a teenager who feels like he doesn't quite fit in... Until he meets Junebug, Chloe, and Eleanor, who make up the Pride club at their school. Queer and proud, Eleanor becomes an instant crush of Ash, who can't help wondering whether he may, or may not, belong in the Pride club for more solid reasons than mere allyship... Something that he's going to determine soon. When Ash invites the club over to his house, they end up in a magical world called Koretris, which is place to women exclusively. As a  "Girl Haven", Koretris would never let boys in... So what is Ash doing there? As the Pride club rushes to save Koretris from a threat unilke any other, he will have to discover his truth--and face it head-on.

How can I explain what I felt? My feelings about this title are... Mixed. Complicated. All over the place.

On the one hand, I really liked the concept. This is a really original way to explore gender identity, and I liked how the struggle that trans* can be was expressed through Ash. The land of Koretris was quite whimsical, too, with talking rabbits and beautiful Queens, and I enjoyed the lore. 

But, on the other hand, some things quite bothered me. First of all: Chloe, who is the impersonation of the 'Black angry butch lesbian' stereotype. She's really rude to Ash sometimes, and under the excuse of being a feminist, she pulls some discourses that don't even make sense. "You guys" is the trigger for a discourse on how Ash is sexist for his choice of words, for example. Not only that; she's constantly snapping at everyone, and  tries to impose her ideas and beliefs instead of listening to her friends. She was a character that I instantly disliked, and I don't think that's a very positive portrayal of anything. It shows how, nowadays, feminism has become a movement fueled by anger.

Then there's the treatment of men throughout the story. Call me crazy, but I don't think that, in order to empower women, you need to degradate men. While Koretris per se is amazing, and I don't have any problem with the premise that it's a land for women only, I didn't like how the boys were portrayed once they appeared. And I particularly didn't like how 'masculinity' was the big enemy that Ash had to defeat. Why is every LGBTQ+ and gender-affirming story so bent on making your typical, average boys and men look like terrible beings? Not only do I not get it--it bothers me. Diversity shouldn't demand that we exclude anyone, and cishet men are pretty much so.

As for the art, I loved the drawing style. It was quite tender, and the colours were so warm, they felt like a hug. 

If there was another volume of "Girl Haven", I would maybe read it to see if these things have been fixed. However, I don't think it would be among my most anticipated GN sequels.
Was this review helpful?
There is a serious need more LGBTQIA+ children's stories, so this novel is super valuable! A very sweet, fun and poignant story about identify and being your true self. The message of this book can be summarised by this wonderful line from the story; "What folly to think that the complete works of humanity would fit on two selves". 
Loved it, and highly recommend for anyone looking for an easy to digest story on gender identity.
Was this review helpful?
This was wonderful queer comic about a trans girl whisked away to a fantasy world her late mother created with her friends from the LGBT+ group at school. There she discovers her identity and what really happened to her mother. I really enjoyed the plot and the world but I would have liked for the characters to be fleshed out a little more. I just wanted to know more about all of them, especially the angry black lesbian because what was shown of her character felt like a bad stereotype.
Was this review helpful?
Girl Haven is a great LGBTQ+ fantasy graphic novel. It follows Ash as they and their new friends travel to a world that his mom created with her imagination. A land that is a Haven for Girls but it's in danger and Ash is the only one who can save them. With the help of their friends Ash is able to save the land and discover who they really are in their heart. 

Girl Haven start off with a lovely author preface that this is one person's journey and that everyone journey is different and their own. I loved not only the diverse representation in this little but the stress and importance of pronouns acceptance and fluidity. The theme that no one can tell you what your gender is, only you can by listening to your heart. 

However, I did feel like the story was a bit choppy at times and there were one of two parts that didn't seem to flow. 

