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Minor spoiler: the buoyant tone of Fiona Smyth’s The Never Weres pretty much establishes from page one that the dystopic setting is destined for a happy ending. It’s riddled with charm and a satisfying amount of quirk for a graphic novel that deals with a reproductive crisis, genetic cloning, and mythic camps where responsible parents send their children to prepare for the troubles brewing in the immediate future.
At the heart of the story are three city kids: Mia, a gentle artist whose family is wary of the liability her sweet and generous nature will prove to be, Xian, an orphan whose brother/caregiver is a planet away, leaving her to roam the city in search of materials for her science experiments, and Jesse, a budding geneticist hoping to follow in the footsteps of his brilliant but distant mother.
The teens are the youngest and final generation of humanity, living in a post-virus world which has all but condemned them to witness the last days of the human race, but they remain hopeful, Jesse and Xian devoted to their scientific pursuits and Mia entwined in her dual passions of art and community service, spending most of her afternoons with the elderly Mrs. C.
Of the many ways that The Never Weres hits all the feminist high marks–fully fleshed female characters, male characters who aren’t intimidated by powerful women, a diverse ethnic makeup of a major city, full marks on the Bechdel Test–one of the greatest ways is the way traditional male and female archetypes are treated: Mia is the most stereotypically feminine, Xian is fairly masculine, and Jesse falls somewhere in the middle, yet all of them are equally important to both the story and the resolution–and no one is made out to be less than for not fulfilling their predetermined archetypes.
The salvation of the human race turns out to be found within scientific endeavors, inspired by artistic ones, and made possible by an act of (non-romantic) love. It’s also in the hands of the youngest generation–much like real life. And I’m pretty confident in the teens of today, given how much passion they show despite how routinely they’re criticized for being lazy and entitled. Especially if they read The Never Weres.