Nearly a decade ago, GRAMMY award-winning artist Alicia Keys released her absolute banger “Girl on Fire.” (You know, the one that’s going to be stuck in your head for the next week.) Now, Keys, with the help of Andrew Weiner, has adapted her hit song into a graphic novel by the same name.
Girl on Fire follows Lolo Wright, 14. For the most part, she lives a typical life with family drama to match. But when a case of mistaken identity leads a cop to pull a gun on her brother, James, Lolo unleashes powers she didn’t know she had, turning her world upside down. And not necessarily for good. Soon, a dangerous dealer in her neighborhood named Skin learns about Lolo and wants to recruit her. Lolo, however, won’t be used. So, she decides to take a stand to protect her family and her neighborhood — with a few surprises along the way.
First things first, Keys and Weiner do an excellent job establishing their characters. From page 1, readers get a sense of the Wright family’s dynamic. They’re instantly lovable, and readers will quickly invest in their story as a whole and as individuals. As the protagonist, Lolo stands well on her own. Readers will love rooting for this character. Pre-powers, readers get a sense of how Lolo navigates her world and how she fits into her different environments. She’s a bright, young teen who undoubtedly has an equally bright future ahead of her, even if it takes her a little while to see it. Her growth throughout the story is steady and organic. Despite the scary circumstances she quickly finds herself facing, Lolo never backs down.
Readers also meet a character who grows into his own power — Michael, aka Runt. Similar to Lolo, Michael finds himself facing his own set of challenges, largely due to the menacing Skin. Unlike Lolo, Michael believes he has no other option. While Michael offers a stark contrast to Lolo, the two also hold parallels to one another. Lolo quickly learns that, somehow, she’s connected to Michael. This discovery adds a riveting element to the story to keep the pages turning. It also emphasizes how people can discover their potential in different environments. Obviously, Michael’s is not the ideal. Still, he, too, learns to stand up for himself and fight for what he deserves.
I was also intrigued by how Keys and Weiner broach the story’s content overall and with smaller character vignettes. While readers primarily follow Lolo, they also get glimpses of other characters’ lives — especially Lolo’s father, James, and Michael. It allows them to connect more with each character. Along with being insightful glances, each non-Lolo centric scene eventually ties back into the story in a cohesive manner. Keys and Weiner don’t shy away from the dark stuff, either. They show readers how Lolo and her family struggle with Lolo’s mother leaving them. Similarly, readers gain some understanding about Michael’s own challenges and why he works for Skin. Both perspectives drive and inform the story. And, thankfully, don’t appear quite as bleak as they present.
Girl on Fire is an engaging story bursting with heart and emotion. Keys and Weiner boldly tackle difficult subject matter that skillfully balances both reality and fantasy. The beautiful art created by Brittney Williams and the art team bring visuals that will further immerse readers. Lolo reminds readers about the power of finding your voice and using it for good. Her story is an empowering one, and one that will embolden readers — especially young teen girls like Lolo — in whatever aspects of their lives they need it most.
Girl on Fire releases on March 1. Pre-order your copy here.