Young adult graphic novel written by Rainbow Rowell, illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks, and published by First Second Books in August 2019.
From that title, you may be expecting something having to do with vengeance demons or gourd-headed scarecrows or something horrific like that. But that isn't what we have here at all. Instead, it's a story of a couple high school friends, Josiah and Deja, on one final hurrah before parting ways. The title comes from the setting: the world's greatest pumpkin patch attraction on the last night of October.
Do we all know what a pumpkin patch is? This is a lo-fi local amusement attraction, usually found in New England and the American Midwest, based around autumn and the harvest. The central attraction is usually a corn maze with a few side attractions -- a pumpkin cannon, a potato cannon, a few docile farm animals in a petting zoo, a small barrel train, and some concessions. You won't find them run by giant entertainment corporations, although they can sometimes grow quite large and make a lot of money for the people running them. They don't usually have a lot of Halloween content -- they may have a haunted hayride and encourage trick-or-treaters, but the appeal is usually the corn maze and maybe the concessions. They're not always called a pumpkin patch -- but it's called a pumpkin patch in this book, so we'll stick with that for now.
Our lead characters are Josiah, a tall, shy white guy, and Deja, a shorter, outgoing black girl, on their last night working at DeKnock's World Famous Pumpkin Patch and Autumn Jamboree. Every year, they're best friends from September 1 to October 31, and then they barely see each other 'til next year. They work in the Succotash Hut every season, and Josiah is nearly always Employee of the Month. But they're both seniors, and after tonight, they'll never get to work together at the Patch again. And Josiah has maintained a years-long unrequited crush on Marcy, the cute girl from the Fudge Shoppe, and Deja is going to make sure he finally -- finally! -- talks to her. Will the ever-diligent Josiah agree to skip out on work and go wandering all over the park? Will they eat all the amazing concession food?
The book certainly isn't plotless, but if you're expecting an action-oriented plot, you'll be disappointed. This is about two friends walking through an amazing autumn-based theme park and talking to each other about life, love, dating, and the future. There's a kid who steals Deja's caramel apple, and there's a goat who runs amok -- and that's about it for the action. But again, there's more to a good plotline than action, even in comics.
Can we talk about the art? If you read many Young Adult graphic novels, you'll see Faith Erin Hicks a lot. She's been doing lovable, expressive, emotive comic art for longer than the current YA comics boom has been going on, and she's in great form here. Deja and Josiah both look like people you probably knew in high school, and the friends they see in the park all look unique and interesting. She's a master of characterization, which is so important when you've got a comic based around people talking to each other -- and when most of the characters are park employees wearing the same same work uniform.
The strongest element in the whole story is nostalgia, primarily for the kind of perfect, pure autumn that mostly exists in dreams. But here, we have lots of the classic signifiers of fall -- autumn colors, scarecrows, corn stalks, hay bales, kids in costumes, lots and lots and lots of pumpkins -- and you have it inside what may be the largest and coolest pumpkin patch ever. Among the attractions are a corn maze, a hayrack ride, a pumpkin slingshot, a pumpkin drop, Gourdy Golf (a few holes of gourd-themed miniature golf), the Tour de Pumpkin mini-train, Grandma's Chicken Races, a petting zoo, pony rides, the Haunted Hacienda, and a concert stage featuring John Colorado Springs, the world's foremost John Denver tribute band.
And then there's the food. The food! My friends, come marvel at the amazing selection of fun fall foods offered at the various snack stands around the park. There's the Fudge Shoppe and Pie Palace right next to the entrance, with Pappy's Apples, selling caramel apples, a little ways down the way. Beyond that, there's the Chili Fries Stand, the S'Mores Pit, and a cart selling apple cider slushes. After that, there's the trademark-evading Freeto Pie Stop, then Josiah and Deja's usual workplace, the bizarrely popular Succotash Hut, followed by the Kettle Corn Kettle, and finally, the Pumpkin Bomb Stand. What's a Pumpkin Bomb? I won't spoil the recipe here, but it's something you'll want to try for yourself after you read the book.
And again, don't get this expecting anything to do with the 1988 horror movie with Lance Henriksen. That one is "Pumpkinhead" -- singular. This one is "Pumpkinheads" -- plural, and definitely not about vengeance demons.
So is this something you should read? My answer is a loud and enthusiastic yes, particularly if you enjoy great art, characterization, and dialogue, if you love everything having to do with late October and autumn in general, and if you love the idea of eating a lot of great fall food. Go pick it up, guys!