In the end , I think this was a great middle grade graphic novel that explores gender identity.
Was this review helpful?
This was my first LGBTQ+ book and it was interesting for sure.  I loved the idea of the story with the created world and all the animals that speak.  This is a fantastic book to have in libraries for those kids wondering, and even for adults that want to bond with someone in understanding.  I personally have a hard time with the pronouns changing so this was helpful to read it and really think about it.
Was this review helpful?
3.5
This was a sweet story that takes on gender, sexism, sexuality and belonging in a fun and accessible way. The artwork wasn't really for me but it was colourful, cheerful and matches the story (though a couple of those bunnies looked kinda sinister).
I felt the butch, "feminist killjoy" character was a bit stereotype-y especially in the beginning. The story was pretty basic, it's more character focused than plot driven. The ending was a bit cheesy but this aimed at a younger audience than me.
Overall this is a great little graphic novel for kids to learn about LGBTQIA+ identity and themes.
Was this review helpful?
I read this with my 7-year-old twins after they selected the graphic novel from the cover. They really enjoyed the story and the illustrations and it opened up discussion and gave them a greater understanding of gender and identity. This was done in a clever way with the fantasy world of Koretis and we'd recommend it!
Was this review helpful?
With several fun nods to a couple different fantasy worlds, this comic feels wholly original. Girl Haven is an immensely positive journey. Sturges understands the power of the representation, how to demonstrate thoughtful dialogue around gender identity/questions, and as always knows how to dole out a decent helping of fantastical adventures. The world building felt a little rushed at times, but it has all the right ingredients. This story is sure to delight readers and spark some meaningful conversations and introspection. I look forward to the next adventure, and will definitely be reading whatever comes next.
Was this review helpful?
Lumberjanes has long been on my list of things to read, as I'd heard nothing but great things about it, but trying to find time to get caught up on a series that has been going on for a while can be a bit of a challenge, so when I saw that this book was coming out I jumped at the chance to read some of Lilah Sturges' work.

Girl Haven tells the story of four teens who go to the Marsha P. Johnson Middle School (which should tell you a little bit about the type of subject matter the book will be dealing with). There's Ash, Eleanor, Chloe, and Junebug. Eleanor, Chloe, and Junebug are all friends, and part of the schools Pride Club, and after attracting the attention of Ash one lunchtime they invite him to come along and see what the club is all about. 

Ash doesn't seem to have many friends, and jumps at the opportunity to make three new ones, especially as they have a bit of a crush on Eleanor. After the club Ash invites the three of them to their house, where he shows them the shed where their mother used to pain pictures and write books about the fantasy land of Koretris before she left several years before. The girls love the things that Ash's mother left behind, and instantly want to dress up as adventurers and pretend that they're in Koretris. But there's a problem, Ash doesn't think that he can play, because only girls can go to Koretris. Eleanor tells him it's only make believe, and that he can put on one of the dresses and just pretend if he wants.

It's then that Chloe reads one of the spells from a book of magic that's supposed to take you to Koretris, and the four of them find themselves in this amazing fantasy world. Not only is it real, but this world might hold the secret as to what happened to Ash's mother. However, it also presents an important question, if only girls can be in Koretris, how was Ash allowed in. Not only is Ash having to grapple with the idea that this fantasy world is real, and that his mother might still be alive, but he's also forced to take a look at his own gender identity, and what ultimately makes him happiest.

I have to be honest, I had no idea that Lilah Sturges was trans before reading this book, and didn't even realise until after I was done reading it and looked her up online. I was worried at the start of the book that perhaps this was going to be a book about the trans experience that was going to be written by a cis person, someone who sympathised with the difficulty of having to examine your own gender identity and wanted to make a story about it, but had never experienced it themselves. But because Sturges herself has been through that, has had to look at their own gender and how they fit into the world she's able to pour a lot of that emotional journey into the pages of Girl Haven.

There are a few early scenes where Ash seems uncomfortable with who they are, like when they're given the dress to wear that touch upon this. You can see the look on their face and you could hand wave that away as 'a boy's been told to wear a dress and doesn't really want to', but it's more than that, that hesitation Ash shows is a longing, its them wanting to do that, but being afraid to. This is something that I'm sure a lot of trans women will be familiar with, that closely held desire to be like other girls, the want you feel to just be like them and to be treated like a girl, but the fear that if you tried you'd face ridicule or disgust; or even knowing that if you were surrounded by friends like Eleanor, who accepted it and didn't make you feel bad you know that you'd still have to take the dress off and go back to being a boy, and knowing that it's not forever hurts.

