TL;DR – an apocalyptic tale with elements of fantasy and horror about a young girl who starts to turn into a tree and her family seeking to save her.
Summary (warning: spoilers)
Loretta is a single mother working at a convenience store, trying to support her two kids, Josh and Meg. When Josh’s high school calls, she needs to pick him up because he’s in trouble for being found in possession of marijuana, Loretta drives by and picks Meg up from her school first. In the car, Meg complains that her skin is itchy and shows her mum a nasty rash. Loretta intends to take her to the doctor, but they have to pick up Josh.
While Loretta meets with the principal, Meg is left waiting in the hallway outside the office and an old man comes up to her and hands her a bag saying she is going to need it.
After a somewhat heated debate with the principal, Loretta takes her kids home and Meg shows her that her back now feels itchy. When she lifts her shirt up, to their horror, they see Meg has a tree branch growing out of her and other parts of her body now look like tree bark.
Loretta and Josh attempt to rush Meg to the hospital but a van collides with their car. A group of men with weapons jump out and try to grab Meg, but the old man appears with a shotgun and starts firing away at Meg’s assailants. The old man turns out to be Josh and Meg’s estranged grandfather.
Thus begins a journey to uncover the mystery behind Meg transforming into a tree, and whether it can be prevented. Why are there people looking to kidnap Meg? What happened to Josh and Meg’s father (Loretta’s husband who abandoned them)? And what does the grandfather know?
Family Tree is a graphic novel series about a mother seeking to save her daughter from turning into a literal tree. The first volume – Sapling – is comprised of the first four issues and mixes current events of Loretta trying to understand what is happening to her daughter with past events involving Loretta’s husband who was cursed with the same fate.
Turns out Meg’s father also succumbed to the horrifying transformation, which is kept a mystery in volume one as to whether it’s a disease, some mad scientist experiment gone wrong, or something else.
Past events show Meg’s grandfather on the run with his son and being hunted down by a group of people whose origins are unknown. Who are they? Who do they work for? How do they know about Meg’s father’s transformation? What are they after?
While the premise sounds ludicrous, the writing of Lemire combined with the effecting art of Gapstur, Hester and Cody create a surprisingly atmospheric story that has just enough mystery that you’ll want to find out what is happening.
Lemire instills emotional pull, especially with the short scenes of dialogue we see between Meg’s grandfather and practically-turned-into-tree Meg’s father in a motel room that you can’t help but be drawn into their predicament.
Meg’s grandfather then sets off to find Loretta and the kids knowing somehow that Meg will be soon suffering the same change. There are hints shown in an other-worldly scene where Meg spiritually connects to her deceased father, and they speak of living together within the confines of a giant tree (a tree so large that it is another world unto itself).
But volume one focuses primarily on the family being hunted. The ending strikes a brutal chord as we witness the grandfather go down fighting against the group of thugs hunting Meg to give Loretta and the kids the chance to escape.
Overall, the first volume gives the feeling there is no messing about. There are three volumes in total to Family Tree so story and art are not given the luxury of diving more in-depth into backstory like other lengthy graphic novel series such as The Walking Dead (which gave me a similar sense of that apocalyptic dread even if The Walking Dead has a completely different story).
Without that luxury of extra pages of both text and art, Family Tree has not grabbed me around the neck from its opening foray simply because you’re thrown right into the thick of it without much exposition. This is both a strength and a weakness in the first volume.
Probably the most glaring omission are the group of individuals hunting Loretta and the kids down. There is no glimpse into their motives or who they are, so you get no feeling other than they are the ‘bad guys’. They might as well be one-dimensional robotic mannequins programmed to hunt.
I assume volume two and three will provide that detail and build up to make it an effective trilogy as a whole, but that is yet to be seen.
Time to pick up volume two.
3 out of 5.