Girl Haven by Lilah Sturges

Huge thank you for Oni Press and NetGalley for granting me this ARC.

Rating: ✨✨✨✨✨

Genres: graphic novel, LGBTQIA+

Content warnings
death mentioned but not shown, gender dysphoria, sexism (it is very frowned upon)

Y’all, I loved every minute of this book. Just by looking at the indie art style I knew I would like this. One of the authors worked on Lumberjanes, which I have not read yet, but heard great things about. I also just love the title. Based on these two I expected something good and feminist and possibly LGBTQIA+ and I was not disappointed.

The inner design sports a three colored flag-like set up, but I am unsure what these colors mean. It is closest to the trans flag, but this one has dark blue next to the pink and white-ish color. If this is symbolism I guess that is kinda cool but it definetely went over my head.

I love the character designs and the comic was very enjoyable. I felt that sometimes the backgrounds were a bit rushed, but I was happy with the art overall.

The plot
Ash is a lonely kid, who’s mom disappeared a few years ago. One day Ash sits next to the school’s tiny Pride Club at the cafeteria and ends up making friends with the members. Promptly joining them for the next club meeting. This was an adorable set up, the kids having fun and painting each other’s nails. Ash wanting to join in simply because it looks like fun. Later on, Ash invites the gang over to their house and shows them the shed where Ash’s mom left behind a treasure trove: books, art, costumes all made for an imaginary world, *looks at smudged handwriting*: T*tris. No, wait let me try again, Kore.. a, no, wait, it’s called Koretris actually.
The club is delighted by the idea of a magical land that only welcomes girls, regardless of your species. They get into a bit of roleplaying when suddenly, the magic spell written by Ash’s mom turns out to be real – and transports them all to Koretris. This is where their magical quest starts and among other things Ash has to fight the expectations everyone has of them. 
I am using they/them pronouns for Ash in this review in an attempt to not sound too spoilery. As the blurbs promised this book is very much about gender and discovering who and what can decide your gender at the end of the day.

I loved the flow of the book. We start with a short introduction written by the author that offers a bit of an explanation about gender. There is a short glossary at the end of the book too. This is a great way to introduce gender discussions for people who are not very informed about the topic. I appreciated that instead of the generic LGBT acronym throughout the book the more inclusive LGBTQIA+ was used.

The main characters

Ash, like the tree
I absolutely loved our main character, Ash, and it was awesome to be a part of their journey. Honestly they were way too chill, given the stuff they had to deal with. I loved learning more about their thoughts and feelings. I was glad they could find someone to trust who helped them come to terms with their feelings.

Eleanor, like the president
She was just the nicest person in the book. She cares a lot about her friends. No wonder Ash immediately liked her. She was warm and welcoming, always trying to help Ash but never overstepping. I wish we learned a bit more about her.

Junebug, the awesome
What a super chill character. Though we don’t learn a lot about Junebug during the story, I enjoyed their spontaineity.

Chloe, the feminist killjoy 
If the book had any downfall for me, it would be Chloe. From the first moment she has been hostile to Ash, for absolutely no reason. I get that informing others of sexist language they are using is important, but there is no reason to be rude about it if there is obviously no malicious intent. The joke about her being a “feminist killjoy” right after she bulldozes through the newest member of their pride club just felt super cringey.. I wish her behaviour towards Ash was reprimanded a bit.

Overall rating
I loved this book a lot. Gender was discussed in a natural way, focusing more on the feelings of the characters and not on the shiny glossary terms. There was a quest, magic and bonding time for the characters and it was just an overall uplifting read. I was surprised by the end reveal about Ash’s mom, not quite what I expected.
I felt like the whole of Koretris was a great commentary on how society views gender and how literally everyone has an opinion of what gender people should be and how they should act to fit this assigned role. As a cisgender woman (don’t worry there is a glossary that explains) I learned a lot about gender and how difficult it can be to learn your own preferences when literally everyone is shouting their own expectations at you.

Where to find:

The book at Goodreads 📚

Buy On Amazon

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