The moments where Ash is encouraged to just be herself, to put on the dress and be the person she wants to be are weighed down by these fears, these self doubts, and you can see the character struggling with this. For readers who have never been through this themselves they might feel frustrated that Ash isn't jumping at the chance to just be a girl, but that struggle, the fear of taking that step is something so real and so genuinely debilitating that it can be a hard choice to make.

Sturges gives these moments the weight and time that they need, she makes it so that readers have to follow Ash on a journey not just to adventure and fantasy realms, but of self acceptance too. Ash has to learn to accept herself for who she is, even if others already do, even if the reader does. This is a story that anyone could write, but its a story that I think only really works this well if the person writing it knows how hard it is, if they're able to channel some of that emotion into the work.

I think I might have painted too dour a picture of this book, because it's not all about Ash and her gender, or her pain, there's a lot more to the book too. The world of Koretris is bright and colourful, and has some really awesome stuff in it, some which only makes brief appearances but makes a big impact. The Rabbits of the Reeds are a group of warrior bunnies who I instantly fell in love with. Okay, this might have had a little bit to do with the fact that I've got four bunnies running around my house, but they're so cool. I would have been happy for a book all about them because fantasy adventures with rabbit people is something that I didn't even realise I wanted until I read this book, and now it's something that I'm going to be hoping for in everything I read.

There's so much about Koretris that is only touched upon briefly here that I want to know more about, there's the slightly creepy Scarionettes, which are giant living marionettes that look like Dracula, the wolf-man, a mummy, and the Bride of Frankenstein. I don't know what these things are, but I really want to because they're one of the most unique fantasy creations I've ever seen. Then there's also the moral implications of the Sweet Deliveries, little baby like creatures made of candy, who eat candy. Chloe tries to talk to them about this, asking if that makes them cannibals, but this isn't really put to bed and I feel a more in depth discussion on that subject is in order.

Koretris is a strange world, one that has some cool and interesting inhabitants, and one that I want to spend more time in. Whilst the book ends with the idea that Ash and her friends aren't finished with this magical world I don't know if there's more planned for the series, but I certainly hope so.

Girl Haven is a fun and engaging adventure story that has some important things to say about gender identity and the journey to accepting and embracing who you are. It will appeal to readers of all ages, and I think that because of that it's going to be a hell of a popular book.
Was this review helpful?
*Received via NetGalley for review*

I am familiar with Lilah Sturges from the Lumberjanes series, and I see a lot of commonalities in Girl Haven (the art style, the interactions between characters, the annoyingly cheerful and naïve small character).

I really appreciated the note at the beginning that this is only one story of gender identity and struggle, and not everyone's will be the same. 

Unfortunately, this graphic novel is slight on plot. Ash and her friends are transported into her mother's magical world, and spend a lot of time asking questions and traveling and talking, and then the ending is very quick and pretty trite. It's much more an exploration of gender identity than a fantasy adventure.
Was this review helpful?
i loved this very very much!!! i went into it without knowing what it was about so was VERY pleasantly surprised when i realised it was about a queer group of friends (!!) who transport into a world from a series of books

i completely love all the characters and the art style was so cute and i just!!! want more please!! there’s a questioning trans mc and multiple sapphic characters i am!! living for it 

it also made me feel Emotions on multiple occasions especially towards the end, i just felt all the characters so deeply even in how short this was. this was just SUCH a cute comic and it’s definitely one of my favourites 

tw: loss of a parent, violence, misgendering, mention of death
Was this review helpful?
Girl Haven encompasses an important message about identity and assuming genders or sexuality, dressed in the disguise of a fantasy graphic novel.

On the top level, we have a graphic novel about a fantastic world that Ash's mother created. When Ash brings friends into that world on accident, they discover that a dark force labeled as The Scourge is destroying everything and has taken their queen prisoner. The story is about more than a group of teens trying to save a fantastic world, though. The story is about Ash as she discovers who she is and recognizes that it's okay to define herself, instead of letting others define her.

The reason I marked off stars was because of the ending. I don't like how basic it was. I loved the depth to the beginning and middle of the story, but the ending felt extremely predictable and it was a bit cheesy.

