I hated Nijkamp's YA novel, THIS IS WHERE IT ENDS, so much that I had pretty much decided "never again." But I'm a sucker for graphic novels, especially novels about female characters who are in STEM and are strong and capable, so I figured maybe it was worth giving the author another chance.
THE ORACLE CODE blew all of my expectations out of the water. It almost feels like a response to THE KILLING JOKE, which also ended up with Barbara Gordon severely injured, but in this book, Barbara, or "Babs" as she likes to be called, is the heroine of her story and not a victim.
After a terrible accident puts her in a wheelchair, Babs is sent to a rehabilitation center in Arkham, where she meets three other girls who end up becoming her friends of sorts: Jana, Yeong, and Issy. At first, Babs pushes them all away, as she is depressed and still coming to terms with the effects of her accident, but as she gets fit, and learns how to navigate in her wheelchair, tackling everything from stairs to sports, she becomes more confident.
That confidence is a must, because she discovers something sinister about Arkham. Jana tells sinister stories when she visits Babs's room at night. And Babs finds out that people at the center have a history of going missing. Are they getting better? Or is it something darker... and more malicious?
I loved the art in this book. The illustrations are soft and more rounded than the art typically geared for adults, but it fits the story. I also liked the contrast between the realistic portions and the way the tales that Jana told were illustrated, which were much more stylized and reminded me of Coraline. I feel like those passages were a great way for the artist, Manuel Preitano, to show off his abilities.
The story is also really good, too. Lots of diversity (one of Babs's friends is Asian, the other is black), disability rep, and of course, a STEM heroine who's a teenage hacker. I liked the mystery element, and the messages about friendship, confidence, and belonging, and how Babs gradually stopped thinking about her disability as the end of her old life, but as an obstacle that could be overcome with a bit of extra work or different approaches. It felt like a very empowering book to me, and it was great to see Barbara Gordon portrayed with such agency and competence after THE KILLING JOKE.
Definitely a must-read for anyone who likes creepy stories and strong heroines.
Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review!
3.5 out of 5 stars