November 22, 2021

Death & Sparkles

Written and illustrated by Rob Justus
Chronicle Books
368 pp.
Ages 10-14
October 2021

Death has no friends–why would he when his touch kills everything, except if it has a hard shell–and Sparkles, the Last Unicorn, is a celebrity with countless admiring fans a.k.a. Besties worldwide. In Death & Sparkles, the unlikely duo defy all odds to become something special to each other.
Yep, death is no fun...
and it's no fun being Death, either. (pg. 18)
Death, the purple-cloaked floating grim reaper of Rob Justus's latest graphic novel, has a lonely job fulfilling the claims he is sent daily. (Boy, does he have paperwork and emails!)
From Death & Sparkles by Rob Justus
But everything changes when Sparkles, the well-branded, world-famous and last unicorn, is coerced into yet-another stunt to promote his socks. A wild chariot ride between tall buildings doesn't go to plan and he makes the acquaintance of Death (who still takes a moment for a selfie). However, Sparkles's transition to the other side likewise doesn't go to plan, first because his horn has broken off in Death's backside and secondly, because he's told he has wasted his life with vanity and ego and must change his ways.
From Death & Sparkles by Rob Justus
After Sparkles is recognized by a group of farmers and his cupcake partying with them results in their deaths–Death simply falls into the crowd–the once much-loved unicorn is vilified and the media and his fans turn on him. After all, they are now following the popular Lizard Bros, three lizards from across the universe who having arrived to help the planet become "responsible cosmic citizens" but were recruited by Sparkles's sleazy manager to promote skateboards and energy drinks. 

In a tug-of-war between being popular and doing what's right, the characters in Rob Justus's latest graphic novel exemplify the worst of celebrity, marketing and media. Though Sparkles is the bright and colourful Last Unicorn, he is also just a marketing ploy, a creature with a high opinion of himself, who loves being adored and fawned over, and living a life of shallow pursuits. He is manipulated by his manager, his fans and even the media. They all support him as they want him to be but not the real Sparkles, or at least the Sparkles he could be. Death, on the other hand, becomes a sympathetic character, one who is just doing his job and craving a friend. Both characters change to become better versions of themselves because of their acquaintance and ultimately their friendship. And Rob Justus gives us laughs and rainbows and silliness as he takes us along with them on their journey of self-discovery, growth and triumph.

I believe there will be more Death & Sparkles stories judging by the "Next Time with Death & Sparkles" section at the end of this book and I'm all for it. From the hilarity of his story lines and characters to the joy of his artwork (yes, even in death), to the important messages about media, celebrity and trends, Rob Justus has given young readers a story that is light and enlightening.

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