I recommend this book for anyone who is currently struggling with their identity, has struggled with their identity in the past, or wants to gain a better understanding of those who are struggling with their identities.

NOTE: I will be adding this mini review to a list of other graphic novels as a larger blog post at the end of the week, as well as mentioning it in my reading vlog, which also publishes at the end of the week.
Was this review helpful?
Pros:
Interesting story with loveable animal characters
Pronoun awareness!
Junebug!

Cons:
Inconsistent proportions, especially in faces
The only Black character is a stereotypical angry butch

This is a wonderful story about Ash discovering their gender identity by visiting Girl Haven, a magical world created by their missing mother. The issue, Ash was born a boy, but Girl Haven is only for girls. The story is fast-paced. As an adult, it's too fast, but it's perfect for a middle school student. 

The biggest issue for me is how inconsistent the artwork is. There are some beautifully drawn backgrounds and the animals are cute, but the sloppiness of the human faces is jarring, especially the Queen and Ash's father. 

This is a great read for your LGBTQIA+ middle school students to read and discuss.
Was this review helpful?
I absolutely loved this. It has an amazing, diverse cast of characters, and honestly every single one of them is lovable. I personally especially love Junebug, but they are all amazing. I loved the way this graphic novel casually discussed gender, and it showed in an honest way how hard it can be to figure your gender out if it's something you have been questioning. 

I definitely recommend this one.
Was this review helpful?
Girl Haven is Ash's story. Ash's mother is gone and Ash never found out what happened to her. It's now just Ash and her father. After making new friends at school, Ash shows them the shed her mom used to work in and they all end up in a parallel world where people are in grave danger.
It's a story of adventure but also a story of self discovery.

I really liked this story, the characters were all on point, it's queer as f*** and the adventure was all around captivating. I also really liked the art but most of all, it really was all about the characters. They were layered and all so different, which isn't easy to do in a 150 page comic.
Basically, I had a great time reading this and I will be looking for more books by this author.
Was this review helpful?
Girl Haven is a sweet, but slightly heavy-handed exploration of gender and gender identity. When  Ash and his friends are magically transported to the land of Koretris, he doesn’t understand how he fits in. Koretris is a place only for girls. When faced with some fantastical challenges and a bit of toxic masculinity, Ash comes to terms with his true gender identity. The plot moves quickly, too quickly at times, and certain subjects are almost glossed over (e.g. Ash discovering his mother’s death). However, I think this will be an accessible volume for middle grade and teen readers to learn more about gender and gender identity.
Was this review helpful?
This was such a cute graphic novel! The art work was amazing and the story really touched my heart. The found family aspect of it was beautiful and the world was so unique. The discussions of gender and identity were so sweet amd well worded while also being easily accessible to children who may be questioning their identity. I honestly don't have much else to say beyond I adored this and I am eagerly awaiting the next one. I also can't wait to get a physical copy once it becomes available!
Was this review helpful?
This outstanding graphic novel is at its core a story of gender. 
Ash's struggles with gender are brought to light when Ash and his new friends are teleported to a fantasy land his mother used to tell him about, a place only accessible to girls. Ash must decide whether to reject or accept the feelings inside. 
This story is powerfully told and I am so excited for all of the people of any age that will be able to relate to this story in one way or another. I loved Lilah Sturges' preface and post note about identity. 
The art is wonderfully done and draws the reader into the story.
This story is sweet and contains so much depth. On the surface it is a story of good versus evil but it is so much more. It is heartbreaking at times and full or both internal and external conflict but is ultimately an inspiring and uplifting story. This story shines with hope and gave me all the feels.
Ash, Eleanor, Chloe, and Junebug make up this stupendous cast of characters and I love them all to pieces. 
This story is beautiful and perfectly told.
Was this review helpful?
What a novel. This book took off from the very start and I was right there with it. As someone who struggles with gender I really related to Ash. Seeing the journey through the book was so nice. The support she had and the love from everyone around was what everyone should have. This is the perfect novel for someone questioning and just people in general. Who doesn’t love a good fantasy with gender identity mixed in?
Was this review helpful?