A 2019 Booklist Editor's Choice
A 2019 Kirkus Reviews Best Books of the Year
A 2019 Parents Magazine Best Children's Books of the Year
Ryan Andrews's This Was Our Pact is an astonishing, magical-realist adventure story for middle-grade readers.
It's the night of the annual Autumn Equinox Festival, when the town gathers to float paper lanterns down the river. Legend has it that after drifting out of sight, they'll soar off to the Milky Way and turn into brilliant stars, but could that actually be true? This year, Ben and his classmates are determined to find out where those lanterns really go, and to ensure success in their mission, they've made a pact with two simple rules: No one turns for home. No one looks back.
The plan is to follow the river on their bikes for as long as it takes to learn the truth, but it isn't long before the pact is broken by all except for Ben and (much to Ben's disappointment) Nathaniel, the one kid who just doesn't seem to fit in.
Together, Nathaniel and Ben will travel farther than anyone has ever gone, down a winding road full of magic, wonder, and unexpected friendship*.
*And a talking bear.
Creepy yet benign, this leisurely graphic novel opens on the autumn equinox, when a community sends paper lanterns down a river. Five boys and a bullied tagalong science fanatic named Nathaniel make a pact to find out where the lanterns go. They pedal their bikes along a deserted road, but the vow proves daunting, and Nathaniel and the narrator, Ben, are soon alone on a bridge at the edge of town. They pledge to soldier on, unaware of a hulking shadow creature that rises from the river below. Ben approaches their subsequent adventures with trepidation, while Nathaniel greets every vertiginous cliff and bottomless lake with a gleeful grin. They take up with a fellow traveler, a stylish anthropomorphic bear who seeks to catch the floating lights, which are rumored to turn into fish en route to the stars. Andrews (Nothing Is Forgotten for adults) crafts a phantasmagoria of events that recall animation from Studio Ghibli and Cartoon Saloon. Scenes unfold beneath the Milky Way in twilit dark-blue and charcoal-gray panels, while flashbacks and industrial interiors in glowing ember hues amplify a simmering sense of threat. Picaresque episodes and a dreamlike resolution conjure a giddy sensation, like staying up all night. Ages 10 14.