REVIEW: ‘Jo and Rus’

Reading Time: 3 minutes

Jo and Rus - But Why Tho?

Jo and Rus is a young-reader graphic novel written and illustrated by Audra Winslow with letters by Mike Fiorentino published by KaBOOM!, a BOOM! Studios Imprint. Jo is a middle schooler who is worried she’ll never make friends until she follows a mysterious cat to a junkyard and meets Rus, a cool high school senior who becomes her best friend and inspires Jo to become more confident.

I really appreciate that Jo and Rus demonstrates a healthy relationship between kids of different ages. As somebody who works with students of all ages, I believe few things are more important for kids than having older and younger friends. Jo and Rus demonstrate this so perfectly. Their relationship is instant, their bond forged over shared interests in magical cats from TV and codified over a number of emotionally vulnerable encounters. That Rus just accepts Jo, a kid 5 years his younger without hesitation is perfect. And while it starts from a place of helping Jo find confidence, it becomes a steadily balanced relationship where both have the same amount to offer.

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to read this story as an adult, especially as a mandatory reporter,  and not feel the tension over an older boy being alone all the time with a younger girl, which is awful because kids should be able to just be friends without having to worry about these kinds of things. This makes me appreciate the nature and depiction of their relationship all the more. Because it’s not just the two of them, it’s all of Rus’s other friends, his family, and a little bit of Jo’s new friends too. It’s not just Rus being weird for befriending an 11-year-old. It’s a group of friends and a family who accepts her as another one of their own without hesitation.

I do wish though that Rus had more female friends. The only female friend he has in the book only appears in one scene where she is waiting the rest of the crew’s table at her family restaurant. Jo does make a female friend her own age, but it would have been really nice to see older girls be a part of that older-younger kid dynamic too, for Jo and Rus’s sakes, as well as the young readers.

One last hiccup for me in the story is that for all of the really important emotions both Jo and Rus go through and support each other through, ultimately, the conclusion comes from a deus ex machina. The story until that point is so well-grounded and then suddenly the day is saved by something that was totally random and lucky. It was fun, to be clear, but I wish it was more the power of friendship that won the day rather than the power of fortunate happenstances.

I love the art style. It’s a fun style that feels very middle school but without the juvenility that often can come with the territory. For example, I love how certain people’s hair is drawn all scraggly or how mouths are rounded on the inside when open from certain angles. I also love the way that the colors match Jo’s mood, getting more lugubrious when she’s bummed and brightening up when she’s feeling chipper. There is also just a lot of breathing room where things are mostly art with little text. These panels and pages help exaggerate the characters’ emotions. I especially like how the book’s parts are framed by different TV shows within the story, helping further reflect the kids’ emotions in visually obvious ways.

The lettering is spot-on, perfectly spaced, and easy to read without leaning too heavily into any fancy fonts. There are some moments though where I felt the language was too mature or harsh. Even if it was intentional to make somebody look like a nerd, there weren’t really good context clues in a couple of those texts to help young readers learn the worlds. There was one really good instance of it though towards the end.

Jo and Rus is a nice graphic novel for young readers about conquering fears, opening up, and having good friends who are older and younger than you. While a few moments did not land and I wish there were more examples of female friendship, the book is definitely a good read for young kids who feel like it’s hard to make friends.

Jo and Rus is available wherever comics are sold.

Jo and Rus
4.5

TL;DR

Jo and Rus is a nice graphic novel for young readers about conquering fears, opening up, and having good friends who are older and younger than you. While a few moments did not land and I wish there were more examples of female friendship, the book is definitely a good read for young kids who feel like it’s hard to make friends.